The Admiral's Headache
The Admiral's Headache
The Admiral's Headache
The Admiral’s Headache is the newest series of photographic works by Amsterdam-based Jasper de Beijer. Similar to his previous series, The Brazilian Suitcase, in which de Beijer focuses on encounters between Western explorers and the native residents of the Brazilian jungle, this new work expands on the artist’s familiar themes over the last 20 years working with Dutch colonialism and the history of slavery. De Beijer chooses subjects for their strong visual mythology, and combines photography, digital sketching, 3D modeling, and sculpture to respond to how the media and society still operate on romanticized imperialist clichés. Every object in this series is first designed in a game-modeling software, and is then printed as a flat 2D blueprint, cut out and folded, and finally reconfigured as 3D paper miniatures on a scale-model landscape in the studio to be photographed.
The photographs in The Admiral’s Headache reference 18th-century hand-colored engravings. Up close, the viewer notices fine and meticulous hand-drawn lines with an eerie sci-fi quality. Throughout the series, patterns and decorative elements on the carriage, building facades, ships, ominous sugar refineries, and oil drums, are implemented to place everything in its historical context. From a distance, these photographs look like seamless colonial paintings, but up close the tell-tale clues of the cut paper reveal themselves.
Residency: Instituto Buena Bista in Curaçao, 2017
The Admiral’s Headache refers to the story of Albert Kikkert, the former admiral and Governor of Curaçao in the early 1800’s. Kikkert complained that the white facades of the buildings shining in the sun exacerbated his migraines, and ordered that they all be painted the bright shades typical of Curaçao’s waterfront today. Kikkert made a tidy profit as well, as he owned the only paint factory on the island. During his residency at the Instituto Buena Bista in Curaçao (2017), De Beijer collected research about this former colony of the Netherlands, focusing primarily on the historical 17th-century architecture. The artist was intrigued by the unique modular, hermetic character of the buildings, ships, tools, and weapons that were brought over to Curaçao, a vast profit making machine imported, assembled, and intended to be powered by human beings.
De Beijer noticed that the ships have a lot in common with the buildings in Curaçao — the old galjoens have small windows and the same kind of hatches. The paper maquette for "Galjoen" is the only model de Beijer built in Curaçao. The remaining miniature models throughout the series were designed during his residency, but built in the artist's studio in Amsterdam over the course of three years.
"Brigadier" is partly an autobiographical piece, reflecting De Beijer's experience during the four months he spent alone in Curaçao during his residency. He depicts the legacy of colonialism without physical human bodies and instead shows only empty, discarded shells. The human factor is removed but the facade remains, impenetrable. Historical context is captured in the details of costumes, carriages, and modular houses.
The costumes in The Admiral's Headache are made completely by hand, and are more complicated to make than the architectural models because of the creases, folds, and texture of the clothing.
De Beijer began cutting out old engravings and etchings, combining them with additions, such as smoke and lightning, as a way to emphasize the surreal magical quality in each photograph.
The artist creates a world where the colonialists are hidden players, present but unseen behind imposing mansions. The uniformity of everything on the island was specifically organized to keep people out and the Dutch comfortably in, which included a warmness within the family, the famed Dutch gezelligheid - the hard shell of a fortress protecting coziness and conviviality.
The stripped-out colonialist lurks around Curaçao with a ghost-like omnipresence, appearing in traces of puffs, gunpowder shots, or magical smoke emanating from fired cannons.
De Beijer's desolate, surreal and industrial realm has scenes of huge ships unloading prefab and modular floor units. The Admiral's Headache is an island riddled with fantastic machines waiting to be involuntarily powered by extracted human labor.
“Bastion” is based on historical Dutch conflict with the English. The image incorporates the idea of the epic battle, with the drama of a science fiction story, an unseen enemy staging a type of alien invasion. On the roof of each landhuis was a hole for a signal fire, used as a visual communication device between the farmhouses that could spread news throughout the island within 5 minutes. This method was used if there was an outside attack or slave uprising. The colorful, hollowed-out bunkers overlook modular slave houses, sprinkled through the landscape in a less organized way than the Dutch fortress farmhouses. Inhabitants are caught in the middle of the battle, without protection.
In “Carriage” the original design is based on drawings, and a colorful carriage De Beijer saw in Curaçao. It contains rich detail, and the ghostly colonialist glimpsed leaving the safety of an opulent carriage is again present but not present under elaborate clothing.
“Cabin” shows cannons firing from the inside of a ship. De Beijer was interested in the magical element of fire, from cannons blasting through ship portholes to signal fires from the roofs of fortresses.