The work of Maurice Meewisse

In his work, Rotterdam based Maurice Meewisse (1978) seeks to portray the hardworking manual labourer. He looks for a heroic portrayal of man willing to sacrifice himself out of a necessity or for a common good - the distilled image of uncompromising strength and unremittingness.

He lifts this worker out of history into legend or the ahistorical and presents him as a mythical figure. Today, hard physical labour is largely disappearing from our cultural landscape in the western world. Meewisse is occupied with the disappearance of the mentality which derives from it; the mentality that characterises people who carry out extreme forms of work.

In the development of the portraits the process of collecting and processing raw material plays a key role. Activities such as tree felling, mining and well-digging, clay extraction and processing have formed the nucleus of several of his works. These activities are often documented through photography and the photos are later displayed next to the natural material as part of an exhibition.

In Meewisse's portrayals of the nameless workers, he either develops a performance around a piece of manual work and takes the role of workman upon himself or constructs and equips their temporarily abandoned living and working quarters as life-sized room installations.
At times, the manual work may at a glance look like 'wasted labour', spent on activities useless from a productive point of view, however charged with content as his focus is not necessarily on the outcome but on the process itself, often based on traditional techniques and their inherent associations. In the age of digital production and computerengineered flawlessness, he tries to distill a back-to-basics approach to manual labour, to take an aesthetic view on the physicality of work and to pay homage to persistence and unfaltering determination and the mentality that underlies these traits.

To carry out manual work in nature is a way of inscribing oneself into nature itself. Meewisse pictures himself as a shaping force in the landscape, following only the rules he has laid out, whether it is in regard to felling trees, digging trenches or moving mounds of gravel from one location to another. He draws on the Romantic archetype of the solitary, masculine artist-as-hero, who firmly follows the various dictates of his personal inspirations. Meewisse's approach to nature is not scientific or rational, it is subjective and emotionally driven. In his work, he seeks to pose contemporary, relevant questions about nature; not in paraphrases of Romanticism, but in interpretations of themes also seen in romantic currents. Romanticism was among other things a way to see through reality and with suggestion create openings into themes, which were not apparent on the surface of reality. Themes such as alienation, conservation, consumerism, sustainability, the throwaway society and the consequences of this are recurrent in Meewisse's work.

The Woodworks (2010)
In his work The Woodworks, Meewisse went together with photographer Casper Rila to a forest in the east of the Netherlands. For this project he took on the role of a lumberjack. In the course of two days he felled 15 trees by hand, after which a selection of them was sawed into smaller pieces with a chain saw. This work pays homage to the traditional work done by the lumberjacks, the manual workers who performed the initial harvesting of trees for ultimate processing into various products. Meewisse went a step further and produced his own construction materials, some of which were exhibited alongside the documenting photos of the time he spent in the forest.

He collected wood chips from the felled trees and made a biodegradable adhesive using glycerine and vinegar, creating a wood chip mass which could be molded into organic shapes or compressed into boards. With the wood chip mass, he has produced a series of tool casings, starting with a case for the chain saw which was initially used to cut up the felled trees. This work, Zaagkoffer, was nominated for the 2010 Doen Materiaalprijs for innovative, functional, and sustainable materials. The processed timber from The Woodworks has been used in other works, e.g. Windfahne exhibited at the Bewegter Wind-festival in North Hesse, Germany.

Mont Nord (2012)
During the Route du Nord-festival in Rotterdam Meewisse presented Mont Nord, a 300 cubic meter large pile of sand, an artificial dune. He built a wooden platform on the top, accessible by stairs, which functioned as a stage for concerts and performances and as a viewing point over the square.
By placing this mountain of sand on the square in the middle of the city, he invited not only an element from nature into the city, he also enticed the visitors into the relaxed state which we allow ourselves in nature; people took off their shoes and laid down in the sand, children brought shovels and rolled and jumped down the sloping sides. Visitors climbed the stairs to photograph the elevated view over the square.

Around the sand mountain Meewisse programmed a series of events, such as a chess tournament, an intimate guitar concert and a quite frivolous opening act with sausage baking, girls in Tirolese costumes and accordion music. As a contrast to the frivolity and games, there was always somebody working on maintaining the mountain during the programming. Two performers shared the role of the worker and they both had a background story to tell if they were approached by visitors.

One of them was The Angry Man - the inspiration for this character came from people who write comments in newspapers about how the state should not spend all that money on art and how artists are lazy freeloaders who should get real jobs. The other was The Happy Man, inspired by chinese factory workers earning meager wages so that China's exported televisions can be sold at unbeatable prices. In a documentary, a factory worker expresses that his biggest wish is to some day make enough money to buy one of the televisions they produce at the factory. The presence of the workers, who persistently carry out their job without participating in the festive ongoings, touches the theme of social stratification by representing the difficulty for people from different niches in society to fit into others.

If only I were.. (2012)
For this solo exhibition in Onomatopee, Eindhoven, Meewisse converted the exhibition space into a life-sized room installation, a temporary structure dividing the space by the means of wooden walls into smaller provisional rooms with different functions. He made a roof out of green roofing plates to heighten the feeling of being inside a shed or a workshop.

On the wall of one of the rooms he placed four shelves which functioned as a display of a range of works. Distinctive for all the works is that they are made by samples of raw material collected by himself in nature - some of them later processed - accompanied by photos of the collecting. On display were two samples of driftwood, a pine balk, rows of bricks made from clay collected in the Netherlands and Denmark and a bottle of freshwater extracted from a well dug on a beach. All of these collections required various types manual work. From a small terrace outside the exhibition place he removed a number of tiles and dug a hole deep enough to reach the ground water level in a search for more useful raw material. The dug-out dirt was transported into the the largest room and piled up on the floor.

The installation tells a tale about a manual labourer; his work and his determination to complete the various tasks he has taken on. The photos and the raw and processed materials on display are documentation of the completed tasks, and the interrupted process of digging a hole outside suggests that the worker will return to his workshop and carry on digging - the audience is for a short visit allowed into his otherwise closed sphere. The collection of materials and the process of making them into construction materials such as beams and bricks opens for a continuation of the work - the following step could be for the worker to construct his working and living quarters entirely out of self-produced materials. The installation tells a story of the labour of art and the work of the artist and provides insights into working methods in and outside the studio.