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Notes from an island between rivers – part I

February 26th, 2009 by Ivet Reyes Maturano

Be(com)ing Dutch at a Distance

Look outside the window today, Sunday midday: sunny sky behind the high buildings, the sky scrapers. I live on a 4th floor; the dimensions are confusing in this city but the sun is shinning and it makes me think me about the departure from Holland when the airplane took off on a rainy day and the view over the grey plane landscape of fields and water –the landscape that became familiar, so familiar to me.

Seven hours is too short to measure the distance that we traveled on an airplane. The flight was smooth and it became all sunny from the moment we reached higher altitude beyond the clouds: I saw fields covered with snow in England, and rivers, and mountains, and then the oceans; I read the beautiful lovely goodbye-notes on my card, and it felt strange and unreal to think I was leaving. The movies and music on the airplane just added to the sort of fiction state… of flying. The same day, just ‘a couple of hours later’, I landed here and officially entered the USA. The small and big differences started opening up from then on, the sameness too, the expected and the unexpected her in New York City.

The New Museum of Contemporary Art is downtown, on a busy street loaded with history, traffic, restaurants-furniture suppliers and within an area that brings together the complexes of gentrification: close to Soho and China town among other neighborhoods. Time and people do not necessarily trace linear and uniform paths. The past-present-future here of Dutchness, for example surprise in imaginative and curious ways: the name of the street, Bowery, derives from the old Dutch word “bouwerij”- boerderij. There are traces also of relationships less obvious. For those who wondered about whether people here still speak Dutch, I must say yes, I have found people who speak Dutch here: I met two women who had lived in the Netherlands for years. They both felt really happy to talk in Dutch with me here.

The New Museum brings up a whole other world of similarities and contrasts: about work, relationships, ideals and dreams in relation to art, the museum, its context. It is another space and rhythm here: ‘Be(com)ing Dutch’ is now located in another site, geographical, institutional, artistic. Here, ‘Be(com)ing Dtuch’ takes place within the layered displayed of the New Museum along with ‘Urban China’ receiving the visitor on the ground floor, with ‘Conversations About Iraq’ going on the second floor, with ‘Crystal Palace’ by Mathias Poledna and ‘Minotaur’ by Daria Martin on the fourth and third floor respectively. ‘Be(com)ing Dutch at a Distance’ has brought up much attention that increased recently since there was a big opening of the whole museum last Tuesday. On the fifth floor of this museum, the Be(com)ing Dutch project is represented by Michael’s Blum piece ‘Exodus 2048’. The piece is ‘right there’ in front of the visitor once the elevator doors are opened, the imaginary refugee camp is there sort of protected by curtains that seem like a last cry for intimacy in this other location: more busy and intense than in Eindhoven…. And yes, less spacious.

The proximity to the piece, to the topic; the distance to an expected more literal idea about ‘Dutchness’ bring other sort of relationships with the visitor that form sometimes an uneasy reaction with a sort of urgency to take time off after a sense of discomfort, other times this situation lead or the visitor just engage in nice dialogues and interesting conversations. One of these interesting dialogues was held publicly in the theatre of the museum last Thursday February, 12th between Michael Blum and curator Regina Basha who explored along her questions the work thoroughly: about the origin of the piece, the problems and potential of the translation of the piece in this other context, about how facts may provide material for speculations and how speculations may allow us to think, rethink imaginatively the present, the history and the future.

In the same room and as a sort of inviting shore to come with questions, thoughts and reactions there is a hub-attendant who interacts with the visitor. They are volunteers (de vrijwilligers hier) that take care of the work but also of the sort of possible conversations. They have spent time with Michael Blum, with his piece and the ‘Museum as Hub’ project. They are four persons but I have met only Shiva, Vecky and Yvonne. They are doing a fantastic work leaded by Cris Scorza and the whole great education department in which Museum as hub is hosted under the direction of curator Eungie Joo. From them all I’m learning about the potential and relevance of ‘Be(com)ing Dutch at a Distance’.

On the seventh floor of the New Museum, at the very top of the building, there is not exhibition but a great view to the outside: it is breathtaking and maybe that is why they call it the sky-room. With that view from the top, the New Museum hosted a symposium last Thursday in which curators and scholars such as Dieter Bogner, Laura Hotpman, and Maria Lind, discussed the role of the museum in relation to the society and its future, the economic pressures, the strong axis Europe-USA with its contrasts and the need of challenges to think broader. In such context Eungie Joo, referred to Museum as Hub as a way to think such issues. As the view, the talk was inspiring. The challenge and, particularly for me now, is to envision concrete ideas about how to bring such aspiration to the ground, to this context and in relation to the possibilities of such museum as hub with ‘Be(com)ing Dutch at a Distance’.

This place as a hub, I think, can have its power from the relationships among people close to the museum, to its ground, from the people who engage there, from the confluence of creativity, life, knowledge, desires, ideals and from the unexpected.

There is in New York City a rush and a sense of energy around that pushes… hopefully towards good relationships and kind unexpected encounters.

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