Crowds have always, to borrow from Guns 'n' Roses, had an appetite for destruction. What is it about damage that makes people happy? From the Bastille to the American phenomenon of the demolition derby (smashing junk cars at public arenas) the collective thirst for wreckage has never lost its appeal. Marnix de Nijs and Edwin van der Heide whet such appetites, determining that their collaborative art will be made from the remnants of previous exhibitions. With over 200 people in attendance, their performance Intervention with Four Pneumatic Cylinders (2001) entailed a spirited, high-energy destruction of an installation.
At BeganeGrond (Ground Floor), an alternative space in Utrecht run by Maria Hlavajova, their performance began with a large wooden structure that had once been a meditation room. Using a rented air compressor and a laptop computer, de Nijs (a composer), and van der Heide (an installation artist) joined forces to breathe life literally into the immobile object, creating a kinetic sculpture by pumping air into its three-sided form. Its corners became feet, shuffling like a reluctant teenager at a high school dance. As the internal pressure mounted, the room began to rock, writhing and balancing on only two or three corners, forcing the crowd to make room for its inevitable collapse. The uncertain outcome generated an euphoric participation, with people moving about the gallery jockeying for the best view. By offering unobstructed proximity to the phenomenon, the artists established a high-stake spectatorship where the parameters of destruction were controllable but not entirely predictable.
De Nijs induced a cacophony of delirious sound with his fully digital musical composition, using the air compressor as a backbeat. Somewhere between noise and drum and bass, he evoked a club-like ambience that paired nicely with the rising sawdust and heavy smoking. Like waiting for a rock star to smash his guitar, a collective sense of abandon permeated the space. The climax of the piece came nearly an hour after its inception, with the walls folding in on each other and crashing to the floor, to the whistles and cheers of the expectant audience. The air compressor continued and was then shut off, leaving one with an ear-ringing quiet.
The dance and romp of inanimate objects - puppets, marionettes and ventriloquists' dummies - have always captivated audiences. Human-operated, the deception is an obvious one. This is the kind of visibility de Nijs and van der Heide opt for, manipulating their dancing structure openly. Instead of detracting from the experience, their approach heightened the impossible reality of the situation. Performance permits this sort of faith, a crucial component that often gets lost in the less immediate media of video and photography. Perhaps because they are object-based, Cornelia Parker's installations involving destroyed structures also manage to preserve such a transitory essence. An undeniable violence resonates in the destruction of an architectural entity. De Nijs and van der Heide annihilate gallery leftovers, creating an elegant alternative to the ordinary process of de-installation.