What and how I wanted to present for the last day of our class in ‘Pataphysica failed miserably so I decided to write about it.
During the week of the week long class, we got an assignment – to explain what is ‘Pataphysics? Amongst the myriad of information which flooded our way from the great professor Matthjis van Boxsel, who, like unfailing captain of his ship, would not jump board despite the tsunami sized waves he was trying to navigate, the word “tear” resembled any slight possibility of land. So I decided this would be my starting point. In an ocean with no bearings man needs something to hold on to. It was the diagram of the 4 kinds of tear formations caused by different emotions upon which the act of crying had been based on studied under a microscope by some scientist who decided to look into this (how random and how beautiful) which sparked off the feeling of Heim. So, despite an initial mini-head explosion “ ‘Pataphysics can be so many things !!! ?!?!?!?” I decided to follow my feeling. It also had a personal connection.
Coincidentally, around the same time, I finally started to read Carl G. Jung’s “Man and His Symbols” – a read long overdue and which I have had on my bookshelf for years – travelling with me from Berlin to New York and back again but never opened, always motioned. But then last week, I decided now is the time and looked at the bookshelf and poof, NO BOOK. Panic . I must have gone through the entire contents of my bookshelf at least 5 or 6 times I swear but no trace of book. Not letting despair get the best of me I thought, well, I will just go and get it out of the library, and so I went to the KABK Library and yes they had a copy there, waiting for me. And what kind of copy was it? A much better edition than the small paperback I had at home. It was the original edition, the bigger, spacier hardback with the mandala on it. Exactly the same mandala which that Buddhist llama was holding in her hand two weeks ago when I went to her workshop on the sacred feminine, which was all about mandalas, and that is when I realized – the Subconscious is much stronger than we think. Of course once I got this book out, the one I was meant to read with the mandala on it and returned home, I recognized the small feeble writing of my paperback standing on the shelf, unmoved. Did it suddenly grow little legs and run away for a while? No. It must have stood there all this time right in front of my face but I did not “see” it. My conclusion = the Subconscious was in charge here. This will make sense later, now back to the tear.
The story actually starts with Wim T. Schippers. In my first year of Uni, when I was still a young and naive ArtScientist, our leader, Taco showed us some examples of art in his class on Metamedia. From the whole week of again, similar bouts of myriad information and tsunami floods, the work that survived was Wim T. Schipper’s “Flesje limonade gazeuse in zee bij Petten”. I still remember the feeling, in a moment torn from a somnambulistic state of sleep/wake by some higher force of clarity and thought, I thought – What a genious piece of media manipulation! Like a good conductor Schippers was able to beautifully orchestrate a curious herd of media reporters, who all came out to the sea by Petten at 11am on the 29th of October 1969 to record in history the moment when the limonade or whatever gazeuse drink he had in his hand was being spilled into the sea. And historic it was, because everybody wrote about it. In that moment I thought – this is pure genious. I think I was so excited that I did not realize that I must have made a secret pact with my Subconscious that day, that I too wanted to create a work like that. So safely the seed submerged without the slightest idea from me.
Then, two years later, the Botanical Gardens Association of the Netherlands decides to visit our University. They are particularly interested in ArtScience and come to give a talk. The theme is communicating with plants, they hold an open call, they have funding, they are looking for some artists to take part in their exhibition “Tuin Als Lab” dedicated to the different ways of how one might be able communicate with plants. Something stirs. I have to apply, and the idea just rolls out of me, no labor, no hardship, no pushing, nothing. It is as if it has all this time been inside of me, waiting for the right time to be born. I just think – I want to read great works of Russian Literature to the plants, so I apply with my proposal “Stories in the Garden”. But which one ? This is in May. In July I am in Russia and my mother, out of the blue, insists we make a pilgrimage to the great Russian writer Lev Tolstoy’s home and refuge, where he grew up and wrote most of novels – the estate of Yasnaya Poliana (Fine Meadow in Russian). So we go. There I write a letter to Lev, in which I ask him to enter my body and let his spirit guide me in the process of the reading. I do this in a desperate hope that his spirit will point me to the right book to read. After talking to some locals, I decide it has to be “Anna Karenina”. When we are on tour in his house, body guarded by sterile pre-Soviet grandmothers who bark instead of talking if you venture even a centimeter off the guided path on the premises, I decide I need to leave this letter here for Lev. But where and how? These grandmothers will eat me alive. I wish to leave it in his linen shirt which hangs above his bed. There is a pocket in it which shines, as if asking me especially for the letter. But I chicken out, I am actually afraid of these grandmothers !!! (In the story I tell everyone later I say that I do actually leave it in his pocket in his bedroom, but this is not true.) Having chickened out I feel great despair but I refuse to give up. So I stuff the letter under a cupboard in the last room in the basement, it is the final room before the tour is over, and also, apparently the room in which he actually wrote Anna Karenina – I take this as a sign and consolation for my chickening out.
Back in Holland in September my anxiety of which story by which author to read is over thanks to Lev (and my mother). It is Anna Karenina. I bring the novel with me from Moscow, and begin to read. My project is in the Leiden Hortus. For Tuin Als Lab the participating artists were allocated various Hortus Locations around the Netherlands. I knew I had to be in Leiden and so it was. On Sept 16th I started to read. Oh I forgot, two weeks before that, Joke ’t Hart, the project coordinator, contacts me – there is an interest from a newspaper to talk about the exhibition and would I be interested as one of the artists to talk about my project? Bear in mind, the newspaper world does not yet know about my idea, they just hear about the project from the Association of the Botanical Gardens in Netherlands and want to talk to an artist involved. Conveniently I am the one available. So we arrange with Till from AD for a phone interview. An article follows in the Delft version of the AD with a picture of me in my garden in Moscow that summer practicing reading to the plants (taken by my mother).
