Jasper de Beijer is an artist based in Amsterdam.
In his diary, a World War I French corporal describes his irritation when it cost his platoon an incredible amount of effort to get their shovels through the bones of corpses while digging trenches. Like this corporal, many people who have experienced the extreme hardships of wartime are no longer capable of processing the misery the experience incurs. They allow practical concerns to replace the sense of drama. This mental process is a textbook example of dissociation.
The photographic documentation and written accounts of this war seem to present similarities with other wars. The soldiers are all depicted as being stuck in the mud. All elements like steel, dirt, body parts, and clothing seem to blend into a new reality. It got me wondering about their experiences. I wondered how does the world look when everything is broken, soaking wet, and smelling like decay? Because of the nature of the photography of the period—being in black and white—and their abstract quality, as well as of the diary fragments, I was fascinated by the new order that seemed to emerge out of all the physical elements that made up this war. My latest photo series, Le Sacre du Printemps, is an investigation into this imagery.
I started to collect the images that appealed to me and categorize them in a database. Using this database, I recreated the trenches to scale in my studio. I also built explosions and fragments of an exploding horse, and I molded paper heads to continue my investigation. I wanted to use these physical elements to discover the limits of the drama on the one hand, and the almost impersonal abstraction that exists on the other. The relationship between these gave me the chills when I first stumbled upon the images. It seemed like these images and stories had begun to lead their own lives. Their reference to reality has almost disappeared, and they have become somewhat autonomous. As an artist, I find this closed off world an ideal playing ground within which to investigate and experiment. As in my other work, imagery that has lost its way in our culture, and exists without its factual context keeps me intrigued.