Trip Out East: In the Basement of the Hirshhorn Museum

The man is probably sitting though we can not tell for sure.  Maybe he is not wearing any clothes. One arm, his right, rests on some sort of platform, a card table perhaps.  Behind him is a wall.  His eyes are closed, mostly, though he does slowly open one or both.  After a short time, he slowly closes them again.  The film is 19 minutes long.  He is bald and solidly middle aged.  We can see him breathing.  It is a silent film.  His breath is slow, though occasionally it does accelerate, just enough to make us realize that he too is watching himself breathe, that this watching of his breath is the most important thing in the universe, that without this breath there is no life.  He can feel the breath rising and falling in his chest. He experiences the expansion and contraction of his lungs the way a scientist observes a dividing cell.  He is both empty and full.  Maybe he is briefly amazed that there was a time when he never thought about his breath.  But he knows that line of thinking can be dangerous, leading to an avalanche of memories that will take him from his task, the slightest shifts of the mind triggering his heart beat to speed, leading to dangerous ideas. He regains control. You can see the film from the doorway of the room. Some people do not even come in.  Others walk into the room and almost immediately leave. But if a person stays long enough, it gets more and more difficult to abandon him. We stare at this man, watching him breathe. We feel our own fragile breathing, our own frail minds. What will happen?  The sign outside the room says the man has planned and prepared to make this film for two years.  He is an artist from the Netherlands.*  He is covered in bees.  At first, the bees cover his torso and only some of his face, like a thin beard.  But the story develops, the bees bleed onto his forehead and up over his scalp like a suit of living chain mail. We follow the path of one individual bee that crawls up his cheek and bumps against his eyelashes.  And then that bee is reabsorbed into the vibrating mass while another is spit forth. Our attention is seized by the discomfort of watching this man being slowly enveloped. Maybe we neglect to even consider the great noise or the heft of such an outfit. Why? we hear someone ask. Why would anyone do such a thing? But if we stay long enough, we find out that we are breathing too and that if we pay close enough attention to each breath we can stop the eruption of concern and discomfort and misunderstanding, stop our thoughts from needlessly chasing their tails, and discover that at the heart of fear can live serenity.

*Jeroen Eisinga