Texts

By

László Krasznahorkai

Drifter Standing

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By

Ilja Leonard Pfeifer

Flying Dutchman

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By

Kristi Burman

Where and When?

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DRIFTER STANDING
By László Krasznahorkai

To accompany material exhibited by Balázs Kicsiny for the 51st Venice Biennale

 

We have to leave this place because it's not somewhere we can live or is worth staying in, because we must escape its impossible, unbearable, cold, sad, dreary, mortal weight, grab our suitcase, particularly the suitcase, two suitcases will do just fine, pack everything into them, click the locks, and dash to the shoe-shop where it's tap, tap, tap, on our soles and heels, and then more tapping, because it's boots we need, a pair of boots, above all else a good stout pair of boots and two suitcases, and that should do, that's enough to hit the road with, in so far as we know - since this is the first time we've been in this position - where precisely we are right now, and it needs talent to know that, empirical knowledge, not some vague sense of direction or a foggy notion deep in our hearts to decide where we happen to be, in the light of which knowledge we may choose the right path by instinct and as sure of our choice as if we had some peculiar decision-making instrument to hand, an instrument that informed us precisely where we stood in terms of space, that point being, in historical terms, at a particularly impossible, unbearable, cold, sad, dreary mortal intersection that we have to leave because it isn't a place where a man can find ways of living or remaining, a man at this treacherously marshy, worryingly dark point in space being utterly incapable of doing anything except declaring that it is time to go, to leave immediately, to set off without giving the matter a thought and not look back, keeping his eyes firmly on the road ahead, the road selected earlier, the one, naturally, that goes in the right direction, to choose which never seems in the least difficult, unless it turns out that this empirical knowledge, the unique instinct that helped identify the co-ordinates of this sad, mortal etcetera point in space, had simply said that that's how it would be under what they call 'normal circumstances', though that's simply the way it goes in particularly difficult situations such as ours, meaning we have to choose to set off either this way or that way from a certain point, in other words in either this or that right direction, it's just that there are circumstances, referred to as 'abnormal circumstances' when this instinct, this justifiably highly-regarded empirical knowledge, tells us that the direction we have chosen is good, and that therefore this or that decision is the right one, but, at the same time and according to the same instinct, that the contrary is also true, and that's how this condition of the drifter standing arises, for there he stands, a man with two heavy suitcases in his hand, in a pair of perfectly soled and heeled walking boots, and he could go right without being mistaken or left without being mistaken, and when this plain contradiction involving opposite directions seems a proper state of affairs to him, and all his instincts tell him he is right to believe this to be a proper state of affairs if for no other reason than that the act of weighing these two wholly contrary directions is subject to the power of desire inscribed within the sphere of empirical knowledge, in other words that the decision 'go right' is equal in value to the decision 'go left' because either direction promises uninterrupted progress towards the most distant, most desired location, a location that is as far away from here as it is possible to be, even though any attainable point in the given direction is no longer determined by instinct, empirical knowledge or indeed capacity, not by any of these things, not in the least, but by desire alone, a desire not only to locate oneself at the maximum distance from one's current situation but also at the point that promises most, where he may find the most complete reassurance, because reassurance is what this is all about, reassurance being what man is seeking in the desired distance, reassurance after the unspeakably oppressive, painful, insane anxiety that takes hold of him each time he considers his current situation which is the spot, that infinitely alien territory, he happens to occupy at present but must leave, because everything about it is impossible, unbearable, cold, sad, dreary and deadly, a spot from which he cannot move, not from his first arrival there to the moment of trauma, not once he realizes that he is truly traumatized, once he discovers his being is bound hand and foot, and is bound precisely because of his otherwise faultlessly functioning normal instinct that is pointing in two opposite directions at once and telling him to get going, that everything is fine, for how can one set off in two opposite directions at once, that is the question, and the question won't go away, so he remains in that spot as if had been anchored there like some rusty hulk and stands bent under the weight of his luggage, stationary, not moving an inch, and so, standing not moving an inch he tries to set off blindly in some direction, it is no longer important which, but moves not an inch, and yet he is miles away and has begun drifting in the land of the blind, for while he remains perfectly still in reality, his bent body, like a statue, lodged ever more firmly in the realm that no one leaves, his being is everywhere to be encountered, for he is visible night and day, known in America, acknowledged in Asia, recognized in Europe and in Africa as he drifts over mountains, down river valleys, as he moves and moves and never rests while drifting, not for a single night, only for an hour or two, and even then he sleeps lightly like an animal, like a soldier, and never asks anything nor looks at anyone too long, and people ask him, what are you doing you fool, where are you going with that mad look in your eyes, why don't you sit down and rest, close your eyes and spend the night