Exhibition Cor Jaring, Photographer: Amsterdam’s Magic Centre in the City Archives.
Bart Huges was a very strange guy, who definitely had a few screws loose. Very literally in fact, since he was known as the man who drilled a hole into his own skull.
Fifty years ago, photographer Cor Jaring received a call from local Poet Johnny van Doorn, telling him to go over to the house of their mutual friend, Bart Huges. According to Doorn, there was a possibility of Jaring making a fortune out of the shocking photos that he was going to take that day. Jaring rushed to Huges’ house, where he found his friend seated in front of a mirror. Next to him lay several doctors tools including scalpels and needles displayed on crisp white sheets. Huges looked at himself. “What are you going to do, Bart?” Jaring asked him warily. And Huges simply said: “Cor, I am going to drill a hole in my skull”. And this is precisely what Bart did.
A few days after the incident, Huges showed up at a happening, an artistic performance which took place in Amsterdam. In front of the public he removed the bandages from his head, which consisted of thirty-two metres of gauze that he had painted with the words ‘HA HA HA HA’ in different colors. Huges was clearly bananas.
What motivates a man to do something like this? Huges was under the impression that when you drill a hole into your skull, a procedure called trepanation, you could end up being high forever. And who didn’t want to be high forever in the progressive sixties?
You might think that Huges was the only crazy man in history to have done this. Well, apparently not. Trepanation is old news. In fact, it may even be the most ancient surgical procedure. Prehistoric and medieval men had already performed trepanations, whether it was for relieving headaches, releasing demons or as the latest fashion statement, they all sound equally as crazy as each other. The most famous depiction of trepanning for mental disease is Hieronymus Bosch’s The Cure for Madness (1494). This painting is ridiculing the practice in which charlatans deceived people (picture a fifteenth century Huges in this case) into believing that they could cure madness by removing stones from ones head. After Bosch, there were a number of works made by Flemish painters such as Pieter Breughel and Jan Steen depicting this subject.
Hieronymus Bosch, The Cure for Madness, ca. 1494/1516, oil on panel, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Legitimized by history or not, Huges’ performance is still shocking nonetheless. And even though it must have caused Huges a huge headache, Jaring did make a lot of money out of the black and white photographs that he sold and became famous instantly. Oh well, one man’s pain is another man’s gain.
Author: Rosanne Schipper