They came before I was open, standing outside my door but inside my protective wall. They took photos of my door. I watched them.
When my doors were unlocked, one of them bought tickets at the entrance. They were polite but I could see that they were watching me in a way that was different from the normal visitors. Looking for gaps and seams, looking at how I was prepared to be shown.
They moved through me like all the others, reading, taking some notes, taking some photos and making some sketches. They paid careful attention to the ways I was left unguarded.
They moved around more boldly, looking now at my employees and the other visitors with the same examining gaze. I wasn’t sure how I felt about them, but all I could do was watch.
When they left, I was relieved. But then they came back.
They stood near a tour that passed through me every weekend. A large and passive group. The group stood around listening while loaded up with bags, coats and cameras. I have a public coat-check, but most tourists are too careful to let their things remain unguarded in my cloakroom. These visitors stayed on the outskirts of the tour, watching, taking notes, and occasionally penetrating the group or abandoning it mid-history. They were only pretending to be interested – they were looking for other things.
They began doing things to me. Standing inside my hidden compartments, waiting in the dark, watching. Holding positions that had been previously mine. I felt, what? Exposed? Vulnerable? Violated? They brought a buzzing tension, a level of curiosity, tenderness, but also invasiveness, despite its subtle restraint. I remember when my compartments were used this way before, but I was built for this type of watching, and I am familiar with it, it’s all I know. But in the many years since that time, I have shed many layers of protection, and was not prepared for this coordinated trespass. I accept that I must be looked at, but I also determine what I show and how I show it. These outsiders wanted to get inside me and reconstruct who watched whom and for what purpose. I was disturbed.
Finally they tired of their game, took a few more photos of my Lenins and light fixtures. Then, mercifully, they left. I waited until they were safely out of sight, and then exhaled.
The former Stasi headquarters is now a museum. The highest seat in a system of oppression en secrecy became a place that openly informs on it’s own painful history. It is a place that turned on its axis. From secretly gathering input to openly sharing output. This was the setting for our group of performers who made their works unbeknownst to anyone else. An opposing move, where the performances are internal processes. Output as a means to gather input. Acting as a means of observing.
Walking around in the museum this contrast between our movements and the intentions of the museum where very clear. This place with its history entices a sense of paranoia. You cannot believe you are not being watched. Yet guards did not walk through the rooms to check that nothing was touched. There where no cameras (to be seen?). But the feeling is still there. The mystery of this place lies in that it tries to get rid of all the mystery.
So I started by disguising myself as an undercover guard. I had no name tag, no uniform, but I carried around a newspaper. No visitor carries a newspaper around in a museum. You would only do so if you are not there for the exhibition. As I was walking though the rooms observing people, they noticed me looking at them but of course asked no questions. They where just aware of me there. At the same time I wanted to have something to guard Something to hide. I wasn’t just watching the visitors of the museum – they where also watching me. So I cut eyeholes in my newspaper that I had to cover with my body when people looked at me. At moments when I was sure nobody was looking at me I took pictures of the spaces through the eyeholes in the paper.
Then I went to the bathroom and locked myself in a stall. On my phone I tuned in to Russian talk radio that I played on low volume. Every time people entered the bathroom there was a moment of silence – of listening. I imagine people asked themselves if this was still part of the exhibition. If the Stasi museum had a flair for the theatrical. This moment of hesitation that feeds the fantasy.
For a last performance I decided to try and communicate a message. I looked up the words ‘hello’, ‘help’ and ‘stop’ in morse code. Then I repeatedly signaled one of these words to one of the visitors by chewing loudly on my gum. The result was of course unclear. The rhythm in the repetition was very distinctive, and the signal could have potentialy been understood, but it was overshadowed by its annoying form. It is very hard to communicate with people when they are actively trying to get away from you.
I take notes and record what I hear; a clipboard in my hand, paper, carbon paper: ‘ … Haus 1, Haus 7 … 16 Million, traumatizing, traumatized, memory, language of difference, massive, disoriented, unimaginable, hide, watchmen, to leave, reception, psychology, psychological, disappear, organizing you, contest, humiliation, prison to prison, decency, dictator, difficulty, risk, surveillance, deviant, hostile dissident, betrayer, unofficial collaborators, armed organs …’I overhear a Grandfather speaking to a young man, speaking of a time when he was there. What he directly experienced we see in records and numbers, graphs and recordings, photos, an inundation of summaries and calculations, disembodied knowledge.
