241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

Have you ever wondered what goes through a dog’s mind? I know I have, especially for two particular dogs I’ve had in my life. They were my best friends and I will always remember them.

Growing up, I didn’t have any friends and my parents thought it would be a good idea to get a dog for the family. We adopted a nine year old shepherd from the animal shelter named Tosca. This old girl became my best friend. I even like to think she saw herself as my guardian and me as her pup. But seeing her age she only lived for a couple of years. And one day while I was petting her noticed that her nipples were bleeding. I ran upstairs to tell my mother, she said we had to go the veterinarian to check her out. Her voice sounded reassuring and her facial expression didn’t change, so I thought everything was going to be okay. But I cried all the way to the veterinarian anyway, I was so scared because I knew something was wrong.

My hunch proved true when we arrived. The vet told us she had breast cancer. I remember thinking “that isn’t so bad, cancer can be cured right?” But things wouldn’t be that easy, it would have meant a lot of medical attention and she was already very old. Besides, my parents didn’t have the money or time to take care of her. At that moment I couldn’t comprehend any of this, I was so angry that they were putting her to sleep.

She was my best friend! They knew that, right? She can’t leave me yet!

That night of one of my dear friends died. I held her andshe licked away my tears comforting me. It should have been the other way around.

Until this day I am still wondering what went through her mind. Did she know she was ill? Did she understand what was happening to her? I blamed myself because I was the one who discovered her bleeding nipples. I thought that if I hadn’t anything she would have lived at least one more day.. Then I would have had the chance to say goodbye to her, to give her the best day of her life.

When she passed away, Tosca left a huge gap. I felt alone again when I came home. I missed her presence. I missed talking to someone. My mom vowed to never take a pet again, she couldn’t take the emotional drain it took to see an animal die. But I just couldn’t handle the silence. The house was so empty without her. I started looking around for a new dog, a new friend. I convinced my parents and I found a program that transfers stray dogs from Spain to the Netherlands. That’s where I saw Jimmy.

Everything you can think of was arranged by the organisation, his passport, flight, vaccines, you name it. I only had to pick him up from the airport and pay of course. When the moment was there, my mom and I drove to the Airport Schiphol and awaited him. I was so anxious and nervous. “What if he doesn’t like me, of what if I don’t like him!?” I even had nightmares about it. My mom assured me it would be fine, and gave me a bag of treats that I could give to him. We went to the assigned gate and saw more people waiting for their adopted pets. I panicked and didn’t want people to take my future friend so I made sign with his name on it. Nothing could go wrong now.

I kept wondering what kind of dog he was and if we could get along well. The first thing I knew for sure was that Jim was really good at giving paws. It was the first thing he did after he got out of the cage. I gave him a treat every time he did. But he kept doing it, so I ended up giving him the whole bag of treats. For me it was love at first sight.

In the end he became my best friend, where I went he went with me. He was the first one I saw in the morning and the last one I said goodnight, we were inseparable. He was just nine months old when I got him and I taught him everything I could teach him on my own. He understood me like no one else could and I loved him. But I grew older, made friends, started dating, got a job and started studying. I still tried to take care of him the best I could, took him wherever I went if it was possible and my parents would sometimes even look after him. On top of that I started living on my own and it became impossible to take care of him, I felt immense guilt when I left him alone at home and I didn’t have enough time for him anymore.

A couple of months ago, I had to give my best friend away.

He lives with a couple on the countryside now, it sounds ideal but I wonder if he agrees. I will never know if he’s happy there or if he’ll miss me. I threw a goodbye party the day before he got picked up by his new owners. I thought that would make things easier and it would give me a chance to say goodbye. But he had no idea what was happening and just went happily along with it. How do you say goodbye to someone that doesn’t know he’s leaving? Sometimes I wonder how things would have been if I knew what he thought. Did he bother being alone, did he wanted to stay with me? Would he have said goodbye?

