in a time when everything is conditioned around distancing one cannot or should not afford to overlook the contributions of surinamese-dutch conceptual artist stanley brouwn in reconceptualizing space in general and distance in particular
in his lifetime stanley brouwn was very particular about what knowledge was produced and disseminated about his person and his art upon his passing this particularness was transformed into some kind of policing of the reading of brouwn’s work that might eventually lead to the erasure of one of the most fundamental artistic positions in the 20th century effacement being falsely understood as the modus operandi or quintessential methodology of stanley brouwn there is a thin line between what is understood as self-effacement and active erasure the conundrum being that there is a misunderstanding and a confounding that sets absence and presence in opposition to each other and the notions of representation and presentation/presence become synonymous to each other
it is true that stanley brouwn invested a lot in making a body of work that was not centred around his biography as its pivot it is also true that for several decades of his artistic practice he chose to be elusive and made himself or physical body absent from the social spheres of the arts but this does not mean an absence as the meta-physical body of stanley brouwn is omnipresent in the work be it in works like this way brouwn 1964 the body of stanley brouwn is the ever informing reference point from which a direction is made or the video work stanley brouwn steps 40’:15” 1989 through which one accompanies stanley brouwn as a walks through several european cities step by step for hours upon hours or countless number of works in which he uses the sb foot or other sb units of measurement the argument i am making is that stanley brouwn’s social absence is predicated by a meta-physical qua physical omnipresence in the work
if we spent a few more words to understand measurement units in stanley brouwn’s work we would be a bit closer to one of the many anchor points of his practice in the work 2 x 2 x 10 voet 2009 a wooden rectangular standing sculpture made of okoume wood of the burseraceae that is native to the equatorial regions of gabon congo and río muni one must take the title that derives from the dimensions of the sculpture seriously this sculpture is one of the works by stanley brouwn that caught our attention in the reach collection of stanley brouwn's works documents writings and images we found in the kröller müller museum and have decided to throw a spotlight on in the museum’s cataloguing of the sculpture with the notation KM 131.564 we are made to understand that the piece measures 283 x 56,6 x 56,6 cm but when we do a translation of stanley brouwn's own measurement that became the title into the normative standard unit of foot and cm we notice that 2 foot = 60,96 cm and 10 foot = 304,8 cm there is obviously a discrepancy that poses the question as to which or whose foot did stanley brouwn use for the measurement of his sculpture what becomes obvious is the fact that the standard unit of length foot is a systems of measurement of the british empire and united states of america based on a particular human body which is exported to the rest of the world one could actually say an imperialisation and imposition of standardised measurement upon the world and ever since the international yard and pound agreement of 1959 a foot is calculated at 0.3048m the historical bearing or framework of this unit is the adult caucasian male body which is to say that if stanley brouwn chooses to use his own foot which is the foot of an unquestionably black man from surinam then there is a subtle but powerful presence that though not figurative still functions within a larger narrative of abstraction common in african expressions and that is more significant that figurative presences
this brings us to the discourse of representation and presentation if stanley brouwn was already present in his work and continues to be then there is hardly need to impose superficial discourses of representation upon his work rather it is worth the trouble to unpack the several sediments of reflection on art abstraction measurement scale direction presence and absence and society in his work
in the framework of sonsbeek 20-24 we have perused the archive of the kröller müller museum in search of traces of one of the greatest artists and thinkers of the 20th century and we have found a wooden pillar that stands literally stands out as it is outstanding in its simplicity and uprightness and seems to be a perfect synopsis of not only the work but the man stanley brouwn too
bonaventure soh bejeng ndikung
stanley brouwn was born in 1935 in the Surinamese capital Paramaribo. He is one of the most well-known representatives of Dutch conceptual art. brouwn was an autodidact and was initially - similar to the artists of the Zero movement - a proponent of monochrome geometrical abstraction. But he quickly outgrew the specific Zero aesthetics. From 1960 he built a particularly personal and consistent oeuvre, in which he investigated the interplay between movement and distance. He used his body as a measurement of all things and thereby formulated his own unique measurement system (the sb-foot, the sb-el and the sb-step). On the basis of this scale, the artist investigated the field of tension between the subjective experience of distance and the objective recording of it.