De Appel, Amsterdam
Immovably Centred is a cross-over production that integrates theatre and visual art, by writer and artist Arnoud Holleman (NL, 1964) in collaboration with Mugmetdegoudentand theatre company. An exhibition in de Appel is combined with a series of live performances featuring different actors and artists. Registrations of these performances will be incorporated into a video installation running continuously at the de Appel gallery from 1 - 22 June 2008.
Opening sunday 1 june om 17.00 uur at De Appel. Performance dates: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 en 11 june.
Debbie Korper, actress. Marcel Musters, actor. Gerardjan Rijnders, director. Joke Tjalsma, actress. Marian Boyer, director Platform Theaterauteurs. Beppie Melissen, actress. Jacqueline Blom, actress. Ton Kas, actor. Hans Aarsman, writer/photographer. Tom Jansen, actor. Cas Enklaar, actor. Maureen Teeuwen, actress. Sophie Berrebi, writer/curator. Nickel van Duijvenboden, artist/writer. Ann Demeester, director De Appel. Axel Rüger, director Van Goghmuseum.
Video software and technical support: Geert Jan van Ouwendorp.
In Immovably Centred Rilke is quoted or paraphrased a number of times. For this we have made use of the German publication AUGUSTE RODIN von RAINER MARIA RILKE Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1913 and the Dutch translation by Philip van der Eijk and Willem Bierman SUN, Nijmegen 1990.
Live registration Marcel Musters and Debbie Korper
Cover article by Edzard Mik. NRC Cultural Supplement of june 13, 2008.
Performances by Axel Rüger and Maureen Teeuwen.
(A woman and a man onstage.)
Well, a fine state. The sum of conversation on earth turned out to be endless, but what do we end up with? Nada. Everything just chucked away. Subsidy handed back. A total failure.
Fine. Well done. I?d like to know when you?re not going to be a failure. If you?re not. And whether I?m going to witness it in this lifetime.
So vain. So weak. So lacking in backbone. I have to keep the whole show on the road while you just sit upstairs crying at your desk, your tears staining what you?re only going to scrunch up again any second and toss into the corner. On that laptop of yours.
And oh, aren?t you so terribly unhappy. If you could still cry, that is.
Do you really think it makes a jot of difference, one masterpiece more or less in the world? I don?t think so. But you do, don?t you. Your whole life given to humanity. And it doesn?t give a damn.
Incessantly squirreling away information like some worker ant, making connections, giving meaning. Creating images, for the sake of some idiotic ambition. You will and you must bring that first man to life. Conjure, create, realise, fulfil, mould your material from nothing into something.
Play God. That?s it. Like you?re God himself.
But an atom bomb lies between Rodin and you.
Well anyway, if you can?t get your material sorted out, I will. According to my own vision. Actually, I?ve been wondering why you?ve worked of your own free will all these years on what?s ultimately going to be your downfall. Which you know well enough yourself. Can?t you see that your career?s not going well, that you have to earn your bread in anonymity. But what else can you do, you think.
You?re an artist, you create art, you think. That?s the choice you made. Every day you go to your studio and you create. Because it?s important. That you make things, draw, paint, model, chisel, photograph, film, edit. And when the visuals won?t float, you write it down. You piously announce at breakfast how we live in an age in which the pure image is no longer the extreme frontier of modern art. How it?s all about reflection now. Research. Well it looks like you didn?t hear the alarm, did you. You act as if writing?s some visionary move to drag the whole of the visual arts on to the next plan, riding the coattails of your own ?fascinating development?; if only it was. But you?re not that innovative. At best trend sensitive. You surf along on the zeitgeist. You sniff around what others have already pondered infinitely more deeply and you call that thinking outside the box.
And the world just keeps waiting.
Not to talk about me.
And on the days when there?s no ink in your pot either, you tidy up. If you can?t manage real creation you can always create the conditions. You say. So you?ll be ready when God?s service hatch swings open. But in all these years I?ve seen you busy in your studio, I haven?t seen anything but an endless stream of the same little notions running through your head, and the same stuff passing through your hands, in a space that?s barely six by six. That stream of stuff driven up by what, if you look closely, is a stagnant idea that you have to ?do something? with it all.
To create something from nothing. And your thinking is more a thinking that precedes thinking. You think. You follow your intuition, you say.
