Bas Jan Ader studied art in Amsterdam and, after a number of adventurous trips at sea, a voyage on a cargo ship from Morocco lasting eleven months landed him in Los Angeles, where he settled down. Here he studied art and philosophy from 1963 to 1969 at the Otis Art Institute and subsequently at the Claremont Graduate School. Shortly afterwards he became a member of the Faculty of Art at the University of California (Irvine).
Through his artistic research, which oscillated between the melancholic and the metaphysical, Ader was interested in the figure and the idea of the artistic personality on the border between art and life. His work can be aligned with practices tied to Conceptual and Performance Art, which allowed further exploration into themes of human limits and fragility.
With particular attention to the centrality of the human figure and bodily presence, the majority of his work centers around ephemeral gestures or actions of very short duration.
Like many of his contemporaries, Ader used photography, film, and video to document his performances. Treating situations that are closer to states of mind than to pure plastic forms, some of his projects—such as the famous cycle dedicated to the theme of “falling,” entitled the Fall—show the artist both in photographic sequences and in 16 mm films taking part in brief actions. This is the case of those works in which he literally falls from a tree into a stream, rolls off the roof of his bungalow in California, or plunges with his bicycle into a canal in Amsterdam.
After a few years spent in California, Ader decided to make his return to Europe part of a vast project dealing with the themes of solitude and nomadism. The project consisted in a solitary voyage lasting about sixty days, including crossing the Atlantic from Cape Cod (Massachusetts) to Cornwall (England). Ader planned to hold an exhibition in Holland, presenting the material accumulated during the voyage: diaries, films, and photographs. He left Cape Cod on July 9, 1975 but never reached his destination. Six months later his small boat was found practically submerged off the Irish coast. [F.B.]
List of Works
Primary Time, 1974
video, color, silent, 25 min.
Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Rivoli-Turin
In a single continuous film sequence, the work is exclusively focused on the arm of the artist who is intent on arranging and rearranging a bouquet of primary-colored flowers in a vase. The precise and measured gesture creates continuously new harmonious and chromatic compositions in a process of slow and methodical alternation.