His work is exhibited at major Dutch museums and are appreciated internationally.
An interview by Diana Fehr / November 9th, 2020
Caspar Berger is a conceptual artist who uses the strategic and formal language of traditional sculpture to create something new. In museums, gardens and in his spacious atelier in Amsterdam you can see impressive installations, indebted to the history and tradition of art. He sees the Italian High Renaissance as a point of reference and feels obliged to make use of temporary boundaries and change constantly perspectives.
Museo: ”This is precisely the time when artists go to work”. These are Toni Morrison words and the first sentence on your website. How important is it for you being an artist these days?
Caspar: I think it is getting more and more important! For example, yesterday I was part of a jury, where we were looking at young peoples art works. I was amazed and surprised by the quality and their awareness of the current social situation. It is a very prominent topic for these young people and I think this movement is going on for while. We are entering a space and an era that you can’t avoid social reflection anymore. My work had always a political under-layer, and now more than ever before, it is important to step into this arena.
Museo: We can see this in your latest work the “In Case” installation, where we can recognize a very well-known setting: „The United States Presidential Oval Office“, which is currently again in the focus of the world’s attention.
Caspar: Yes, this is what I am talking about. I made various installations about religion and political movements, and now I am just finishing another video installation and this one is about the nationalistic approach. It is an video installation which is showing the 27 speeches of all the EU member states prime ministers and the EU Presidency. They all address their nation the first time about the Corona crisis and they have all the same message. The content is equal, but their approaches are totally different and this is what I find interesting. You can see the 27 images at the same time, but you also hear all speeches at the same time and this is when you realize that under pressure the different identities reinforce and the difficulties of being a union surface. So what I want to show in this work are the possibilities and impossibilities of the idea of becoming a union.
Museo: With „Inner Voice“ you are looking at the individual. The selection consists of the five major world religions and it represents the nine “-isms”. Your main question here is – „do we have a free inner voice?“ – So do we have one?
Caspar: I don’t think so! I am atheist, but I am deeply, in every cell of my body, a Christian, and this because I was born in Holland and raised as an Christian. Even if I try to stand back and take just a little bit of distance, try to become neutral and enter a neutral space, my programming and my way of thinking is Christian. I would need to delete too much inner content and this would become too difficult and therefore I don’t think this is possible.
Inner Voice is about collective fantasies which are contained. I combine religion and other political movements, which are in that sense for me the same concepts and closed worlds, like for example nazism, jihadism, communism or capitalism. These spaces have different forms and are closed and contained. But there is a space left, outside this contained world, a place that is not occupied and a place where I can stand as a viewer. I want to create a situation where the viewer realizes that he/she can walk outside the fantasies, a space which is not contained and closed. A space where we can see each other and where communication is possible. But if we pretend that the space left is a part of the contained world, we have a conflict. This is the world I am interested in – the reduced space.
Caspar: No – for me the self-portrait is only something where you can “hang on your coat”, it is just a vehicle to transport the concept and present another view on a subject – and this is not about me. For example, in the skeleton project and the Self-Portrait 20. Here the starting point was the phenomenon of the relic. The object (bone) is doing nothing, but if I put as a viewer a power into this object and believe that this bone is from a holy person, the phenomenon of a relic appears. So this is actually about the relationship which we have as a viewer towards an artwork, where beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this is the relationship I want to talk about. Another example is David, which is about the phenomena of the hero, but also a point of view. You can think of Saddam Hussein, who thought that he would be “David” and Bush would be “Goliat”, but at the same time Bush had exactly the opposite perspective. It is all about the perspective and I use self-portraits as transporter to tell stories or ask questions about various subjects.
Museo: With every work you are using different materials, like bronze, epoxy, metal, rosewood and many more. Do they represent something specific?
Caspar: I just look for the right material and the right color. For example, for the project Inner Voice I needed something which is really precious and lacquered, and therefore, I decided to use rosewood which is first sawn to dust. This is of course something ridiculous to do, but I experimented with the material and I investigated what I could do to achieve the desired effect. In the end you can really see it, and when the sun hits the surface the cases start to glow.
