Honey I Still Love You
> Moritz Gaede
April 29th is the craziest day of the Year in Amsterdam. The Dutch celebrate their Royal Matriarch's birthday by turning the entire city into a garage sale. On every sidewalk people are hawking their old junk, selling cold beer or space cakes, playing music. It's the trading nation's carnival.
About a week after Queen's day, a few friends and I were cruising the canals in a little boat when I noticed another boat that passed us a few times. It carried seven or eight quiet, well-dressed men. The tillerman was wearing an oversized bright orange hat, the kind of Dr Seuss hat Dutch patriots wear at soccer matches and on Queen's day, and the horn he was blowing into made a mournful sound.
My friends wanted to stop off at a coffeeshop so we moored by a ladder and I stayed in the boat with Mo the dog. Sure enough, the strange boat appeared again, gliding by slowly with its sombre cargo. This time I gave it my full attention, drawn in by the mournful demeanour of the crew. We made eye contact, and I realised that these silent characters with their sadly bleating horn were performing a ritual in stark contrast to the frenetic cheerfulness of Amsterdam's holiday traffic, marking the passing of another royal year. The canal was their stage, and they acknowledged my attention with a nod or two.
No matter how familiar one is with Shakespeare's profundities, it is unsettling to witness art that is so seamlessly integrated into the fabric of reality that it takes a second or third look to even begin to register that what one is seeing is a deliberate, theatrical perfomance using nothing less than the world as its stage, and its captive inhabitants as its audience. In the absence of any delineating framework, such a realisation renders the viewer co-conspirator. You fall out of consensual reality into a world of meaning and artifice.
This fluency of public imagination has always attracted me to Amsterdam. It is a place where questions of "art outside the frame" are rendered irrelevant by the sheer abundance of creative consciousness. The social realm is such a tapestry of living art that really there is no "outside the frame".
Another performance, this one by a student at the Rietveld Akademie,
operates in the theatre of the world with a similar degree of fluency. Stine Nilsen, an art student from Norway, stood outside the Amsterdam city jail for a day holding a large sign that read: "Honey I Still Love You". The Amsterdam jail, I should add, has windows. It also has a discotheque, a supermarket, and the prisoners can work, earn money, and go shopping. Only the prices are much higher than on the outside - the ultimate punishment, I suppose, for the Dutch.
Like Johnny Cash at Folsom prison, Stine Nilsen was playing to a captive audience. Only she was not billed as entertainment, but engaged the attention of her prisoners directly, without any qualifying framework. Her message was probably received at face value by most of the men and women who saw her and might have assumed her to be some lucky inmate's girlfriend from their cellblock windows, a vantage point as contructed and deliberate as any theatre.
Moritz Gaede, 3.16.02
YEAR01 FORUM INDEX
I Still Love You", Performance, Stine Nilsen, 2001