RENAISSANCE

 

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History – yet visible. The last man standing.
Its door’s styles solid and erect,
the lintel’s renaissance in doubt,
all beams, each wall in fateful bending,
time’s heavy weight and man’s neglect.
Confronted with such slack decay I turn a mourner.
Dead-end street is just around the corner.

Sierksma august 2017

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HOLLOW EYES

This curious craving for pigeons that suddenly came over her, even the manner in which she devoured the birds – as an animal. Undoubtedly she was cursed.

Marguerite Duras, Stolen Pigeons [1942]

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On Monuments Day I visited Château de Céré, located near the delightful village of Saint-Hilaire sur Benaize, that day opened to the public – the grounds, that is, not the castle itself.

 

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It was raining. Stuck away in a heavy coat, too warm for an autumn day, I walked the gardens of the place, in the distance suddenly observing a rather primitive type of water reservoir that seemed to serve its surrounding gardens.

The following day an acquaintance told me that I had missed a truly remarkable pigeonnier, a dovecote. It must have been the bad weather and also the fact that it was already rather late, my third visit that day, otherwise my normally inquisitive nature would have made me inspect the grounds more diligently.

Even though not a Monuments Day, the next weekend I decided to make up for my failure. Skittish, because the last time I had heard dogs, I sneaked like a thief through the impressive entry gate onto the grounds.

 

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There I stood, a furtive invader of its walls, now searching for the outline of the reservoir structure. I was scared by sudden sounds behind me – a moustached, rather crumpled, yet sturdy though somewhat thickened and set little man, the kind you only meet in My Sweet France. The gardener and a gentleman, not threatening at all.

“Sir, a question please, though perhaps an impertinent one….” But, of course, I was allowed to come in and have a look, he himself would guide me as, alas, the Master was out. Thus we climbed from the lower terrace gardens up the little knoll. There it was, the reservoir. My eyes were searching for a tenuous cage of steel wire in which the pigeons would be housing. Instead, we walked straight up to the round building which I had taken for what the French call a château d’eau, a watering castle – in this case one pour le château.

Once up there, it turned out to be much higher than I had estimated, at least seven meters into the sky, with a diameter of more or less the same magnitude. Going through a low little gate, we entered the miracle.

 

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Inside we were standing not in what I expected to be a dark dungeon, but in a high, sunlit circle of chamoix coloured brick. A theatre, though smaller than the one I had once visited in Madrid, yet of the same awe inspiring beauty.

In Madrid I had also tiptoed in secretly, passing through the enormous gate which had been left open to let workmen with their tools get go through. That time I had been on my own, standing in the very centre of that empty and utterly desolate Plaza de Torros. The minimal music made by my right shoe, only lightly touching the yellowish gravel, rebounded from the periphery of that perfect theatrical circle, as if I was machine-gunned by bursts of noise.

In the smaller, wholly silent space of this pigeon theatre, from inside their circle of stalls, a few thousand square hollow eyes are looking down on me. They also give the impression of waiting for the mail sorter. It could have been a columbarium in which long ago the functionaries of death had been putting their ashy urns now gone. The size of the holes seems to be right for this.

A stone dovecote with real pigeonholes – that’s what this is! The roof, once covering the circular room, became decrepit over time and then crashed in. How long this little building must have stood here… When did its inhabitants become refugees, leaving for a safer haven and a surer heaven? Would there have been only one pigeon living in each of these holes, or pairs of them? Anyway, thousands and thousands of them. Were castle owners breeding the birds?

“No, tells my stocky Gardner, these were wild pigeons, coming in at their own free will and initiative.” Why had they left? “No idea…” However the lack of roofing may have to do with this, perhaps also the present lack of pigeons today… Did the nobles eat the feathered beasts? “No, or perhaps yes. The pigeons came in for their own pleasure and safety, of course also for the pleasure of the owners of the dovecote.” Master Gardner, I said, what pleasures these aristocrats were able to invent for themselves! “Mais oui, Monsieur – mais oui..”

