DVD Review: Here is Always Somewhere Else (2008)

You might not think that there would be much information available about a performance artist whose entire catalog of work lasts about 40 minutes, and who vanished at sea. This release will dispel that notion. Here is Always Somewhere Else is not only a moving tribute of artist Bas Jan Ader, but a celebration of the eye, that which notices the miraculous in the small, mundane details.

Ader, in that sense, was one of the first micro-historians. He was obsessed with gravity, with its elusive, literal hold on us. His short films feature simple gestures and make them seem epic: he falls off a roof, he swings from a tree branch until it snaps, sending himself into a river; he rides a bike right into currents; he sways, testing his balance, until he topples over. There is another film in which his face is seen in close-up, crying, gravity drawing his tears downward. Yet, despite this hermetic obsession, his disappearance was due to his attempt at the grand gesture: sailing around the world in a tiny boat. He called the adventure (attempted on film) In Search of the Miraculous.

Bas Jan Ader (1942-1975) originally came to America by boat, at nineteen working on a yacht sailing from Morocco to L.A. He stayed in California after the boat ran aground there. Subsequently he enrolled in art school and later taught at the Claremont Graduate School. By this time he began painting; there is an awkward clip of a short film he made in his gallery, where he filmed himself daily reading a children’s book, in a gallery consistently empty of patrons.

In 1975, he began preparations for Miraculous, ignoring the advice of those who suggested that the small, 12-foot sailboat he chose–indeed the smallest ever to attempt to sail the Atlantic–was not sufficient for the journey. They were right, as the boat was found off the coast of Ireland shortly into his planned 60-day trip. In a final, ironic gesture to gravity, his body was never found.

Moving interviews with his ex-wife, friends, and current performance artists attest to the magnetism Ader had, as well as the influence his work has continued to have. A second disc in the Cult Epics set features his complete film and video work.

This is a film about a man who tempted fate by facing one of the supreme laws of nature, and attempted to engage it in silly games. There is a whimsical nature to his visual pieces, and his tragic death has not diminished that positive energy. In a sense this is a reminder that literally we all have magic in every step.

Inspiration as a plunge.
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