To hide – with you … the two of us whispering in the closet … I watch out of a crack in the doors … watch as people walk by … you and I … hearts all a flutter … your anxiety and fatigue and my …
Where and when I can, I hide … mostly in closets, they are the only place big enough to contain … I, hidden from, giddy with excitement, anxious to be found … out … into … these people, those … that I can hear, softly stepping through the museum, find me, their shock – jump back, run … away … hide … from … me … but, they don’t tell.
I am thankful to them – to those, who, do not tell.
It is dark humour to play with trauma, but it is one way to befriend a many-headed monster.
I analyse my text with symbols found in the museum. I assign meaning and movement. A score remains, a chorography for movement, a series of movements; invisible, subtle, hidden from view, hidden amidst the tourists, and us, the performers, from one another.
A secret, a whisper, a subtle gesture, empathy and lack, humility and grace … I offer you this performance, even – despite, the fact that you do not – cannot, see.
A colleague joins me and wants to make his own written text; five symbols, an analysis, and a score hidden beneath. He leaves it with me. I could perform it – hidden amidst – I could try …
I followed the slow steps of an older attendant through the many rooms of the third floor. In his hands he carried a soft cloth and a bottle of detergent. He polished the glass coffee tables that nobody had used for so many years.
He also gently wiped the bronze face of Karl Marx. I noticed a warm affection in his gestures. It was not clear to me if this affection was for the bronze head as a museum artefact, or for the person that is represented by the head.
Every object in this museum is part of the personal history of many people.
Earlier this morning I visited all floors of the museum. I studied the exhibited materials, read many texts.
I noticed that visitors frequently returned to rooms they visited before, like scrolling back in a book to read over some sentences again. And so did I. When I stumbled across a person for a second or a third time I nodded as if we met a long time ago. A distant memory. Sometimes I got a response, sometimes not.
In my little black book I made notes of people studying the exhibit. I wrote down how they were dressed, what they were looking at, what other persons they spoke to. I realised that I was exactly copying the behaviour the museum presentation was about. Writing these notes illustrated the subject of study of the visitors. I added a dimension of live performance to their perceptions. And at the same time they were my subjects of study, it worked in two directions.
Sometimes the atmosphere became too uneasy. When my writing clearly bothered them, I stopped, left and started again in another room.
I entered the quarters of Erich Mielke: Room that does not care*.
There was hardly any textual information. Just the room and it’s furniture to impress the visitors. I looked for any sign of personal taste. I remember that some years ago a copy of the dead mask of Lenin was lying on this desk. It was taken away now, his desk was empty. In the office there was a diagram with the exact rules of M’s breakfast, drawn by the secretary.
I asked the attendant if I could have a quick look in M’s personal bathroom, officially closed to the public. I went inside and I perceived the aged traces of use. I made a photo of the window that showed the world outside in a blur, as M will probably have noticed and reflected on, sitting on his toilet bowl.
One floor down: Many records of witnesses and informers, their photo’s were blurred by sheets of opal perspex.
When I pushed away the perspex the photo appeared, still with blurred eyes, the name in the text was made up: Martha Köhler, Arbeiterin, Zwickau/Ost-Berlin, 1960,
Her useful quality: Lernte schnell Menschen aus allen Schichten kennen!
* The day before ParallelShow#9 I saw again the great work Room With My Soul Left Out, Room That Does not Care by Bruce Nauman (Hamburger Bahnhof). I borrowed part of the title because it fits so perfectly.
We visited the Hamburger Bahnhof Contemporary museum in Berlin the day before. It was the 20th anniversary of the museum and the amount of visitors was enormous. The atmosphere was different on this day, and the visitors were invading the space more then normally. The day after in the Stasi museum, while wandering trough the exhibition space, it also felt as though there was a different atmosphere then normal in the museum. Visitors were withdrawn, personally engaged and aware of each other’s private space.
In the Hamburger Bahnhof I had enjoyed watching a little girl who was rearranging the exhibition, it was very colorful and free. The atmosphere in the Stasi Museum was in contrast to this. There I was confronted with evidence of the abuse of the playfulness of children, till such a point that war would become normal in their daily lives. Taking in this information of a controlled life, the pressure and secrecy, I got a feeling of wanting to do something prohibited. But this revealed a conflict, the guards were really friendly and helpful, so this would not make any sense. Normally I work more with creating sculptural images and bodily-related actions rather than working conceptually, so what to do in space that had so much conceptual content?
After visiting the toilet a few times, I decided to write down words I encountered that spoke to me and hide them in the museum. I hid them in different spots to give words to the layers in between this loaded space. I hid 11 notes.
