It was Ulises Carrión who suggested that G.J. de Rook should be invited to join the collective that launched the In-Out Center. A visit to Sigurdur Gudmundsson was also deemed necessary. De Rook had to be tested, as the other members of the In-Out Center did not know the visual poet and publisher, while Carrión did. At a bookshop in Amsterdam (likely Allert de Lange at Damrak), he was drawn to Bloknoot, a periodic collection of artistic contributions, mainly in the form of visual poetry. One of the editors, Gerrit Jan de Rook (whose artist name is G.J. de Rook), received a letter to the editors from Carrión requesting his contact information.
Most of these contemporary artists' magazines featured a list of affiliated magazines and addresses, feeding the general desire for new networks in untapped, uncommon countries. In 1971, De Rook himself contacted Michael Gibbs, prompting Gibbs to publish De Rook's contribution in Kontext 3: a.o., which was a page of silver paper imprinted with the typewritten word “gold”.
Gerrit Jan de Rook (b. 1943) lived in Utrecht at the time, but was educated in Arnhem where, since the sixties, he maintained contact with those he considered to be the promising local artists: Geurt van Dijk, Ad Gerritsen and Marten Hendriks. Van Dijk took a major interest in books, co-founding the reputable Brummense Uitgeverei van Luxe Werkjes and launching the magazine Transit, in which De Rook published his work. Ad Gerritsen published two books with De Rook's imprint exp/press, and together with Marten Hendriks, he published two issues of a magazine called Specimen. There, he also met the zero-artists Herman de Vries and Henk Peeters.
The first issue of Bloknoot was published in 1968. In total, eight issues of the book have been made, plus an extra seven special editions, including proefonderzoek (1971) by G.J. de Rook. In the magazine, there was also a remarkable contribution by David Mayor of Beau Geste Press, in which he recorded the number and direction of his footsteps from the door of Stanley Brouwn's house to the door of Sigurdur Gudmundsson's abode. De Rook collaborated with dozens of peers, and his poems were published in innumerable collections of poetry. For instance, Michael Gibbs' poems are found in Bloknoot III (number 3), which also contains two Arguments (in number 12 and 18), by Ulises Carrión, as well as visual poems by Klaus Groh, Jirí Valoch, Paul de Vree, Hans Clavin and some early fold-out pages by Hans Eykelboom, among others.
G.J. de Rook's Witte Gedichten/White Poems/poèmes Blancs can, in a certain sense, be viewed as an homage to the ideas of Provo and their free white bikes, and the colophon reads "Appeared in December 1970 in an edition of 60 given away copies".
The year of 1971 was especially prolific for De Rook, with his books xprmntl ptry (published by his own exp/press, established in 1970) and dutch railway system. The first book contains a rich variety of typewritten figurations with letters and words, in addition to compositions of cuttings, primarily set in an uncomfortable and somewhat absurd, but light-hearted compositions. The depths and peaks of our lives are considered with honesty. For example, the Vietnam War is depicted next to cheerful images of luxury cars, balanced out with intricate wordplay.
The second book, dutch railway system, has a purely conceptual foundation, obeying strict rules: a ride of 26 selected train trajectories is translated into shaky notations akin to the trembling created by different types of trains. The dry report reflects an “alphabet” that cannot be read. Rather, it lucidly describes the passing of time, including man’s physical reaction to its passing.
Fuelled by this language orientation, G.J. de Rook made his entrance in mid-1972 to the house of Sigurdur and Ineke Gudmundsson. He was mesmerised by their artworks, made by friends and Gudmundsson himself – and also by their personalities. The simple, authentic, honest and simultaneously daring attitude of Siggi made an impression on him, opening up new perspectives. He felt honoured that he could join the group.
His two solo shows at the In-Out Center marked an attitude that was the polar opposite of the flamboyant manifestations displayed by Latin-Americans like Michel Cardena or Raúl Marroquín. G. J. de Rook's contributions are modest paper works that lay bare nothing less than the mechanism behind our existence.
Time Pieces (November 20 to December 1, 1973) mainly consisted of framed sheets with short texts – condensed reflections on the passing of a lifetime. The beauty of repetition is apparent, like in the visual poetry found in Verleden heden toekomst (past present future), where a block of typewriting is vertically divided into three squares of letters. The word "verleden" (past) is laid out in horizontal lines, with "heden" (today) in vertical lines and "toekomst" (future) displayed with one word on each line, a positioning that resembles a handful of confetti. Mankind's entire existence is hidden under these playful letters.
Another work, also seen in the magazine Totaal, is an irregularly undulating line accompanied by the caption, "help me make it through the night".
A sense of unequivocal mockery is displayed in a modern digital clock with days and minutes numbered on little shields that intermittently fall flat to make room for each following day and minute. De Rook also included the text "here comes the winner" – the winner being subject to an unrelenting rotation of new winners.
An integral component of Time Pieces were the Poemcards, an edition of forty cards edited in Rotterdam. Twenty of them were distributed by Beau Geste Press and were mentioned in their brochure. Under the imprint of In-Out Productions, De Rook published life (given away during Time Pieces at the In-Out Center in 1973) and days (given away during Failure Pieces at the In-Out Center in 1974) – two small, mimeographed books with handwritten titles. Days depicts a stamp that reads “I am a failure” on each day of the calendar.
Failure Pieces (November 12 to December 23, 1974) included a box with a series of unopened letters (still unopened to this day) – indeed a substantial failure in the days of exchange and mailed art. This can be seen as a prelude to the Art Strike Movement. One of the “failure pieces” was a framed package of Venco Nopjes, a brand of salted liquorice – a relic of the bad habit of daily package consumption. Another displayed “transgression” was a stolen 45 record of one of De Rook’s heroes, the Dutch poet and biologist Leo Vroman.
G.J. de Rook's opinions about art are evident in his project art annexation.
A first edition consisted of an envelope with five cards, each announcing the exchange of De Rook with a respected colleague, such as “Klaus Groh is G.J. de Rook”. He also annexed famous paintings, and included the rubber-stamped picture postcard in Bloknoot.
The project art annexation was an ongoing work in magazines and anthologies of visual poetry, including "create something on the other side of this page and you 'll be the possessor of an original work of art annexed by g.j. de rook" (art.annexation 4). His affiliation with the In-Out Center after the closure of the Reguliersgracht location found frequent expression in his publications. The image on the cover of his Anthology Visual Poetry (Bert Bakker, Den Haag, 1975) is a work by Pieter L. Mol. The four letters of the word “poem” are depicted in three-dimensional concrete, bound together with a piece of rope, aptly titled Concrete Poem. Included are, among others, Bart Boumans, Ulises Carrión, John Liggins and G. J. de Rook. The two editions of Specimen also make his friendships apparent with the likes of Felipe Ehrenberg (Beau Geste Press) and Sigurdur Gudmundsson. The best evidence of his collaborations are arguably present in the work from his editing house, exp/press.
G.J. de Rook unites two personalities. He is modest, almost self-effacing, and giving. But he is nonetheless the undisputed trailblazer of visual poetry in the Netherlands. Even after he stopped making art in 1977 – he found it to be conflicting with his new job in Haags Gemeentemuseum – he sustained the promotion of visual poetry and organised exhibitions. With some effort – his books are difficult to find – De Rook's works can still be enjoyed. His inventive and precise pieces are the playful fruit of an astute engagement with behaviour and life.
© Tineke Reijnders, 2017