here, but he does not sit down and does not rest because he doesn't stay the night or stay anywhere for any length of time, because he says, that is if he talks at all, that he has to be constantly moving and it's perfectly obvious that there was no point in the first place asking him where this forced march was headed, because he couldn't say anything, for he himself no longer knows what he might have known once, back then, when he was still standing there with two heavy suitcases in his hands about to set off into the land of the blind which is for him a land without roads, so he could never truly be said to be on the road to anywhere, and he looked like some pathetic ghost incapable of frightening anybody, and no one would have thought of scaring children with him, nor did anyone mumble his name in church praying he might not pass through town but simply shrugged whenever he appeared here or there, as if to say, here he is again, for he appeared time and again in America and Asia, time and again in Europe and in Africa, and people began to think he was going round and round in circles, circling the world like the hands of a clock and if his presence now and then seemed to be of significance, much as a pathetic ghost might be, by the time he came round the second, the third or the fourth time they simply shrugged and, frankly, no one was interested, and so the occasions on which they might have tried to ask him something, or offer him a place, or put out a dish of food out for him grew ever rarer, just as with the passage of time they grew ever more reluctant to receive him into their houses because who knows, they said among themselves, what all this adds up to, though it was clear that they had simply grown bored of him, terminally bored, since, unlike a clock, he did not indicate anything and signified nothing, and, what most disturbed the world, if the world was disturbed at all, was that this man, from beginning to end, had understood nothing, just kept walking and was worth nothing at all to anyone, and so it came to pass that one day, when his drifting in the world was no longer noticed at all, he disappeared, the stuff of which he was composed simply disintegrating and he was merely an absence in the world, which is to say they forgot him, though that did not mean, not for a second, that he had begun to vanish from the realm of reality because he very much remained there and was tirelessly moving between America, Asia, Africa and Europe and it was only that the connection between him and the world had been broken and so, being forgotten, that he had become invisible and this meant that he was eternally alone, which was the point at which he noticed, at certain points in his drifting, that there were other detached figures in the story, figures as detached as he was, figures very much like the image he would have seen in a mirror, which gave him a shock at first, and he quickly left the cities or regions in which he encountered them, though after a time he forgot to look away from these peculiar figures and began to examine them, seeking the difference between his features and theirs, but as time passed and fate brought him into contact with ever more of these detached drifters, it became ever clearer that their suitcases were just the same, as were their bent backs, the whole way they bore the weight and moved painfully forward down this or that direction, that they were all very similar, and soon enough not merely similar but truly detached in precisely the same way, right down to the boots with their new soles, and he also noticed one time he went into some large hall to get a drink of water, that the work on their soles was just as professional as on his, and the blood ran cold in his veins as he saw the entire hall was full of people exactly like himself, so he quickly drank his water down and left the town as soon as he could, and not only the town but the entire region, and never set foot there again, or indeed anywhere he thought or felt that he might meet such drifting figures, in other words he began to avoid them from that time forth and so remained terminally alone and his drifting lost its peculiar and insanely arbitrary quality but he still continued tirelessly, and a whole new era began in his drifting because he was sure that it was only by having made the decision to enter a maze, to squeeze himself into it, that he could avoid, as far as possible, detached figures like himself, and so it was only from this time onwards the dreams began, for he would sleep in wholly arbitrary places and at wholly arbitrary times, briefly and lightly, and in one of these rare brief and light bouts of sleep he began to dream as never before, dream precisely the same dream every time, a dream about the time of his drifting having come to an end, in which he saw a huge clock or wheel or some spinning mechanism, in any case that he had reached one of these or a combination of all of them, and he stepped into his clock, or into the wheel or into the mechanism, stopped at its very centre in the very same state of inexpressible exhaustion in which he had spent his entire life, fell to the ground as if he had been shot, keeled over like a collapsing tower, and lay on his side where he fell so that he might sleep at last like an animal worn to the bone with exhaustion, and the same dream began again every time he laid his head down in some quiet corner or found some berth, exactly the same dream time and time again, though he should have been seeing something completely different, if only he could raise his eyes, if only he could have raised the head that was constantly hanging through all those decades of drifting, because then he would have seen that he was still standing there with two suitcases in his hands, with those well heeled and soled boots on his feet, anchored to the small patch of ground on which he stood, so that he had no hope of ever moving from there because he had to stand there till the end of time, suspended between two perfectly correct directions, condemned to stand there till the end of time because this spot was his home, where he had been born, and where he had to die, his home that was so sad and so cold.

