Johan
Wagenaar


Idea and further specification. The shapes of a dead horse.

The assumption that the summer of 1995 was in the sign of the dead horse may be a bit far-fetched, but it is certain that in the field of visual arts there was much to be seen in Cologne. In the aesthetic privacy of the basement of the APC Gallery various copies in plaster casts were exhibited and on the Rudolfplatz lay also a plaster cast of a dead horse, on a plinth, in the middle of the public space. These statues by Johan Wagenaar in Cologne are, as it were, sediments, thoughts which have assumed a temporary shape; a dead horse in the form of a dead horse.

The idea for these statues dates back a little less than two years, when Wagenaar came up with the idea to "do something with a dead horse". At that moment I knew nothing about his plan. I got involved in the project only when the moulds of the dead horse already lay on the concrete floor of his studio in Utrecht, fascinating fragments, lumps of silicone rubber. In the transparent substance, trembling like gelatine, but more solid, stuck tufts of hair, thick horsehair. It was an awe-inspiring experience to see the contour of a dead horse gradually loom up before your eyes.

I was not present when the moulds were made. This working process, for which Wagenaar was assisted by colleagues and students, was, however, recorded on photographs and video.

The black and white quality of the photographs emphasizes the abstract implications of the statues. So still as it appears on the photographs, so peaceful and collected was it certainly not in the abattoir where the cast of the body was made. The stench in that lugubrious hall must have been appalling, a sickly, sharp smell. But then the sculptors were completely occupied by specific problems of a practical and technical nature, which appeal to skill and inventiveness - which degree of bulging of a volume do you have to use if you want to get a form loose, and does the aggregate have enough capacity to keep the plaster centrifuge turning?

Finally the idea was actually materialized and the moulds were used to cast the horse in plaster. For the first time you could see it in its full shape, walk around it and carefully study the anatomy of, for example, a nostril. The statue received a remarkable stratification, one you would not quite expect of such a literal manifestation. Usually a too high reality content of a piece of art disturbs the imagination, but this is, remarkably enough, not the case with these horses. The questions which come up are apparently substantial by nature: about life and death, being, not being, temporary manifestation against the empty space of eternity.

The sculptural associations which the statue evokes have an almost classical dimension, with the difference that the horse no longer symbolizes power and status, as it always does in knight statues or heroic visual conventions. This horse is floored, dead, gone. But this can be no reason to dramatize or disguise the given of mortality. Strangely enough you are involved in the animal's destiny, without being limited to a feeling of "sad" or "scary". The experience is richer and milder, the awareness is more universal and more spiritual.

Wagenaar imparts to the spectator or passer-by his personal fascination; the ethical and aesthetic amazement around a dead horse. On the Rudolfplatz the whitish, vulnerable statue was placed on a square basement, a kind of plinth. The surface on which the horse is laid down is not too rough and not too smooth, no hard dividing line between the volumes (a trick which Wagenaar picked up from Rodin). The bearing surface was touched up and modelled by hand, to an ascetic but loving temporary resting-place.

Eveline Vermeulen