Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My Residency in Amsterdam: Connection and Discovery and Stillness

Back in the 90's -- my art school days in den Haag -- I went over to Igor's flat just so he could give me some tapes he'd made. Good music to take home and feel. Igor Sevcuk walked himself to freedom from the war in Bosnia, leaving family and history and horrors behind. I think maybe we saw a similar brokenness in each other but we were utterly different. While my need to process my past makes me loud, Igor seems to live on a quiet, flat plain, processing and processing and processing. His mind and creations are full of contemplation. And out of this comes a kind of full-force storyline, like a chugging steam engine heading down the tracks, slowly but fast enough you can't let go. His art is captivating, and always leaves me wanting to understand. With his understated creativity he has been a recipient of the Prix de Rome, and he now runs the Goleb artist centre in Amsterdam with his equally fascinating, thoughtful, and generous partner, Go-Eun Im.

Igor and my husband, Markus at Goleb Project Space.
When I arrived for my residency at Igor and Go-Eun's art centre, I was amazed and delighted to discover that the whole of Project Goleb, which is housed in an old school building, echoed with the same quiet, tentative presence that I know of Igor. My husband and I settled into the residency studio and got to work with Igor, measuring and planning and talking. My usual work ethic is to quickly take stock of my situation, dig deep into my topic through interviews and endless mental planning, sketch up a working physical plan, and then work my butt off without any rest or break until I collapse. Not probably the healthiest way to work, and utterly opposed to the way things seem to go in Igor's world. To say it was a stretch for me to adapt to such an understated way of living and creating would be an understatement!! But it was clearly the modus operandi for all the artists working in the centre, so I had to change.

One day I spent over five hours walking and busing around Amsterdam with my husband (diligent, patient hero of an assistant), looking for the right fabric for the installation we were creating. The constant drone of the cars in the street, the relentless hammering of urban construction on a floodplain, the mill-like humming of people in the various markets we visited - it all felt so numbing and calming. Like a heavy blanket. Igor called my cell phone while we were out and I ducked into an insurance office so I could hear his gentle voice over the din of the street. The employees calmly but firmly pushed me off the premises as I strained to hear him, shuffling back out onto the street, hand cupped around the phone and my ear, the other waving apologetically. I began to feel like I was being bumped around like a stray dog in a crowd, hardly noticed but constantly on the move. I began to wonder if maybe the difference in energy between me and Igor is more a question of urban vs. rural living than anything else. But I got used to it.

We worked, visited, and experimented together and by the time the installation was up I could see my art had changed. Have I changed? The voices of people I had interviewed filled the room with a kind of encompassing drone. The sheets hung limply in the dark, and people who visited didn't laugh and play as they have in previous installations I've done. They stood still and contemplated. They stood among those sheets all quiet and wondering. Some told me later that they left with a feeling of thoughtful stillness. Still, in Dutch, means silent.

It's amazing to discover that I can change so easily, and to discover that I can still create, even in circumstances and emotional states that are new to me. Now that I'm home, I wonder if my work will change in general, or has it always been just a reflection of my surroundings at the time? Thank you, dear Igor, for your enormous contribution to art and humanity, for this residency and the time to spend getting to know you and Go-Eun. Thanks for opening more doors and eyes and hearts. May we continue to find connection.