In 2020 sculptor Joep van Lieshout auctioned off his piece “Sensory Deprivation Skull, 2007.” The skull’s design allows users the experience of literally and metaphorically entering their own heads. With the intent to offer a place for a mental break, away from how busy the world can be.
This fiberglass statue measures 132 x 150 x 100 cm; 52 x 59 x 39 ⅜ in and looks like a giant skull. While this listing shows the work is lined with a fluffy, presumably insulating material, another listing for a skull from the same year lists sheepskin as a material. It also seems that Lieshout has created a “Wellness Skull” that houses a sauna and a bath within its form. This design is intended to offer a more hedonistic form of relaxation.
In 1995 Lieshout founded the company Atelier Van Lieshout (AVL). This company started in a large warehouse in the harbors of Rotterdam, Netherlands. It was developed to poke fun at the myth of individual artistic genius. AVL is now known for objects-based projects that question the boundaries between art, architecture, and design. As of 2020 AVL had over 20 designers, artists, metalworkers, and craftspeople involved in the manufacturing process. So each piece is the result of a collective effort while all under the sole creative direction of van Lieshout. Bringing this concept of the myth of the self-made artist full circle.
In 2001 Atelier Van Lieshout founded the fittingly named mixed media project AVL-ville which acted as a free state. The artist requested a piece of land from the Mayer of Rotterdam with the purpose of creating an “open-end museum.” This project explores the idea of community in every possible sense including AVL-ville having its own flag, constitution, and currency. The motto of this self-supporting area is “as long as it’s art, just about anything is possible.” The idea of anything being possible standing in shape contrast with the present-day over-regulated society.
“Yes, I was defining the borders between art and life and undermining the myth of artistic genius,” van Lieshout explains. While the project produced its own food, energy, and mobile buildings it was forced to close down after only a year.
“Looking at society led to thinking about the future of fascism, which I first tackled in my work ‘Darwin’ (2006), a giant sperm you can sleep inside, referencing Darwin’s survival of the fittest. Natural selection has made us what we are, but social Darwinism – or the purification of the race – is a system related to dictatorships and fascism” van Lieshout continued. So you can see how on brand a “Sensory Deprivation Skull” is for the sculptor. Being able to climb inside oversized body parts to escape the physical world may be the most meta thing we’ve ever seen.