Punctum in MoMa New York

Musea bezoeken is niet altijd even eenvoudig. Sterker nog, het is een kunst op zich. Hoe ga je om met al die kunst om je heen, de naambordjes, de stroom van informatie, de vele mensen om je heen die van zaal naar zaal slenteren? Hoe kies je wat je wilt zien, wat is je doel?

Musea bezoeken is niet altijd even eenvoudig. Sterker nog, het is een kunst op zich. Hoe ga je om met al die kunst om je heen, de naambordjes, de stroom van informatie, de vele mensen om je heen die van zaal naar zaal slenteren? Hoe kies je wat je wilt zien, wat is je doel?

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Review: Lost River

Every once in a while you see something that won’t let you go. That stays with you for days in a row. That makes you want to be quiet about. An experience that changes your perspective on (the) world. Something which is perhaps only possible through and because of art. Here an attempt to review, to speak up about one such experience. However impossible.

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Reflection on Birdman and the reality and/of art

Naomi Watts in Birdman

Winner of four Oscars, and some of my favourite actors in it (Edward Norton, Naomi Watts). Enough to go and watch this film, right? Or perhaps it is the subtitle of the film that made me go and see it… In any case a movie that is worth watching: “Birdman: or the unexpected virtue of ignorance“. A reflection without any spoilers.

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Optekening van een ervaring: Na de Repetitie & Persona (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)

Een onmogelijk verslag van de aanschouwing van twee toneelstukken samengebracht op één avond. Zonder spoilers, aangezien iedereen deze stukken voor zichzelf moet gaan bekijken.

Karina Smulders in Persona (bron: tga.nl)

Afgelopen woensdag mocht ik twee juweeltjes aanschouwen, op het toneel gezet door Toneelgroep Amsterdam onder leiding van Ivo van Hove. Twee filmscripts van Ingmar Bergman, twee existentiële drama’s over identiteit, leugen en waarheid, levenskeuzes en verlies. Twee zeer verschillende en opmerkelijk overeenkomstige voorstellingen, met daartussen een pauze.

Het beoordelen van de ervaring van een toneelstuk is niet eenvoudig, zeker niet wanneer je al heel wat gewend bent van een groep acteurs onder leiding van dezelfde regisseur. Zeker niet wanneer het materiaal waar ze mee aan de slag gaan al zo’n eigen kracht bezit, dat het niet altijd mogelijk is het verhaal, de getoonde emotie en de ervaring als publiek te kunnen scheiden. Wat overigens al aangeeft dat het een top-prestatie is. Wanneer je vergeet dat er gespeeld wordt, wanneer het gestileerde werkelijkheid wordt, wanneer realiteit improvisatie wordt, dan heb je te maken met kunst. Toneelgroep Amsterdam verstaat die kunst buitengewoon. Het is dan ook onbegrijpelijk dat de zaal niet afgeladen vol zit.

Vaak beoordelen mensen een toneelstuk naar het aantal reprises (dit stuk is nog te zien tot 18 januari!), hoe snel mensen gaan staan klappen, hoe vaak de spelers terug het toneel op worden geroepen. Achteraf. Maar soms weet je al direct dat je ergens mee te maken hebt waarbij je het liefst je adem anderhalf uur inhoudt. Dat je hart sneller gaat kloppen, dat je de mensen om je heen ook op het puntje van hun stoel ziet zitten.

Maar de beste beoordeling vind ik toch zelf het moment dat je temidden van het publiek staat, buiten de zaal, jassen aantrekkend, wachtend op iemand die naar het toilet moet. Dat je mensen de verstilling hoort doorbreken en hen ziet worstelen, op zoek naar woorden. Of eigenlijk: ze niet ziet worstelen. Want de reactie van de doorsnee mens is vrijwel altijd identiek. ‘Mooi.’ ‘Prachtig.’ ‘Wat waren ze goed, hé’, naarstig op zoek naar instemming van hun wederhelft. Het gevoel van misselijkheid en pijn dat zich op zulke momenten van mij meester maakt, het gevangen zijn in de ervaring van een stuk en geconfronteerd te worden met de onkunde van een taal om zo een ervaring onder woorden te brengen. Hoe meer pijn ik op zulke momenten ervaar, hoe beter het stuk. En zelden heb ik meer behoefte gehad om iedereen tot stilte te vermanen, te smeken om bezinning, om niet te praten over trams of logistiek. Het liefst was ik gevlucht, struinend door een stad die nooit meer hetzelfde zou zijn, de zachte nacht die zich als een geruststellende entiteit omarmde, ons, het publiek dat was opgeschrikt uit de duffe doordeweeksheid van het leven.

