Friday, 6 March 2009
Wednesday 4th March
I had the enormous good luck that Moniek Darge wanted to come to Brussels with me for the beginning of the exhibition. There is no particular opening event in Brussels, because it didn’t really fit in with what Le Off were doing (there will be an opening event in Ghent). So it was a quiet beginning, but having Moniek’s boundless enthusiasm there made all the difference. She helped me with the last finishing touches and stayed to welcome the first few visitors. She talks to everyone, listens to everyone, and – implicitly, by example – gave me a crash course in how to make people interested in an exhibition. Instinctively I’d just pretend not to be there, give people space to look or not look at the work as they choose. (I don’t usually talk to attendants in museums or galleries when I’m the one visiting, beyond a hello or a smile or whatever basic courtesy seems to require. I prefer to be left on my own to look around so it hadn’t really occurred to me that other people might not want the same).
Each of Moniek’s music boxes has its own story, which she tells to everyone who comes through the door. The stories have given me a ‘way in,’ a way to approach the visitors. People have been in and out all day but I’m too shy, I’d rather hide behind my computer in the corner typing this than talk about the exhibits. I have to force myself to be open, which does not come easy. (What a phrase, forcing oneself open. It’s more or less accurate.)
Stuck in the room, inside the exhibition, I find inevitably that I am an exhibit myself. People look curiously at me, and often they want to talk. They want to tell me about an artist they saw in Korea who did such-and-such, about the need for art during an economic crisis, what a tiring day they’ve had. I don’t think I’ve had any direct questions about individual works yet, although I have had a couple about the exhibition as a whole, and a few discussions of the work where people seemed to want me to volunteer information. There’s a whole printout with each poet’s statement and biography, but nobody wants that. I’ve exhibited work before and had people come up to me and say “this is shit, this means nothing,” or “I like this one” – I haven’t had any of that today. People have asked factual questions, such as where the artists come from, but tended not to express opinions.
Three kids (Salma and Latifah, aged about 10 perhaps, and Zakarias who was maybe six or seven) asked great questions. How did you find all these things? Did the poets just give them to you? Why do you only use difficult things? (I asked Zakarias what he meant, but he wasn’t bothered by the ‘difficulty’ of the works – he just thought it would have been easier just to use sticky tape to attach the works instead of fussy little pins and photo corners.) Zakarias wanted to spell his name with the Lunar Baedeker. We couldn’t find all the letters but it was more fun anyway to make them out of the other objects (a crayon and a bent flower stem makes a K, the I looks cool with a bead on top). Latifah didn’t think the Ocean Music Box made the sound of the sea, but Salma made the sound of crashing waves for her. And the girls understood Sharon’s Braille poem without me having to explain. Once I’d asked them if they knew what the little dots inside the frame were, they were totally there: they got the point of the glass, the hammer, and what it meant to write the name of a colour in Braille.
Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaafuck! A SWAT team just crashed my expo. It was cool, they were lovely. The French Community Minister of Culture is coming over at seven and Mr Big Anorak and Mr Walkie-Talkie just came to check I wasn’t hiding any riot grrls in my teacups. Mais non messieurs, ici on est toutes gentilles.
A man just told me that what people look for in a time of crisis is the ephemeral. I’d have thought the opposite, but it’s an interesting idea.
There’s a language barrier. My French is rustier than I thought. In Brussels, which is bilingual in theory and mainly French-speaking in practice, I’m supposed to provide all the information in both French and Dutch, although Le Off haven’t bothered with Dutch. I thought I could get away with English, which is less politically loaded than opting for only one of the official languages. It would be fine in Flanders. Here people are like ‘ooooh, no, I can’t speak English.’ I realise I’m spending so long understanding the words of what people are saying in French that I have no attention to spare for a response. For example I didn’t ask the ‘ephemeral’ guy why he thought that. I’m not sure if I could phrase it as a genuinely curious question, rather than implicit disagreement/censure.
When I’m here, sitting among poems made by my favourite peers and surrounded by echoes of their hopes and well-wishes, I’m happy. When I get home, all kinds of doubts creep in. What if the exhibition is shit? What if things that inspire me leave everyone else cold? Has anyone who came in here today gone away with something worthwhile? Does it … um … matter?
There is something in this room. Maybe only the tiniest thing. Part of it is Maja’s inspired placing of boxes and photographs. But there’s more than that, although I don’t know if people have the patience to find it. I am discovering it as I go along, ever since I started getting parcels through the door at the beginning of February, and I suspect there still lots more to find. There is a photograph of the phrase “shall not damage it’s silver” caught in a cobweb on barbed wire. There is an interaction between Michelle’s tiny objects and a glass dome. Three recipes for cooking human hearts, suitable for a candlelit dinner. Alixandra’s teabags, which attract everyone’s attention. Silke’s funny vagina poem. The veiled door in the corner.