Since 1984, Chilean artist Eugenio Dittborn (1943) has been making works that he calls Airmail Paintings. He begins with a large sheet of synthetic, white fabric and then prints, paints, sews, embroiders and patches his painting on this material. He then folds the painting, placing it in a specifically designed envelope, and sends it airmail to the place where it is to be exhibited. The envelope also provides information about all of the painting’s previous “journeys.”

Many of the Airmail Paintings are collaborative works. In Airmail Painting no.91: The 11th History of the Human Face (500 years) (1991), for example, Dittborn combined faces drawn by the patients of a psychiatric hospital in Santiago de Chili with police records of criminals, children’s drawings and images from newspapers or found graffiti. Culling images from a wide variety of sources, Dittborn’s work achieves a powerful humanity that is both existential and political.

The exhibition at Witte de With, Dittborn’s first large retrospective, showed 80 Airmail Paintings as well as publications and videotapes.

In the context of the exhibition, Dittborn realized a special project, La casa de Erasmo de Rotterdam (The house of Erasmus from Rotterdam), in collaboration with drug addicts who frequent the “De Maasvlakte” aid center in Rotterdam. The project was carried out with the help of Jack van Mildert, who runs a drawing workshop for the drug addicts. It focused on the definition of “house,” the house being understood as a destination, shelter, asylum and stopping place. From Santiago de Chili, Dittborn asked the drug addicts to draw their dream house and to describe the house in which they lived when they were ten years old. The drawings and texts by Jeroen, Guy Fierens, Pieter “Penn” de Jager, Alford G.M. Marsdin and Jeffrey Sulter were then mailed to Santiago de Chili, where Dittborn incorporated the material into Airmail Painting no. 105: La casa de Erasmo de Rotterdam.

With this special project, Dittborn visualized the basic problems of drug addicts, especially the physical exposure to which they are subjected, without a fixed and stable place to live. Their situation turns them into ambulant “nomads,” into travelers without a home, just like the artist’s own Airmail Paintings.