William Hunt

Hunt’s work can be located within certain art historical traditions of sculpture and performance art, but equally draws its inspiration from popular culture and the entertainment industry. Although his performances are clearly exhausting, asking for substantial endurance and even putting the artist in physical danger, these aspects are not decisive in his work. Reminiscent of artists such as Bas Jan Ader and Stuart Brisley, Hunt creates moments that go beyond the dangerous or controversial, presenting the audience with a dramatic and emotional experience, that merges the comic with the tragic. Within a constructed setting, Hunt creates awkward situations, acting out the role of both hero and underdog, candidly and unashamedly, without any certainty of success. His previous performances have involved a degree of musical showmanship, often under extreme physical conditions, with the artist hanging upside down, spinning on a turntable, or singing under water.

Since his graduation in 2005 from the prestigious Goldsmiths College in London, he has garnered critical attention with his performances in which he combines music with acts of physical duress. For this exhibition, Witte de With invited Hunt to make a new work. In response, he has created an elaborate installation of sculptural objects that form the backdrop to a series of new performances.

In his new work, Hunt continues to pursue this spirit of adventure with a self-deprecating and ironic look at vanity and the ageing process. The work takes the form of a multidisciplinary and multifunctional installation through which Hunt highlights parallels between the transformative processes of making art and the metamorphoses that occur in a beauty salon, striking a chord with the battles that artists and beauticians wage against entropy.

Hunt will use the installation for his performances that explore, scan, dissect, multiply and standardize his own body through different methods. During his performances Hunt dons a wig – made from his own hair – which together with his distinctive black outfit and white training shoes symbolize his “artist” character. These objects are presented next to a three-dimensional bust, a cast of the artist, and refer to the public role of the artist who has to live up to the expectations of his audience.

In the installation, we find a dressing table in front of an oversized mirror. This theatrical stereotype is used for the performance I Forgot Myself Looking At You, in which Hunt replicates his own head. In front of the audience, he covers his face with a plaster cast while using a mouth harmonica as a breathing tube.

In a new performance, I Know I Wanted, created for this exhibition, Hunt has placed himself on a sun bed-like construction that works according to the silk screening process, exposing his body to bright light to make a photographic image. In this structure, Hunt sings a song whose lyrics anticipate the correct duration of exposure needed to transfer his body image onto the silk screen above him. Afterwards, he uses life-size sheets of paper to make prints of this outline.

A tent-shaped object, expanding into a basin, is the seemingly simple set for Tempting Fate By Swimming Alone. Just like the sun bed, this contraption works according to the silkscreen technique, but instead of light it is now water that ‘draws’ the image. Alongside the detritus from each performance, prints, plaster casts, video, sound and photographic documentation will be shown. The exhibition reveals a layered process of production, in which the artist himself plays the leading role: without him there will be no image. With references to Joseph Kosuth’s first conceptual work One and three chairs (1965), Hunt questions the nature of perception, the significance of the image and the definition of the body by differentiating between the body of the artist, the material needed for the production of the body print and the print itself.


Friday 12 September (during the opening)
7.30 p.m. Performance I Forgot Myself Looking At You, location Witte de With

Saturday 13 September
3 p.m. Tour through the exhibition Tempting Fate, Swimming Alone by Belinda Hak
5 p.m. New performance, I Know I Wanted, location vacant shop at Witte de Withstraat 68

Sunday 14 September
5 p.m. Opportunity for the audience of the festival De Wereld van Witte de With to talk with William Hunt about his work, location Witte de With

Saturday 27 September
5 p.m. Performance Tempting Fate By Swimming Alone, location Witte de With

Monday 29 September – Wednesday 1 October
Closed masterclass by William Hunt for fine art students of the Willem de Kooning Academy (Rotterdam), on location at the Rotterdam based artist initiative B.A.D Foundation. The outcome of the masterclass will be presented at Wednesday on the Hogeschool Rotterdam, location: Wijnhaven 61, 12.30 – 1 p.m. Followed by a conversation between William Hunt and students.

Saturday 11 October (during the symposium Rotterdam Dialogues: the Critics)
5 p.m. New performance, I Know I Wanted, location: Witte de With


Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 October
Masterclass by William Hunt for young people in the age group 16 – 22. They are welcome to apply until 1 October to Belinda Hak [email protected]. (Participation is free of costs.) On Wednesday night, participants present their work to the audience at 8 p.m. in Witte de With.


A special artist’s edition accompanies Hunt’s new work. The publication will act as a tangible object that transforms from a book to a poster. It comprises a life-size body print of William Hunt, complemented with ”A Litany of Stoppages”, a selection of manual texts, news clippings, poetry, fiction and prose, selected by critic Sally O’Reilly that describe (in her words) “a circumference within which William Hunt’s performance work can be considered.”

Editors: Belinda Hak and Monika Szewczyk; published by Witte de With; designed by Atelier Bernau Carvalho (The Hague); publication date: September 2008;
ISBN 978-90-73362-83-3.


Supported By

De Wereld van Witte de With, Rotterdam; Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation, Bern, Switserland; Gemeente Rotterdam, dienst Kunst en Cultuur; British Council, London, UK.