 

Translated by George Szirtes

FLYING DUTCHMAN
 
Balázs Kicsiny 
 
Hooglandse Kerk, Leiden, Holland, 2004                                                                                            
By Ilja Leonard Pfeifer
 

During the night of September 15th to 16th, 1867, the English freighter Lancester Pride, laden with sulphite, ran into a heavy storm on the way from Buenos Aires to its home port of Britain, about 350 nautical miles from the Azores, in the Atlantic Ocean. Captain Hucklefinn decided to deviate from the plotted course and take the storm head on, hoping in this way to survive the storm with the least damage and steer the Lancester Pride to calmer waters. He was at the helm on the bridge and visibility was poor. Suddenly, around midnight, he saw a ship looming on the tempestuous horizon. Later, having survived the ordeal, he would take note of this apparition and the ensuing events in his official log, as follows:

'At first, I thought my fatigue and the weather, making it almost impossible to distinguish fierce waves from furious sky, were playing tricks with my senses, but every time the Lancester Pride was lifted high above sea level on a mighty wave, giving me free view of the horizon, I again clearly saw what I thought I'd seen when hoisted onto the previous wave and in the deep valley between waves had tried to dismiss as an hallucination. It was an ancient frigate that had been out of commission for at least two centuries since the Dutch wars and that I only recognized from the nautical pieces by our excellent painters of the day. Despite the seething storm, the frigate charged on under full sail, some sailcloth torn to shreds, hanging down and flapping boisterously in the wind. It carried the orange-blue-white striped colours of the former Dutch republic. Just when I'd reached the conclusion this was no hallucination, but horribly real, the boatswain called out to me, waving his arms about wildly at the curious ship. The helmsman had seen it, too. "The Flying Dutchman," he wailed, "dear Lord have mercy on our souls, for we are doomed." And sure enough, over the howling of the storm, we heard the chilling moans of the doomed crew, the wretched souls that because of their captain had been doomed to sail the oceans without rest or mercy. It was the most horrible sound I had ever heard. At that very moment one of our ordinaries was knocked overboard by a cascading wave and there was nothing we could do to save him. "The Flying Dutchman has claimed its sacrifice," the helmsman said. "God willing, we shall remain unharmed." Although I am a down-to-earth, clear-minded and god-fearing man who seldom drinks, and am of good parentage and well-educated, I came to the conclusion that night that the Flying Dutchman is no myth, but really exists and that I'd gladly swear an oath on the Bible to that effect. When we had reached calmer waters, we thanked the Lord for our safe passage and paid fitting tribute to our unfortunate ordinary. Personally, I added a prayer of redemption and mercy for the doomed souls onboard the wretched ghost ship.'

