Two birds, a stone and a horse
I was walking with Kiyoshi Wako down a busy street in Berlin, where people in colourful clothing approached us in silence and others walked past us laughing and talking. Wako and I have known each other since Documenta IX in 1992 and over the years we have become friends. That’s one of the wonderful things about growing older. Wako asked me to say something about the exhibition, which opens on 8 September 2012 and will be presenting art by Kristina Berning and Ayşe Erkmen alongside my own work. ‘What’s it about, Henk? What is it you want to show and why did you choose these artists?’ We found a bench at an abandoned airport and pondered upon empty runways, where mothers now stroll with prams and children run around freely. I answered him, responding that the great sea is very powerful and that each conversation, including the discussion about art, is not merely communication but is also a story, in which events follow each other in sequence: the language establishes a chronology and thus a causal connection. When I talk about art I don’t want to fall into this trap; I want to use the boundlessness and wildness of thought.
Eyes wide with surprise, Kiyoshi looked at me gravely. ‘That’s the Henk I know,’ he said.
The exhibition is primarily about invisibilities. It has no script, but there is a story nevertheless. There are in fact a great many stories, but only those stories which are about invisible birds, invisible rocks and an invisible horse will be related here. That is fairly unusual.
But the exhibition is also about what nobody notices, the underlying layers, the cultureless, without which there is no naturalness and thus no peace. More tangibly, the exhibition will be about something that falls but fails to reach the ground. We say what we call ourselves, but not what we are called. This is too difficult and ties in closely with the restlessness in society and the sorrow that cannot be expressed in words. I cannot leave the dark night out of this narrative, nor the love, which nobody can truly understand. The space where the exhibition is being staged is unbounded, so it is about things that were already there before we saw them and are uninvited; the lost shoe at the side of the street, the football in the grass, the toppled chair, the book in the rain on the wet tabletop, the carrier bag next to the two flowerpots, the broken pencil, the rip in my jumper, the searing sun and the half moon, an opened window, a beautiful hat. But I also want to draw attention to the ache in your neck if you look at the blue of the sky, to the things we do and desire, and of course to everything that happens without us being able to influence it, such as the stirring of the leaves on the wind, the shining eyes, the serious gaze and the wrinkles in the face, the flapping of the tatters of a raincoat, the smiles of a blind man, the caresses of lovers in the mountains where it rains and where a man loses his way and disappears, tumbling into a crevasse.
The exhibition is also about lorries that drive extremely slowly with glaring headlights, about inexplicable accidents, about the fortuity of many things and the little that we can do to change something; about the change that will never come about, the hope and the desire, the life that is fleeting, but about immortality, too. If everything is life then the exhibition shows all that life. The life of the man who falls asleep on the street and of the girl who reads a book and has no home. It shows people who head into the city at night; the young lads with their sagging trousers and the young women with their bare arms, the man who shuffles on old slippers and doesn’t know where he is, the wars that simply won’t stop and life in a house where everything is gradually lost and where the broken light bulbs aren’t replaced and doors are stuck on their rusted hinges. Gifts are offered and given back again. There the inappropriate and the painful is just as important as the necessary. Besides ginger, air and the light of the setting sun, the important materials include transparent clay with black dots of various size, morning urine, the aroma of the interior of a new car, and a strange shade of blue. The exhibition is an ode to glass, which we can look through, and is a declaration of love to the animals that hear our hearts thumping and smell our footsteps and sleep in the sun. It is a word of thanks to that sun on this Sunday afternoon. It is a comfort for the monkey in the zoo that lost its mother. All the people who are anxious will become calm and the dark vase on the windowsill will no longer cast a shadow. The exhibition is dedicated to the quarrelling children who don’t know what they want and to the wife who calls out to her husband in vain, to all the cries that nobody hears, dedicated to the lines that twist and the data that deceive, the numbers that fade and the days that become darker, dedicated to the silence that is heavy and uninterrupted, and to the flowers without a name, to the fish that swim unnoticed in the Pacific Ocean.
But Kiyoshi, bear in mind that among all these stories you won’t find any about a well! Nor will you find a story that we recognise because we appear in it ourselves, unless we are asleep or are dead. Nor are there any stories about palaces where portraits hang above empty chairs or about the cities that people claim are inhabited by angels. There will certainly be one lie in it, but you won’t notice it. All words that start with an “o” are not in it at least if the second letter is an “e”. Stories that might call oil rigs to mind are not important, unless they are terribly small and look sweet; stories about pets are forbidden. Nobody in the story visits a restaurant. You won’t find stories in it about cultivating your own vegetables in a sun-drenched hilly landscape, but people will often, very often, count to 100,000 and great volumes of water will be drunk there. Everything in a story is good; all the stories are good.
‘All the stories?’ Kiyoshi asked.
Yes, at least all the stories which don’t have an ending, those are good. The beginning isn’t necessary, by the way, because that already exists.
Henk Visch, June 2012