For some weeks after the wall came down many Stasi staff remained in their offices, trying to destroy evidence that could land them in jail or expose their spies in foreign countries. In the Stasi museum is a paper shredder that they used for this purpose. The recovery of these files by volunteers as evidence of crimes was an opportunity to do something to get the Stasi punished for their crimes, and for the victims to mourn.
This historical event inspired me to recover my notes and destroy them, to cut them into little pieces. I made several rounds amongst my papers and came to the conclusion that some got lost and some were moved. In between I had a need for retrieving myself so I hid myself in a small corridor that could be locked from both sides. Here I found that I could be with myself within these layers of history while listening to the visitors walking by. I became a witness rather than a participating museum visitor. Here I also destroyed my papers. The smell of this building is the most consistent factor for me; a mixture of the waxed floor, metal, paper files, laminated wood, typewriters and lots and lots of smoke. It is a smell that I recognize from being in offices throughout my childhood.
After going trough my pieces of paper I came to the conclusion that I had lost 4 papers with the following words:
HOSTILE TO SOCIALISM
So I conclude, ‘The betrayer is processing psychological harassment and is now hostile to socialism as a conclusion.’
Thus began our meeting in Valencia. On our way to meet the double, a kind of ‘parallel’ Frans Van Lent in a jazz and chess club in the old town and… we got lost strolling through the city.
Sunday, September 18th 2016
We met at 11:00, opening hour at the IVAM (Valencian Institute of Modern Art). Frans, Nico, Pepe, Joana and me. TheParallel Show#8 had begun and from this moment, a story begins, a detective story, a story of the explorers of museums.
At the moment we crossed the museum frontdoor, none of us knew each other. We had to investigate and follow the trace of the artworks, building relationships and dialogues through a coded language between space, works of art, visitors and museum staff. At first, I went through a phase that consisted of me identifying with the environment, an attempt to achieve mimesis through empathy. For a moment, one ceases to be one self to be an other. The first feeling was invisibility. By the time I stopped being visible, I started to become audible: every certain interval of time I dropped my notebook. The first contact with the museum occurred through the light room. Light and darkness that created paths of absence and presence.
In this room everything is calm, nothing moves and the light remains.
It was in the hall of memory I began to dispel. An ethereal installation where one becomes volatile. A dance between fabrics that weave a reverie. Disappearance. And a figure emerges from the fabrics. We exchanged gazes and turned our backs to each other. We started walking in opposite directions, surrounding the maze. As we crossed paths, my notebook fumbled from my hands.
Points of departure and arrival (departure / Arrivé) that lead into a silent, cold and lonely labyrinth. A presence guards the entrance, so no one gets lost in between the walls’ stares. Absolute visibility.
A change of scenery is perceived when crossing the hall. The coldness thaws, it reaches the hall of matter and figures, of lights and deep shadows. From the profound silence, one can perceive life, sound and motion.
Later, I begin to wander through the museum and suddenly I emerge in a city inside a city within a city. Contemplation and identification with the space inside space within space.
Walks inside walks within walks.
Readings that initialize or end a path of the reverse. A trajectory that continues both around the building and it’s underground.
Crossing the museum’s boundaries, we found the room of the wall, where order and linearity acquire a resounding presence. The room of order transforms into the room of rhythm and sequence.
It´s 14:00 h. We meet, and in my notebook the following phrases can be found:
Making contact with the space.
Observing, exploring, living, enjoying, experimenting.
Throwback to childhood. Play, fun.
It’s like visiting the museum for the first time.
In search of an event, a happening.
The museum as a jungle.
The museum as a space of play.
Boundaries breached. Choreography of art.
Art, artists, visitors.
Being part of the exhibition space.
Re-defining it. Re-living it. Perverting it.
We sat down and started brainstorming. Together we created a whole. A new language of relationships between space, time and bodies. Producers of meaning finally turned into word hunters.
LINE: In the room of light everything endures. Stillness, silence. Mysteriously, the light begins to spin. The rubbing of skin glows in elliptical shapes. The room comes to life. Let there be light, and there was light.
FAREWELL: In the labyrinth of memory, figures appear and disappear, come and go. They cloak themselves. Movements generated by the intertwining of streets that hide behind volatile silhouettes.
WET: The hall of matter and figures sounds like life itself, transforming into melody and movement. The room’s inhabitants produce footprints and footsteps, while a truncated voice is mellowed with sugar. Notebooks that lose their balance and shoe instruments make up an orchestra.
INTERFAXION: The wall hall has a linear rhythm. It is a sequence of works. And movements. It’s the dance hall in which new dancers join the repetition of pictorial contemplation.