It is quite a recent thought that there is an objective distinction between the visible and the invisible. Whether one were to assert either that invisible things do not exist or that there is more between heaven and earth than can be perceived with the senses, in both cases it is presupposed that the visible has a certain objective limit behind which there either is or isn't something. Like in so many other areas, when it comes to the boundaries of sense perception most people seem content to hold several contrary beliefs. The general conviction that the world "behind our senses" consists of electromagnetic waves and the smallest of particles (ask around to convince yourself of this) does not prevent them from claiming with emphasis that we should only believe in "that which we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands."

It is relatively simple to ascertain that all our knowledge of the world, including the most advanced natural scientific knowledge, is a product of both our perceptions and actions. The enormous conceptual step that we take in the cradle when we realise that some of the things floating in sight are our own hands, is retaken every time we understand something for the first time- albeit at a much smaller and less awe-inspiring scale. Our belief that the existence of our hands is an objective fact is the product of a very precise fine-tuning between several perceptions and the combining force of the mind. For those who then consider their hands as the ultimate instrument to verify the world's reality (to the extent that it is tangible), it might well be advisable to realise that there has been a moment when their minds composed their own hands from a confusing multitude of impressions.

When my daughter Julia was four years old she found a small compass in a desk drawer; she attached a string to it, wore it like a necklace and looked at it all the time. My father came to visit and complimented her on the beautiful compass. With a dignified air she said: "No grandfather, that is my alarm clock. How silly, this afternoon the shopkeeper also thought it was a compass." I realised that for a four-year-old, for whom hours and cardinal directions are hardly well known quantities, the difference between a compass and an alarm clock is not relevant. They are both round objects with a little clocklike face behind glass. The adult who corrects such a 'mistake' without being willing to explain the concepts of time, the four directions of the wind, magnetism, elasticity etc., has been led astray from the path of pedagogy. (In fact, it is not a correction but instead an innocent compliment.)

For a child, concepts and words are set apart by immeasurably vast blanks in the universe of impressions. On the best television show I know, Achterwerk in de Kast (Buttocks in the Closet), once a boy appeared who explained gloomily: "I find that life becomes increasingly complex: I used to think that the wind just blows, but now it turns out that the wind always blows from a high-pressure area to a low-pressure area." This boy is one among many individuals whose personal and adventurous relation to knowledge ends in school. The tragedy consists in the teacher's inability to convey the immensity of he high-pressure to the student, probably because he doesn't sense it either. The term 'high-pressure area' is not introduced at this point to open the door to an endless amount of new observations, but to erect a wall that effectively renders inaccessible the mysterious cause of the wind, of which every child naturally feels the global might.

Air pressure is a phenomenon for which we can educate and refine our observations. Semiconsciously, we perceive the way in which air pressure (and its connectedness to the temperature and humidity of the air) affects our bodily sensations and our general mood. If at school we would be taught, using a combination of theory and practice, how there is a direct correlation between these subtle air pressure differences on the one hand, and the pressure in the higher atmosphere causing wind to gather there amounting to hurricane force, on the other- well, this knowledge would not make us glum or disillusioned.

Our concepts form a network that, in proportion to the intricacy of its meshwork, is able to capture impressions in our consciousness; the rest slips through. But just as much as it is impossible to maintain an impression in the conscious mind without a certain degree of understanding, it is likewise impossible for a word or concept to be remembered if it does not become perceptible in one way or another. If this simple axiom of knowledge is overlooked, it leads to the erratic and depressing notion that our capacity for sense perception, or our thought, or both, are bound by an external limit. Our conceptual network has a horizon, just like our sense perceptions, and the two are interconnected. New impressions can only cling on to the fringe of our already-understood experiences; new concepts can only start off where existing ones had left off. To assert that behind these horizons, there is nothing, is about as short-sighted as the claim that what exists beyond them is the only true reality.

There is a vital connection between the fineness of our conceptual mesh and the precision of our observations. A good car mechanic can tell by the sound of a running engine what the matter is. That is not because he has better ears that the rest of us, but because his profession has provided him with a most distinguished insight in the parts, materials, movements, frictions and potential defects of a car engine. A chef is able to taste which ingredients are used in a certain dish, his "educated taste" consists of the amount of terms that during his career, he has learnt to employ to distinguish between all the nuances picked up by his nose and taste buds. Concepts cut up experience, which had at first instance seemed like a unity. Concepts bring to the surface what had been hidden in the depths of perception. Coarse concepts keep perception imprisoned in dark, dough-like creases, whereas real knowledge unfolds perception to form a great, illuminated plane.

