Thuistezien 137 — 03.01.2021

Kunst en Crisis XII
Out of focus
Miranda Meijer
(English translation by Baruch Gottlieb)

Today I took a gulp of morning port for breakfast. Years ago I used to drink it with my boyfriend at the time, who was an artist. Not because of the effect of the alcohol – at least in my case - but because the sweet, fruity, syrupy port tastes like a deliciously soft nectar, especially in the morning. If you want to try this it is important that you don’t eat or drink anything before. Brushing your teeth beforehand is definitely not a good idea.

I start typing. The letters appear on the screen and form words. The words weigh heavily. Everywhere, but particularly on social media, words - and images - can literally haunt you forever. We believe that we can express anything with words, but we never/sometimes/regularly/frequently/always* say things in such a way that they are interpreted differently than intended by the speaker or writer. In support of what others have written, I check that the words I write here do not contain too many deviations from the norm.

* Delete what does not apply.

And this is the crisis in my text. Is the crisis in the arts. Is the crisis in the world. Is a crisis still a crisis when it has become the norm? Could I say that the benchmark should be shifted as long as we cannot go back to the way it was? Even if it does look like it at the moment - optimistic statements about corona vaccines have begun circulating - we do not know how to overcome the crisis. Perhaps we will never shake hands again in the future. No more three kisses. Physical contact could just become something exclusive. Moreover, who can say that there will not be another crisis straight away after? Something will certainly happen at some other time in the future. Perhaps Western countries have been spared a crisis of this magnitude for too long.
It seems to me that people are not very flexible in their ability to adapt. We accept the government’s measures in order to try to keep everything as it was, so our economic concerns do not escalate. We acquiesce en masse because we don't want to see our individual lives change either. Precisely here is an opportunity for the arts.

In De Mensentuin (The Human Garden) (1969) by Desmond Morris I read that in just thousands of years man has always been able to adapt incredibly well to the situation in which he finds himself. Think, for example, of the enormous speed with which industry has developed. The enormous population growth with the explosive expansion of cities. We have been accustomed to growth all this time. To move forward. We have seen everything become more abundant. Better. Of course we can argue about how to define “better”. But can we also choose to go backwards? Or in another direction? I don't want to imply that we have to embrace the crisis, but how else can we live with the circumstances of the moment? Everything can change, and strictly speaking, in order to go back to the way things were, we will have to go backwards. To return. The conviction that many people hold, that moving forward is always the right direction surprises me. Just as much to assert as we only go in one direction in time.

Bending time
In the spring of 2017 I met Jorge, a Chilean mathematician and revolutionary. Usually I keep to the straight and narrow, but this time I decided to take a detour. So it came to pass that I went to visit him in Sitges in Spain. Jorge was the first one who told me that time does not only go in one direction and that according to him, the flow of time can be influenced and we could meet again on another day in the future or the past. If you try hard enough, you can even bend time in the direction you want. His mission was to prove this mathematically. As far as he is concerned this has remained only words and our paths have not yet crossed again, but it made me think. Is time really as we have created it. Do we live time as we perceive it? Leaving aside Einstein's theory of relativity, we understand time in the three dimensional space is linear, it goes in one direction. A timeline can be straight, but it can also be a circle. For example, the hands of the clock go round and round, the day begins anew every twenty-four hours, but no day is ever the same. We go forward in time and not back.
Nevertheless, I accept that alternatives are possible. Even though time does not seem very flexible at the moment, man evolves as everything evolves and who knows, one day we may reach a point where we will have to define time in a new way.

It seems a bit easy to write it down here, but art - just like a crisis that is looming - is actually free of time. We can rediscover it anytime. Moreover, art itself creates a new model of time. It will always be present and can mean something different at any moment in time.

Sweet freedom
Museums and cultural institutions have it hard during corona time. They were closed for more than two months earlier this year and also closed for a fortnight in the autumn. Exhibitions are still being cancelled, postponed or continue in an online version with all the restrictions that that entails. But art has not come to a standstill. Art continues to be made.

In principle, therefore, a crisis is free to continue to play out whenever and wherever it wants. We are the ones who want to curb it, to fight it as we think best. In 1612, in “the Passover”, Joost van den Vondel wrote O, sweet freedom!. This is the motto which accompanied my profile in the graduation catalogue of the art academy. Nowadays I sometimes think about the meaning of freedom and whether it really tastes as sweet as I had thought when I went out with my art, into the wide world after time at the academy. Freedom in general certainly has its own meaning in different cultures and is experienced in its own way by different people. But what I find interesting is the question whether freedom can be something an individual possesses, and if so, do this involve (somewhat) taking freedom away from someone else? The concept of freedom may not be as free as we might at first imagine.

With a friend I discussed the unlimited freedom of thinking. How you are always free to think what you want without any restrictions, even in a crisis. Although it may seem that you have freedom of thought because no-one else can grasp them, I believe thoughts are constrained and influenced by what you experience, what you do and the environment in which you act. Likewise the art which gets made is also a result of the time we live in and the thoughts we have.

Anyway. It's Tuesday evening after yet another corona press conference and I'm eating take-away pizza at a friend's house. We discuss how things are changing, the old things and habits that have been or will be given new meanings. We examine all the nuances and implications which are neglected, making jokes and laughing. A CD with Renaissance music is playing in the background. We drink port – yet again - from eighteenth-century pendulum glasses, the crisis won’t stop that.

Miranda Meijer (1973) is an artist living and working in Den Haag.

Art and crisis — Thinking about art in times of corona
The arts are taking a break. Theatres, museums, concert halls and galleries are closed. To a large extent, the art that is so desperately needed right now is inaccessible. Imagine being quarantined at home without films, without books, without music.
Though we may not access the art, we can still think about it. The enforced rupture of this isolation can also be an opportune moment to reflect on and from, the arts. Every Sunday for the coming weeks we will feature new writing on the arts under quarantine. Today we have the first offering from the initiators of this series: Akiem Helmling and Christiaan Weijts.