Thuistezien 231 — 10.04.2021

Hans Clevers & Ramsey Nasr
Encounters #1

I still remember well how one of my first ‘art experiences’ went: I was irritated and frustrated. I was 17 years old and part of a talent development traject at an exhibition space in Rotterdam, and with a group of teenage girls and coaches (curators, artists) we were strolling through Hamburger Bahnhof, when I couldn’t repress my self-reflexive anger any longer and attempted to address it in, obviously a know-it-all yet later eye-opening, discussion with one of the team leaders about the background of this mythical figure. Blocks of fat and rolled up felt, performances with arbitrary and aggressive content — Joseph Beuys seemed to do mockery, searching for an empty shock effect, or stirring simple confusion. But if it works, it works, even when getting mad about how empty it is. Suddenly that moment of awareness, awkwardness and intrigue of your own arousal.

Surprisingly enough Ramsey Nasr shared the same experience as I had at the same exhibition. According to him the magic of art lies in its expressive value, where something happens or gets evoked, whether it is displeasure or beauty. What in one era still is shocking because it breaks with patterns of thinking, such as impressionism or the bolero, we now find soothing and romantic. Nasr indeed sees art as a good way to become immune to the threatening Truth that throws us into wars. Art ‘makes us doubt, disrupts, applies nuances and is multifaceted — therefore dangerous —, brings forward more questions than answers’.

The eureka-moment that gives birth to new ideas or thoughts mostly occurs when one is already looking at something, when something is already on the table. This applies to being a witness to art as well as making it. And as can be learned in this ‘Encounters’ also to scientists who are looking for a ‘something’ that can’t be expected or anticipated. Research is actually in its basis not directed towards a goal or end result, or it should at least, per Hans Clevers’ plea, not be viewed as such. At the same time a lot of science also becomes obsolete and goes through the same kind of process of extinction and flatlining as the archives of art. It is pointing towards the significance of the process and the experiment, rather than the data that presents itself as Truth but has no expressive value in and of itself. From this conversation it seems that serendipity, as proposed by Clevers, and faith, as by Nasr, poses the magical formula for art as well as science. An endeavour for research towards unexpected findings, with a certain faith in possibility: ‘Can you just imagine that it is true!’

Hans Clevers is a Dutch geneticist and doctor. As a professor in Molecular Genetics he is tied to the Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht and Utrecht University. Clevers is Principal Investigator at the Hubrecht Institute for Developmental Biology and Stem Cell Research and the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology.

Ramsey Nasr is a Dutch poet, author essayist, actor, director, librettist and translator of half Palestinian descent. He was the second poet laureate of Antwerp and was from January 2009 until Januray 2013 Dichter des Vaderlands in The Netherlands; in this function he also fulfilled duties as ambassador of the Turing Nationale Gedichtenwedstrijd.

With musical intermezzo by composer and sonologist Juan Parra Cancino.

Text: Yael Keijzer