Nevertheless, I am fascinated by the Italian Renaissance and the traditional skills, which are very important for me. So if I pour the bronze I want to do it actually the way the traditional foundries used to do it, which is very difficult, but I know that it is possible. I think what we produce today are a result of history and everything that I create has a reference to what has been produced yesterday and in the past. In that sense the material and how it is presented is very important for my work. I try to connect with the viewer and to take him/her into my world, which might be first through the beauty, then the concept and in the end the political layer. I don‘t mind if you stop on the beauty level, which is also fine, but I try to facilitate the approach, which could be first through optic and attraction.
Museo: We can find your work and installations in various museums and several gardens all over the Netherlands, like the Rijksmuseum, Museum Kranenburgh, the LAM, Museum Beelden aan Zee and many more, but also internationally. What does it mean to you to exhibit at these places?
Caspar: There is one thing I experienced that was life-changing for me, and this started in the Sixtine Chapel. I have been there many times as a tourist, with many people, in dimmed light and no one was allowed to speak. But once I was invited by the Vatican, being part of an event to listen to a speech of Benedictus together with other 250 artists and I had my doubts to go. In the end, I went anyway and I entered the Vatican through the “Portone di Bronzo”, which was already a totally different experience. Passing through all the private areas to the Sixtine Chapel and sitting there in bright light with the sound of the choir, that was really exceptional. But when the room was full, the gates opened and the pope was entering into the chapel, surrounded by the colorful cardinals, and took seat in his golden throne in-front of the Last Judgment, the artwork of Michelangelo, the scenery became totally overwhelming. It was so intense, something I can’t describe and something I had never experienced before. The ceiling came down upon us, by the fact that the pope, the “context” was present and the artwork totally changed, due to the fact that the chapel was in use.
I am telling you about this experience to make a point. What makes an artwork powerful? When it is put in the intended context, where it is “in use” and when it can be fully experienced by the viewer. This is something you look for as an artist. Maybe sometimes you have exhibitions in museums which are not set in the right context, but would be better placed in a supermarket, for example. This is something I question myself. Where do I want to show my work in the sense that it is in the correct use? That is actually a more prominent question nowadays than 10 years ago.
Museo: And what effect had the pandemic on you?
Caspar: I think, it makes me more aware of my position as an artist and I think we will see a difference in approach – more local activities, more local artists coming forward. I enjoy that everybody had suddenly more time and could just drop by in the studio. But on the other hand, my agenda for exhibitions is getting more and more empty, and is becoming to be a problem – a big, big problem! I could start to worry about it, but this wouldn‘t make any sense. It is my job to make art and this is what I keep on doing until it isn’t possible anymore, and this is what I can do! And yes there is a big problem, as the art institutions and museums are just going to break.
Museo: Your wife Annick Vroom, the film maker, has made documentaries about you and your creations, and you make it also possible to visit your studio. How important is it for you to tell the story of creation and being able to stay connected with your audience?
Caspar: The fact that I can interact with visitors in the studio gives me a lot. It is a reflection from different point of views and I see that always as a gift. Once in a while we have periods where we invite all kinds of people to just come by and see what’s going on in the studio. They can see finished works, but also the process of the work itself. But I also enjoy to give lectures at museums or do a tour. So I find it very important to keep close contact with my audience.
Museo: Quite a few employees have been locked in their home office for months, in front of their screens and in countless video conferences. It’s just a shame that art lovers now also have to go into the digital world. What do you think about that?
Caspar: I think we have to work with the possibilities we have. Maybe the fact that we can’t do it in the old way reinforces to find other opportunities. For example, we had the plan to put monitors into supermarket windows and show Art video installations, bringing the museum into public spaces. But unfortunately, the major Dutch supermarkets couldn’t embrace this concept. Nevertheless, we keep on looking and we might find other companies who can see the importance and the opportunity to bring art to the audience in different ways.
Museo: If you could see into the future – will there be change?
Caspar: Yes, I think there will be change. The experience with these young people, I already described in the beginning, really touched me. I could see them driven by the same drive I feel as an artist. There was one boy of only 13 years old, making beautiful and really fantastic projects which was really moving. We have to overcome this time which is very difficult and a lot will be changing.
The need to reach out to a bigger and diverse audience and to stay in direct contact with them, will be there. Art itself will also change, as the awareness of the social and political point of view will become more prominent. There will also be room again for beauty, a lot of new energy, new ideas and new opportunities. Maybe we will look around the corner and see that there is somebody working on something interesting. The local connection will become more important and I hope that we will see more local diversity.
Museo: Thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts with me.
Images: Erik and Petra Hesmerg, Annick Vroom