Q.S. Serafijn (1991)
Centrum voor Beeldende Kunst, Rotterdam, No. 41, pp. 24. Edition: 750. ISBN: 90-5196-044-1
'Palomar has come up yet again with a new set of ideas: what is it we see, is it 'the lawn' or do we see each plant separately...? What we call 'seeing the lawn' is only the result of our inaccurate, crude organs of sense; a collection exists only because it is made up of various elements. You don't have to count them, how many there are doesn't matter; what does is managing to distinguish at a glance each and every individual plant, with all their peculiarities and differences. And not only that you see them, but that you think of them too. Instead of thinking 'lawn', think of that stem with its two clover leaves, that lancet-shaped leaf bent somewhat, that slender tuft.'
(Italo Calvino. Palomar, Publisher Bert Bakker, 1985).
Who is this Mr. Palomar who in this book is being followed on his daily round? His name recalls a powerful telescope, but it seems as if the attention of this person can focus only on things he comes across in daily life, which he examines down to the smallest details, with a bent for precision that verges on obsession.
Mr. Palomar is searching for knowledge. He observes. He observes among other things matters that elude most of us: The belly of the gecko, The bare breast, The odd slipper, The endless lawn... Mr. Palomar observes and tries by dint of reflection and analysis to gain some insight into his position and that of the phenomena he finds himself confronted with. In doing so he is continually vacillating between two possible ways of perceiving: on one hand he concentrates on the individual parts, the details from which what he sees are built up; on the other he interprets what he sees on a more general, abstract level. He hopes in this way to arrive at a world view that matches exactly the world itself.
In one chapter, Invasion of starlings, he ponders on the arrival of these birds in the city of Rome at the end of autumn: When Mr. Palomar watches for some minutes how the birds move in relation to one another he feels trapped in a network that stretches unbroken, uniformly and without gaps, as if he too is part of this body in motion consisting as it does of tens of hundreds of individual bodies that together, however, form a single object; like a cloud, a plume of smoke or a jet of water - in other words something that in essence is a fluid substance, yet nonetheless endowed with a definite shape.
The starlings immediately bring to mind, of course, the photograph of you in the Coolsingel, tapping with a hammer against a treetrunk and by way of vibrations along branches, twigs and leaves precipitating a kind of explosion. Startled, the starlings fly out of the tree as one, forming a geometric shape, a spherical cloud around the crown of the tree (starling explosion). More than that, however, Calvino's description makes me think of another work: a black and white photograph showing part of a wood (hundreds of bodies that together, however, form a single object). The number of trees increasing with distance and paralleled by an increasing amount of space, has yielded a photographic print that shows exactly the opposite - a 'denial' of space, a graphic condensing, a volume (floating volume). (Perhaps 'denial' is putting it too strongly. The space, or the spatiality, is 'interrogated' or 'contested' by the photographic apparatus.)
This doubt during the process of perceiving, resulting from the discrepancy between knowing and seeing, appears anew in the black and white photograph in which we are permitted a glimpse into the admittedly limited space of an average garage. We know the extent of the space; what we see is a voluminous black haze.
There are times that we can no longer see the wood for the trees. We decide to chop down the trees to restore the view of the wood. To our utter astonishment it seems that by felling the trees the wood disappears too.
At what point we stop felling so that the wood (as a collection of trees) is visible once more? Or: where does one category ('tree') coincide with the other category ('wood') so that we can perceive them together but also as separable elements? (You can understand Mr. Palomar's difficulties in trying to establish what the lawn is, what does and what doesn't belong to the lawn, where the lawn stops and where the lawn changes into, say, a thicket.)
Let the presence of the wood (owing to the presence of the trees no longer visible as such) be transparency no. 1. And let the absence of the wood (when all the trees have been chopped down) be transparency nr. 2.
The two transparencies are then superimposed to form a single image, i.e. the presence and absence of the wood seen simultaneously.