There ends the official log-entry of captain Hucklefinn of the Lancester Pride, for the night of September 15 th to 16 th, 1867. His report is unique in its chilling details, but not in the phenomenon described. When studying logs, one finds various accounts of meetings with the doomed ghost ship Flying Dutchman through the ages, that appears every time heavy storms threaten a safe passage home. In 1783 it was seen by a Portuguese frigate in the Indian Ocean, not far off the coast of Madagascar. In the very same year, the Flying Dutchman also emerged in the Bering Strait close to a British man-of-war. In 1810 it was seen by the frightened crew of a French merchant vessel in the Baltic. And as recently as 1921 it appeared before incredulous cadets on an American training ship that had run into some rough weather off the coast of Haiti. Furthermore, there are probably hundreds of captains that encountered the so-called ghost ship and didn't live to tell the tale. The Flying Dutchman exists and during this damned night of September 24th to 25th, 2004, it will show itself again to scare unsuspecting, god-fearing people of good parentage, who are well-educated and seldom drink, to claim its sacrifice.

The story of the Flying Dutchman is easily told. It was sometime during the glorious years that Dutch ships ruled the oceans, that a Dutch galleon ran into a heavy storm. With the characteristic arrogance of Dutchmen of the day - and come to think of it, of the present - the captain cursed the storm: "Is this it? Do you call this a storm? Ha hah, you must be joking! The wind be damned!" The storm rose and the captain cursed God: "Is this it? Do you call this a storm? Ha hah, you must be joking! The creator be damned!" The storm continued to rise and the captain cursed the devil: "Is this it? Do you call this a storm? Ha hah, you must be joking! The devil be damned!" The storm suddenly subsided, as if by magic. The devil appeared on deck. "If you curse me," the devil said, "then I'll curse you in turn. You will be condemned to sail, to sail forever, sail forever across the world's seas and forever brave and curse their storms. Once every seven years the wind will die down and you will be permitted to go ashore. Once every seven years you will have the opportunity to find a woman who will be forever faithful. If you find her, you will be saved and the souls of you and your crew will be allowed to rest in peace. If you find her. But you won't find her, for eternal faithfulness does not exist among men and especially not among women!" The devil roared with laughter and vanished in the fog. Then the heaviest storm rose that the captain had ever witnessed and from that moment on he has been sailing the world's seas for centuries, braving the storms with curses, while his crew wails chillingly, for he has never found eternal faithfulness, as eternal faithfulness does not exist among men and certainly not among women.

In its cursed restlessness the Flying Dutchman is a shining example to the romantic artist, who out of some arrogance towards creation and the devil is condemned to forever roam the tempestuous seas of his imagination. As with the damned captain, the romantic artist is essentially only looking for a sense of peace and security in love, in a cosy little house in the country, somewhere peaceful with flowery curtains and a table lamp, a purring cat and a Lada 1100 on the drive, but as in the seaman's case he will, every seven years, after a windless night, be forced to continue his quest through desolate places unknown to mere mortals, as he realizes what no mortal man realizes: that eternal faithfulness is not found among men.

Ladies and gentlemen, while the storm is rising outside, we are gathered in Leiden's Hoogland church at this ungodly hour, in which nothing is as it seems and anything may happen, to celebrate the unveiling of this impressive installation by renowned Hungarian artist Balázs Kicsiny. This work of art, which has already garnered praise in various parts of the world, bears the title 'The Flying Dutchman' and is now shown in the Netherlands for the first time. This exhibition has been organized within the framework of the 'Gallery and Studio Route' of the Centre for the Visual Arts (CBK) in the city of Leiden and also forms part of the nationwide project 'Hungary-on-Sea' (Hongarije aan Zee), which, from now until December, will highlight Hungarian art in its many facets, displayed in museums, galleries, theatres and cinema clubs all over the Netherlands. Leiden University has also contributed to this project.

