I recently visited the Bonnefanten museum in Maastricht and was intrigued by a room full of 8 TV screens. Each screen showed a different episode of an art peice and I soon noticed that there were similarities between the videos. The same man appeared in all of them and he was usually acting strangly. In one video he is laying on a bed and going through a past-life regression with another man guiding him. In another video the man is walking through the forest, he takes a piece of tree bark and eats it. After that he says, ‘It tastes like a mushroom. It’s as if an old culture was here, like the aztecs.’ While watching the video and noticing how much this man and his collegue were enjoying nature (his dilated pupils might were also an indication), I decided to ask the woman working at the art museum more about the artist. She could only give me a name but I used that to browse the net and found the following:

“In many works, Althamer links the notion of the artist as eternal outsider to the isolated position of Polish artists in relation to the Western art world. However the main theme running through Althamer’s oeuvre is alienation; the far-reaching isolation of the individual in contemporary society.

Althamer’s unremitting efforts to reach a state of detachment, whether through labour-intensive sculptures functioning as reincarnations of himself, through the use of psychotomimetic drugs, or through taking up the aloof, yet involved, position of ‘observer’ in all his performances, is connected to the question which Althamer keeps on asking himself: how can mankind regain the ability to face up to the world, just as it is, with an open mind and thus experience its all-embracing beauty and goodness once more.”

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Here is more information on the exhibition I saw titled “Pawel & Vincent”.

“…Pawel Althamer can also be linked with Van Gogh through a shared interest in extremes and margins, as this retrospective revealed most theatrically in Althamer’s Sogenannte Wellen und andere Phänomene des Geistes (So-called Waves and Other Phenomena of the Mind, 2003), an eight-screen video installation of short films (made with Artur Zmijewski) that chronicle the artist’s adventures with peyote, LSD, magic mushrooms, truth serum, hypnosis and other mind-altering phenomena.

Althamer describes his drug-related experiences in great detail, striving for the accuracy of a scientist charting the borders of perception, noting the most minute facets of the wondrous stimuli around him. Artists such as Vito Acconci and Marina Abramovic covered similar ground decades ago, however, and Francis Alÿs did so as recently as 1996 with his Narcotourism, in which he too tirelessly wandered among the crowds under the influence of powerful elixirs. But the videos Althamer and Zmijewski have produced are less harrowing and can even be said to have a disarming or democratizing effect by showing that an artist’s tripped-out observations are not necessarily any more profound than anyone else’s.”

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