Misschien vraag ik te veel van mijn medemensen. Maar het is de uitnodiging van de ervaring van goed toneel, voor iedereen die deze durft aan te nemen. Want trams rijden altijd wel. Maar Na de Repetitie & Persona zijn enkel momenten. Het openbreken van het alledaagse, scheppingen waar je bij moet zijn.

All Worldly Knowledge – Venice Biennale 2013 – Kan Xuan

The problem one faces when visiting any museum, let alone one that covers a whole city, let alone one that focusses on ‘all worldly knowledge’, is the sheer amount of impressions one has to deal with. Often you end up perusing through the lot of it, glancing over the area in front of you and tracing superficially what is presented. Of course you can also specifically look for certain works that you choose, but somehow it is also very tempting to try and get a glimpse of this ‘all worldly knowledge’.

And when you walk through it, head full of images and thoughts, emotions and boredom running through your veins, it could just happen that you stumble upon something that keeps your intention for half an hour or more, and which you know will stay with you for a while longer. Sometimes this does not happen. And sometimes it happens more than once in one day. If you’re lucky. (Or not, for who would want to be influenced by a work of art these days?)

There were several installations that were of particular interest to me. I will focus on one of them here, namely the installation by Kan Xuan, China. It was part of the Arsenale presentation and not part of any national pavilion. Instead, the curator choose this particular artwork ‘Millet Mounds’ (2012).

Part of installation at Venice Biennale 2013
Part of installation at Venice Biennale 2013

In it, Xuan showed hundred of nicely built frames beside each other in two rows, in which photos were shown as if in stop-motion, each sequence of maybe even a hundred photos having its own atmosphere and its own environment. On the wall next to it, a map was drawn for each frame, showing the trajectory of the artist while taking the pictures. Each frame, together with its map, could thus be seen as a memory of space and time. Each combining the two, in a very subjective manner. It looked as it each frame with the hundred or more photographs had their own filter, their own colour, their own emotion attached. But each frame, was arranged within an enourmous line of frames, showing the linearity of memory storage.

One of the things I ask myself when presented with a work of art that attracts my eyes, which keep me wondering and looking until my head because swallowed up by the vastness of it, is precisely why this work appeals to me. And when the answer to this question comes too easily, I am somehow put of by it, and forget about the work of art as soon as I can.

This obviously did not happen to me this time. At first I was fascinated by the colours and the rapid movement of the images. Focussing on one frame, what could I distill? Was there a story enfolded in front of my eyes? What did the artist want me to see? Why were these barren landscapes, that somehow all resembled each other in some way, enough to let me think they were taken at least in the same country, so interesting? I still don’t know.

The second wonderment that I felt, was when I tried to follow Elie During’s experiment. He had shown us in his seminar at the European Graduate School just a few days before, that it is possible to listen or to see different sounds or images at the same time. That is, not merely hearing or seeing the harmony between different tonal lines or visual images, but seeing two separate things, simultaneously.

This is what I tried with this artwork, and which lend itself extremely well for it. Not only was the whole artwork based on the idea of positioning oneself in space and time, as the maps on the wall indicated. Also the sheer amount of frames and space-time sequence of moments made this an extremely bewildering experience. I found it was possible to see about four separate instances of spacetime simultaneously. The result of this was not one field of vision, one experience of time, but a fourfold of space and time.

In the end, the impression that stays with me when I visit any museum is what attracted me in this artwork. And instead of it being a negative emotion, the overload of spacetime, images as well as experiences of time, made this such a beautiful experience. I could easily imagine myself being one of these frames, documenting all the images I had seen and would see that day visiting the Venice Biennale 2013. Besides me, the people visiting the same space, strangers and friends alike, all occupy their own frame. But when these frames could be put together somehow, without judgement or destinction, we would end up with what the biennale really consists of: subjectified spacetimes.

