Monday, 18 July 2011

Amsterdam Travels & Media Kunst

We were in Amsterdam for four days last week, staying in the luxurious centre of town, on the Prinsengracht canal in one of my Dutch aunt's apartments. Though this apartment does not face towards the waterfront on the Canal, the back is spacious with a lovely peaceful shared rooftop. Tables and chairs for summer dinner parties. Just one block away from Anne Frank's house off Westerkerk (West Church), you can hear the bells chime beautifully every half to full hour. (we would later climb this tower for only €7 on the guided tour which gave us a beautiful view of Amsterdam).

My cousin arrived on her bike arround 22:00 to let us into the flat and in return for the hospitality I bought a strong bottle of Spiced Rum from Duty Free for her, which we cracked open together and caught up to speed on things. The last time I escaped to Amsterdam was two or three years ago an a journey of self discovery, and a lot had come to pass for both of us since. Last time I stayed by my cousin for a while in Postjeskaade, in the West. A cold attic but with the most beautiful window overlooking the swans on Rembrandt Park. I just want to say: Jess you are strong and I admire your Dutch courage. You have such character, I'm a firm believer that this strength will take you far in life.

We got to sleep early in a lovely double bed (or was it quite late by the time we arrived and finished catching up, said goodnight to Jess) and slipped into something more light. Earlier we'd shared a lavish "steak" meal at an Argentinian restaurant by the Jordaan with candle-light and a little vin rouge, and by the time we'd finished we were on time to meet. The bedding was divine and could make you sleep for hours!

Mornings. Shopping at the Albert Heijn. Eggs, bread. Home cooking. Love cooking. The kitchen has a lovely old match lit stove and oven cooker. On the kitchen table is an old tape cassette player. I rewound the tape and clicked play. If I remember, the sweet music that I heard was from Hendel. Hendel and eggs sizzling on warm buttered toast! Stroopwaffels and Tea!

Later that early morning we ventured out for a walk. I allowed us to conveniently pass by the Nederlands Institut voor Mediakunst. A bird caught my eye swooping a long the Keizergracht and my spirit was lifted. Most astonishing works were on display. We spent a while together sitting, watching the most mesmerising video pieces, a three part video installation in separate rooms called Nostalgia (2009) by Israeli artist/film maker Omer Fast.

What links all three pieces is this memory of an African Congolese immigrant giving an account of how he used to catch partridges using a spring trap made from sticks. At first it appears to be white man building the trap with a voice over. Then in the next room an African man speaking on his own. We see the man become questioned by what appears to be a British authoritative director of some sort. Through words and distant communication he tries to give an account of the place he used to live in the Congo. At some point these positive memories of the house or fields become hard to relay when the man starts to talk about his experiences of being forced into fighting and war. Communication becomes broken and instead he is only able to communicate his experience of catching a partridge and how it can be used to catch enemies or somebody by the neck.

The third and more lengthy part sees a rather strange twist. In some sort of post apocalyptic yet period feel, we follow a group of white people escaping from London and the UK through tunnels, We later find out that they are trying to immigrate to the DR Congo.

There is a strange dialogue running between an African lady and her lover/husband in which the passing of this story for catching monsters using branches and sticks is passed on. She also talks about her experience travelling to London as an aid worker. We start to assume something bad has happened in London, an epidemic.

It then turns out that the daughter of this couple repeats this story in front of all her class mates at the same time as a white man (who appears like an immigrant worker or caretaker, there to clean the bins) has interrupted their class. He too overhears the story of catching animals using this simple partridge spring trap.

What we are then made aware of finally is that everything is reverse. The black African people have all the power and the white Westerners are the immigrants trying to escape into Africa.
This white man is fortunate to have escaped through the clutches of a group of Black soldiers, dressed in British colonial costume. We see what happens to the rest of his group when they get caught in the cave they are trying to get past. The guards beat her down, pour petrol over her. For an instant the soldier is unable to light his match. The camera pans out of her mouth and we see loads of fruit that looks like sick but it's beautiful. You can only imagine what happens when the guard eventually strikes the match.

Finally cutting back to the last scene the interrogation officer of the school offers this white man the ability to gain citizenship if he rats on his friends who are helping other white people to smuggle in.

The piece makes me think about immigration and how the British govern/ed their turf, questioning what it would be like if Westerners were on the other side of the coin. What if it was the white Westerners who suffered from African Colonialism? it makes us think a lot about the problems in Africa in relation to our borders, our immigration laws, and the Wars in their parts. It's almost like dark irony and sarcasm can be felt throughout this whole third part because we know that we are not helping these people to survive, to get better, and it makes real the idea of being in their shoes. Seeing things from their perspective.

I remember watching "A Time to Kill" and remembering when Samuel L Jackson says to his lawyer that the only way to convince an all "white Jury" to win his case as a black man, is for a his Lawyer, a white man, to actually make this white Jury see no difference between colour and as such, at the end his lawyer conveys the most awful rape/torture scene which we imagine to be Jackson's black daughter throughout. But then at the very end as he starts to cry, he says "Now picture that this girl is white". I guess what I'm trying to say is that films like these expose so much about the struggles and reasons for the Black Diaspora, and often its very difficult to see the other side/be on the other side. It takes a strong sense of imagination, art and movies to convince ourselves, to make us feel like we are in other people's shoes. To see their perspective.
This film does that. It helped to open the heart and to open the conscience.

His other piece "Casting" was quite funny/scary, where two stories seem to be spliced together, one about a man who is supposed to be having some sort of sexual/relationship encounter with a "freaky chick", how he ends up randomly in front of her whole German family at Christmas time, and how she has lots of cuts on her arms and scars.

The other story is that of an American soldier in an army truck that has been hit by a landmine or a rocket, who then accidentally shoots an innocent man in an approaching car. The juxtaposition on four screens, two back to back was simply exciting, terrifying, humorous and surreal.

We left together and headed for lunch... Then later would head together to Huis Marseille to see another fantastic photography artist, but it's late and I'll talk about that some other time.

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