Then I got a call from the AD video department – they love what I’m doing and want to come and make a short film. So before I even start there is already a short film on AD.nl about what I am doing. Not long after I start reading in the Hortus, I get a call from the Leidsch Dagblad – they are also curious and want to talk. They must have seen it on AD. This lady was actually interested and the first one to take me seriously. So was I. At the time I truly believed it was the plants who were responsible for all this. Now, I am convinced it was my Subconscious. The combination of various media platforms attracted members of the public who came and watched me read. Following the Leidsch Dagblad article one woman came persistently, she brought me gifts and books, bought me mint tea, made little candle wax sculptures from her bees – she came many times because she believed that my reading was helping her migraines. I was ecstatic at the notion that my work was actually “curing” someone. But back to the media storm. The final eye so to say came when RTL TV Studios tracked me down via KABK. They wrote a letter to the University requesting for me and my project. The TV presenter Chantal Jansen was interested in my story and wanted to feature me as a guest in her new program called Chantal & I where she talks to people with weird hobbies. A day was organized for the shoot. At first they were reluctant to come to Leiden saying that I should come to Amsterdam to read to any random tree there, but thank god Joke was insistent and firm, telling me that I should only accept if they agreed to my terms and came to the Hortus in Leiden. I had to stand my ground. The project was there, and so I did, and they came! I did feel pretty special. There I was, reading in Russian to plants in front of Chantal Jansen for Dutch national television. It was all quite surreal and funny, a deeply satisfying experience, I enjoyed every moment and the whole time in the back of my mind kept thinking, thank you Wim T. Schippers.
My project concluded at the end of October.1 But even after the project ended, the media did not stop. I got an invitation from the BBC in London do do an interview feature relating my project to mental health issues for teenagers. And then Mediamatic in Amsterdam invited me to read to their cabbages, which resulted in further seismic media waves (even a honorary mention on the notorious Geenstijl!) and some very good photos. With this story I wanted to illustrate the power of the Subconscious. If it wasn’t for the act of Wim T Schippers stirring my Subconscious, I probably would never have stirred that day in Metamedia, and none of this would have materialized.
But, what about that tear? Well actually the presentation of my project “Stories in the Garden” and Wim T Schippers was all a cover. What I really wanted to present was my explanation for what ‘Pataphysics was which I made that week – a little illustrated story of where tears come from. The word tear must have vibrated because I cry a lot. And then that week also, thanks to Jung’s “Man and His Symbols” I was able to analyse my dreams and see the relation of a recurring dream I’ve had for years – of being in some sort of an ocean2 out of control situation, either I am in it and the waves are larger than life or I am on some island, looking at it and wanting to go inside. And coincidentally, on the Monday night after ‘Pataphysics I had the dream of a man being crashed by the waves. Then on Tuesday I was again staring out onto an ocean with waves wanting badly to jump into it. So when I woke up on Wednesday, to deal with all that water, I thought to write the story of the big tear as my definition of ‘Pataphysics. Matthjis asked us to define ‘Pataphysics on one page – half illustration and half text, so I divided the page in half and on the top drew a big big tear and then wrote the story underneath and then I drew a face and a smile and added some legs, some platts and a crown to the tear, and the tear became a princess.
But I never shared this story, because I thought it was stupid. And that is how the story was supposed to go.
Some links from the media storm for further reference:
AD.nl – Bomenknuffelaar: “Ik wil vrienden worden met de bomen.” https://www.ad.nl/binnenland/bomenknuffelaar-ik-wil-vrienden-worden-met-de-bomen~vabda277d/
RTL.nl – & Chantal – Chantal gaat bomenknuffelen https://www.rtl.nl/video/27bf61a5-cc61-45ca-9caf-1d630d30eb24/
Mediamatic – Reading Tolstoj to Cabbages https://www.mediamatic.net/en/page/369560/reading-tolstoj-to-cabbages-russian-old-new-year-celebration
Geenstijl.nl – Kunstenares ‘onderzoekt of planten net zo geraakt worden door taal als mensen’. Leest voor aan kool https://www.geenstijl.nl/5140200/koekerdekoekkoekiekoekkoekoekoek/
Het Parool – Kunstenares leest Tolstoj voor… aan 10.000 kilo kool https://www.parool.nl/stadsgids/kunstenares-leest-tolstoj-voor-aan-10-000-kilo-kool~a4555971/
BBC – Reading to plants helps me fight my anxiety
1 At that time I was also in a Buddhist retreat on the Power of Time in Amsterdam. It was a Wednesday – one day after we talked about time and death.This day we were supposed to talk about how to do multiple things at one time, but something told me I had to go to the garden. The buddhists were at first concerned, can’t you wait? But I had to go, so I went, and it was the last time I talked to the trees. I had to come and say my farewell. My initial plan was to do it over the weekend after the retreat, but something just told me, the end has to come now. And indeed I was right, because that weekend my grandfather passed away so instead of being with the plants I was on the plane to Moscow to be at his funeral. Again, the Subconscious came to the rescue.
2 Dreaming of an ocean, or lots of water symbolizes emotions.