Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Boudewijn Payens

View from his atelier in Belgium on a rainy day   Photo: Boudewijn Payens


Unusual gentle is this artist, ever more thoughtful in the words he uses to identify issues he sees in need of being dealt with. He is most kind, and that in every way, whether now in sharing food or some further going ideas.

Most interesting is to see him in action. Not only does he instigate things in a most subtle way, but he adapts at the same time the process to the use of digital tools. With that double approach he creates and responds simultaneously to experiences. He translates himself the images as they are being created and puts everything in a highly sensitivized, equally concrete context. And extends it by making such images available on line.

Such an action-art process goes beyond vivid impressions and becomes an art work of its own. It constitutes, to speak with Robert Musil, a parallel action. With this consciousness he works on the materials, both artistically and literally speaking. For he is really shy but ready to give the body of work a meaningful text. And more so he does take care not to neglect the visual world accessible primarily through the senses but as the participant in his actions realizes later on not only.

What adds and enriches all of this is his experiences as mountain climber, as someone who studies rocks before ascending them. It is a work with hands, feet and an entire body suspended against a steep wall where every false step can mean sudden death. And he knows as well that no one can climb up all alone. There is this keen awareness of mutual dependency upon every word and signal of the other. For everything counts e.g. whether or not to give more rope in need to be without an unnecessary slack. Indeed, the latter can become a critical the very next moment when he has to descend in order to find an alternative route up the rock.

In all art-actions there is this constant interplay between sense perception and digital images. It is a process which signifies a key term of his work: 'social communication'. Social communication means he expounds first upon an idea which he picks out of what others do. Then without much ado, he allows this idea he has expounded upon and given further value to it, to be taken up by the others, in order to be acted out by them. The participants become thereby themselves creator of their own experiences with this basic idea about how to communicate with the others.

This was the case when he went together with Insa Winkler to Chernobyl ten years after the accident. Without knowing at first what to do in such an aweful situation, the people most depressed, but no where to go but stay in a place affected fully by radiation, he watched children making drawings. One of them drew a little ship. That gave him the idea to make a ship outside. He proposed to assemble spare parts lying around on a frozen football field, in order to construct such a boat. This they did. Soon they had build a boat into which all could climb. Once aboard, they could go on an 'imaginary voyage'. In doing so, they discovered with their imagination they could escape the dreadful surroundings. The latter is one in which they never know if the food in front of them on the table was really safe to eat or not.

Note: the image of the boat was shown at an exhibition in Olga Sienko's Studio in London from 12th of May until 30th of June and loaded up onto youtube at


While on Rhodes during the action 'imperishable water and the open question of development', curated by Charoula Hadijnicolaou from Poiein kai Prattein, during May-June 2011, Boudewijn Payens undertook three different actions to outline his understanding of 'social communication'.

The first one ended up being drowned out by a sudden thunderstorm erupting over the dam lake. It was meant to be the site for a special action he had designed to invite children to think about their relationship to nature. Similar to old rituals, he wanted them to make floats to be placed along a rope over the water as a way to show respect, even a kind of whorship of nature. With small things the children should construct their respect of such deity. But instead heavy rain came. It sent everyone scrambling off to the bus with the children leaving unfinished the action behind.

Boudewijn Payens explaining to the children the action before them at the dam lake

Instead of seeing what the children thought of nature, Boudewijn Payens and others ended up in a cramped car whose windows quickly fogged up. This he took as an opportunity to just draw some sketches on the window pane. When the poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke saw later on his digital camera the images thereof, she immediately responded by saying that this is his 'poem'. That response excited Boudewijn as it was a new discovery of what happened on that rainy day inside of the car. Certainly when something else had been planned, but due to nature did not come about, then such a poem is a huge compensation and can make up the loss.


The following day he prepared for another action.

He asked children to come with him down to river bed almost completely dried out. The river bed stretched out and gave a lot of space to them. He had brought with him a rope 80meter long. He tied the two ends together and asked the children to make a circle with all of them holding onto the rope with both hands. They were asked to stand in proper distance to each other in order to hold up the rope now a huge circle. Then he told them that they should try to create a David Star without saying one word. They could only use nods, signs and even perhaps grunts to get the attention of the other. This little exercise exemplified in a beautiful way what social communication can entail. To this has to be added one comment by the children about Boudewijn Payens: "what a great guy!"

During the conference held on Saturday, June 3rd 2011 in Rhodes, Boudewijn Payens asked all the participants of the workshop to come outside. He had placed around the edges of a chess board like mosaic ice cubes and asked every participant to stand behind one ice cube. He named it a symbol of their cooperation throughout these days. Then he asked them to pick up one such ice cube and to carry it around the Translation Centre to the stairs climbing much further up the hill from where it is possible to overlook the entire coastline of Rhodes. It was interesting to watch how different people, including the mayor of Rhodes, adapted to this task of carrying the ice. Some did it together, others panted, while some stronger ones carried the entire piece not four or five but even twenty flights of stairs towards the sky waiting with open arms for more ice.

It is interesting to see Boudewijn Payens in all of these actions and observe how he lets his idea unfold. It is social communication becoming a social sculpture with people becoming involved themselves. By participating, they are able to think differently than before about the same thing, namely ice. Once they have made some experience with this material, they view their initial reluctance to participate from a different point of understanding. Something was transformed once they plugged the courage and did something with the ice or the rope or a fogged up window. It may mean making possible an experience is the missing link between art and the world not to be seen merely statically, but as a flow of ideas.

In a further step, as teacher of art Boudewijn Payens wishes to convey to his students a basic principle about man and communication. He would call it even a primitive need. Just as the writer George Crane would say, 'man becomes only human through the story he has to tell', so Boudewijn Payens would support that thesis by outlining the need of communication as a basic structure linking the human being to the world.

It is, therefore, interesting to see how a student of his translates this into the human being at risk to become a mere marionette in the network of powerful communication companies. Like the puppet on a string, the artistic observation is about the illusion of communication implying in reality a lot more broken communication linkages than what human energy there exists to build bridges over all these gaps or missing linkages.

Student work in class of Boudewijn Payens: Krijn Henkens and Lennart Heijmans.

The interesting aspect about the student's work is that it fulfills something nearly impossible, and what is the dilemma Kant spoke about when he said concepts without perception (Anschauung) are blind. For the extension of this is how to visualize something which is by definition abstract? It has always been a puzzle for philosopher how they should present something without the concrete content distorting the meaning of the concept? In this case 'broken communication' as a result of overdependency of the consumer upon those companies facilitating modern communication networks may reveal something of that hidden dimension looming behind the seeming concrete, or self evident. Moreover it resonates with other associations such as the world becoming a 'global village' according to McLuhan, when in fact even two villages near to each other on the same continent may not understand each other, if they are without a culture helping them to decipher the messages coming from the other village.



For further information about Boudewijn Payens, see

gsm NL     0031 [0]6 20568040
GSM Belgie 00- 32-[0]496-467429
web: www.boudewijnpayens.nl

Hatto Fischer  7.12.2011

^ Top

« Painter Mitrakas | Thomas Monses »