Burned, frozen, winched, dangled and hit by a gondola: the stunning extreme prowes of Guido van der Werve

From sweeping the Baltic on sea frost to preparing his own organization ablaze, the Dutchman goes to amazing spans to cause mind-boggling artworks. And now hes thoughts for Britain

When I called the artist Guido van der Werve last year to format a fit, Pauline Portrait, his studio administrator, “ve told me” he was healing from a serious bicycle accident. I met with Van der Werve some months later in his studio in Prenzlauerberg, Berlin, and talked about his cultivate as a film-maker, and the aftermath of the accident. It had been a close call- doctors said it was only his very strong constitution, built up through marathons and triathlons, that had got him through. You could say he had been saved by art.

For more than a decade Van der Werve , now 40, has been making cinemas based on extreme physical strength and knowledge, involving climbing, cycling, swimming and rush. He combines these with music that he makes, and often plays, compensating tribute to the Nostalgic composers he admires. He is by his own admission a nostalgic, but a preferably mad one, undercutting the existential seriousness of his work with an offbeat fun often veering into absurdity.

We sit around a computer screen and watch one of his first movies, Nummer Twee, Just Because I’m Standing Here Doesn’t Mean I Want To ( all his works are numbered in Dutch and subtitled in English ), manufactured in 2003 while he was a student at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. It testifies Van der Werve walking downwards into the suburban street in front of his childhood home, before being knocked down with some pressure by a car. Ballerinas seem from the back of a patrol wagon and dance around his inert figure to Corelli’s Christmas Concerto .

I get knocked down … Nummer Twee, Just Because I’m Standing Here Doesn’t Mean I Miss to . Photo: Kindnes of the creator

” It was very strange, considering what has happened ,” Van der Werve says grinning, often deadpan. He wore safety on his leg, he excuses, and consulted a stuntman, who told him to bend away from the car, putting his heavines on the other leg- that road he would bounce over it rather than getting dragged under.

Van der Werve is not the first artist to subject himself to often brutal physical researching in the name of skill, exploiting his own torso as an artistic medium. During the 1970 s the American artist Chris Burden had himself shot with a. 22 calibre rifle, and nailed to the bonnet of a Volkswagen. The Dutch master Bas Jan Ader was lost at sea in 1975, trying to cross the Atlantic in a minuscule one-man container. But no other creator has pursued the idea with such a sense of the epic.

For Nummer Negen, the Day I Didn’t Turn With the World ( 2007) Van der Werve stood still for 24 hours on the geographic north pole, shuffling gradually, revolving in a halo as the world revolved the other style- anticlockwise- beneath him. The film is shot in timelapse, compressed into eight times or so, showing him jerking about, trying to keep warm. He use its method as the guards at Buckingham Palace, he says, and listened to audiobooks to help hit the apathy.

The iceman cometh … Nummer Acht, Everything is Extending To Be Alright . Photograph: Guido van der Werve

Even more spectacular was his Nummer Acht, Everything Is Croaking to Be Alright , in which he was filmed stepping alone on ocean frost in the northernmost part of the Baltic Sea, followed by a vast carry, break-dance through the ice with a cruel creaking and smashing announce. Nummer Acht was the implementation of its art equivalent of Caspar David Friedrich, revised for an age of environmental apocalypse.

Art is always in some way about measuring restraints, risking default. For Nummer Dertien, Emotional Poverty in Three Effugium Van der Werve attempted to climb Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, as a prelude to clambering Mount Everest- for prowes.” I virtually expired ,” he says,” it was just very hard and I met myself at a stature where human being shouldn’t be in the first place .” He decided not to clamber Everest after all.

In another cinema he extends for 12 hours around the holiday residence he and the artist Johanna Ketola, his lover, own in Finland. The movie is one shot lasting 12 hours.” Some person in New York watched the film the whole way through ,” he says, both impressed and perplexed. We fast forward to the final few minutes, where he disappears behind the house for a long time, before emerging slowly, dragging his legs. Another epic move is the “ultra-marathon” he has completed yearly since 2010, 33 miles from New York City up to Rachmaninov‘s grave in the smaller upstate municipality of Valhalla. He carries a cluster of chamomiles- the national heyday of Russia, he illustrates- to target in tribute.

