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An aquarelle of exquisite quality – because of the sheer beauty of its composition, colour and execution, as well as due to an aesthetic empiricism of detail.
The artist, J. H. Plokker, sought to convey the impression of urban architecture in a street in the middle of France, highlighting its mediaeval-like organicism of construction and the play of sunlight and shadow – yet, true to the facts, also giving us the rather ugly bit of modernist building, constructed at the back of all this and visible at the end of the ally of steps. Thiers it is, in 1963.
The artist’s gaze has taken it all in – with a warm, loving gaze, giving us the pleasure of retracing the slow steps made by his eyes. Such delicacy of detail is almost feminine, if not simply – feminine.
We know of the experiment re: human perception of our immediate surroundings, showing us the difference between women and men. A group of students from various faculties, not knowing what it was all about, were asked to come to a psychological lab for ‘some’ experiments. They were paid a fee in advance. Gathered in a large sitting room with furniture and various decorative elements, they waited and expected to be informed as to what it was all about, convivially enjoying titbits and refreshments served on a table.
It turned out that the whole experiment had already been in their gathering. After a certain period of time, each one was asked to step outside, to be interviewed about what they had noticed in the room: its size, place of doors and windows, pictures hanging on the wall, kinds of food and drink on the table and the various objects placed in the room. In a rather precise manner, the men were able to reproduce a map of the room, on it the place and size of windows and doors, pieces of furniture et cetera. Their recollection of smaller details, though, was miserable, all those little things here and there. With the women, the results were a contrast.
Whatever explanation one may give – I prefer an evolutionary one, in a faraway past the loving care for her children directing the gaze of a woman at details that were, perhaps, threatening them – it seems more generally the case that women are apt to observe details as well as care for them; they are less interested in the topographical lay out and order of things. If this were indeed the case, an artist like Plokker might be said to have a strong feminine bent; all good artists are marvels in their details, in which – according to one great architect – even God may be residing…
A male artist, then, may be said to have a split personality; why not call it a schizophrenic? I am well aware that the concept of schizophrenia must be used carefully, specifically in postmodern times when it is abused – galore, thus meaningless. However, as I started this little essay from the observation of a Plokker aquarelle, the term might be apt. The man was also a doctor, a psychiatrist, chief of the great hospital for schizophrenics in The Netherlands. He wrote an impressive dissertation on art and schizophrenia: Art from the Mentally Disturbed. Curiously enough, in this study he doubts whether the concept of art really applies to the work of his schizophrenic patients, whom he tried to treat by allowing them to paint, draw et cetera.
Now, what a doctor as a doctor should apply to his patients is a clinical gaze: the doctor must be a cool customer, a distanced observer of certain facts, not involved in the persons, but aloof – then to place these facts, considered as symptoms, in a more general perspective of known diseases, irrespective of his own prejudice or partis pris. In short: a doctor must be ‘masculine’ par excellence. This, by the way, raises certain interesting problems re: female doctors, which I will leave untouched here.
If what has been analysed above is somehow right, it implies that Plokker must have managed the feminine/masculine extremes of his personality rather well. As a scientist-doctor, not only did he succeed to falsify in a Popperian manner his original idea of ‘schizophrenic art’; he was also capable of producing the most wonderfully detailed as well as wonderful aquarelles – a man in love with both the details of the object depicted as well as with his own child: this aquarelle.
in his Periodic System Levi is asking himself: “What could we do with our hands?” ‘In the Jewish community’, he writes, ‘only women can really use their hands. The men use their hands merely to write, after having used them to play, in their youth’. What can I ‘do with my hands’? Practice love, I hope – let the fingers stroke and roam, find all the orifices, make them move. Can there be a more satisfying, a more splendid handicraft than this one?
“Time turns advertisements into poems, and Time turns poems into advertisements, because Time changes the reader and it depends on the reader whether a thing is or is not art.” If Stefan Themerson is right, in his Wooff, wooff, or: who killed Richard Wagner?, I know what to do: I am going into the commercials business, because if one thing is certain, it is that only after their life is over do poets become famous. Ergo.