Cup of coffee while you?re at it.
I can?t take it any more.
Thinking preceding thinking? I think it?d be braver to admit that your mood in those moments of alleged personal insight is vegetative. Because you don?t draw the consequences. Your work is one great, artistically-reconstructed survival strategy. Your philosophies are no more than Wikipedia drivel about the unconscious steps you?ve taken in your life.
I?ve heard you, you know, mumbling away when you?re working. When I tiptoe through the studio to the balcony with the wash basket so as not to disturb you. You?re just trying to get your courage up.
That?s the way it has to be. See. Just so. Do you see? Good. You can do it. That?s what you keep telling yourself.
Your voiceover glues it all together. And usually the voiceover is calm and solemn, as though it were some worthy nature documentary about deer in the forest. But the more you need self-confirmation, the more that voice morphs into an excitable sports reporter?s. A hysterical commentator giving your actions the automatic allure of an historical event: Yes ladies and gentlemen, he?s taking something from the pile in front of him, what is it, it?s a photo, it?s a photo of himself and he?s taking the scissors and it isn?t a question of whether he?ll snip but where he?ll snip and when, and now the scissors are slicing through the paper and finally he cuts himself in half and he?s done it! Right across the full length of his face!! Truly phenomenal!!! What a moment and a poignant example of craftsmanship and a delight to have witnessed ladies and gentlemen!!!!
It makes no difference if you?re creating something or playing patience. Without a clear, guiding theme, you tell yourself, and me, and everyone else, year after year, that you?re a Homo Ludens, a human of the playful genus. Go ahead, do what you like, the meaning will come later. You dare not demand a vision, you say. You flow and so your work flows. And like that you?ll create the first man in your own image. Your masterpiece will be fluid.
In that way your work?s a skid mark from your good intentions. Sometimes they turn out well and sometimes they don?t. And you console yourself by saying that ultimately, in the very, very long term, probably long after your death, your struggles will give birth to a perfect coherent oeuvre. And at that moment it?ll dawn upon the man in the street that the saviour was among us all the time and we didn?t even recognise him.
At least that?s the fairytale you cling to like a life raft, because the reality is that a pitifully small amount of your work manages to find its way out into the world. Your talent is not fortified by that other necessary skill, to be able to inspire complicity in others. Your work exists, among millions of works of art by tens of thousands of artists. And that just about says it all. You know that well enough yourself. Too damned well. If it?s a cog in the greater network of museum directors, gallery owners, curators and journalists, then it is a very tiny one.
You wave to them all at other people?s openings. And they wave back, but they don?t call. They never call. If we go to a film you can safely leave your mobile on with no worries.
That?s how it?s been for years, but only now and then do you catch yourself in a vague realisation that it?s probably going to be like that for years to come. Only rarely do you dare ask yourself if you could still surprise yourself, but before you can answer you?ve already switched back to your stand-by mode: denial.
I don?t think, I know for certain, you?ll never surprise yourself. I think that when you?re exposed to particular circumstances for too long, then psychological mechanisms come into play; they become a working component of your personal morality, a survival tactic. And definitely when they disguise themselves as the artist?s ?positive values?, as with you. That?s the way you conceal from yourself and others how the noble struggle for the sublime is just a delusion of grandeur that stems from a commonplace struggle for survival. Which is why change is so difficult, for who could ever object to the high temper of the arts?
That being said we?ve got to the point when you?ve got to accept that your delusions and your persistent sense of sin, futility and guilt are only the survival tactics of a man in a permanent state of siege. You have to hold on to the idea that you can exercise control over your life. After all, if you accept that your life is not determined by you, but by others or by circumstances, then you?d have to cash in your mental chips. But, does it all make any difference? Even if you accepted that you don?t want to face reality, you?d never really let the significance of that penetrate your mind: all you?re doing is re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Because otherwise you?d have to accept that your life, as you?ve lived it up till now, is founded on delusion, which over the years has not manifested itself in the world as reality. You can?t turn back, but you can?t go forwards either. Walled-in.
If you?d been a ballerina, you?d have been the one who tiptoed around. Falling on your face would have been part of life then.
Girly, if ya fall, alwis make the best uff it.