Polar opposite … Nummer Negen, The Day I Didn’t Turn With the World . Photograph: Courtesy of the artist

Last year’s run was offset, naturally, but he hopes to be fit enough to restart the institution next year.” We’re really focused on the present moment ,” Ketola says, sitting close by,” our gumption of era has changed .” A couple of months ago, she contributes, they ran 10 km for the first time since the incidents. He clocks up 100 km daily on the determined bike he goes in the studio, he tells me, on whose frame he has inscribed, in English, a version he formerly spoke of Chopin’s last word:” I don’t feel the tendernes any more .”

Van der Werve’s infatuation with Chopin– the master, as he puts it, of abstracting feeling into the 12 tones of the scale of assessments- is at the heart of his 2012 movie Nummer Veertien: Home . It is his most complicated film to appointment, concerning a 1,000 mile triathlon, dive, cycling and moving from Warsaw, where Chopin’s heart is saved, to Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, where his person is implanted. Chopin left Poland at persons below the age of 20 for a musical tour and never returned: he died in Paris aged 38. His sister, fulfilling his will, had the grisly assignment of transporting his soul back to the land of his birth.

Van der Werve intertwines his” Chopin Heart and Body” triathlon with backgrounds based on retentions of his own childhood in the Netherlands, as well as a narrative about Alexander the Great, shot in locations on public information campaigns that took the Macedonian manager to the Beas River in the Punjab, where in 326 BC he was forced to turn back, expiring in Babylon before he contacted dwelling. The arrangement for the film is provided by the 12 areas of the requiem Van der Werve wrote for it, performed by an orchestra and choir who pop up at various orientations throughout the film.

The mood is one of sad and existential endeavor, leavened by a strong sense of the absurd. The movie opens with Van der Werve, in wetsuit and goggles, playing the opening tables of his composition on a forte-piano in the Faith of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. The orchestra gather up the topic, and he strays out to begin his epic jaunt, swimming off down the Vistula.

In a afterwards shift the orchestra, playing in a ballpark, be indifferent as Van der Werve walkings by on fire. He returns to his family home to find it crammed with the musicians, and is then winched and hung, like a figure in a Magritte painting, in the air over the ceiling by a crane. His mother and girlfriend assemble him along the way, helping him on and off the triathlon bicycle, looking helpless in the face of his obsessive journey. He ultimately arrives spent at the church of La Madeleine in Paris, taking a fanny to listen to the final number of his requiem, before hobbling to Chopin’s grave.

It is a madly nostalgic cinema, and I’m one of numerous viewers who have found it difficult not to be persuasion. The intensely personal quality of the quest, the strange and often bizarre scenarios, and Van der Werve’s strangely self-effacing existence spool you in. The subject is the concept of home, and not being able to get there, but also the godforsaken backdrop of the north grasslands of Europe: the riverscapes and roadscapes, postwar home estates and industrial houses that seem so characterless compared with the romance and fortitude of the past, the lives and fibs of Chopin and Alexander the Great. The topic of refugee, outings and historic recollection create Nummer Veertien into the trajectory of the publishes of WG Sebald, whose notebooks such as The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz have a similar compounding of the sorrowful and the strange.

Floating piece … Nummer Vier, I Don’t Require to Get Involved in This. I Don’t Miss to Be Part of This. Talk Me Out of It . Picture: Courtesy the master, Galerie Juliette Jongma, Amsterdam

We watch some of Van der Werve’s recently released film, Nummer Zestien , the Present Moment . It is the first of his movies shot in a studio, and in which he does not appear, featuring rather groups of beings, some of them unclothed, instructed by a mindfulness healer and a Dutch porn film director. The cinema progresses slowly in 12 parts, each determined in some way by an astrological sign, and is supported by music Van der Werve has written for pianola. It is strange and disconcert, a somber image of human life restricted to pure mechanism. The occupation was obliged in response to his father’s death in 2013. As with his sports-based duties, he says, it was an act of therapy. Van der Werve is less sure if it was at all effective- it at least get rid of some annoyances, he says.

Before I leave, Van der Werve offers to play something on the piano. Pauline drifts in and stays a while as he convenes to romp Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude . He makes a great effort to concentrate, glancing up and down from sides to the music, clearly still abiding the physical after-effects of the accident. Yet he plays movingly well: the long slow ostinato middle division, the echoed low-pitched document, the drops-off of torrent signify, some say, the dead in the Polish-Russian war; and then the final sunshine modulation, the return to a major key and a sense of optimism anew.

* Guido Van der Werve’s work appears in an exhibition, Melancholia- A Sebald Variation at Somerset House, London WC2, from 21 September until 10 December, co-curated by John-Paul Stonard.

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