The Last Fingertip Crumbs
It was one of those periods in which tiny pieces of pavement seemed to be arbitrarily dug up from myriads of disconnected streets. Wet sand spread across the city. And the mood congealing the air was making everybody rush homewards on creaky transport. There seemed no space to shrug one’s shoulders into a quick, after-work meander; and warm gestures of comfort diminished down to fingertips on shoulders. Time seemed long and thin: the earth flat.
Sitting on the third side of this coin, I watched as binary codes flickered between documentary and fiction: oscillating projections into a zombie collage; stuck in vibrations. Symbols turned inside out, countering assumptions. Statistics crept into daydreams; humblebees reappeared after years spent lost between pages of etymological dictionaries.
It was one of those periods.
It seemed that Mostlymiddleclassmen was an artist. And that it was the hearts of privileged teenagers who drew music on their limbs; the interests of their numbed needs being the ones that ease barred license to. So instead they gave rein to their senses through third parties: their ironless bodies tasting hand-held bits as plastic flesh flowed into moulds.
It was these that I watched. Women grew beautiful in their hard, sharp creases; that man became recognisable by his grey-leashed dog. And though I continually exhumed over my lack of memory, I did realise, of course, that facial recognition required at least a few seconds of looking into, and around, another’s eyes. But instead I observed the missing pavement.
It was one of those periods: thick, slow, dark, and filled with tissue.
But the last fingertip crumbs –wedged in like a workday; running across time– were not.
Sounds of Plǝt-
I imagined this morning that, as I arrived back at Plǝt- tonight, I would tune in to the creaks and sighs of wood pulling and tugging in the Amsterdam wind; that I might hear the scatter of a mouse; the footsteps of my neighbours above, beside and below me. I imagined that if I listened very well, I might hear my neighbour’s voice coming through the averagely thick walls. I also imagined that the time I would start listening to the house would be from the moment I stepped back across its threshold, after a day of being absent at work. However, none of these predictions turned out to be accurate.
Since the opening of Alison’s exhibition, at her suggestion, I have been reading The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. Every night, I have been absorbing pages where philosophies of aesthetics are cut through by musings and statements about souls and the imagination. Two nights ago, Bachelard’s musings culminated into my favourite statement so far, postulating that “to read poetry is essentially to daydream”. I wrote it down and nodded off into a dreamless sleep.
At work I read from 9 to 5. And I work in an office with four people who, depending on their moods, make varying degrees noise. This means that, when concentration calls, headsets channelling YouTube study-music are used to drown out gossip and witty remarks that might slip off colleagues’ tongues and into ears. Today a suitable playlist was difficult to come by and, 55minutes after settling for one, YouTube algorithms led me to listen to classical piano. Not recognising the notes, curiosity pulled me to YouTube’s window, which told me I was listening to “Daydreaming”. Bemused, I wrote it down to avoid thoughts drifting, and went back to reading.
I listen to YouTube at work because my preferred radio station does not connect there. The station plays from New Zealand through an insecure connection, and what is frustrating is not that there are no alternatives, but rather that it sabotages a perfect misconnection: working in Amsterdam in the mid afternoon means synchronizing with New Zealand’s graveyard night shifts. Read: long instrumental pieces and repetitive techno. Perfect study music. But, as the world would have it, today at work I listened to daydreams.
I arrived back at Plǝt- at 9.30pm. Forgetting for a moment that I was planning to listen to the creaks of wood, the feet of mice, and the voices of neighbours, my very first move was to tune my computer to the aforementioned station. It had been a long day at work, but I still had a second day to go, coming home to take care of the project that lives here with me. I figured that tuning in to New Zealand would align me with its breakfast show, giving me the perfect start-of-the-day playlist. I took a shower, made some breakfast, listened to the morning news. And as I settled down to my second day, the moment arose to ascertain whether the music playing was conducive or distractive to my concentration. I tuned my ear. The song was poppy, addictive, familiar. And when I switched windows to see what I was hearing, the banner told me “Dazed Inn Daydreams”. I guess despite being distractive, it was perfectly in tune with the task I had sat down to: writing about the sounds in my house and how they might connect to the exhibition installed here.
It is funny that the day Soeria asked us to listen at Plǝt- happened to be the first Monday of the month. As you know, there is always this alarm on the first Monday of the month, so I feel that my listening session was, in some way, disturbed by that. But let's think about the sounds of Plǝt- on a larger scale.
I feel that the sound of Plǝt- is in some way the sound of kettles, conversations, and wind. I feel that the kettles are not only inside now because of the installation, but maybe they also exist through our very active way of hosting. Have you noticed the overspill? Now every time I go to Andriesse Eyck, and Maxim is there, he offers me a coffee. And did you see that the same thing happened the other day with Nick at Fons Welters? I do feel a bit strange that the kindness in these spaces only happens when you know the person. But I hope with us it is the opposite: we try our best to be hospitable to those we do not know, because those who know the space already know they can serve themselves a coffee, or that they will soon be offered one. Maybe in some way, the sound of Plǝt- is the sound of kettles mixed with the sound of walking around and pouring, the sound of friendships.
