Past Lives

Bloemen in a Vase (1617),

by Jan Brueghel the elder, with trace-diagram used to identify the painting’s flora and fauna.

Destilling Still Life was originally conceived in June 2007, when Nikolaus Gansterer and Wietske Maas were invited to make a ‘course’ as part of an art dinner ‘Erst das Fressen’ curated by Claire Warnier for the Hessen Huis, Antwerp. At first we experimented with the idea of eating a still life: cooking still life vegetation from bulbs to edible flowers. During this research we met with flower expert Mark Reynders who was also an avid distiller, distilling the flowers he harvested in the wild. As such the idea to distill a still life came into being. For Erst das Fressen chose the Bloemen in a Vase (1617), painting by Jan Brueghel the elder housed in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen. With the help of Mark Renders, we made a steam distilled aperitif of all the flowers we could, at that time collect from this very ambitiously encyclopaedic array of flowers.

Bouquet with two lizards in a niche (1603),

by Roelant Saverij with trace-diagram used to map the flowers, insects and lizards in the painting.

A year later, the idea for Destilling Still Life was elaborated for KAAP 2008, an exhibition curated by Mark Kremer and co-produced by Storm projecten, inviting 8-10 international artists to create a work for the site of an old military fortress outside of Utrecht. This time Nikolaus Gansterer and Wietske Maas selected a floral still life by Roelant Saverij ‘Bloemstuk met twee hagedissen in een nis’ 1603 (Bouquet with two lizards in a niche’). This is thought to be the first floral still life  to be painted in North Holland and now hangs in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht. For the duration of the KAAP exhibition we set up a laboratory like-chamber, a ‘Stilleven Stokerij’ (Still Life Distillery) in one of the fort’s underground former ammunition chambers. Visitors could witness the cultivation and distillation process, seeing, smelling and ingesting the painting in a visceral and reverse engineered form.

In the months following the exhibition many people made a special visit to the Centraal Museum to see the original Saverij. Apparently some children would even stand before it and say proudly: “Look! I have drunk this painting!”


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