Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Yet another countertourism tactic

Yet another tactic for countertourism at heritage sites:
  • Collect as many brochures of other musea and exhibitions as you can.
  • Put them away, do not read them now.
  • Take pictures of anything that strikes you as significant and interesting in this museum or exhibition.
  • At home smash the brochures and the pictures together vigorously.
  • See if the collision produces any meaningful fragments.
  • Create your own imaginary museum exhibition.
  • Read the texts from the brochures out loud in front of the exhibits. Thereby baffling your companions and other visitors.
Another example:

Raising children is an art. In all ages all people have tried to prepare and equip their children for their future lives. In the media the theme of childraising is often presented as a problem. But raising children is fortunately often connected with love, humor and tradition.
Slow Burn will centre around two themes that can be considered characteristic of both developments in contemporary art and the redevelopment of space: time and entropy. The combination of these two themes can provide insight into the possibilities or impossibilities encapsulated in an area like the zone.
A wide-ranging selection of icons will be displayed in a fascinating exhibition illustrating the iconographic differences and similarities between the art of Orthodox and Western Christianity. Life-sized examples of 500 years of Russian painting will be on show besides highlights of Western art.
Thirteen artworks have been created in 's-Hertogenbosch in 1632. The artist visited his nephew, the reverend Johannes Junius. In this short time he made several sketches of cityscapes and church interiors.
The title of the exhibition, The Moonlight Garden, refers to the moonlight garden of the Taj Mahal in India. In recent years the garden has been a major theme in the work of the artist.

Countertourism -
Museum - Het Markiezen Hof - Bergen op Zoom
Brochure -
Brochure - Museum Catharijneconvent Utrecht, Goddelijke inspiratie
Brochure - Dordrechts Museum, De kunst van het opvoeden, 28 April - 15 September
Brochure - Noordbrabants Museum, programme May - September 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

The brokenness of sheds

Elements of the Dutch landscape - 9

We have met many sheds while walking the Dutch landscape, too many to include them all. Each one was a unique individual with its own personality. The sheds were more human than the farmhouses, more human than the livestock.

Often they were in advanced stages of disrepair and I was moved by their brokenness. But they didn't need my sympathy, they had a tough, proud character and were still useful (and used) in their state of dilapidated beauty.

Our walks often led through the Dutch "bible belt". Radically Calvinist terrain, empty streets, silent Sundays and people staring behind curtains. This set me on a meditative path about life, brokenness and the human condition.

In the Christian tradition, and especially in the Calvinist tradition, creation was broken from the start. When Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil they deviated from Gods plan and were banished from paradise. Today we still live in the ruins of original sin.

In the scientific tradition things are more simple. Everything is explained by the second law of thermodynamics and ever increasing entropy. The human condition. A given.

But when I think about brokenness I prefer the Kaballistic metaphor about "broken vessels that could not hold God's light". There still is hope for redemption. Obviously this is also the core of the Christian tradition, but we are often blind for well known  teachings. Fresh metaphors clear the eyes.

Next time you see an old shed look at it with awe and respect. You are looking in a mirror. This is your life, your world. What is your answer?

According to Jewish mystics the infinite God had to withdraw a little bit, create a little space, sort of like a womb in the heart of God’s being where the finite, physical universe could exist. This withdrawal of God is called tzimtzum. [1]
And, according to the myth, in this womb-like space there were a set of vessels designed to receive the divine light. God sent out a single beam of divine light that was supposed to be contained by these vessels. But things didn’t go according to plan. The divine light was too powerful and so the vessels shattered. Everything is broken. This shattering is called shevira. [1]
Brokenness is not a condition we usually desire, want, or even admit to. We typically associate brokenness with weakness, being incomplete, or something out of order. We don't strive to be broken. We don't pursue brokenness like we would wealth or fame or love. Yet, we are all broken. We are all weak, imperfect and in need, regardless of economic position or social status. Brokenness is the common denominator in all of humanity. We all come up short of perfection or wholeness. But no one seems to admit their brokenness. This is truly sad because there is beauty in brokenness. [2]
According to the Kaballistic myth, most of the light returned to God – but not all of it. Some of the divine light became trapped in the material world. And so the job of humanity is tikkun – the healing and restoration of creation. According to the myth, we heal this broken world by finding those divine sparks, bringing out the good that exists in everything and everyone. [1]
I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.
On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.

 Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?" Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord."
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.
Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

[1] Quote about the "breaking of the vessels":
[2] Quote about beauty in brokenness:
Bible search:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Wild nature victorious

This is the season of the cherry blossom. Everywhere the trees are in full bloom. Each year it is a spectacular sight. But if we look closely we see a horror scenario, like something from the movie "Alien".
The beautiful Japanese cherry (Prunus Serrulata Kwanzan) is a cultivar. The branches with the double pink blossoms have been grafted upon a stock of wild cherry (Prunus Avium). The strong wild cherry has been mutilated and robbed of its branches. And then it has been enslaved. And now it is exploited by the weaker, decadent and artificially implanted (elite bourgeois) branches of the cultivated cherry.
But this is an unstable situation. Given the chance, the wild stock will try to make branches of its own. And being wild and more vigorous it quickly starts to overpower the weaker branches of the cultivated scion. If left unchecked, the white, smaller and more natural looking flowers will win.
This does not happen in all the trees, but just in a minority (1 in 10, as far as I can see, in my tiny sample). The ratio of pink to white flowers varies from tree to tree. But the wild variety grows much quicker and gradually overtakes the whole tree, leaving only a tiny bit of pink.
And sometimes the revolution fails and kills all everyone, both the exploiter and the exploited.