The only thing you can still do is decide to raise the survival tactic that?s held you in its grip for so many years, and swings from megalomania to a total sense of failure, into the theme of your work. That?s the only ?something? you really still need to ?do? to ?make? something of ?it?. Use your defect. Alwis make the best uff it. But if that has any meaning outside of yourself and the walls of your studio, whether you?ve been chosen as well as called, doesn?t mean a shit to me.
It?s all fine as far as I?m concerned, as long as you don?t stick it under my nose.
Your dinner?s in the cookbook.
(Woman exits. Man sits quiet. Woman enters again.)
I?m not pedantic. That?s just the way it is.
The starting idea was simply no good. Adam, the first man, immortalized from the moment that God blows consciousness up his nose. Who wants to hear about that these days?
But oh no, Michelangelo did it. Rodin copied him and now you?re copying Rodin. You wouldn?t do it for any less. But different, of course, special, in a class of its own, like hey...take the zeitgeist by the short and curlies.
Well, if the Zeitgeist is impotent, you?ve taken it by the scruff of the neck. Have Rodin?s Adam speak, through an actor, as though a living statue. How contemporary. Like on a city square, but in a museum. Simple comme bonjour.
And that Adam just keeps talking. In the form of words spilling out of his mouth. To emphasise the live moment. A man, but hollow inside. 300 kilos of bronze, but with feeling. And in that emptiness, a consciousness like an archive, a Wunderkammer, or miracle room, a database. For an hour and a half, dishing out pretty words about everything Adam feels, about everything that runs through that hollow self.
Ambitious, for someone who says he dares to have no vision.
A kliko bin full of odd rags that are oh so interesting, but lack direction.
If that isn?t a self-portrait.
You just aren?t on top of your material.
God damn it.
Precisely. That?s how far you?ve come. Adam says God damn it, but is stuck in his first sound broadcast. One word, the rest apple D. Such a mountain of research, but no personage to hang it all on. No drama, no psychological development. Zero.
And to conceal that, layer upon layer upon layer. One amusing observation after the other.
... If they start to whine at me I know the weekend?s on the way.
... Not to mention pigeons shitting on my head.
Onions have layers! You should have made it inevitable. If only Adam had had that apple tree chopped down. If you know in advance that you aren?t allowed to eat the apple because it?s hung on the tree of good and evil, surely you must already know the difference between good and evil? De-mystify the business. At least then you?ve got something to perform as an actor, to rebel against, like the real Adam rebelled against his creator.
And anyway it wasn?t an apple tree, it was a pomegranate tree. A stupid mis-translation.
But oh no, it had to be high-minded, refined. It had to be art. We wouldn?t do it for less. Not bronze in your hands, but gold.
(She shows her ring-less fingers.)
The only gold in this house has been down at the pawnshop for months.
If that?s consciousness, you?d be better off talking for two minutes on Memorial Day and then shut up for the rest of the year.
(She?s quiet for a while.)
I?ll tell you. Everything.
Suppose fame is the sum of all of the misunderstandings that accumulate around a new name; is the absence of fame then founded on more or less misunderstanding?
You?re fourteen, so your mother?s fifty-three. When your mother was thirty and still single, she went on holiday on a scooter, to the Rivièra. Wonderful! Savoir vivre! On the way back she stays over in Paris and visits the Musée Rodin. She buys a ticket, ups-a-daisy, in she goes, opens the door, and is profoundly struck by the master whose reputation was then being re-cast into the sort of immortality that we know these days as branding: when the name?s more important than what?s hanging on the peg. What Rodin?s work really brought about inside your mother we can?t say, she doesn?t have any artistic aspirations of her own, and she doesn?t keep a diary, but we do know that she buys two books in the museum shop to the left of the entrance, which she stuffs between her camping gear on her scooter and takes back with her to The Hague, which she probably leafs through a couple more times, then she places them in the bookcase and gradually forgets about them. The years pass and the books are only taken off the shelf whenever she moves house. She finds a husband. Your father. They marry. Fourteen years after your birth, the two books from Paris have finally reached the bottom shelf of a bookcase deep in the provinces. Where they are found by you on a Sunday afternoon.