Later I found out that something far greater was at stake than a mere delight in pigeons and dovecotes. Feudalism allowed only the owners of a château to build such an edifice. Its size, determined by the precise amount of pigeonholes permitted, depended on the sum total of hectares of the land owned by the nobleman. Château de Céré must have been of immense proportions indeed…

 

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Before leaving, I asked the Gardner to pose for me. Not only did I want to get the right impression of the pigeonnier’s proportions, I also fancied an image of the orphaned existence of a single man confronted with the Sublime. Two men in fact, because in front of them both photographer and Gardner were facing their respective half of the same immensity.

As if loosened from mere reality, elevated by these rising walls into higher spheres.

Sierksma October 2010

CEMENTISM

 

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Looks like cement and stands there so forlorn –
a vessel of concrete existence.
Between my distaste and a strong desire torn,
seeing this building, next to this,
together in their awkward dance
two neighbours hidden in the depth of France,
a hamlet of ten buildings and five cows –
A shiver, if not simply a frisson.

Should Modern Architecture not remain alone,
grand as it is sometimes, and even awesome?
However, here –
what might have been a little beauty of its own,
is all at once imperial and staining.

Sierksma august 2017

LAPTOP ILLUSION

Wandering through the exhibition of the canvasses of Matthijs Maris in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum, I had become rather irritated, however basically bored by his almost theosophical, vague kind of painting in the latter half of his career.

 

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No, this is not a photo badly taken; this is it, what you see is what you get… Your guess is as good as mine, but after the third painting of this kind my interest in speculation had already dulled. The reader may understand that someone confronted with such fuzziness was indeed in for a surprise – also needing and desiring it.

In the last room of the show they were presenting some of the artist’s personal paraphernalia. Nowadays, such private titbits are supposed ‘to help you understand the work better’, all this as part of the postmodern ideology of ‘the importance of artist behind his work’.

Matthijs Maris had been living from 1839 till 1917. He may have just lived the beginning Russian Revolution, that infernal announcement of a New Future of the New Man with the New Technology. Taken his sophist inclination, he did not give a damn for that. But he certainly did not have anything to do with our computer age.

I am well aware that he may have heard about Charles Babbage, the 19th-century man who invented the first mechanical counting machine, the forerunner of the electronic computer. But as the painter of vague ‘inner images’ he will not have had much interest for that. Any notion of laptops was surely out of the question.

Lo and behold!

 

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There it is, pontifically sitting in one of the Rijksmuseum’s newly designed show-cases: The laptop of the Dutch 19th-century painter Matthijs Maris. It is missing the proper logo, that bite in New York’s apple, lighting up in the dark. But a laptop it surely is.

Walking around it, I was put straight, the two legs once again steady on the terra firma of this museum floor.

 

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What a category mistake! It is his painter’s box, a sort of attaché case.

 

It does at least confirm my suspicion of Matthijs having been a floating Romanticist, subsequently completely gone over his theosophical top. On the inside of its top cover he has done some little pictures of Romantic themes: the Vesuvius exploding, a lovely little lady, standing and reading a book, a far-away island of dreams. Perhaps, there is even a very modern photograph amongst these images.

After having opened his box with brushes and colours, this man obviously needed reassuring , living as he was in this vicious, o so real and very much 19th-century world that would spill over in the slaughterhouse of the First World War – The Great One – then onto the Road of gruesome Revolutions.

 

Escapism is the word, either into Romantic sublimity, or into the vagueness of almost invisible beings. Escape from what indeed would become a ghastly and crude universe.

Sierksma 28.11.17

LOVE’S KEY

 

 

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Can man or woman be the capstone of the other?
Can man and woman be their common key?
Time surely ruins even granite stone.
What’s bound in all this solid structure,
will yet again be matter freed.
Fluids will seep into capillaries,
erosion opens up the marble’s fractures,
apart they’ll gradually will freeze.
What damage can it do to man,
to one who feels deserted and alone?
It need not be true love that binds,
just feeling that one has a sister or a brother.