TURN: The parallel show turned into a fun experience and a practice of freedom…a journey into childhood, to observe with new eyes and bring forth new issues. The parallel show doesn’t answer. It asks.
It is a language in which the body acquires importance in the exhibition space, where the event and serendipity itself shine and dance between the gaps of art.
And like all detective stories, a ludic promenade took place, in which the pursuers probably became the pursued.
A walk carried out by the detectives of museums, seekers of adventure, sliding under the attentive watch of the guards. A dance that was immortalized from the virtual. A drawing that seems to manifest that our actions took place in a parallel museum.
I’m on the terrace of the museum. It’s morning.
Blood is dripping in my underwear; it just came today, at 5:40, five minutes after my friend told me she is having her period.
I is late 40 minutes, I forgot my sunglasses, it makes me squeeze my eyes.
I take an Ibuprofen and a cup of tea. Then I visit the exhibitions on my own.
I discover this picture of Russell Lee: once a year the women in Spanish-American families re-plastered the adobe houses, 1940.
I’m still thinking about the ParallelShow-project and the methodology that Frans just explained to us. Maybe the ParallellShow does the same as the women on this photo: put another layer on the experiences of the museum, using collaborative technics. Enough ‘invisble’ to remain unnoticed for most people but enough ‘visible’ for some people to discover that there is something strange…
Then it is lunch time. There is nothing vegetarian. “That is fish, I don’t want anything with eyes”.
“We will make something, something specially for you”. That’s chicken in my soup!
After the brainstorm lunch we start in the Boltanski exhibition, we enter a dark room full off pendent lights. The lamps are at different distances from the floor. I walk around, touching them softly. I try to make them all move slowly as long as possible. Suddenly she appears, she has black straight hair, the security woman, she folds her arms (two books drop from Elia’s hands). She approaches from the other side. She passes just behind me (pens are falling). She walks around with her arms crossed. I moved the lights with my head, my back, my ear. She stops them. She is watching me, but she is not sure that i’m involved. I walk around in the room and she is following me.
I notice her feet under the textile when I am trying to avoid her. We were playing around.
Like a tangled line, the choreography of movements starts with Pepe and Elia and finishes with the security woman.
Then I pass the Boltansky installation with boxes. At the last part I sit down on the floor. I touch it and I feel how cold it is. My back against the Boltansky piece, thinking about the pictures of Gabriel Cualladó I saw earlier this morning (series of Arco 94′). There it appears: seated figures, leaning against a wall. give my back a small rest, with my arms on my knees. The room is dark, no one saw me.
We arrive at the next exhibition, Lost in the city. Everything is really white in here, clean. At one end of the room Frans is standing close to a building, changing the perception of the scale between the object and his body.
At the other end I focus on photographs of houses by Bernd and Hilla Becher. I look at them and try to understand them, I translate the visual rhythm of the structures and make stretching movements.
I stretch for 8 minutes reading the photography as a musical score. Arms in the air.
People are looking at me. One to them is again the security woman. I feel the movements of the security staff when we pass the doors. We start with sound actions: noises of shoes on the floor, hard coughs and falling books. We try to return to spaces we were before, walk in the wrong direction.
I pretend a severe cough attack at the moment I am thinking we could be exposed. The room is a big space, we have to make a lot of noise. Many coughs: jokgkgdd ggggjjshh akjsa ajs ajjask.
The woman comes really close and asks me if I need something. She brings me water, another security woman offers me a sweet.
(the recording of Nico Parlevliet).
We do many more actions around the museum. No doubt, this was the most wonderful experience visiting an exhibition. The cooperation between us was growing really fast. The spaces continuously determined our actions.
A really pleasure to collaborate in a project like the Parallel Show.
It was a strange feeling.
A long time ago it was my profession to explain the museum’s programmed exhibitions, I was managing the so called Dynamic Lectures and I studied the content and the installation of each one.
Now the whole museum, including visitors and staff, were part of our strategies.
That’s how it all begun: Frans, Nico, Elia, Joana and I met at the museum early in the morning. Frans explained the project. First of all, we were going to visit the spaces, all exhibitions, and later, at lunch time, we had to put forward our ideas of how to participate and which actions we wanted to carry out regarding the contents, the objects and the exhibition room itinerary. Of course anonymity was required. We had to perform our actions unnoticed, to try to remain invisible.
As soon as I started walking through the galleries, my mood changed and I felt an intense concentration… Suddenly I was performing. In one room I was walking like a penguin, slowly with short steps. Another time I moved like a billiard ball, in straight lines, changed directions as soon as I bumped into a wall or an installed object.
