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Ben d’Armagnac (1940-1978)

Ben d’Armagnac

Ben d’Armagnac (Amsterdam, 1940 – 1978) studied painting at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam from 1960 – 1963. In 1965 he moved briefly into the commune of Dutch artist Anton Heyboer in Landsmeer, who was an important influence on his early etchings. From 1967 on he worked together with Gerrit Dekker, e.g. on “Project for a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, dining room, toilet and some non-specified spaces” at Galerie Mickery in 1969 in Amsterdam and abroad before shifting his focus to performance art in the early 1970s.
He was one of the prominent Dutch artists to perform at De Appel (Amsterdam) in its early stages and a 1975 screening of his videotaped performances was among the events marking the centre’s transition to incorporating video.
In the course of his career, d’Armagnac gained recognition in The Netherlands as well as abroad, exhibiting in the United States from the late 1970’s onwards. For d’Armagnac, video mainly served the purpose of documenting performances that themselves considered the primary work of art, although there are exceptions to this rule. Many of his pieces explore the process of art-making as a sort of torture or imprisonment for the artist. His performances frequently involve ‘abject’ experiences, especially in relation with bodily substances, such as blood and vomit, employed to explore psychoanalytic concepts of interiority and exteriority as well as issues of physical self-control.

an appropriate Ending: Ben d’Armagnac’s Last Performance

‘In a few moments the Theater aan de Rijn in Arnhem would be full of people who had come to attend the next session of the Behavior Workshop, a five-day event that included performances and talks by Joseph BeuysMarina Abramovic and UlayCarolee Schneemann, and a series of related workshops, dialogues, and political debates (September 28 through October 3, 1978). Now, just before noon on Saturday, the room was empty except for Beuys, his friend the Dutch artist and writer Louwrien Wijers, and the ghost of Bernard (Ben) d’Armagnac.’

‘Two days before, on Thursday evening, d’Armagnac had fallen and hit his head on the side of his houseboat, been knocked unconscious, and had drowned in the water at the corner of the canals Herengracht and Brouwersgracht. A convex mirror, attached to the wall so that boat pilots can see oncoming vessels coming around the corner, today serves as a kind of makeshift memorial, marking the site of his death.’

‘Wijers recalled that Friday morning his wife Johanna noticed ‘many people looking over the railing of the bridge. She looked in the water, and Ben’s body was lying there, as if in a performance, you know, but this time he had drowned during the night, stepping on his… going into the boat he stepped on… and he just… he fell, you know, and then he came with his head on the iron side of the boat, fell into the water, probably unconscious, and later in the morning when they started to move the water, the body came up.’

‘Ben was supposed to come to Arnhem to the Behavior Workshop, where he was scheduled to do a performance, Wijers explained, but he couldn’t make up his mind. For weeks and weeks he said ‘I don’t know what to do in Arnhem… it has to do with death but I don’t know how to do it.’ And with a soft laugh at the irony of this, she continued: ‘So, he did his performance! In time! And it was about death! But it took his life. I think that is always a good thing, eh? There are a few artists who… die in their work… you could say.’

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