Stimuli explores in a number of modern classics and contemporary works the physical experience of visual arts on the basis of this hallucinatory experience.

Contemporary art alters our perception by disrupting reality. Fields of colour, vertiginous lines, and mutating representations make our vision palpable. Traditionally a core theme in aesthetics, art’s ability to stir the mind by targeting the body is hardly recognised today. Jungles of history, context, and theory seem to have banned the body from the realm of vision. Yet it is undeniable that art relies more than ever on direct impulse, on the bodily intake of stimuli. Changing the viewer’s mental make-up, these stimuli prompt an alternative form of perception comparable to hallucination.

Stimuli explores in a number of modern classics and contemporary works the physical experience of visual arts on the basis of this hallucinatory experience. With slowly mutating patterns, repetitious movement and optic distortion the exhibited works give free reign to various levels of consciousness, including hypnosis, ecstasy, trance, and shock.

An important modern classic in the exhibition is Marcel Duchamp’s Rotoreliëfs (1935), which consists of twelve cardboard discs inscribed with round coloured shapes. The discs slowly rotate on record players. A comparable churning movement is palpable in Bruce Naumann’s Clown Torture (1985) which consists of two screens, one featuring a clown telling a circular story, the other a jester uncontrollably laughing. The ‘tree branch video’ (1999) by the Dutch artist Rob Johannesma hypnotises the visitor with an almost unnoticeable zooming in and out of a slowly thinning landscape. Vito Acconci’s intimate monologue in Theme Song (1973) has a similar dazing effect. Matt Mullican’s Hypnosis Tapes (1996), finally, show the artist himself under hypnosis.

Piero Manzoni’s Achroms (1962) have a strong meditative effect as result of the absence of vanishing points. Similarly meditative is Corps Noir (1994 -1999) by Ann Veronica Janssens. Corps Noir is an enormous bowl-shaped panel of black glass which reflects the world upside down. Francis Alÿs’ Narcotourism (1996), the only work in the exhibition that is ostensibly the result of a hallucination, traces the changing perception of a walk made under influence of various drugs.

In addition, Stimuli shows works by Dennis Adams, Justin van Duurling, Peter Fillingham, Runa Islam, Elena Montesinos, Lou Reed, Nasrin Tabatabai, Fiona Tan, Koen Timmermans and Ulay.

The exhibition is initiated by Witte de With and Karel Schampers, (then) Head Curator Modern Art, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication with, among others, Georg Simmel’s classic “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” and Jos ten Berge’s “Droommachines: nieuwe media als nieuwe roesverwekkers”(Dreammachines: The New Media as New Intoxicators).


  • Vito Acconci, Dennis Adams, Francis Alÿs, Marcel Duchamp, Justin van Duurling, Peter Fillingham, Keith Collins, Runa Islam, Ann Veronica Janssens, Piero Manzoni, Elena Montesinos, Gregor Schönborn, Matt Mullican, Bruce Nauman, Lou Reed, Pages, Fiona Tan, Koen Timmermans, Ulay