I looked like a strange visitor, an old man with an eccentric walk and an extravagant outfit.
Anyway, I tried to be invisible to everybody
I noticed a woman standing next to me, and I spontaneously started to walk like her, making the same movements and building an unusual choreography…
It was a strange feeling. I already changed my behaviour, the museum was a magic cage where everything had a soul to dance with. People, spaces, and objects, composed a beautiful scene in which I ran around excitedly. It was intense.
I imagined all of us walking together or watching the exhibition with same movements.
Later we met again. We talked about our proposals and we performed all of them. We performed a concert with different noises, we also performed a bench choreography and finally we were looking for secret words: each one of us, should look for the others and steal their secret words.
As soon as I started doing it, I realised I wasn’t a performer: I walked, kept out of sight, I avoided other’s glances,
I avoided security guards and I behaved like a spy, I behaved like a conspirator. The whole day we were museum’s conspirators and we all tried to be invisible.
We started with 4 collective works. In one of the works Joana asked us to very softly touch the hanging lamps in Les Tombeaux of Christian Boltanski. The installation regained a touch of life. Even though it temporarily changed Boltanski’s work, It felt beautiful and respectful.
Part of the exhibition Lost in the City was a screen showing a (looped) 12 minutes fragment of the filmIn the Street (1947) by Helen Levitt. After I watched the film, it started again with a text about the subject: the life in the poor quarters of the big city. This text ended with: ‘The attempt in this short film is to capture this image’. So I watched the film again the full 12 minutes and then made a photo of that particular frame.
The same exhibition showed the work Modern Tower 8 by Julian Opie. The sculpture was placed directly on the floor without the use of a base. Presented that way, it created a very convincing illusion of size.
I decided to stand very close to the tower to influence that illusion: viewers might look at me and by doing that they would miss the sensation of size.
They could also focus at the tower. That would include me in the illusion, would turn me into a giant.
When we were spread out over the various parts of the museum, I sent around a text message.
In this message I asked everyone to choose a word and then to start looking for the other participants.
When we met someone, we should discretely exchange our personal words.
I was studying a work of Gregory Crewdson: – an old man crossing a wet street-, when I felt a person coming very close. Elia whispered a word in my ear. When I answered she quickly disappeared. I then walked out of the room and I noticed Joana. We just passed each other closely and softly spoke our words, almost at the same moment.
On another floor I saw Nico walking. I entered the space through smoked glass doors, and walked straight towards him. We both spoke out the words and I turned around and left again through the doors.
Then for a long time I was looking for Pepe. I vainly walked through all exhibition rooms and, a bit confused, I sat down on a bench in the hall. Just seconds later Pepe sat down next to me, looking a bit triumphant.
We said our words and these were the final words for both of us.
Elia and I exchanging words in front of a work by Gregory Crewdson
There I wandered through the galleries of IVAM, the Institut Valencia d’Art Modern.
We individually visited the exhibitions and conceived our contributions to the parallelshow#8.
Later we all gathered in the museum restaurant: three artist from Valencia, Elia Torrecilla, Pepe Romero and Joana Mollà and two from the Netherlands: Frans van Lent en Nico Parlevliet. During our collective lunch, we discussed the architecture, the exhibitions and our possibilities.
We listed some plans to be carried out by the whole group and several plans to be performed by individual artists.
We departed Dordrecht and arrived in Valencia. That happened to be the name of the installation of Christian Boltanski; Départ-Arrivée. Nice to see how cautious Pepe is performing in it.
I planned to do a sound piece in the exhibition rooms of Julio Gonzalez.
This performance was based on the sounds I noticed earlier in that same space: noises unnoticeably made by the visitors of the museum.
The participants in the performance were: Frans with a dry cough, Joana with a severe cough, Elia playing with her pen and dropping her notebook on the floor, Pepe and Nico creaking and squeaking the soles of their shoes.
Our performance attracted much attention from the attendants, who nevertheless responded very patient and helpful.
The sound was recorded on three smartphones moving around separately. Afterwards the recordings were superimposed.
In the exhibition Lost in the City we used 4 benches in consecutive galleries. Sitting on one of the benches you could only see the nearest bench in the next room. We all sat down and repeated the movements of the person on the next bench.
This way every movement travelled through the galleries. Afterwards I realised that it could have been even nicer if we had used the movements of an arbitrary visitor as a starting point.
Four benches in my notebook
Apart from our performances there were several coincidental parallel events happening in the exhibition, like this couple sitting in front of a projection of the film Just Imagine by David Butler (1930).
While departing IVAM at the end of the day,
I made a photo of my reflection on the banisters.