Because what else did you do when you were fourteen? You just lay around on the floor mostly. The hormones screaming through your body and you literally didn?t know what position to adopt. Not with yourself, not with the world and definitely not with the life that was meant to bind these two together. That?s why you lay there, on the floor, preferably on long, tedious Sunday afternoons. Feeling the cold tiles through your clothes.
And when your mother screams from the kitchen In God?s name do something! it sounds like a voice coming from far, far away. At that moment she can?t suspect that you?re on the point of doing something ? and in God?s name too ? which will determine the rest of your life.
Your eyes glide along the spines of the books, item by item, behind which lurk unknown, threatening worlds, because they?re unfamiliar to you, except of course The Goblin by Rien Poortvliet. This time you pass by its striking red spine and halt at the two books your mother once thought worth the trouble of bringing back on her scooter from Paris to The Hague. You take them out of the bookcase and look at them. The spines are faded, the bindings unbroken. You take the largest book first. Rodin is written there. You know him. And you know the photo on the cover too. In the city where you go to school there?s a statue at the entrance to the museum: Balzac. No idea who that is. How would you know? How would you know that Rodin?s fingers never touched this Balzac? You still don?t know a thing. You?re lying on the floor, you?re fourteen, late with everything, still haven?t had your first orgasm and for the time being you?re impressed only by the theatrical pathos in Balzac?s pose, the writer of La Comedie Humaine, which you?ve also never heard of, but without realising it, you are already part of it. And how!
The book of photos you?re thumbing through is from the 1950s. Rodin?s sculptures have been depicted in black and white and, in the fashion of the time, the contrast between light and dark is sharply accentuated. Theatrical light, whereby the existential distress of the posture is even more powerfully evoked. The sculptures all appear as though falling, unable to free themselves from gravity. Just like you, lying there on the ground, in savàsana ? dead body posture ? but there?s no yoga instructor in the neighbourhood to tell you that. You think the photos beautiful and you love Rodin.
The other book is less clear. The cover is uniformly dark blue and on the black spine in dulled gold letters is written: Rainer Maria Rilke ~ Rodin. You know the latter, but who?s the former? Again no idea. Is it a man? Then why?s there a girl?s name in the middle? Or is it three people, Rainer, Maria and Rilke, writing about Rodin? Are they Rodin?s three children? You don?t understand. When you open the book there?s nothing in it but text. In German. You can?t speak German. Haven?t done it at school yet. Not until next year. If you hadn?t taken it from the bookcase together with the Rodin photo book you?d never have opened it, but now that you?re looking at the two of them together, you?re curious about what it says. Perhaps not so much what?s written there, but whether you?ll be able to understand the German.
On the flyleaf there are two inscriptions, one of which is in English: The Hero is he who is immovably centred.
Of the eight words, you understand seven. Even lying motionless on the floor, immovably is the one word you don?t understand. The second inscription is in German. Your eyes read: Die Schriftsteller wirken durch Worte... die Bildhauer aber durch Taten... Of the ten words, you understand one: Bildhauer. Sculptor. The word resonates with the images in the other book, which is still lying open on the tiles beside you. Sculptures. It?s a hop, skip and a jump from your own hobby, carpentry; DIY with junk materials, making Muppets from foam rubber and papier maché. You even like women?s work, like crocheting and knitting. But what the nature of this creativity is, you have no idea.
Alwis make the best uff it. From nothing to something. The fact that you can also explain that negatively is going to remain concealed from you for years.
The significance of the inscription, the fact that words and images are two entirely different areas, escapes you. You turn over the page and begin to read. Out loud, phonetically. In amazement you hear German words suddenly emerging from your mouth: Rodin war einsam vor seinem Ruhm. Und der Ruhm, der kam, hat ihn vielleicht noch einsamer gemacht. Denn Ruhm ist schließlich nur den Inbegriff aller Mißverständnisse, die sich um einen neuen Namen sammeln.
The sounds are there. The meaning comes only slowly, like a mongol bringing up the rear of a parade. But understanding the meaning is only celebrated at linguistic level: German is really quite easy!
The true meaning, the relation between Rilke?s words and Rodin?s life, which they sum up, escapes you. What happens afterwards is a-theatrical, for what does happen: absolutely nothing. You lie in front of the bookcase on the floor and put the two books back in their place. You leafed through them out of boredom and in apparently equal boredom put them back.
