241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

We hadn’t even finished our desserts when he asked it. It was a question that seemed to have come out of thin air. I couldn’t believe that this sentence rolled from his lips like any other sentence. I didn’t know what to reply. Instead, I posed my date the same question. ‘What is your top three of favourite animals?’ Without hesitation, he summed up his favourite animals. For me, it was clear. There would not be a second date.

Even though the proverbial spark between the man in question and I didn’t occur, he continued to resurface in my mind now and then because of this peculiar question. I was bothered that he so readily answered this question to which I had no reply. I started to bother others with the same question. Many reacted like I did, in exactly the same order: first surprise, then disbelief, and at last frustration because of their inability to answer. Do none of us have favourite animals in life?

Even if I look at it more generally, I hardly have favourites. No favourite band, colour, food or film. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I go through a phase of immense appreciation for a dish or musician, but for a while now I have been very careful in using the word ‘favourite’ in this context. The realisation that my preferences are temporary prevails.

The whole idea of a favourite seems to have disappeared out of sight. The word ‘disappeared’ is not randomly chosen, because as a child I seemed to know exactly what I found cool and what I found dumb. Exactly.

How could it be that I was formerly so apt at listing my top faves and am now so hesitant to call something ‘my favourite’? This probably has to do with the limited information that you have at your disposal as a kid, in comparison to what you learn and know about later in life. As a child, the world seems to be encompassed within everything you know – your reality is the only reality. At a young age, you’re unaware of the limitations of your knowledge. Precisely the limited knowledge and information enable everything that you know to be simply divided into good or bad. The world is still black and white. As you get older, newer colours are added. Knowledge is accumulated and slowly you learn that there are countless elements in the world that are preferred or despised. There is so much information available that it is hard to distil favourites. Moreover, you find out that preferences also change quickly.

Maybe I should not have written my date off as a weirdo, but seen him as someone who is closer to his inner child than I am.

Vibration Mirror
Water sculpture
chromed polyurethan or polished aluminium
60 x 40 cm

Studio Fredrik Skåtar

This text concluded a lecture by Maartje Wortel in which she examines the concept of the autobiography and questions its existence.

In 1926, Luigi Pirandello wrote the novel One, No One & One Hundred Thousand. The first page of the story tells of the protagonist whose wife lets him know that his nose is slightly crooked. This fact, a characteristic of his physical appearance, is completely new to the protagonist. He was never aware of his nose being slightly crooked. From this day forwards, everything is completely different because it he realised that the way he saw himself is very different from the way that others saw him.

Scene from Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas

The protagonist, Moscarda, says:

The idea that the others saw me as one who was not I as I knew myself, one whom they could only know through watching me from outside with eyes that weren't mine, giving me an appearance fated to remain always an outsider’s to me, though for them it was inside me, mine, (a “mine” therefore that didn’t exist for me!); a life which, though for them it was mine, I couldn’t penetrate: this idea allowed me no peace.

How could I bear this outsider inside me? This outside that I was for myself? How could I remain forever doomed to carrying him with me, inside me, visible to others and beyond my vision?

What Pirandello is saying is that we attempt to give form to ourselves. Even though this might be very ambiguous, and maybe it’s not even very important. Through Pirandello, we could also conclude that the autobiography can’t possibly exist because the other always sees things differently. In one of Barbara Visser’s works, she introduces herself during a lecture as Barbara Visser, after which another woman enters the stage and also claims to be Barbara Visser. She says the first woman is an actress. When the third Barbara Visser makes her entrance, she too claims the other Barbaras to be actresses. It’s impossible to know who the real Barbara is and her very existence is brought into question. In the 2001, the Dutch newspaper NRC wrote that she not only wants to create confusion and to trump the viewers, but also to make use of reality, switching back and forth between different truths in order to question clichés, and to jolt the frameworks that we have accepted as truth.

The wonderful thing about art is that it allows you to escape from your very self. By making it, by looking at it, or by reading it. And I would gladly recommend it to all of you. And by that, I mean to assume as many faces all at once and to explore as much as you can. Especially in this day and age, where the Internet makes it more difficult to escape from yourself and to assume another identity.

Scene from Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas

We tend to think that it’s getting easier. But all your details are in the open. Thanks to platforms like Facebook, we’re increasingly profiling ourselves, a development that governments and corporations are all too eager to make use of. This is why I make my case for fantasy and imagination. You can be whoever you want to be, you can cross borders, you can play around with your identity. Seeing who you are? Someone else can do that for you. Even if you’d prefer not to be looked at.

Of course you all have to decide for yourselves who you are and which way of working is best suited to you. Because even if you’re making autobiographical work, you probably won’t see things as they really are. As we’ve just seen, we don’t all see ourselves with the same eyes as the other.

This is why I’d like to close with a quote from the writer David Foster Wallace, from a lecture published in book form: This is Water.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”