I could not resist mixing half-understood Marxism and traditional horticultural techniques. There are several things wrong with the metaphor. The scion still does a lot of work, it does photosynthesis and fruit production. The stock takes care of the root system, absorption of nutrients and mechanical stability. So maybe it is more a case of symbiosis than exploitation? But, from a different angle, the stock can only be truly "itself " when it produces its own leaves and flowers. The stock looks more "alienated" than the scion. But that is only an anthropocentric projection, because we appreciate flowers more than roots. So I'm still undecided.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Disappearances and memories

As most modern cities the skyline of Rotterdam  is dominated by the skyscrapers in its center. Many of these skyscrapers belong to financial institutions. And even though new skyscrapers are being built continuously, many of them stand empty and unused. The financial crisis has made victims.  
One of the victims is the office of Fortis bank in Rotterdam. First a consortium of Royal Bank of Scotland, Fortis and Banco Santander bought the Dutch ABN-AMRO bank with plans to break it up and to distribute it among themselves. Then the financial crisis hit. Fortis couldn't raise the 24 billion it needed and tried to sell it's share of ABN-AMRO to raise the necessary funds. The sale failed and Fortis had to be nationalized together with the ABN-AMRO bank. 
Now the Fortis logo has disappeared from the facade of the building. Even before the failure of the bank the operations had been moved to the main office in Utrecht, costing Rotterdam 1000 jobs.
The empty space that once held the logo reminds me of The Detachment, an art project by Sophie Calle from 1996:
  • I [Sophie Calle] visited places in Berlin where the symbols of East Germany have been removed. I asked passers-by to describe the objects that once filled these empty spaces. I photographed the absence and replaced the missing monuments with their memories.
Personally, I don't notice the absence. When I walk past there now I don't see anything. I think it was a plaque made of plain copper, saying that Karl Marx or Lenin, one or the other, studied  there - It wasn't removed, it was stolen. In 1993 or 1994. It was made of grey chiseled stone. I'm not 100 percent sure what it said. Having walked past it for years, I didn't really notice it anymore. I took it for a sign specifying that Lenin lived there. Not exactly pretty. But the message was all right - There was a memorial plaque of some kind. Brownish, made of metal, almost vulgar. Could be that Lenin was on it, but it wasn't accurate so it was removed. That part of the library wasn't even built when Lenin stayed in Berlin
I wonder how many people still remember that Fortis logo. I almost didn't.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pynchon in public day - 8 May 2013

I did my best to celebrate the birthday of Thomas Pynchon. But here around Rotterdam I may have been the only one reading a Pynchon book. In The Hague I met one other Pynchonite, but he was a colleague. We had the same book. But mine was an older edition.
On the other hand ... he has finished reading Gravity's Rainbow. I only managed to read two-thirds of that book. Then I sold it. Now I'm planning to buy it again and this time to finish it. But this book has inspired one blog post and some calculations:
And I also quoted Mason&Dixon in one blog post:
Re-reading parts of "Lot 49" was a pleasant surprise. There is still so much to be discovered in this little book. See the references below.

@PynchonInPublic - #Pynchon2013 -
The American Novel Since 1945 - Professor Amy Hungerford - 12. Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 -

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The names of the skyscrapers

It was surprisingly hard to discover the names of all the buildings in this Rotterdam skyline. Most of them have extremely commercial names, harking back to the 16th century and suggesting wealth and prosperity. The names use false ancient Dutch spelling with "C" instead of "K" and "AE" instead of "AA". Most of them refer to water or shipbuilding. Most are artificial. None are memorable.

These buildings dominate the Rotterdam skyline but they are useless as landmarks or orientation points. There is nothing down there, just commercial businesses.

When I make an appointment I usually choose museums, churches, shops or pubs as orientation points. Smaller and lower buildings. Buildings with a pedestrian size and function.

1 - Robeco Tower - an investment bank, and it has a tower
2 - Maritime museum - a very nice museum, with some romantic exhibits
3 - Fortis bank - collapsed in the financial crisis, now nameless
4 - The White Emperor - how pompous can you get?
5 - Rabo bank - still there, no bailout needed
6 - The Old Merchant Navy - again, how pompous can you get?
7 - Blaak 8 - name is the address
8 - The Wine Harbour - building name is the name of this area
9 - The WaterCity Tower - on the edge of pretentiousness
10 - The Red Apple - WTF? what hipster came up with that name?
11,12 - Harbour Village - artificially quaint name for a skyscraper
13 - The Ship Makers Tower - just over the edge of pretentiousness
14 - The Maas - just the name of the river

I confess ... this is an example of the infamous "psychogeographic sneer" as described by Nick Papadimitriou. But why should pompous, capitalist names dominate my skyline?

Sky Scraper City - Rotterdam