Art can make the experimental treatment of knowledge as practised by children urgent once more. When it comes to art, the aim is not to make something that is 'true' but rather something that looks convincing, which means that we play a cunning game with the regularities of the perceptible that has a twofold effect on the viewer: on the one hand he must be taken in by what he sees; on the other, he must remain continuously aware of the artificiality of the situation. The tension between the surrender to the senses and the feeling of complicity in the game is the liberating and consoling power of art.

In the human consciousness, a rift emerges between the world and ourselves. In our thought, we then mend this split in an ongoing process in which new observations and new names are woven together more and more closely. The liveliness of thought is of importance. Perception and thought, or the process of truth, provide independence and liberty.


I tried diligently to keep a straight face as I looked at the plate of sausages and strawberries in front of me. One of the sausages had cracked open, causing its dubious contents to ooze out right onto the fresh strawberry underneath it. The whole sad scene was covered in a filthy grey blanket of thick smoke and I wish I had dared to take a picture then and there for memory’s sake. The smoke was coming from the cigarette weged between the scrawny fingers of the woman next to me. She topped it off by harshly coughing all over the sausages, then said in all sincerity: ‘Why don’t you take a sausage, girl?’ ‘No thanks,’ I said, meanwhile heavily reconsidering my recent career decision.

Until recently, I had worked in an office where I enjoyed the company of my co-workers immensely and had thought optimistically that at each working place, there were top-notch people, in whom I would always be able to find inspiration for better days. I would continue working at this new place and keep my newly found gems with care. I would furthermore elaborate on these opportunities in texts, projects and future plans to-be-determined. Aside from indulging in this endearing optimism, I subjected myself to an experiment. How far could I go in selling my soul when it came to side jobs while managing to regularly do artistically legitimate things? When would I be an artist working in a hotel on the side, and at what point was I working in that same hotel with merely an artistically inclined hobby? Where is the balance and how far could I go?

Meanwhile, I was well underway indeed, and I felt the black void eyeing me. ‘Oh dear”, I thought, while rethinking my motives to work in this hotel. The cigarette had by then gone out, and the sausages and strawberries had been eagerly devoured by my company at the table. I scrutinised them one by one and considered their potential as part of my next project (or perhaps Sunday art session). The lady next to me was a fine specimen at any rate, and likewise the other ladies at the table wouldn’t be out of place in my collection of remarkable colleagues.

Rita, for one, had tobacco-coloured hair, ditto trousers, and chewed her sandwich in silence; Belinda entrusted me with hotel secrets, such as that it is endlessly preferable to not clean the rooms of cyclists or the Chinese; Denise told me proudly that she had left her junkie past behind her and had worked a solid thirty years for the hotel. She smiled baring her few remaining teeth and I smiled back. I was glad for her, but I’m always slightly creeped out when people at very unpleasant working places tell me that they’ve been working there for a very long time. I break out in sweat as I see my life flash before me, seeing the my future self as that person who, after art school, has begun ‘temporary’ employment, only to get stuck in it forever. People at an academy reunion will say something along the lines of: ‘Have you heard the news on Gerda? Been working in a hotel for thirty years.’ ‘The Volkshotel?’ ‘No, just some hotel. One of those along the highway whose name nobody really knows.’ ‘Oh.’

The roar of the radiators next to the room where we have our break saved me from the nightmare. My colleagues had stood up to get back to work and I considered for a moment to run off and never come back. I would like to emphasise, though, that I have no problem whatsoever with cleaning and similar jobs, as long as I manage to get some satisfaction from it. I have cleaned the houses of elderly people with great love, I have worked serving breakfast in hospitals, I’ve delivered mail for an entire summer (in my rain suit) and I have been personally responsible for planting roughly a thousand little plants in excruciatingly small pots on an assembly line. After this series of quite specific trades, I could go all out in my year long period as a teacher at an art centre, I worked in a fantastic shop (which has unfortunately closed), and, via the office, finally reached the hotel. The plan was to work there just enough to be able to pay my rent, and to otherwise get a good look at all the colourful visitors and their rooms in the name of art, and to then profit from it. As you will have surmised by now, my disappointment was considerable.

