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Notes from an island between rivers – part II

February 27th, 2009 by Ivet Reyes Maturano

This is not paradise

There is something very strange, sort of random and yet very nice about this city: the actual encounters –with friends, with friends one come to meet through friends, with co-nationals and at the same time, with a wide-diverse population, even with famous people. Not that this island is paradise –not at all!- but somehow I come to think that New York’s ‘demographic situation’ may help to represent the populace of a contemporary Dante’s allegory of the afterlife: where you come together with all the people you knew, with the people you imagine that exist and those that you even didn’t expect to meet. And yet this is life –oh yeah! – and therefore people here deal everyday with it: with time, with economies, politics, imagination, with lust, love, and loneliness. People work hard, they work long, it is common to double work-shifts, while party and entertainment is important, and survival is a matter of fact. Here people struggle and still there is kindness around, there is a sense of feeling comfortable with being without pretending what you are when being around and so I think, that in a very strange way, the life here challenges us. Everyday life in this island goes along the skyscrapers and other engineering work as the metro system realizing how the ground and the sky become as real as never before: where my feet are, what height some human dreams can reach and how much struggle and pressure there is in the middle.

I am sorry I took you too much out of the museum this time, I have took you far from the exhibition and the different events going on there. But this is my way to bring you closer to how I start making some sense about me being there within: I realize here that despite of the distance, we keep links, relationships, and responsibilities with those we have met and that we keep on building up more relationships: as friends, as workers, as citizens, as human beings. The challenge is how to put them together, how to re-think what has been learned about relating and care.

The conversations with the public and the work encounters in the museum, for example, strength my relationship with the Netherlands, my own transformed identity after had my home there; my knowledge and ignorance about life that ‘home place’. Here I feel in between the Netherlands and Mexico and I realize how separated those two worlds seem from each other: not by distance but by ways to relate. The axis Europe-America dominates the art and intellectual scene. Last week, during the symposium about museums and civil society, the speakers’ pointed and such predominant axis situation but none made a specific statement about how to deal with it. Most intellectuals working on cultural analysis and cultural studies refer to theoretical developments that are developed within such axis and dismiss what theoreticians may have in other places to say.

While then, some political questions that are urgent in Europe and North America such as the debates around Islam, right wing rising and cultural diversity seem to concern less to other places such as ‘South-America’ for example. So where do we actually converge?… At the edge and the borders, I guess. Right at the edge that most people forget to think about (when they are ‘within’) and to mention: the political borders, the internal cultural borders, the places where people is abused and forgotten but also where people may create new situations and relationships.
I re-think from here about the political shifts in the Netherlands and about the fact that Geert Wilders’ with his increasing popularity among Dutch population is coming now to the United States this week while I look around and find Obama’s images, news and constant reminders of a global recession and look at people who we have managed to trespass ‘la frontera’ -legally and not. I have also met here new ways of being Mexican –people who do not necessarily talk Spanish, neither have been born or raised there, but who ‘feel’ and ‘recognize’ as such- showing me then new ways of sharing.

This city does not give clear-cut answers to my questions about how to relate with each other and yet at least being here makes me start re-thinking about relationships and responsibilities. Here something feels like shared and yet unable to retain: staying and belonging. Sharing the intense of everyday life here comes very fast, before even have completely landed here, before even realizing you do not belong here, before even considering if you want to stay longer: you share the intensity of life.

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