Stairs. I remember the stairs and walking up them. They are grand and confident, made out of a stone that is light in colour and they are wide, ten people could walk next to each other with ease. I was alone however, going up those stairs. It had been a day of wandering through the city of Amsterdam. Arriving early to make my way by foot from Central station to the museum. It had taken me longer than expected. This I am sure was due to all the distractions encountered on my way there. The street noises, movements of people everywhere and the overwhelming visual stimulus of architecture, words, advertising, graffiti and promises of adventures whenever one would leave the main road and start to meander through and into all the side streets and alleys, everything distracted me.
When I finally arrived at Stedelijk Museum I was tired but strangely content. The building did not look like the contemporary building it is today. Stately and proper it stood there, bound to the time it was built in. It managed to be present and to blend in at the same time, distinctly separating the wide open park space behind it from the busy street at the entrance. Buying a ticket and feeling slightly anxious before it gets checked, there is a feeling of relief when I am in the actual lobby. The ceiling rises high above me and in front of me lay the stairs. My main reason to come to the museum was to experience art in the context of the architecture. There was no specific work I came to see, just an idea to wander around some more. At this time I had just started my BFA and it was overwhelming, chaotic and everything I had admired before was being questioned.
I was unprepared for what happened next. By the time I reached the top of the stairs ‘it’ had come into full view. A massive Barnett Newman painting hung right smack down in the middle of the wall confronting any visitor who slowly step by step had ascended to reach the upper level of the building. It hit me hard. The intensity and vibrancy, the mysterious and also deeply direct feeling of being connected that the painting conjured up ripped right through me. I was not a fan of abstraction at this time. I had dismissed abstraction early on since I did not understand it yet but this painting, this sensation, came as a complete shock to my system. For the rest of the museum visit I walked around dazed. My body had slowed down and my mind felt distinctly separated. I felt like being in multiple places at the same time, trying to observe shifting perspectives with the eyes in the back of my head.
There was one other encounter that knocked me down and made me see that day and all days after in a new light. I cannot remember if it happened even on the same day since I took no photos with a phone or found information about it online. After meandering through the building for a long time I turned yet another corner and there he was. A man jumping, dancing wildly with his genitalia swinging around so much I thought it must hurt. It was raw and intense, strangely spiritual as well. Sam Taylor-Wood’s Brontosaurus did what Newman had done before. It shocked me into a realization that the unexpected can break your set mind-frame and art has qualities that escape definition as were they revelations of a spiritual nature.
Sitting here behind a screen, clicking a mouse and moving through virtual spaces that distort and rely on calculations I feel a longing, a deep melancholic sensation almost like being homesick. Some of these artworks I have seen after traveling far, anticipating my arrival in front of them. Some I experienced while walking through them, around them, being tired, worried about when the museum would close and needing a coffee from the museum restaurant where I would then bring out my notebook and write down all that I saw and what amazed or frustrated me. People around me would irritate me or catch my attention by the way they move through the spaces, by what they wear and speak of to their friends. Children being bored are asking honest questions and fade in and out of awareness at regular intervals. Sometimes a visit would resemble a pilgrimage, other times a chore. Experiencing a museum resembles a happening of sorts. The actors are the works of art, the subject can be close to your heart or mind and almost always reflects on the identity you measured yourself to have. Marlene Dumas expressed it in the painting Measuring your own Grave. You stand in front of the painting and it shows a space that you relate too, you subconsciously raise your arms in this public space and measure for yourself.
We click too quickly, feet don’t hurt, distractions are in the form of cats and videos that show puppies or how to set your hair own fire. Isolation takes place in museums and theaters when you get absorbed by what you see, hear. You walk and ignore, find the toilets and go back to that one room where you felt betrayed or amazed. You talk to your friends, to strangers and you contemplate.
A lock-down speaks of fear, danger, strange excitement for a short time. Homes become harbours of shelter and the window we look out most is our monitor. We read and see a million images. We are being monitored and targeted as potential customer and profiles are being made with the use of our every move. A strange emptiness unfolds.
There will always be a basic necessity to explore the world by experiencing her first hand. The physicality of seeing involves movement. Upheaval creates contemplation and reaction and not always in that order. Museums give us a space to become lost in, become isolated in and to wander/wonder. They show us work that connect to contemporary times, to histories and narratives that have been proven wrong, mistaken. We are engaged and tired, hungry and amazed, made to feel upset at times and even to become angry. When the doors close behind us and the life of the street, the city engulfs us once again it is as if we have traveled so much further than the square footage of the building could ever suggest. The light outside looks different now, we lost and gained time within the walls of the building we just exited. We walk home or hop on a train. In the morning some of the things we encountered still haunt us. Texture of paint, horse hair woven into a sculpture.
My computer needs to be updated once again and I impatiently wait for it.