Lourdes istzum kotzen, it makes one puke. The only miracle to be seen here, turns out to be of an architectural sort: the subterranean basilica St. Pie X – a crossbreed between a parking lot and a church where, after mass, the variously diseased will be parked in the vicinity of a small army of frocked men who will inform them why, today, our Lord casu quo Bernadette (St.) did not deem it necessary to heal them. Anything is pathetic here, the apex of melodrama being a steel wire along the wall, hung with crutches left there by those happy few who were, indeed, miraculously cured – one of those days. The simple-minded unbeliever will be impressed by the wholesale quality of it all. The materialists amongst us tend to think that, by now, all such nonsense has become passé. This, however, is not the case. I would be interested in sociological data: the flow of statistics per year, pro month; where they come from; their social background et cetera. Utterly delightful it is, to observe amidst all this diarrhoeic piety a simple proletarian busy at work. Inside the grotto, in which everything is oversized, he is stripping a huge candelabra from heavy rests of candle drippings. The mass is on, the noise he makes is miserable. One thing is sure, though: the proselytising nature of Europe shows itself here: Africans, Indians – they seem to come from everywhere. The word catholic turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Finishing touch: climbing the hill towards this monstrosity of a basilica, at one of the curbs on a hair-pinning little road, one is confronted by the statue of a man holding a cross high up in the air, as one who is not quite sure how to manipulate a crossbow. Below a plaquette: ‘donated’ by an Italian lady, who would like us to know that to rediscover faith (foi) is better than to enjoy the splendid view (vue). Great pun, what! My antithesis: filled with pleasure, I survey the grand landscape, stretching out far away from silly Lourdes, innocent as it is of all the Bernadettes in this world. Oh, Divine Indifference of Nature.
Reality is residing between the coulisses, in the wings of Life’s theatre. We are watching what is being acted on the stage – we think: Reality. Suddenly, however, Reality appears, from the right or from the left, from behind the rickety décors. Fooled we were! The difference with good old Plato’s grotto metaphor: Here, she enters upon the stage – Reality – like a radiant sun; with Plato, Reality will always remain obscure, hidden in the dark.
How well-hidden history may reside in the names we use.
In the Netherlands, and probably also in Belgian, Dutch-speaking Flanders, we find the so-called dukdalf. It may be applied to large wooden constructions, planted in the water near harbour quays. Here is one depicted in a painting.
Willem Bastiaan Tholen, “Enkhuizen” 1919
The ones I like best look like this; they are much smaller, man the measure… A steel globe on a stem.
When in use, they look like this.
In a real harbour, one for big ships, these metal globes are their anchors on land. Enormous loops of solid rope are used to moor the ships. The distinct impression is one of a noose, strangling the steely man body seems to be hidden in the soil.
In this case, however, it calls for a bit of extra phantasy to mentally reconstruct the image of the whole dukdalf.
History is squared – not only, as in all others, hidden in the name of this contraption, but centuries of heightening the quay made this little steel man disappear, effacing its function, yet conjuring up the mystery of the quadrature of the circle.
A good friend enlightened me, made me comprehend the true meaning of dukdalf, referring as it does to the Duke of Alva, le Duc d’Albe, the Spanish general who at the start of our Eighty-year War was heading the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands.
Each time a Dutch sailor man was mooring a ship at the quay, he was strangling the Duke…
In the naughty little book Irène, written by De Routisie – originally published in the interbellum as Le con d’Irène, or Irenes Cunt, under the pseudonym of an author whose real identity is as yet unknown – one finds, if my memory is good enough, the expression of ‘a steaming cunt’. Oh, Precious Cunt of Irene! While I am lying here now, somewhere in France, the front of the tent’s canvas opened to both sides, awaiting the sunrise over the rim of the mountain range at hand – alas a sunrise not to be seen as rain and clouds are obscuring my view – I cannot but think of Irène. Amidst the gentle rain, from the furrow in the wooded slope on the other side of the vale, arises a hazy, steaming cloudlet – slowly. And slowly it is growing in size, metamorphosis of water already fallen on the summer-heated soil. Now that the longed-for sunrise is not for me, my olfactory sense conjures up the smells of Irene’s imaginary cunt. The member growing, I suddenly think of the night when that other natural phenomenon was accompanying the two of us: the lowest atmospheric pressure of our century.
Sierksma, Haarlem 18.8/1989, from my summer holidays’ diary