The Basement, 2014
mixed media installation, HD, color, sound, ca. 200 photocopies of drawings and photographs
duration: 17 min. 19 sec.
2014 Hermitage, Amsterdam, together with works by Marlene Dumas and Rinke Dijkstra
Manifesta 10, Hermitage, St. Petersburg
30.09.2016 - 08.01.2017: Erik van Lieshout : The Show Must Ego On, Wiels-Centrum voor Hedendaagse Kunst, Brussel, Belgium. Curator: Zoë Gray
2015, "Erik van Lieshout's I Am In Heaven", Art Agenda
2014, "Manifesta 10: The European Biennial of Contemporary Art", Art Agenda
Van Lieshout reflects on the social-political aspects of museum life and Russian history in seemingly contradictory ways, by means of both the ridiculous and deeper historical references. The Hermitage Winter Palaces's first cats were brought in during the reign of Empress Elizabeth, who was annoyed by the number of mice and rats in the residence- a constant and important problem. Until the october Revolution of 1917, the Hermitage cats were looked after by special servants because it was considered to be the czar's will and were even granted a monthly food allowance from the empire's treasury. In the Soviet period, state finances changed and suddenly there were no more resources available for the Hermitage "guards". The cats had to be fed and cared for by volunteers. All of the Hermitage cats perished during the siege of Leningrad in World War II, but two railway cars of new cats arrived in Leningrad after the war's end. Today, to be a Hermitage cat is to hold a social position with all the corresponding consequences. Text from: Manifesta 10 catalogue, 2014
Filmed in the basement of St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum, this work asks whether art can change the system and make life better. As his contribution to Manifesta 10, Van Lieshout decided to improve the conditions of the many cats living in the museum's basement, whose role it has been for centuries to protect its masterpieces from mice. He designs Modernist-inspired scratching posts for them, repaints their environment in a palette borrowed from Piet Mondrian and decorates it with his paintings and photographs.
The film is shown in a long tunnel that evokes the tunnels under the Hermitage, featuring photocopies of the drawings, collages and photographs Van Lieshout made while in Russia. Combining photographs of his feline friends with cutouts from fashion magazines and newspaper images of Vladimir Putin, these works refer to the political context in which (or under which) Van Lieshout was working, particularly to the imprisonment and highly mediatized release of the protest punk group Pussy Riot.
(This text is an extract from the exhibition brochure of Erik van Liesthout : The Show Must Ego On, Wiels-Centrum voor Hedendaagse Kunst, Brussel, 30.09.2016 - 08.01.2017)