What you are about to see will shock you. Nineteen sailors have been washed up in this church. It is the nineteen-strong crew of the Flying Dutchman. They have been damned. Their limbs have become fused with the sea. They have been constructed from the cursed ship's rigging. Their longing for the anchorage they will never find emanates from their sleeves, trouser legs and collars. And if you listen carefully, you will hear the chilling wails that so frightened good captain Hucklefinn of the Lancester Pride during the night of September 15 th to 16 th, 1867. And if what we think is true, that artist Balázs Kicsiny is in fact their captain, then let us pray that tonight's storm does not die down and that he will be cursed to roam the seas of his magnificent imagination forever more.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am greatly honoured to declare this exhibition, 'The Flying Dutchman' by Balázs Kicsiny, open.

 

translated into English by Willem Groenewegen

 
Where and When?

 

Balázs Kicsiny

 

Tallinn Art Hall Gallery, 2008

 
By Kristi Burman

Go, set a watchman,

Let him declare what he sees.

 

Someone from silence keeps calling to me,

Watchman, what is left of the night?

Watchman, what is left of the night?

The watchman says,

Morning comes, but also night.

If you would ask, then ask,

Return, come.

 

(Isaiah 21:6, 11–12)

 

Throughout time watchmen have heard the voice calling from silence. The urgent question ”when does the night end?” from the text written almost three thousand years ago addresses us at the moment we call the present. When? A request to know the limit of time, a stop in its flow – in hope that a suffering might end. What would the answer be?

How is time measured here? Watchmen stand at their posts, indicating crossing directions. The very presence of these figures leads the viewer into a dimension where the habituary spatial relations will be challenged and directions obtain a new meaning. Standing in their proximity is a process of gradual opening to their presence in space and time.

It is not primarily a question of translating this silent presence into explicable symbolic constructions as interpretation models for these artworks. They seem not to respond to any attempts of explanations that emphasize merely the symbolic meanings of their components in a firm belief that if one has established connections between these symbols, the artwork will be correctly solved as a puzzle.

Some drawings and paintings, colours and visible lines of thoughts have gradually lead to the emerging of these statues, with palpable presence and space of their own. The watchman has many shapes – a priest, a traveller, a captain or a fireman. They appear in the gallery situated upon the charged area of borderzone, adjoining the now partly invisible medieval city wall behind the building, the area in between the city wall’s two perished gates. Certainly in a town where new buildings rapidly transform the previous structures, people are not constantly aware of the earlier constructions that have become invisible. And yet in dimensions like these one should not underestimate the memory of the places themselves where time is consolidating into charged formations that meet the presence of these artworks at a different level. The watchman’s figure has for centuries belonged to the image of the border: someone has to remain awake even by the invisible city gates.

”Return, come” when you can be alone with the work, approach the statues, meditate upon details, e.g. the special form and size of the cross-staffs as means for navigation. For they are travellers, a shift of watchmen visible here only for a short while.

Look in the faces of the statues, ”in the face as the memory of itself”, as Derrida says. There is a shadow, a veil, a cover to protect the beholder’s eyes from confronting a face of light. Our eyes would not manage to see too bright light. It is not the absence of the face but a face as light. In some cases, the faces are being covered as to protect the face itself from the heat of the light. We are expected to trust the covered faces, knowing that the watchmen are present as a preparation to the coming, wholly unpredictable event.

The anticipation of this event announces itself in a subtle way, by diagonal angles in the paintings, by painted flames and the heat inside the radiator tubes that as if by themselves suddenly rise upwards in a cathedral, binding together into crossings and crosses – a movement also constantly present in the patterns of squares. Were the bright yellow tubes to indicate a local transport detail of the present city, the colour would instead be dark grey. Kandinsky described bright yellow colour as if floating beyond its borders, approaching the beholder. The energy intermediated by the yellow tubes, the light and the painted flames radiates through space and time. We may hope that the process of its ”energein” would bring us closer to the shattering event in which the questions where and when remain beyond the amazing answer.

Kristi Burman