Alexander van Bakel is an artist and writer born (1994) and based in Amsterdam. As a writer he specializes in fiction with surreal and dreamlike elements. He completed his first novel "The Enterprise" in 2018 and is currently working on a bundle of short stories.
His main focuss as an artist is the continues project "Paradise Found" and the development and discovery of this world. Read more about the project below.
Process and Content
I created the world of 'Paradise Found' in its rudimentary form during my second study year at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. It started with a fascination for cruise ships. I always wondered what drew people to these colossal structures. The cruise ship is an artificial environment made and organized according to our needs with the specific purpose to entertain people and provide a relaxing experience in general. David Foster Wallace wrote quite a funny essay about his experience on a cruise and I would recommend reading it.
Like David Foster Wallace, for me, a place created with this sole purpose in mind and no way to escape it sounds more like staying in a dystopian prison. I do not think the comparison is so far-fetched than it might appear. Both are strictly ordered worlds in themselves but with different purposes in mind. One is used for relaxation and comfort while the other is designed to punish people. This contrast made me wonder about limits and freedom; how limitations on freedom can create environments that we either experience as pleasurable or with displeasure.
My research into this topic eventually brought me to video games, which have in many ways a similar structure as the cruise ship. Again these are artificial environments that limit the player's freedom in specific ways while allowing and enabling other forms of freedom, think of superpowers. I see the video game as a resort or a cruise ship. One can escape the realities for a while by indulging in a structure that limits our freedoms and adds others. I discovered the perfect embodiment of this thought in a Minecraft cruise ship I stumbled upon during my research. The cruise ship in Minecraft serves absolutely no purpose in the game. It cannot go anywhere, nor can it be used for relaxation in the game. It is the pure joy of building in the Minecraft environment that gave rise to this creation.
Let me quickly explain how the game works before I move on. The game allows players to build and create whatever they want but again there are limits. The building blocks are cubes that can be placed only at specific points. Their placement is determined by an invisible grid that cuts through the game world. There are two game modes, survival where you survive in a hostile world and have to find resources yourself, or creative mode where you have access to unlimited resources and can build whatever you want.
With these ideas in mind I began using Minecraft as a modeling tool. This added an interesting property to every 3D model. Minecraft only allows you to place blocks of a fixed size. Everything is subject to a mathematical proportionality since all measurements are divisible by this standard unit. For example, you can compare it to the Alhambra where mathematical relations define all proportions and wall motives, to dazzling effect.
More complex structures arise from this fundamental unit or constant by arranging the elements in different ways. This notion fascinated me as I believe it is of great relevance and applicable to our reality. I believe that at the fundamental level of our reality everything is made from the same element. Different structures can arise due to that element's inherent properties. Greater complexity is reached as these structures again interact with each other and constitute higher levels of complexity. An interesting read about this topic is "At home in the universe," by Stuart Kauffman. Spinoza's ethics is structured similarly, starting with simple axioms from which through reasoning complex conclusions can be arrived at, not all his arguments hold, but this architectural structure served as inspiration. His world is just as deterministic as mine. You could argue that his pantheistic idea of god is embodied in the mathematical relations that define and determine these worlds.
There certainly is a reference to religion in my work. These worlds are 3D models. They are clean and unblemished and exist in a different realm. You could see the digital world of 3D models a bit like Plato's metaphysical world of ideas. in the digital space, the models are perfect and mathematical while bringing them into reality adds a level of imperfection. In the same way, heaven could be seen as the model for reality, and reality is simply a 3D printed version of heaven with all the imperfections and roughness and support structures intact. This is also something I aim to explore further by capitalizing on these imperfections that come into being when one translates something from the virtual world into the real world.
As I mentioned earlier, the idea of complexity is incorporated in a more primitive form in my work. I find it incredible how many distinctive shapes of varying complexity can arise by applying this method, even without reaching incredibly high levels of complexity. My work is a celebration of this stunning diversity.
Minecraft added another element to the project: Architecture and its history. Architecture is another structure that limits and allows movement and freedom. Throughout history, architecture has, amongst other purposes, been a wielded as a tool to show a government's dominance over its people. There is a link between strictly hierarchical organizations and architecture, notably the church, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, North Korea and modern-day multinational corporations. The relation between power and architecture is laid out very well in Deyan Sudjic's book, "the edifice complex," another recommended read.
This part of my research brought me to the darker sides of control and systems. I refer to Franz Kafka's novels and Piranesi's imaginary prisons in my work as they, in my opinion, created stunning artistic visions of this idea. I will now briefly outline the similarities between their work and mine to highlight the similarities. The most obvious link is the maze-like, endless, bleak quality both artists employ in their work. Visually I strongly refer to Piranesi's prison etchings. High contrasts and low point of view to give the illusion of intimidating architecture. I widely apply this technique in my work to deliberately strengthen the tie between his work an mine. The structures or architecture depicted and described in their work have a superhuman quality. The system seems unchangeable and insensitive to human emotion. This notion is omnipresent in my worlds. The lack of scale and the sterile look give the structures a superhuman quality. I think the digital aspect is where I add content and build upon their legacy. The digital world offers great opportunities and possibilities, but there are some dark sides as well. Our data is being harvested and sold or used by governments to spy on its people or other unsavoury purposes. You could also see these worlds as an environment where the system has taken over. It offers a view into a world where humans have no place due to their inherent inefficiency. The repetitiveness in structure suggests that an algorithm generated them, yet the entire process was more akin to a more intuitive process like painting a picture.
