originally appeared in Flash Art, July-August-September 2012

on Bas Jan Ader

by Ahmet Ögüt

When making the project Guppy 13 vs Ocean Wave (2010) as homage to Bas Jan Ader, I first asked this question: What kind of relationship can we establish between the past and the present? Bas Jan Ader’s last project, In Search of the Miraculous, ended tragically when he disappeared while trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a tiny sailboat. My goal was not to reproduce his unfinished journey; I have merely tried to recreate the conditions of that experience for the audience. I was lucky enough to find the same type of sailboat that Ader used, a Guppy 13, of which only 300 were produced in the USA in 1974. I bought it in Sullivan, Illinois, and had it shipped to Amsterdam, where Ader used to study. I invited visitors to live through Bas Jan Ader’s experience, albeit only for a few minutes, in this sailboat on Amsterdam’s waters. The only rule was that everybody had to get onboard the sailboat and commandeer it by themselves. I myself got on the sailboat alone for the fist time. During a three-day period many passersby got on the sailboat. For most, it was their first time on a boat alone. So I recreated the same physical conditions of Bas Jan Ader’s experience. There was even a copy of The Phenomenology of Spirit by Hegel on board, the same book Bas Jan Ader took with him on that final journey. From this I made video documentation of the event, in which Guppy 13 sails backwards to start from the end of its uncompleted journey. In the video work, a single passenger on Guppy 13 changes constantly. The music heard during the video is a Henry Russell composition played backwards — a piece of music that was part of Bas Jan Ader’s last project. In a way, Guppy 13 documents a journey backwards in time.

Bas Jan Ader’s Guppy 13 was found off the coast of Ireland by a Spanish crew and taken to Spain. The boat was stolen a few weeks after it was found. My Guppy 13 also was stolen while moored in a canal in Amsterdam after I completed the project. This seemingly cosmic coincidence cemented the project’s relationship to the present and future, at which point it traveled from art back to life. It was restored as a part of nature and life, completely out of my control. Finding the boat missing, I was sad, nervous but curious, filled with all the feelings that you can have when things get out of your control. Bas Jan Ader had a plan, too, before nature took control. Strangely enough, after four months, on October 16, 2010, my Guppy 13 was found (not by a Spanish crew). I went to pick it up where it was found and the police escorted me to the place. The boat was nearly sunk. After sitting idly one winter in the canals of Amsterdam, Guppy 13 was finally exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam: the vessel, the police report, the fictional documentary and the photo of the moment when I arrived on the scene with the Amsterdam police.

After that show, I decided to donate this installation to the Van Abbemuseum. Soon it will be anchored in a pond in front of the museum. Now Guppy 13 is again returned from life to art (unless it will disappear again). As with the story of Bas Jan Ader, there is one last question to ask: Has the story ended?