It was a characterless hotel where my job description consisted of getting the rooms to look as clean as possible. Until recently, I had enjoyed being in hotels, but those days were behind me for good. I pulled hair that belonged to strangers from shower drains and was instructed to dry toilets with towels (really) as well as to clean used cups by rinsing them with cold water before putting them back on the shelf (really). Not only was my Theory of Employment of before severely threatened, but I also began to worry about my karma as I carried out orders that turned the hotel into one big death trap of bacteria, diseases and other disgusting pests. Therefore, I decided to throw in the (filthy) towel and to look for a different side job. The risk seemed just too big to stay and find out where I would end up then.

From the one strange working environment I rolled straight into the other, where I planned truck routes throughout the whole country from a kind of control centre. As far as art school graduates go, I am pretty good at focussing, coordinating and organising things so it seemed no harder to do the same thing applied to truck drivers. I worked hard and eventually bit myself in the butt by planning everything so efficiently that I had finished the job three weeks before the intended date. But maybe that was for the best, since my colleagues knew that I was employed on a temporary basis and decided for the sake of convenience to act as if I had already left. It was a strange experience that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody.

Meanwhile, my projects grew like cabbage and I was asked for the most splendid things. I participated in a documentary on creativity, founded a meeting place that drew a lot of visitors, interviewed artists and was told by everyone that I was doing so well for myself. It was true that during my free days I worked passionately on my projects and saw them grow, but it was still bothering me that I could not earn a living with what I did best. In this way, I dug for both dream jobs within the cultural sphere as sad job offers within the other one.

Hooked on the employment version of Russian roulette, I kept on playing. Was it going to be another miserable side job or would it be something else? The gods proved benevolent in my favour, for instead of the next grey work spot, I was granted the chance to tag along with the editors of the magazine Kunstbeeld. Not only did I discover that my heroes behind Kunstbeeld were very sociable, but also that there is paid work in this world that challenges your talents. I immersed myself in it completely; I emailed back and forth with artists and their assistants, interviewed Marlene Dumas while I was quivering like a leaf, and travelled the entire country in the name of art. I wrote my reports passionately, took in every possible experience and prepared for what would come next.

I hoped with all my heart and soul that I could do something in which I could work with both my brains and my pen, where I could coordinate and work together with people that make me happy, and so that, like the cherry on the cake, I could earn the roof above my head. After being rejected by email at least every day, all of a sudden there was the message on Saturday night that said: ‘What line of work are in you nowadays? Are you good at organising?’ I looked at my screen and up again, thinking for a second that the universe was surely playing a cruel game with me. ‘I am very good at organising.’ I replied. After many messages back and forth and one conversation, I have suddenly been equipped with a real job with all kinds of things I like and am good at; I work for two very nice people, who even invited me along to Cape Town to do even more wonderful things.

Trying to comprehend this turn of the plot, I think back to last year. The office, the trucks, Kunstbeeld and even the sausages and strawberries on a plate in that hotel. I remember the smoke blowing over them and realise I have escaped a certain destiny. A smile curls slowly upwards on my face. For now.

Robert Klatser, circa1967

Robert Klatser, circa 1967

Robert Klatser, circa1963

Robert Klatser, circa 1963

Robert Klatser, circa1967

Robert Klatser, circa 1967

“That which is creative, creates itself” – John Keats

Nothing remains unsaid at schools; everything is up for discussion. The child’s right to cherish his secrets is denied him. There doesn’t seem to be a place for daydreams, fantasies, or repression. Every minute of a child’s life must be meaningful. But children want to play and experiment without pretension. They should be allowed to form images and thoughts that manifest themselves within the hidden corners of the mind, far away and out of sight from others.