I feel that this is a nice jump to talk about the conversations, because that’s what happens the most at Plǝt-. Often these conversations are in our own heads, transferred to paper or to emails. Sometimes these conversations are between you and I and afterwards transferred to artists or participants of the project, as what it is happening right now. Often, especially at the openings, these conversations are the ones of people who come to see the work, but maybe also who come to see what's up, because they are coming to find someone they know, or because it is a nice place to take shelter from the wind. The wind enters here because of the architecture of the house, I guess. The imperfections of it, of us, of this exhibition? I guess this wind is accentuated during this show, as the door to your bedroom is open and there is some sort of air stream that it is maybe blocked by your intimacy on other occasions. In this exhibition the air sounds, and maybe sometimes it makes the exhibition a bit cold. But it also makes me realise that we are alive, and this project is not a dream.
17 February 2019
For the past few weeks, walking past Turkish fruit stores each morning, I noticed they were back: quince. Once more in season, and marking a year since the exhibition Mise en Abyme, a weakened moment of nostalgia brought one of these fleshy, yellow fruits back into my living room.
The smell of a quince is deep and perfumed. It leaves tendrils of smells in the gloves that carried it; fills a closed room with heavy notes, welcoming the nose when one gets home. Curiously, I had forgotten the way this fruit tones a room, and bringing it back –for nothing more than a gesture of remembrance- made me realise how even though I thought Alison was the first artist at Plǝt- to play with smell, it was only through my own sensual amnesia that this thought came to fruition.
But the ‘who did it first’ discussion is pretty flat. What catches my attention more is how, as an exhibition space extends over time, its program begins to act as invisible layers over which each exhibition is performed. Painted white and brought back to its default mode after each show, the space pretends to have no history, offering itself to the next artist as if this one was its first. It is only through the space’s online presence, the memory of its coordinators, and the memory of its audience, that the traces of these previous exhibitions remain. Until of course, nostalgia steps in and, being set in the colloquial form of a living room, an exhibition at Plǝt- can suddenly be interrupted by an object from the past.
But the quince is not the only shadow of another exhibition present in The Good Listener. In the bedroom, on each side of the bed, stand two lamps by Natalia, made for Re-enactment. Usually left outside of the exhibition space, The Good Listener’s installation throughout the apartment caused Natalia’s lamps to inadvertently step back in. However, because they were not invited into the exhibition as art pieces, they continue to act as furniture – activated as art only by the eyes of those who have lived in the space, visited the space, or scanned the website. They are art to those who know, and furniture to those who don’t.
An exhibition is such a scrutinised and controlled space –with the invitation of another artist’s work sending off signals of meaning that are communicated by how the work is invited, presented and incorporated into the overall installation. The move to invite other artists into an exhibition can turn a solo exhibition into a group exhibition, a painter into an appropriation artist or an artwork into a prop. However, Alison’s accidental inclusions of Natalia’s work into her exhibition come under none of these categories: the works inhabit the exhibition of their own accord, and Alison’s exhibition hosts them accordingly.
The white cube developed from the desire to give art its ideal exhibition space, undistracted by any objects or elements from the outside world. But blank space does not necessarily blank our minds; and (from my experience) a blank mind is not such a desirable position from which to think about art: it’s precisely by listening to other experiences (from artworks; to what happens on the streets; to a conversations had or overheard) that a work starts to speak. And perhaps it’s precisely when an artwork responds to something other than itself that we are given opportunity to listen. Perhaps if a work is presented as a monologue, such a proposition could come unwanted. But Alison’s works –the scent of lavender; the forms of clouds; a spindly symbol promoting wellness– do not seem to do so.
Conversations with visitors over the past weeks have never dived headfirst into Alison’s work: a good mountain of topics first being discussed before the exhibition is explored. I learnt from David’s exhibition how an empty work often, in its silence, invites us to fill it with our own words. And yet while Alison’s exhibition is similar in its initial action, after some time it stops being silent and, from there, begins to direct the conversation.
Looking at the composition of the room, this order of events makes sense. The most dominating elements of the installation –the mural and the lavender smell– are essentially abstract, not inviting a visitor to address them directly. And yet as time is spent in the room the other details begin to be seen: the clay-kettle sculptures, the symbol above the doors –and as awareness of them rise, so do conversations pivoting around the exhibition’s propositions.
Perhaps this is what I would like to consider as a ‘good listener’. While I’ve always assumed a good listener as being somebody who themselves do not speak, perhaps it is work such as this, that first listens and then speaks, that better carries this title.
