Michael Tedja, Snake (E)

Michael Tedja’s ‘SNAKE’

Those who base the quality of art on aesthetic , formal and other traditional criteria are better off not going to ‘Snake’, the overview of ten years Michael Tedja (1971) in the COBRA Museum in Amstelveen, the Netherlands. What is not done, is done by him. “Go fuck yourself.” He doesn’t allow himself to be framed; “he eats the frame”. “I am a Fremdkörper, an intruder, someone doesn’t fit in anywhere”, he says in his book of prose and poems ‘De Aquaholist’.

The exhibition consists of hundreds of works. Works on paper in which the drawing, the painting and the photograph enter into a monster alliance with each other. Sometimes they merge, sometimes they are consciously in each other’s way, sometimes they defeat each other, most of the time there are texts that compel them into coherence. The works hang close against each other, fill up a wall or a space from floor to ceiling. At an exhibition in the USA eight years ago they even covered the floor. It is practically impossible to look at them as individual pieces. They form an energizing story that is devoid of chronology or logic. They intrigue, overwhelm, bombard.

Enormous assemblages are strung together in another part of the exhibition space. They are constructed from all sorts of objects. African artifacts, bicycles, bike wheels , tires, children’s shoes, tools, slats in different sizes, photos, pritt sticks, correction fluid, wildly painted texts, base paintings, graffiti, plastic objects, pieces of transparent plastic etc. In a number of cases all the parts are painted over in one dominant color – for example black – , other works combine more colors or keep to the original colors of the parts that form the whole. Those parts seem like just as much references. They refer to the art history (e.g. Piet Mondriaan, Jean-Michel Basquiat), to current events, to literature, to heroes, to the (black) history or to the biography of the artist. Because they are strung together, they function as a wainscoting of a rich, intense, angry and tormented artist’s existence. Just like the works on paper, the way in which they have been installed, make it difficult to consider them individually. Due to their sculptural character they are impossible to ignore and reduce the viewing space of the visitor.

What is it that this Rotterdam artist and writer from Surinamese origins wants? He wants to respond to everything that bothers him and then correct and disseminate. It is a kind of angry minister who holds a flaming speech, skilled with words and armed with an unpolished imagery. He himself calls it “filling in the black holes of history”. It is a hustler who collects everything he can find to bring his message to the people. More precisely, he opposes the domination of Western art, the Western art which shops elsewhere, for example in Africa, and then integrates those foreign purchases in such a way, that it seems as though she came up with them all by herself. A brazen continuation of colonial thinking and acting.

Tedja allows nothing and nobody to hinder him in the manner in which he reacts. He breaks through barriers, cares nothing for disciplines and couldn’t care less about angry reactions. A snake that spits poison and strikes. A snake also because his work is a series of associations, a meandering stream which cannot be interrupted or stopped.

Nobody leaves the COBRA Museum with the judgment “it was nice”. There will be people who are shocked, who find his work ugly, coarse, who think his work is too much, others are impressed, overwhelmed, knocked over. An artist who can invoke such extreme reactions is a true artist, an artist who confuses the public, who moves beacons and forces one to think.

Afterwards I had but one fundamental objection. Why is a an exhibition such as this one not presented in the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam? Why does this museum still fall short when it comes to this type of art? It is touching that in the (free) catalogue, the director of the COBRA goes through the trouble to indicate the work of Tedja as a being a logical continuation of the COBRA-movement, but this is of course nonsense. The work is in its theme convincingly of this time and the form in which it presents itself relates to that of COBRA-painters, like a wild sea to a rippling lake. That is why it belongs in a museum that pretends to be contemporary with an interest in the current discourse.
The exhibition ‘Snake’ is open at the Cobra Museum in Amstelveen, the Netherlands, until May 26th.
TEXT Rob Perrée, Amsterdam, February 2013