‘Improvised Munition’ takes its name from a United States Army Technical Manual, which outlines various ways of using seemingly innocuous and locally available materials to create weapons, explosives, fuses, ammunition and incendiaries. The materials and objects used in the manual are typically household products; products that for van Woert describe a new American landscape. Van Woert’s interest lies in the latent horror and destructive possibilities resting just below the surface of these materials that have come to support and signify lifestyles of comfort, leisure, opulence and convenience.
Interested in destruction as a type of alchemy and how ithas been used throughout history as a means to regain a sense of identity, van Woert’s work makes reference to the iconoclasm during the 16th century Beeldenstorm in Europe, the breaking of stocking looms in England by the Luddites, burning billboards by Edward Abbey’s fictional characters in “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, and the industrial sabotage of the underground radical environmentalists, EarthFirst. Each of these groups developed a relationship to ordinary objects and materials that drastically changed their original meaning. By slightly altering the context of a material they were able to turn something typically associated with convenience into a catastrophe.
A darkness is revealed behind the familiar suggesting that the comfort a material provides may only be camouflage for the violence underneath. The extreme polarities materials can traverse in terms of their meaning and our relationship to them is part of an ongoing discussion for van Woert.
One of the works in ‘Improvised Munition’ is ‘Erratic’, a sprawling sculpture made from processed materials stacked in clear boxes. The boxes interlock like strata, which for the artist follow in the tradition of Landscape painting. Where Albert Bierstadt painted lavish Sunsets over Yosemite, Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe, places only hours away from where van Woert grew up, van Woert presents a landscape made from the materials he sees and touches everyday: urethane, plywood, sheetrock, steel, various chemicals, supplements, hair gel, charcoal, chlorine, Kool-Aid, Coca-Cola, and styrofoam among many others.
The subtext to many of the works is about reconnecting to the natural world. Figures like John Muir, Henry David Thoreau and Ted Kaczinsky all chose to live outside of the the luxuries provided by modern life. Using the words of Thoreau to understand this impetus he says, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” This reductive process of stripping your life down and searching for a naked experience with raw material is what inspires van Woert.
Opening: 3 March, 2012, from 4-6 at Keizersgracht 82 and from 6-8 pm at Frans Halsstraat 26, Amsterdam.