All these elements formed a fertile basis to start creating. I found a method of working that provided me with a distinct visual signature while at the same time also referring to a rich history of architectural and artistic work giving it context and a place within the history of art while also taking it a step further. All the elements found an outlet in what became my graduation project, 'Paradise Found.' For this project, I created a solar system consisting of nine worlds or planets. Each is distinct and reflecting on an archetypical world here on earth. For example, one world uses an Amazon distribution centre as inspiration, while another is based on rollercoasters.
After I graduated, I decided to treat this universe as a world in its own, with its own logic and rules. I set out to explore this universe more thoroughly, which resulted in a wide range of works. For example, one series is about landscapes. Another is a collection of creatures I collected and tried to categorize. In yet another series I show different phenomena and particles. In my upcoming publication, you can see the different levels of discovery and the works that are the result of these explorations.
2015 - 2018: Gerrit Rietveld Academy, DesignLAB, Amsterdam
2017 - 2018: University of Amsterdam, Minor Programming, Amsterdam
2017 April - Juli: Jonas Lund, Internship, Berlin
2014 - 2015: Utrecht School of Arts, Product Design, Utrecht
2013 - 2014: University of Leiden, Art History, Leiden
2012 - 2013: TU-Delft, Industrial Design Engineering, Delft
2011 - 2012: Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Orientation year, Amsterdam
This Art Fair, group exhibition, Amsterdam
Het Kunstgemaal, solo exhibition, Bronkhorst
"World Explorations" WOW Amsterdam, Amsterdam
"Paradise Found" VondelCS, Amsterdam
David Zwirner, Virtual exhibition, Minecraft
"Ik u ook" Het Kunstgemaal, Bronkhorst, until March, currently closed due to corona
"The space in between" Het vrij paleis, Amsterdam
"Paradise Found" Prinsenkwartier Delft, Delft
"Highlight Delft" Vakwerkhuis, Delft
"Art Rotterdam" The New Current, Rotterdam
"Licht" Galerie Pouloeuff, Naarden
"Another day in Paradise" Galerie de Meerse, Hoofddorp
"Future nature" Het kunstgemaal, Bronkhorst
"Maison Gramont" Arts et Culture, Fanjeaux France
"Unknown Paradise" Cityscapes Foundation, Schietbaan Marineterrein Amsterdam
"Ingenieurskunst" Cityscapes Foundation, Commandantswoning Marineterrein Amsterdam
"Signals from Paradise" Het Vrij Paleis, Paleisstraat 107 Amsterdam
"Paradise Found" Object Rotterdam, HAKA gebouw Rotterdam
"Linkedup" Media art festival friesland, Leeuwarden
"Paradise Found" Dutch Design Week, Hutspot Eindhoven
"Will the future design us?" Manifestations, Veemgebouw Eindhoven
"Team Franc the graduation show" Corrosia Theater film and Expo Almere
"Jong Talent 2018" Stichting Artphy, De Blauwe Kathedraal Westerwolde
"Future flash 200- from Frankenstein to Hyperbrain" GOGBOT festival, Concordia theater Enschede
"The graduation show" Gerrit Rietveld Academy Amsterdam
"What is happening to our brain" Rietveld Uncut, Stedelijk museum Amsterdam
"Absurd Beings" Cultureel centrum t'Fijnhout Amsterdam
"Cook the kitchen" Stichting Mediamatic Amsterdam
"Let's talk about violence" What design can do, Muziekgebouw aan het IJ Amsterdam
"Bots bodies beasts" Rietveld Uncut, Vlaams cultuurhuis de brakke grond Amsterdam
2nd prize Manifestations young talent award
Media art festival young masters award
GOGBOT young blood award
KPMG, Paul de Ruiter Architects, GRIP reintegratie, VondelCS, various private collections
Review of Highlight art and technology festival Delft
Interview and artist talk about my work and process for "the new current." A Rotterdam based initiative aimed at promoting and exhibiting work(s) from artists at the start of their career during "ArtRotterdam."
Openingspeech at the exhibition "De duizelingwekkende verbeelding van Piranesi" at De Kunsthal in Rotterdam.
"Paradise Found" featured in "De architect." Journal and online platform for architecture.
"Paradise Found" featured in "het museumtijdschrift." A dutch informative magazine about exhibitions and other cultural events.
Presentation about "Paradise Found" at STROOM in The Hague. A center for art and culture in The Hague.
Article about "Paradise Found" in "X=Y magazine." An online magazine for art and design.
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