Sierksma June 2017

ARABELLA ANSWERING DIDO

Or perhaps I’m crazy because I was under the illusion that I could heal,…like Jason, who for a sheepskin provokes destruction and horrendous crimes and madness…

Claudio Magris, Blindly

Jealousy is less the outcome of self-interest than the vehement desire to avoid profanation.

Gonzalez-Crussi, On the Nature of Things Erotic

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Ai, what a superb opera! In the Amsterdam Muziektheater I saw and heard Richard Strauss’ Arabella – a grand cast of voices, a faultless management of the stage, sober and impressive decors. And, not to forget, a conductor whose loom of an orchestra made the opera sound like the musical tapestry the composer intended it to be.

Also a great libretto from Strauss’ contemporary Von Hofmannsthal. Faithfull to the Zeitgeist of the beginning of the 20th century, the author trusted The People and the capacities of Mankind. By the time of Arabella he had exchanged his youthful, 19th-century faith in what many considered to be cosmic harmony for Strauss’ musical theatre – that wonderful fusion of word and sound. Von Hofmannsthal also developed his own ingenious critique of both the petty bourgeoisie and an aristocracy that had survived its own expiration date. The misty shadows of Freud are hovering over the waters. Strauss gave all this his tones.

Arabella is answering Dido. The aristocratic daughter from Vienna, by now become bourgeoise, is giving beautiful, archaic Dido from Carthage tit for tat.

Immediately after their engagement favourite bridegroom in spe Mandryka has falsely accused his fiancée Arabella in a gruesome manner of having committed adultery. She still manages to forgive that man – if only at the very end of the opera. After his requisite lonesome night in the outhouse she symbolically hands him a glass filled with clear water, the very sign that Mandryka himself has explained to her during their first encounter, a tradition in the country where he comes from. Symbol of eternal love.

Try and find such courtship in these postmodern times.

 

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Sacchi Andrea – Dido abandoned

Now over to Dido, the fierce protagonist in Purcell’s powerful opera. Her lover from Rome, the great Aeneas, has only once considered leaving Carthage, this at the holy request of no less than the supreme god Zeus.

“Jove’s Commands shall be obey’d,
Tonight our Anchors shall be weigh’d.”

“The Queen’s forsook” the witches cry out loud. However, the man didn’t actually leave the town, merely thought about it. Nevertheless this meant that he had considered leaving Dido behind… Then he decides to scorn Zeus and runs back to his beloved to tell her that he has changed his mind.

For god’s sake! – what is Dido doing.

Aeneas: By all that’s good…

Dido: By all that’s good, no more!
By all that’s good you have forswore.
To your promis’d empire fly,
And let forsaken Dido die.

Aeneas: In spite of Jove’s command I’ll stay,
Offend the gods, and Love obey.

Dido: No, faithless man, thy course pursue;
I’m now resolv’d as well as you.
No repentance shall reclaim
The injur’d Dido’s slighted flame;
For ’tis enough, whate’er you now decree,
That you had once a thought of leaving me.

Aeneas: Let Jove say what he will, I’ll stay!
No, no, I’ll stay, and Love obey!

Dido: Away, away! No, no, away!
To death I’ll fly if longer you delay.
Away, away!

This reminds one of the equally rough horror story of Medea. This dark queen has been chosen by civilized King Jason, who took her away from a far archaic country after she has sneakily given him the Golden Fleece which her father did not want to grant him. However, after a while he finally decides to exchange her for a new chick. Medea punishes the man by slaughtering her own children, then to escape to Athens. In her archaic code there is no place for forgiveness, not even as an exception.

 

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Delacroix: Medea

 

After the break-up with her teacher, her lover and the Nazi sympathizer Heidegger, the German philosopher Hannah Arendt, a Jewish woman, very clearly argued that without forgiveness no civil society can survive. It would be permanently running the risk of dropping into totalitarianism. Without forgiveness as an institution whole groups will always be excluded from society, people who in the eyes of those who want revenge deserve to be punished harshly, or be simply expulsed and even rücksichtslos eliminated.

