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It’s a bird, it’s a plane…An exclusive interview with Dutch artist Bart Jansen

Arts | October 7th, 2015

Bart Jansen, 36, is an artist who lives and works in The Netherlands. His piece “Orvillecopter,” part of his “World’s First” series, has received worldwide attention after his test video went viral. “Orvillecopter” was a collaboration between Jansen It’s a bird, it’s a plane...

An exclusive interview with Dutch artist Bart Jansen

By Sabrina Hornung

Bart Jansen, 36, is an artist who lives and works in The Netherlands. His piece “Orvillecopter,” part of his “World’s First” series, has received worldwide attention after his test video went viral. “Orvillecopter” was a collaboration between Jansen and technical engineer/RC pilot Arjen Beltman -- the two gave Jansen’s deceased cat Orville new life via an RC kit. HPR has gone international with an exclusive interview.


HPR: What did you think when your video of “Orvillecopter” went viral?

Bart Jansen: I had no idea what was going on. It was five days of heaven and hell at the same time. My girlfriend didn’t enjoy it, I know that much … but we were kind of proud too I guess.


HPR: How did the collaboration with “Orvillecopter” come to be?

Bart Jansen: Even as a kid I collected animal bones and such. After graduating art school in 2006 I collected roadkill for some months to create “The Observer’s book of Roadkill,” a project which depicts the Dutch fauna the way it is found on the roadside. The book does not have pictures; it holds the actual smelly, flattened animals in a dried and crudely taxidermied way. The book weighs 60 kg. That same year we had a huge mouse problem at my house -- there were hundreds of them -- and disliking the use of poison I decided to buy two kittens. They were brothers and I named them Orville and Wilbur, after the Wright Brothers. They took care of the mice just fine. Then Orville got hit by a car in 2011. He didn't come home and we were worried. The animal rescue team had found Orville on the road and took him. I collected him there at the shelter and brought him home. That was sad. But still I put him in the freezer with the rest of the collection. It took almost a year before I decided to give him a new life by making Orville a helicopter, as a monument for his early departure. He would fly like the aviator he was named after. And of course Orville loved birds. Then I had no idea how to make a helicopter, so I asked Arjen Beltman, who is a technical engineer and RC pilot, if he would collaborate on this project. Since we’ve been working together. Arjen does all the technical stuff, the electronics and the flying, and I take care of the skins and the body shapes.


HPR: What kind of reaction have you gotten from the “Orvillecopter”? Any outrageous outcries?

BJ: There are always outrageous outcries. Those are about 30 percent of the reactions, (not a fact, just a feeling), most of which are about the wish to see me flying after I pass on. Which is actually a good idea, although I’d rather be processed and canned, with an expiration date on the lid, so my family and friends can keep me in the kitchen cupboard until I expire for the final time, and then they’ll toss me, or feed me to the cat. And then of course the other 70 percent are really friendly outcries. From people who can’t stop laughing and such.


HPR: As if we weren't already awed by Orville, upon further research we came across a “Ratcopter,” “Ostrichcopter,” and “Sharkjet.” Have you always had an interest in taxidermy and how did you secure your specimens?

BJ: Always. Although it wasn’t taxidermy especially, more the whole nature thing. I was that kid prodding sticks into dead fish on the water’s edge, collecting all kinds of found remains, bones, insects. Tying string to flies, to keep them as pets and feed them Nutella. I find the specimens on the road, sometimes someone else finds them, and every now and then they get donated to me like the ostrich and the shark.


HPR: Do you plan to weaponize the cat drone and what are your thoughts on drone policing?

BJ: Orvillecopter is weaponised with a nice set of claws. Weaponized drones are nasty things. As a thought, it might be a good idea to throw out the large destructive drones, and instead use millions and billions of really small annoying drones, that are not just annoying, but very annoying. Chasing people everywhere, asking rude personal questions, interrupting people mid-conversation, land in their soup, buzz in their ears, eat away freshly bought fruit, get caught behind windows and expire there. And so on until those terrorists, whatever they want, just can’t take it any more and quit.


HPR: So “Orvillecopter” is part of your "World's first" series... what other pieces are a part of the world's first series?

BJ: Well, all the drones are part of the “World’s first” series, because they are the first of their kind. I did a clock once, it is called the Ku Klux Klock, and it’s a really unfriendly racist clock playing around with one of the most famous racist groups of all time, the Klan. It says Ku Klux every hour and it tells the time. Really handy when you are a right-winged nut job with a predilection for the burlesque.

Lately I invented a new solution for pet rabbits that tend to run away or that fall over all the time. It is called Rabbit Stand. And it is a ceramic carrot on a really nice piece of high-gloss, hand-finished wood. One can neatly fit the rabbit over the carrot, and the falling and running will stop. And of course every Rabbit Stand is signed and numbered. A must have.


HPR: Can you please tell our readers about "Das Boot”?

BJ: Das Boot is the world’s first Badger Submarine that Arjen and I are working on at the moment. It is powered by an electric jet propulsion system, much like a jet ski. The propeller sucks up the water through a grid in the belly of the badger, and excretes it with force through the back end, which is a servo-controlled pipe that can direct the jet stream left and right, up and down. The project is called "Das Boot," a play on the famous German U-boat film "Das Boot," as well as the Dutch word for "badger" — "das.” It will probably be the fastest badger ever to sail the Dutch waters. At the first wet test Arjen only tested it on half power, otherwise it would have emptied the bathtub into the room.


HPR: Could you tell us about your plans for “Cowcopter”?

BJ: No progress at all, we’re busy with Das Boot, and we will start the Bovine People Transporter after the badger is safely in the water. That will probably be early next year.


HPR: What is your background. From what I see you are very tech savvy -- Did I read that you install solar panels for a living?

BJ: Correct. Solar panels indeed, and electrician. I used to be a primary school teacher, but that is years ago. I liked to work with children, but I couldn’t fit in the system. Art would be a better choice. After my studies at the art academy I worked as a carpenter, plumber and construction worker.


HPR: In one interview you mentioned Orville, as a “Catcopter,” was half cat, half machine. Do you plan on creating a super race of flying cyborgs?

BJ: Not planning, doing it!


HPR: Your art statement states that your projects are "the byproduct of human activity and the errors that surround our idiotic race for technological progress." Was there one piece that started them all?

BJ: It started at the School of Arts, building useless inventions that worked, but had no function. Motorised books, hot water producing bicycles, police scooters for elderly cops, always green traffic lights to go on the roof rack of your car, things like that. The human byproduct was already a bit visible then: Getting old, running red lights, we do it, but none tried to find mechanical solutions for these kinds of behaviour. Putting all this effort into creating machines that no one can use filled me with a great sense of well-being. So I kept going. And people tend to like them, so I am being encouraged to proceed.

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