Jeroen Eisinga certainly knows how to enjoy a spring day getting close to nature. His performance art video, Springtime, 2009-11, finds him spending 19 minutes covered with more than 250,000 bees. This short film is not for the faint of heart. Anyone who has ever had a panic attack when faced with one bee will initially suffer sweaty palms while watching Eisinga as his face and torso are slowly engulfed with a pulsating carpet of insects.
The questions are obvious. Why would anyone put himself in harm’s way for the sake of art? How did the artist make an exit at the end of the video? We’re assuming that shooing away a quarter of a million bees would be a challenge. Was he stung? If not, why not? So many questions. For those who are patient, Eisinga, a Dutch artist who lives and works in The Hague, will be on hand at the Hirshhorn Museum at 7 p.m. October 11 to talk about this video which took more than two years to produce.
Until then, we can watch the video and evaluate our own reactions. Our initial horror watching Eisinga soon morphs into an all too comforting feeling of calm. We trust that Eisinga won’t be hurt, at least that’s our hope. And the scene of the bees slowly enveloping his head and then his face, even covering his eyes, seems more protective than frightening. Eisinga’s eyes flicker from time to time and at least twice he appears to straighten up, careful not to move too much or too quickly. During these moments, we hold our breath. The video is in black and white and devoid of a soundtrack. The silence only adds to the tension.
Springtime, 2009-11 is part of Hirshhorn’s Black Box Series initiated in 2005 for moving-image artwork. Also on display is The Opening Day, 2009, by Antonio Rovaldi, who lives and works in Milan. On one wall we see the video of a pitcher, warming up and throwing at artfully arranged ceramics shown in a video on the opposite wall. Standing on a side wall, taking in the exhibit resembles watching a tennis match, focusing on one wall then the other. (Although children watching the show mostly stood in the middle of the room jumping at the imaginary balls being tossed). Baseball is not a popular sport in Italy so the pitcher featured in the video, whose jersey says “Fortitudo” is no Stephen Strasburg. His throws often veer wide of the mark missing even large displays of glass animals. What do we take away from this exhibit? That a sport, specifically throwing a baseball, can be a form of art? That moving image artwork can trump a still life?
No matter, The Opening Day, 2009, is a fun exhibit, particularly this time of the year as we root for our teams to make the playoffs.
The Opening Day, 2009
Seventh and Independence Avenues, SW