I live by the grace of the countless images that impose themselves upon me every three hundredth millisecond. The distance between the conscious and the unconscious seems minimal. Useless thoughts dominate my brain and link together to create a chain of countless, fleeting thoughts. Every action and all behaviour are preceded by fictional plans and fantastic imaginations.

My ability to make exceptional drawings was recognized early at kindergarten. Were parents and teachers competent to recognize ability? On the grounds of what criteria were my drawings assessed? When I analyse them, I notice realism, detail, and intensity. The sense of imagination is not strikingly idiosyncratic or expressive. The use of colours seems realistic. The images were related to trips and outings I’d made, as well as creatures like garden gnomes and fantastical animals. Goblins. The challenge was to portray these imaginary images as perfectly as possible. Kids don’t strive for expressionism. Only adults appreciate the visible struggle of creation or the painter’s movements coagulated in paint upon the canvas.

My talent had little to do with the characteristics that would be important for a future artistic practice.

At primary school I endlessly drew mice with human features, top secret flying, driving, and diving survival cars; and even historical events made their appearance, like the beheading of van Oldebarneveld. Many artists say that they’ve felt like an outsider and an observer since childhood, and to have a greater sensitivity to their surroundings.

Teachers interpreted the bloody drawings as expressions of mental illness or family issues. By doing so, they made an implicit connection between artistic quality and mental abnormality. I had an undeniable urge to shock. Bloody, scary scenes lent themselves well for this. It isn’t only admiration that stimulates the need to create, a negative response likewise stimulates this need; I’ll show them! The feeling of being an outcast energised me.

When I was twelve, I had a teacher sporting a bow tie who presented himself as an artist. He created an inspiring environment by being a role model, observer, dreamer and rebel. The point of departure is what formed the student’s ideas, while constantly referring to art and artistry. He had faith in the idea of the student. It was this attitude that also drew students to him who had little to no interest in art. He was very conscientious, delayed his judgement and was constantly alert. The students believed in his honesty. Without being aware of it, he was a forerunner in what now would be called authentic teaching.

Still, I was seen as a talented student. That implies a promise that had simply to be fulfilled. At this point, heading to the academy seemed self-evident.

The promise remains. But the longer it stands, the less likely it is that it will be realized. As time goes by, personal identity becomes entwined with the identity of the artist. This makes quitting impossible. With Bourdieu in mind, being an artist is like a coat that I can’t take off, for if I do, I’d be naked.

James, Jennifer en Georgina, the book

photo Joris Landman

James, Jennifer en Georgina, the book

photo Joris Landman

James, Jennifer en Georgina, the book

photo Joris Landman

James, Jennifer en Georgina, the book

photo Joris Landman

The mother takes father on a trip. Their daughter Georgina stays behind with the nannies that are going to take care of her. The mother sends her daughter a postcard every day.

'It's proof of her love and her absence. 'And every day we were apart wrote to her.' (The mother)
'I have come back to the family.' (The father.)
'The drinking stopped and so did the postcards.' (The daughter.)

210 of the 1136 post cards were selected and printed in a thick book, the front and backsides matching and the written messages on the cards printed in block letters so that they're easier to read. A bright yellow, sun yellow book, thicker than a phone book, so thick the spine needs three folds to properly open. The book tells their story. The Beginning. This time over, James and Jennifer wanted to stay together.

Even when Georgina was born and the father kept on drinking heavily. The doctor warned him that he wouldn't have much more than two years left if he stuck to his drinking habits. Rehab didn't help. Jennifer discovered James hardly drank when they were travelling and decided to take as many trips together as possible, in an attempt 'to dry him out'.

The first trip begins October 25, 1989 and the card reads: 'Qui (we) love you more than Paris.' Georgina is 79 days old by then. On August 8, 1990, a day after Georgina's birthday, Jennifer writes: 'Over the Atlantic Ocean en route to Boston. My darling 1 year 1 day. The dots at the side the stamp are the spots of color used. I do wonder if you will like stamps. Mentioning dots reminds me of kites which are dots in the sky; a tug-of-war with the wind. Love Mumm.'

November 16 marks the last post card of that year, which means the family will spend Christmas and New Year's together. Thank God!

