interviews

‘Scapegoat, microbe, catalyst’

Erik van Lieshout, Untitled, 2017 Erik van Lieshout, Untitled, 2017

Sündenbock, short and sweet, is the name of the solo exhibition of Erik van Lieshout (1968) at Kunstverein Hannover. It is a mix of six video works, joined into a single architectural installation, including huge drawings and collages. Van Lieshout calls it a labyrinthine tour from 2006 until now, equipped with a rhythm in which vicious, current themes propel each other: the situation of minorities, the social consequences of migration, the rise of right-wing extremism, plus personal fears, desires, successes and failures. And lest we forget: the role of art and artist in our society. There are many scapegoats nowadays.

‘One thing led to the other’

But speaking of success, Sündenbock is the third international solo exhibition of Van Lieshout in a short time. Earlier this year South London Gallery presented Three Social Works, a sequel to the overview of The show must ego on, in 2016 at Wiels in Brussels. All three art institutions received a Grant International Presentations from the Mondriaan Fund. One thing elicited the other, Van Lieshout explains. ‘When we started in Wiels, we were already looking out for venues to cooperate with, but only when everything was running and curators came over to look at it, such as Margot Heller, artistic director of South London Gallery, did I get a phone call asking me if I had time to exhibit there as well. The Mondriaan Fund then works as a catalyst, which is why we are so happy with it!’

Both the English and the German press designated Van Lieshout as the top among the international video and multimedia artists. They call his work compelling, disarming, raw, absurdist and personal, but at the same time imbued with a black socio-political reality that stirs the audience to alertness. Van Lieshout finds it amusing that the Süddeutsche Zeitung compared him with the legendary, medieval jester Till Eulenspiegel, who gave performances in which the people had to take off their shoes, at which he then jumbled up all these shoes. Other than that, he does not feed upon the praise. ‘It is hard work, I want to move on, I’m turning fifty, I think it is fair to say: I am aware of the time.’

Moreover: success is very relative. Especially in the arts, where name and fame do not equal fame and fortune. In his video work Janus, also presented at the aforementioned shows abroad, Van Lieshout goes outside in a self-made suit full of wiggly legs; as a microbe, because that is what artists are. In the eyes of others, that is. To the question whether international recognition has already made him a little resistant, he answers: ‘Well, when I think, this is what I make a living of, then I become resistant, and then the microbe gets lazy! Working at not becoming resistant, that is a whole theme in itself! Staying who you are, taking that as far as you can, and critically investigating society, that is what it’s about. Up until now, I keep surprising myself in a naive way, and I remain curious. Once I turn resistant, shit, man, then I’d be finished!’