(Book Extract: THE H+F COLLECTION TEN YEARS ON - THE MAKING OF)
Because almost all my works of art are housed in museums, I only see them when they’re being exhibited. That’s why every morning I go to visit my website. Today, after clicking on hfcollection.org, I see a car standing on a field of snow. It’s a still from the video ‘Is This Guilt in You Too − [The Study of a Car in a Field]’ by Ryan Gander.
I bought this video in 2005 at Art Basel and I was immediately struck by this image: it could be the beginning of a Hollywood thriller. A woman’s voice describes what’s being shown; she suggests interpretations, she talks about how the art world works, she wonders how real the image is. I can’t hear her very well. Since my attack of encephalitis it’s hard for me to listen to spoken text while I’m looking at an image.
I provide my own commentary. The sound of my own questions is louder than that of the voiceover. How did that car get there? How come there are no wheel tracks? Was it there before it started snowing? Is it a technical trick?
These are questions I could ask about many works in my collection. What’s real and what isn’t? What are you seeing? And what does it mean?
As I look at the image on my computer screen another one occurs to me: that of an old car that I saw a few years ago while visiting a pagoda in Vietnam. In one of the rooms behind the pagoda was the light blue Austin (‘heavenly blue’ is what that colour is called) that the monk Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon in 1963. There he set himself on fire to protest the corrupt regime of President Diem. The photograph of the burning monk, with his car in the background − hood open − appeared on the front pages of all the newspapers. The same photo has now been placed against the car’s windshield. I rested my hand for a moment on the now closed hood.
I still remember how, as a nine-year-old boy, I scarcely dared look at the photo, and at the same time it fascinated me. That feeling has not changed. Would Thich Quang Duc have used the gas from the gas tank to set fire to himself? Or would he have hidden a jerry can of gas under the hood? Did he leave the hood open by accident because he was in a hurry, and a bit nervous? Or was he trying to say something with it? Was the open hood a signal, a flag? And what would the monk have felt? Why didn’t he instinctively stand up and run away as soon as he felt the flames? Had he completely detached himself from all earthly matter?
The saying ‘A picture tells a thousand stories’ is absolutely not true. The image on my computer screen and the image in my mind evoke a thousand questions, while the snow-covered landscape by Ryan Gander slowly blends into the tropical image in my memory.