August 7, 1991: ‘We’re here and you’re there which is a terrible situation on the occasion. We have spent the day with Jill and that was jolly good. We laughed because we were with you on the 21st! These fellows threw the British out in 1775 just before the Boston Teaparty. Not like your birthday, a bit rougher. Love Dad and Mumm.’ The card has a picture of the statue of The Minute Man, lead gray against a bright blue sky.

How strange it feels to read the father's vile words towards the mother during this anti-alcohol journey: 'Mumm has swallowed so many pills that she rattles when she walks.' Other than that there are messages about the different kinds of champagnes, descriptions of celebrating Left Hand Day in the US, delays and bad behaviour, and on March 17 there is a little drawing of a hunting daddy: 'We are very sad that you have measles and a high fever - all these awful childhood diseases one has to muddle through in growing up. The good news is that the tiles were laid today in your bedroom and the bath is in situ in your bathroom.'

Later: Daddy has been brilliant. His French is so good the natives want to claim him.' And later this lamentation: 'To be queen and live with such paintings.'

Except for a few, the cards aren't made for children, there is a lot of art, monuments, cities and landscapes. A sneak peek at the world. 'Hair. My hair - masses of it - is an expensive, time consuming nightmare. Cauchemar. Every three weeks colour. Every months straitening. Every week ironing.’

Some of the cards are made by hand and every stamp is picked with care, just like every written word has been carefully chosen. But it's not just the post cards that tell the story; just like every movie on DVD, it comes with extras.

The family turns itself inside out, like turning a piece of clothing and exposing all the seams, stitching and lining. What's this family doing to themselves? Each of three main characters shares stories throughout the book, there is a small photo album and there are the 'Conversations':

21 conversations they had, printed without any censorship. I imagine a shockingly honest AA-meeting and this time I get to participate from the sideline, I get to read whatever happens.

‘I don’t remember you and Dad at all before seven. Zilch (nothing). If we have 1200 postcards and some days there were three in one day, that’s a lot of years. And that’s being kind,’ the daughter says.

During ten years, 1136 cards were written. The daughter was left alone for about a third of the time. Jennifer kept all of the post cards: 205 flights, 268.162 miles in the car, two bull fights, one speeding ticket, 53 unpaid parking tickets, 13 cancelled flights, one bomb alert, 205 church visits, wars, inflating prices, births, funerals, holidays and so on.

Georgina remains mild and laconic about her childhood. At first the reader is confronted with a stinging kind of truth and the uncomfortable feeling that comes with it, but there's a sense of admiration at the same time. Georgina: ‘It’s been a much more honest family environment because you have never been dishonest with me. Dad doesn’t really say much so there’s no dishonesty there. [An ironic laugh] Yeah, I think a lot of families tried to hide things for so long – suddenly the truth comes out and all hell breaks loose. Our truth would come out and it would create very unpleasant moments, but it would only last a day or two days instead of three years because everything was hidden for so long. Life has been brutally honest from when I was young. That could have been good or bad but I think it’s turned out to be very good.’
 And there are those truths every parents tells their children now and then, knowing the child will forgot about them is as soon as he or she turns around the corner. Parents try to calm themselves.

Daughter Georgina says in 'Conversations': On the other side was the lesson of the day: don’t ever be dependant financially. Rely on yourself first. Don’t marry a man with crummy shoes. A woman must never seem in a hurry.’

Jennifer made the book for Georgina's 21st birthday, but also for herself, as a kind of reassurance and oath at the same time. The book is dedicated to the eight children that came from their earlier marriages. Every decision regarding the book is based on the number 3, the price is 999 € and it's printed in an edition of 999 copies.

The immaculate design is done by Irma Boom. And no matter what you may think as an outsider, Georgina speaks very lovingly when it comes to her parents. ‘Even though my mother was absent, she immortalized every day she was gone. She endowed me with her ability to observe, give detail and discover a good story, and gave me a love for history and perhaps unconsciously, for Russia.’
‘The book is yellow because it’s full of light and success!’ Jennifer says in an interview.

http://jamesjennifergeorgina.com