Ronnie van Hout

Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1962

Ersatz (Sick Child)

  • Purchased by the Friends of Christchurch Art Gallery, 2007
  • Mixed media
  • 1600 x 700 x 500mm
  • 2007/006.a-g
  • 2005

It’s always a mistake to look at an autobiographical work and assume the artist is speaking directly about the events of his or her own life. For the past couple of decades, Ronnie van Hout has used his own likeness, and sometimes his childhood memories of growing up in the Christchurch suburb of Aranui, as the starting point for his work. The figures are him, but they’re not him. “It’s a form of acting, a kind of masking”, he’s said. “I’m interested in childhood and revisiting sites of the past. It’s very hard to go back. But in the visual arts, things stand for things; they’re not the actual things, they’re just in place of. You’re pointing to something that points to something else.”

Ersatz is a German word meaning stand-in or replacement. It’s typically used to refer to something that’s of inferior quality than the original. Ersatz coffee, for example, is something that isn’t coffee at all. Ersatz (Sick Child) is one of a number of ‘sick children’ that van Hout has made in his own likeness. Each wears boy-sized pyjamas but has the head and hands (and in this one’s case, also the grubby feet) of a full-grown man. He leans precariously against the wall on two legs of a chair, as if eavesdropping on adults in another room. The silence is filled with his own whiny voice emanating from the speech bubble-shaped speaker above him, as if his need to be noticed were drowning out even his own thoughts: “Look at me. Listen to me. Pay me. Pay me your attention.” Works of art always demand your attention, but this one has the temerity to say it out loud.

(Your Hotel Brain 13 May 2017 - 8 July 2018)

earlier labels about this work
  • Balanced precariously on a chair, this self portrait of the artist with his blank thought bubble, thick blond hair and bright pyjamas moans in a comically pathetic voice about how sick and neglected he is. Ersatz refers to an inferior imitation, and here van Hout is referencing himself through a scaled down model replica. Van Hout frequently uses toys, models and found objects such as those used by young boys in his sculptural installations. Much of his recent work sees the artist portrayed in a variety of different guises, such as a monkey that paints or a dog that sculpts, documenting in a humorous and autobiographical way the many facets of his personality. Ronnie van Hout studied at the University of Canterbury from 1980 –1982, majoring in Film Studies. In 1994 he was granted a studio residency through the ELBA Art Foundation in Holland, and in 1996 he participated in the artist-in-residence programme at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. In 2004 van Hout held a Creative New Zealand Visual Arts Residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. In 2003 his work was the subject of a major survey show, ‘I’ve Abandoned Me’, an initiative of Dunedin Public Art Gallery. The show toured throughout New Zealand.