With a tear still in my eyes, resulting from the closing scene of Arabella, it is clear to me that this forgiving woman represents the highest form of humane humanity. Only someone who can truly forgive is really good. Yet, how difficult is that geste.

How lucky I am with my abominable memory. I almost always forget the hurt and offence that were inflicted upon me – after a while I never think about these. I can still remember, though, the surprise in the eyes of those who had once hurt me, the moment I naively greeted them, full of good will, simply because I had forgotten what they had done to me. I needed others with a better memory to remind me of that. This seems to be worse than forgiving.

Perhaps, to forgive is only possible in cases where you know someone well and when that person is close to you. To that person you might say: “Forget it, let bygones be bygones.” Not that you forget the hurt once inflicted – or you must be me. Nonetheless, it may be untied from its mind unsettling power. Others have forgiven me; I also have succeeded in this, now and then.

However, what about people more at a distance? According to william Blake “it is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” Perhaps, this is only true in a superficial sense of forgiving, like signing a renewed peace treaty with an opponent. Yet, I think that the deeds of strangers are sooner pardonable than those from inside ‘the inner circle’, inside one’s personal periphery of implicit trust in those who suddenly abuse this. It’s those close ones we should have to live with, and is this still possible after a thorough breach of trust? Possibly the general ethics of forgiveness that Hannah Arendt tried to argue may be philosophically true, yet are not very… human. Perhaps allzu menschlich.

 

Sierksma

MAÎTRESSE

 

The Renaissance enthroned Mother Nature, raising her on the pedestal or Art. Of course, not forgetting to consider her in the image of Man, who in his turn considered himself as in essence a mathematical being. Natura Artis Magistra – Nature, the Maîtresse of the Arts.

In the Netherlands they took this philosophical move very seriously, even so in the 19th century, when all over the place Zoos was founded. After all, the Dutch are known to be pretty straight – straight forward and perhaps even mentally straight-jacketed. Mondrian and all that jazz…

Anyway, the Amsterdam Zoo is still called Artis, perhaps to remind the blockheads that Nature is rather more voluptuous than it is dreamt of in their philosophy; or, perhaps, to make them see in some exotic bird the cubes, squares and cylinders, the infamous Philebic forms that Plato considered to be the true essence of Being.

Mother Nature herself may have wished for a less regimented lover, someone more sensual and lecherous. She did not have much say in the matter, the collective vote of the aestheticians and artists bombarded her into their mistress – freedom in fetters. Someone who in the abstract era of Modern Art still opted for realistic art, by now will surely be reconciled with this dubious liaison.

In the Teylers Museum in Haarlem one can observe an extraordinary fossil. With an unpronounceable name that surely honours its timeless tradition, vertically hanging on the wall, there we see this splendid petrified remnant of a past long gone.

 

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Steneosaurus Bollensis

The well-versed lover of the arts cannot but be astounded by this monochrome abstract, a slightly three dimensional image that makes you want to exchange it for the whole collection of the Municipal Museum for abstract art in Amsterdam.

It has become an orphan object, though, art and non-art at the same time, hanging in a museum which exhibits both paintings and scientific apparatuses dating from the 19th century – once the premises of a club of bourgeois gentlemen who gathered there to hear people lecture on such things disparate. To elevate and improve themselves, all according to the prescripts of the previous 18th Century of Enlightenment.

You might want to barter this Steneosaurus for a Wagemaker, that master of ‘material painting’ who used sand, clay, found screws, nails and bolts. His work rubs against Matter as much as this fossil does.

 

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Jaap Wagemaker: Les Clous

That is, of course, when you are lucky enough to possess one of his paintings. I do not. However my former Master of Philosophy professor Beerling did indeed, he might have agreed with me here, whereas we disagreed on quite a few subjects.

Where in this Steneosaurus Bollensis such abstract minimalism is at stake, Art seems to have become superfluous. In this splendid orgy Mother Nature, all on her own and no longer a maîtresse, is making love to herself. To be great, to live grandiose, then while dying to eternalize oneself in sheer beauty.

A vernissage in stone.