It’s going to be hard not to enthuse. The installation process, and subsequent opening of Alison’s exhibition, was such a good experience, I’m unsure if I know how not to.
We have been running Plǝt- for over a year, with Alison’s exhibition being the sixth exhibition to which we have played host. And while the project has been going along smoothly and with ever increasing momentum, I guess there must always come a time in a project’s trajectory where doubt creeps in; where energy starts being directed backwards, rather than forwards, to check what is really being accomplished or made. This was what was happening in the months before Alison’s exhibition –leading us to revisit previous exhibitions and thoughts to contextualize the present movements. But, while past texts showed how we were developing in thought, the proof that we have been moving forward as a space presented itself during the process of installing Alison’s work.
Since the initial exhibitions, installing work at Plǝt- has become more and more of a collaborative process. Not in the sense that we help make the work, but rather in the sense that we assert our position – insuring that two spaces (living + exhibition) will find an equilibrium within the room. Finding this balance has always been a motivation at Plǝt- and therefore inviting Alison to exhibit was, in hindsight, a blatant attempt to challenge this notion. Knowing that her works (ad)dress the entire room, asking her to exhibit at Plat- -which always needs to accommodate its tenant- meant that we would potentially end up with more than one room could handle.
Through the course of running Plǝt-, the biggest difference we have identified between living and exhibition spaces is movement. While a living space is in constant motion – servicing and reflecting the act of living – an exhibition space relies on various degrees of being static. Bold works demand attention – stopping the room in its tracks or overshadowing its every movement. Delicate works, on the other hand, often demand a wide circumference of space to ensure that they do not get lost - shifting the use of space further and further away from their edges until there is little, or no, room left. The two logics –of living and exhibiting- can therefore often stand in almost complete contradiction.
My enthusiasm for Alison’s show comes with the evasion of this incompatibility. While both artist (Alison) and tenant (myself) stood our grounds for what we respectively required of the room, we slowly, over a two-day process, found the middle ground. The artwork was given the presence it needed by an almost all-encompassing mural, while furniture and books were given the physical space they required by being scattered around the room. While the first exhibitions of Plǝt-‘s program would use the apartment’s second room to hide aesthetically displeasing, everyday objects (removing them from view to literally give the art work space) by this exhibition, the incorporation of everyday objects within the exhibition meant this second room was so free that, in the end, it was even able to host the (sole) painting of the show. While it may seem like a trivial detail, the reason why I’m enthusing about is that it means that in both rooms, neither the art nor the everyday objects overshadow or dwindle the other. There feels, throughout the entire apartment, to be a symbiosis between art and living.
But it’s still early days.
The living room walls are scrubbed with metallic grey paint, creating the atmosphere of a slightly pompous, rich person’s cave crossed with a theatre stage. (I keep expecting to see plastic flowers; but they are not there.) And while the room is now in its after-opening quiet, for hours it buzzed with bodies that stood in stark contrast to these walls. Not in the way that dark colours stand out against white, but rather how the fuzzed chaos of the walls contrasted with the clean-cut colours of their clothing, creating photogenic situations between painted and living textures. While these aesthetically full moments were there, they also did not feel stuck – the photogenes coming from the walls of the room itself, rather than a set composition that would come from the position of an eye, or of a camera. Unlike some installations, which have a definite front and back, this one engulfs the entire room, including its movements.
What this means is that while the room has taken a complete aesthetic transformation, it is because of this overarching transformation that it stays relaxed: the work is so present that it has no threat of becoming lost - creating a somewhat paradoxical situation where its precisely because of its all-encompassing presence that there is space for other movements.
The closest example I can make to demonstrate this relationship is that of hosting, or being, a guest. While logic might point towards a quiet guest being the least imposing, I have found this not to be the case. Silence almost communicates as an apology of one’s presence, and yet, no matter how little we try to make ourselves, unobtrusiveness will never make us disappear. Rather, the guest that brings energy to a space, one that acknowledges their presence and helps support it, becomes the guest that is the lightest load. An apologetic, or timid attitude therefore only masks one’s presence, while acknowledgement, and subsequent knowledge, of our presence in an environment allows us to take responsibility for our affect.
I guess this is what Alison’s work is doing. By spreading itself across all the walls (stopping just before it forgets itself) it announces it is here. And in response, so do the objects in the room that are required for living: cords snake next to the sculptures to service the lights; pens, tools, washing lines stand in waiting. They are all here. And for now, none overpower the other.
Or this is how it feels. It is of course just day one. And there are fifty more to go. Who knows how it will be experienced after fifty days of cohabitation? Will some elements occupy the room over time with more prowess? Will accumulated experience through them out of balance? I’m not sure, which is why -for now- I’m looking towards these upcoming days with excitement.