My opinion is that the photographic work (images 'written in light') wants to interrogate space in much the same way.
I remain yours faithfully, Q.S.
In 1990 Egied Simons took part in the project 'OTT' (Onvoltooid Tegenwoordige Tijd) (=present progressive tense), fifteen imaginary projects for Utrecht). The participants were asked to design an art plan for the city and indicate how this proposal could be presented in an exhibition (the proposals were later exhibited in the Centraal Museum). Simons wandered at length through the city. He wandered through the city with a street map in his hands and his eyes riveted in the surroundings. So I can imagine he regularly took the wrong turning, got muddled up at the crossroads and perhaps even became completely lost. Who knows? In any case I take it that the difference between the black-and-white clarity of the street map and the less ordered reality around him was what led him to his eventual proposal. On his wanderings he came across a metal structure supporting a house. It provided him with the ingredients for his plan, namely the street plan of Utrecht in the form of an explicit steel structure raised 35 meters above the city - the structure of the city brought to a single level, as if it were an inverted bird?s-eye view. He sketched his proposal from three possible vantage points on photographs and exhibited these in the museum.
Simons himself uses the phrase 'strengthening what is already present'.
While working on the project he developed various ideas that illustrate the above. For example he wanted to 'reflect into the ground' a row of houses using mirrors along a horizontal axis. What he had in mind was to 'raze' them to the ground to such a degree that this demolition would continue into the earth. Should an entire housing estate be subjected to this treatment the 'town' and the street plan would coincide in the most rigorous fashion.
In another design he proposes that for redevelopment within a housing estate the new buildings should be 25 meters high (i.e. eight storeys). In this way a medium-sized town (with its characteristic lowrise) would in one fell swoop be confronted with a 'metropolitan' scale.
Finally, another idea involves transferring the wide openness of the natural landscape to the town. As in the proposal for Utrecht the objective would be a greater visual range in the town itself, seen from the street. Following the diagonals on the roofs the buildings would be extended upwards, whereby part of the existing architecture could be incorporated in the plan. Depending on the vantage point of the spectator the urban environment would be experienced as a rolling landscape of hills.
Dear Mr. Palomar,
I have taken note of your experiences with great pleasure. I admire your efforts, your observations and your musings. You say you prefer to keep your convictions in a fluid state and test them anew as each case arises. You would even like to make an explicit rule for everything you do (and don?t do), for everything you choose (or rule out), for everything you say (or keep silent on). Forgive me, Mr. Palomar, but you do so little. You hardly act at all! You ponder and ponder, become entangled in wide-ranging reflections, consequently fall prey to uncertainty and carry this uncertainty with you in all your subsequent observations. The only (important) decision you have made is to record in writing all the moments that together are your life, moment by moment by moment, without interruption*. I can see it before me: the white of the paper would disappear completely under the tracing of your pen. I know you! You would no longer see the wood for the trees. With your permission, may I ask why you have never come up with the idea of walking into the wood? May I inquire why you chose to keep your distance, waiting for some sign or other, a signal perhaps, from the objects and phenomena you were contemplating? Why have you never tapped against the trees, whispered to yourself their names? Why have you never taken a tree with you out of the wood, isolated it, placed it in another context? No, Mr. Palomar, your most recent reflection, Learning to be dead, is not nice at all. I think it's what you deserve, to be dead. That's what happens if you don't act. The end off, let me describe to you two of my most recent works. They are still at the design stage, as it's called, but believe me they will be realized. They take their departure form the presupposition that a part is capable of evoking the whole,/i> (of which it is part). They are based on the fact that it is not necessary to show everything in order to bring to light the complex part-to-whole relationship. The thing shown and what we call the 'image' will never coincide with what we call reality. Put another way, the (world) picture (we form) will never be identical to the way (we imagine) the world appears to us.
And I act accordingly.
I remain, Mr. Palomar, yours faithfully, E.
* After making this decision Mr. Palomar dies (immediately).