Nevertheless, what happens during this action is that you completely identify with Rodin, whose work and life and fame are the opposite of the lethargy that you find yourself in at that present moment. Rodin, that?s me ? you think. And if I?m not him I want to become him. I want to be him. He becomes your example. And that?s not just because of the photo book with reproductions of his Deeds, but more because of Rilke?s Worte about Rodin. Even though the German keeps the literal meaning from you, you understand better the devotion in the book: written out of boundless adoration for the genius Rodin. A genius not so much confirmed by the work, but by the way Rodin is glorified by Rilke.
If Rilke had written about football, you?d have become a footballer.
You liked the sound of such Ruhm, or fame, because einsam, lonely, you were already that. And even though you couldn?t literally understand Rilke?s voice, by reading it, the voice began to resonate with a mood below the level of language. Ultimately to fuse. This was your second voice, which was opening its mouth for the very first time.
That moment on the floor by the lower shelf of the bookcase was the moment that consciousness was breathed into you.
It?s just that you didn?t jump and skip, scanning everything about you, seeing everything in its true form for the first time, whooping Eureka and understanding what you had to do with your life. The great clocks of the monastery deep inside you were motionless and quiet. Your second voice was working on you at a frequency that you couldn?t hear with your ears. You just lay where you were.
But from that moment you were divided. No longer alone. Because I was there too. If no one saw how exceptional you were, then I would tell you.
From that moment on the floor I juggled with the first, second and third person singular to artificially compensate for your lack of self-esteem. Permanently. You?d get up in the morning, I?d say: How exceptional, he?s getting up now. Will he create? You feel unappreciated because of the absence of compliments and confirmation from others, but I say: wait till you?re famous, your time will come. I?m a translation machine. While you?re astonished by the German sounds spilling from your mouth, I?ve already filed away the first three of Rilke?s sentences as follows: I was lonely before I became famous. And the fame that came to me made me lonelier still. For fame is the sum of all of the misunderstandings that accumulate around a new name.
And the new name is you.
Your course is settled. You?ll become famous. You?ll do something, in God?s name. But you?re not famous yet. For the time being you?re a stranger in your own life. A tourist who destroys the authentic in every situation by his mere presence. Your drama is that the words you live by were written for someone else. You only have them on loan, but you believe in them as though Rilke is concerned personally with you, there on the tiled floor by the bottom shelf, and will raise you up to immortality.
You own the statement, but it?s not yours.
Rather than being something that opens and allows creativity to bloom, a world is actually closed to you. The world. That moment on the floor is the moment that you close yourself off from the outside world. Thanks to Rilke. But as long as you?re not conscious of that your life is in the service of that misunderstanding. You go to the arts academy, old style. You submit yourself to five years of outmoded education. Your second voice drags you through it.
He can do it folks. Here?s a task as great as the world and he has to face it alone. He feels called, while for now he?s no more than some unknown who has to earn his fame, working hard in anonymity. A conviction, anchored deep in inner peace, guides his way. His limitless patience reveals his great talent and profound connection to nature ? which stretches so much further than the boundaries of his name or body ? like the infinite patience and great good in nature itself that begins in winter?s nothingness and from there proceeds to the superabundance of summer.
And meanwhile you couldn?t punch your way out of a wet paper bag.
The sum of all misunderstandings remains. The second voice doesn?t exist outside you, and what it says, absolutely not at all. God damn it, how sad. What the breakfast table isn?t good for; or drinks before dinner for that matter. I?ve had to listen to them until we?re between the sheets, those daily monologues.
God damn it. I?m humanity too, aren?t I? But oh no, that?s when reality gets a little too close. You won?t get that blind spot out at sixty degrees. What more am I, the one who?s closest to you, than a guest who just won?t leave?
You can say a whole lot about it, and whether genius or not, the best thing about God and Rilke and Rodin is that they?re finished. Frightened men. Demodé. Passé. Fini. No longer happening.
Now just you.
If you?re contemplating suicide, I shan?t be at your funeral.
(Woman exits, man stares out ahead.)
text by Arnoud Holleman
translated from Dutch by Paul Evans
Immovably Centred is supported financially by Fonds BKVB, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, Platform Theaterauteurs and Lectoraat Beeldende Kunst Avans Hogeschool AKV/St Joost.