When you would want to present ‘all worldly knowledge’, this would be the only way to do so; By showing simultaneous spacetimes of all possible perspectives.

Experience Philosophy By Letting Go

Attempting to read Deleuze, I hit upon this quote, of someone trying to explain why one should read Deleuze: “…do not bother trying to comprehend or understand the text.  A desire for that level of control will only hinder your ability to experience it, use it, think it, and become it.” (Christopher Higgs)

From experience, I can say I totally agree. There are philosophies I have absorbed over the years, that have become an inalienable part of me. Which is frightening sometimes. It is as if you’re walking around with invisible bracelets saying “What would Heidegger do?” (Or: What would Martin do? Or Michel? Alain? Immanuel? After getting acquainted with someone over a long period of time, sometimes you reach that point that you are on a first name basis…)

When I was first starting to ‘study’ Heidegger, I was warned by my teacher (Chris Bremmers) that once I got it, it would be impossible to stop looking at the world as a phenomenologist. He was right. This is nothing exceptional, as everyone if formed by his or her education and/or bringing-up. But to notice it changing in a relatively short period of time, is an extra-ordinary experience which I recommend everyone. Even if it is just to realise the depth as to the level of influence a paradigm has on your own thinking.

But reaching this ‘change’ is not an easy accomplishment. It involves something that is beyond any type of comprehension. Studying can be seen as repeating the same thought / word / concept over and over again until it is fixed to memory. This never worked for me. Or studying can be a thinking about why something is as it is, why a cat pretty much always falls to the floor feet down, wrapping your mind about it until you figure it out. This works for me sometimes, but most of the times leaves me utterly confused, as I ask the why-question too often with things that cannot be understood. (Why is there gravity?!)

Studying for me is about taking a leap into the world of another person or group, be it a cultural world (learning another language works like this, for me) or a thought-system (like phenomenology). It is about letting go of preconceptions, one’s ‘own’ knowledge or experiences. It is about diving in, head-last. It is about breathing the words, getting it tattooed in you skin. It is a poetic process. It is very personal. And it is extremely universal.

Perhaps this is why it is frustrating to hear others ask questions about Heidegger or other philosophers who are part of me, that are focussed on understanding with their mind. They continue asking ‘why’, when it is clear that some things are incredible merely for the fact that they ‘are’ and can be thought as such. This is an experience these kind of people do not get. They continue to actively link the ‘new’ to their own ‘old’. Therefore they never transcend the limits of their own paradigm, they might stretch their limits, but they will not uncover new territories.

Still, as I dive into a new world, the deep blue frightens me. Which is good, as it means that my own ocean is valuable to me.

Art As It Is Meant To Be: Io Sono Li

Tao Zhao as Shun Li in “Shun Li and the Poet”

Sometimes you come across a piece of art that is exactly what it supposed to be like. An experience that doesn’t leave you alone for quite some time. Watching ‘Io Sono Li‘ is such an experience.

(Don’t worry, no spoilers involved.)

After five days of loud music and cheering as my city has been taken over by partying youngsters and military and other people who walk fifty or so kilometers a day for four days in a row in order to get a small token to remember it by (Nijmeegse Vierdaagse), I needed to flee the heat and noise. So I went to the cinema. Specifically, I went to see a film that just came out, an Italian ‘art-house’ production.

It is amazing how chlichés can be avoided by showing things for what they are, not making them into whatever you hope to show your audience. To let the images speak for themselves. Some reviewers said the actors were very well chosen, as if the part was made especially for them. But I think that is a superficial way of looking at it. When actors play their part, it is up to the viewer (and thus up to the director) to look at their emotions and the thoughts that speak through their eyes. Not getting too much involved creates so much beauty!

Of course there are a large amount of social issues that are part of contemporary society that forms the structure of the film. But I say structure, not the content. The content is independent of the surrounding, which is what makes this film so extraordinary: the viewer can relate to it especially because it shows something human, and not some bigger picture. Art is not used to ‘fix’ a problem or to create a discourse.

Art as it is meant, to look at the world once more, differently.