The following text has been written as an opinion piece on part of the Graduation Show of the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, July 2017.
"In fact, after 10 years together, just one-third of couples report saying the words at all.”
How Often Do You Say "I Love You"? By Jillian Kramer
I wanted it to be different this time. I wanted to see a change and it didn’t disappoint. Walking up the stairs, preparing my descent - the best way to view a show is from the top down -, the first things that hit me were the empty spaces. This year, while building up the Graduation Show at the Rietveld Academie a record number of failures were recorded and documented through sheer absence. Rumour has it, half of the students from one particular department didn’t pass the year in the most glorious of ways. One day before the public opening, they were unceremoniously asked to remove their works. So now, if you were to grace the hallways you’d notice closed rooms, no shows, absence. You’d think it was a statement, but no text accompanied the lack. The students didn’t comment, the silence though was deafening. You’d wonder also about the ones remaining. Those were also less than the year before. A trend?
And then there was the speech of Valentijn Byvanck from Marres Centre of Contemporary Art in Maastricht, on July 5th, in the backyard of the Rietveld, around 16:00 PM, when the show opened. It talked about autonomy. It talked about caring and going out into the world, being generous with your offering as an artist, opening up. I wonder, did he know? And did you need a diploma in order to do it?
On the first floor, she scrolled through her phone and handed it to me from afar.
‘Do you have a password for a Het Parool subscription?’ she asked. She being Sophie Serber, 24-year-old rising Rietveld graduate from the Fine Arts department, guardian of a room filled with Albert Heijn peanut butter, DEEN tapestries and an audio piece in which her mother, a writer, dissected her past. ‘They wrote this review about me, but I can’t read it at all. Also, it’s in Dutch.’ She rushed to a friend who promptly provided her with the much-needed password with which she skimmed through the article and I tried to decipher for her just how much of the piece went on about her, and about whom else it did. Two other names graced the review, but it was Sophie’s name which covered more than a column and a half out of three. ‘(insert name of local gallery owner) also passed by and wants to have me in a show.’
She’d won at this already.
Five minutes later I moved on.
I sat down. I’m in room 108 of the old building of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. It’s July 6th, 2017. I’ve chosen a wooden bench. In front of me: a couple. Their back and forth reassures me that I understand the setting.
DO you love me?
Yes, I love you.
Do you love ME?
I love you TOOOOO.
It strikes me that I know them. I know him at least. He used to be my teacher. But even if I didn’t know him, I could still feel in his manner of being that he is at ease, that he belongs there and that he belongs with her. So, I assume. It’s easy to strip away the layers. Too easy maybe, which makes me restless and I wonder how we all got there. I try to trace back how I came into this room, getting annoyed about the need to isolate performances in neat little cubicles or about the incessant want of adding a precise framing of time to them: a start and an end. From 12:00 to 19:00. You’d think these things are nothing but a slice of life. And then what point is there in declaring love in front of others? A title of the performance: „Really? More More More”. At times even an artist which is present in the room: Antrianna Moutoula.
Do YOU love me?
Yes, I love you.
Do you LOVE me?
I love YOU too.
She puts cups and a pot on the table for the couple, but never introduces herself. She told me before she let the piece begin, that she works in a restaurant, she makes her money as a waitress. She’s often there, on the other side of an intimate exchange and of a couple performing itself, but never intervenes.
YES, I love you.
I LOVE you too.
She always watches from the side.
To say she started the work today though would be a mistake. She didn't trigger it. The couple I’m listening to has been going through the same motions for years now. You can feel it in their exchange. Even so, before they start they ask for directions. The tone of voice they should use, the interruptions, the pace, the overall intensity, small stage cues which I’m not really supposed to be listening to, but I do because I came there too early.
She rips a tea satchel open.
I love you.
These are people with lives outside these walls and watching them I feel weak at the knees, vulnerable, just how I should be, so I don’t stay long. The performance lasts an hour, but by the 10th minute, I leave.
Scripts. Scores. Speakers. Performers. Tripping on a breadstick. Knocking over a bowl of water. Seven acts, but it could go on forever. The play gets repeated and looped: ‘But then we had to present it for the grad show and I had to stop.’
I sit down again. This time I’m in room 120 of the old building of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. Next to me there’s Linnea Langfjord Kristensen and she speaks, but her piece doesn’t. It starts in two hours and it’s called „A sound play/ A play on sounds. Something familiar fills me up”. The thing with performances is that you’re always somehow in between them, always very much outside of them as well.
She works ‘with the gap between a word and the actual execution of a word,’ she tells me, while I’m left wondering what she’s thinking in between the tiny gaps of each sentence that I hear. I ask if a word even exists in that gap, what is it if it’s not written or spoken?
She swiftly replies: ‘Can I think about it and let you know later because I get confused if I get interrupted.’
So, what is a written word and what is a spoken word? But even so, you can tell that in between the two there is the possibility for a glitch to happen, which creates meaninglessness in the traditional sense of the word. A ‘what the fuck is she saying’- kind of situation, which surely I’ve experienced, confusion, but also the powerful freedom of knowing in that moment that nothing can be defined by pre-established ideas or values, that you can’t quite say what’s right anymore.
So, there’s a script in the room, a score, some speakers, performers animating the piece, but with each performative iteration they change: ‘The script, the score, the speakers, the performers animating the piece.’ Repeat and differ.
The reason we attribute meaning to things is to make sense of the world, to get a grasp of the world. Imagine you’d find it though, this understanding of a glitch in meaning. Dare then to appropriate freedom and run away with it.
You’d only have to answer the simple question of: but where?
‘There’s death and the void and everything in between that we’re afraid of, only to take it as such would mean that they all could be instantly turned around. If anything is meaningless than nothing can be defined by pre-established ideas. Nothing can be pinned down, therefore escaping definition.’
‘Kinda,’ she adds.
There’s in between space in this show, there’s life continuing and there is an audience performing. As I walk out, I take the layers of the works with me and see them in other bodies and in relation. Her shirt lifts and as it does a breast enters an open hungry mouth. I see the work seep through like milk. At first, the baby coughs once, then he grabs on. She lifts her gaze and manages to meet mine. We both meet in a shared smile. The works continue. It’s all that one can hope for.
I take the phone out of my bag, slide it open and look through my “Recents”. He’s there, he’s under “Home" and I dial through.
‘I’m almost done for today.
It felt a little bit empty.
Meet you at 17:00?
See you soon.
I love you!’