Mediamatic Off-Line Vol. 11#1 Paul Groot 1 Jan 2003

Simon, Xiamen

Gerald van der Kaap

Gerald van der Kaap is indeed a photographer of his own free will, but also really rather in spite of himself.

This constantly-click-clacking artist, who portrays his surroundings as no-one else can, always behaves as if he is actually concerned with something else. The ‘diary’ that he maintains almost like an obsessive documentary must nevertheless preferably look like a collection of chance snapshots. But meanwhile, he works on an enormous database of prints. Others make photos in order to portray their surroundings, but Van der Kaap works differently. Always, as if by magic, he transforms all photos of his surroundings into a sort of self-portrait, a self-portrait in which, by chance, his surroundings are also reflected. A bit arty sometimes, it is true – particularly if he processes them with the computer – but usually, in fact, down-to-earth, very precise, objective. And not seldom, also very engagé.

Here, for example, in the portrait of Simon-Xiamen. A variation on the effect that Andy Warhol was referring to when he said that everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. An ordinary lad, probably from the Chinese city Xiamen where Van der Kaap recently worked for some time. Perhaps the same one who admiringly remarked to Van der Kaap: You made revolution! when, unasked, he gave a party at the university there. Thus it had to do with Van der Kaap’s democratic-anarchistic air, since there is always a bit of friction in that splendidly aesthetically-formulated ‘Kaap’ world. And on this face here too. True, it is the face of Simon, a European name transposed into Chinese sounds, but also a self-portrait, because Van der Kaap’s signature is as unemphatically original as it is emphatically, invisibly, present.

This face of an almost anonymous inhabitant of China – who perhaps has no idea that his enlarged likeness is being projected in Amsterdam – is however more than that. It is a beautiful proof of how artistic quality can also acquire a political charge. While in the mass-media idols only exist if they have been depoliticised – as soon as these jumping jacks start formulating political visions or opinions, the idolatry is over – political slogans are written on Simon’s face. Without our being able to distinguish the Chinese characters, we see that something wants to be expressed here. Clearly, not an official slogan such as those you often encounter in China. For example (in translation): By creating an extraordinary culture, the Chinese people have done the world a great service. Naturally, that is indeed true, but I am more inclined to think that Van der Kaap read on his face questions about the uprising in The Square of Heavenly Peace, about the China of cities hastily thrown up, the China of SARS and the China of the Olympic Games 2008. So Simon is a bit of a hero, even if he comes disguised in a beautiful self-portrait by Van der Kaap...

translation: Bob Biddiscombe