Wednesday, April 20, 2005


During my Residency in Sturovo, Slovakia, my husband send me the cultural supplements from Dutch newspapers now and then. This morning I read an old one. On the front page an article by the artcritic Anna Tilroe. The headline being “There is a major lack. The responsibility of artists in dificult times”. Among other things, Tilroe writes about the European soul and where it can be found: “the soul of Europe is incredibly rich, patterned and sensitive, heavy of visions of a possible, better world, impregnated by a sense of adventure and experiment, prepared to create space by throwing traditions overboard and expose moral dilemmas”......”.this sparkling soul is to be found in her art.” I read it carefully, pondering over her words. But not too long, since there is more to be read. A big article by the writer Benno Barnard, starting with the headlines saying European art doesn’t exist. “Forget Europe!”.... “Europe is our sublime combined invention, being part of the nominal reality of scholasticists, of the categories of “evil” or “beauty” ......... “why try to make European art?”.......”There are at least about fifty Europes, voila Europe”.
Here two persons speak. Two well known, intelligent persons. It might be a coincidence they are both published in the same newspaper at the same time. It might be not. As a reader I am asking myself: who is right? I tend to believe Benno Barnard but I am not sure if it is because I think he is right or because I won’t believe the opinion of somebody who titles her article “There is a major lack. The responsibility of artists in difficult times.”

Black is black and white is white. But what is the colour of the Danube? Is it blue? Is it grey? Is it colourless? I can tell you. On sunny days, when the water reflects the sky, it is blue. After the aprilrains, when the high water drops and takes earth and dirt with it, it is grey. And in fact it is colourless, since water doesn’t have a colour. But don’t put a gun to my head and force me to answer the question. You’d have to shoot me.
I started this article writing I am living in Sturovo, Slovakia, but a lot of my fellow citizens here life in Parkany, Hungary. When I enter a shop saying “Dobry den”, the shopemployees answer in Slovak, when I enter the same shop saying “Jo napod” they answer in Hungarian. I am sure. I live in Slovakia. When I look at the map there is no discussion possible. But what about the 88 year old man I was drinking some homebrewn liquor with the other day? He never moved in his life. He lived in the same house for 88 years. He was born in Hungary. So he is still living in Hungary. No discussion possible.
The new Hungarian-Slovak border was formed in 1920. Since there was a river, it was an easy job. The Danube became no mans land. Her left bank Hungarian, her right bank Slovak (facing west) or the other way around (facing east). Slovakia became Czechoslovakia. Bridges crossing the Danube were build and destroyed. Czechoslovakia split up in the Czech and the Slovak republic. The European Union came into being. Hungary, Czech and Slovakia joined. A new bridge was build crossing the Danube. In the middle of the Maria Valeria Bridge there is a line. Stand with one foot on one side and the other on the other side and you are in two countries at the same time.
I cross the bridge almost every day. I know I am entering another country because I have to show my passport. The patrolguards always study it carefully and always let me pass. I walk the bridge, enter Esztergom, I see the same cars, the same plants, the same cats, the same shops, the same people as on the other side. When I walk back I see a bridge, I see patrol guards, I see people showing their passports, but I don’t see a border. The border is invisible. It is colourless like the water in the Danube. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Maybe I don’t see a border because I’m not overly interested in politics. Borders are always political. And don’t get me wrong, I try to keep up with the political situation, I vote, I do my duty, but it is all merely a game, isn’t it? There is more to life than politics. Making art. Meeting 88 year old Slovaks. Walking in the Amsterdam Vondelpark. Or maybe there isn’t. Maybe life is politics. Living in a country with borders invented by politicians. Having the right to vote and this vote being used by political parties even if you don’t go to the polls. Buying groceries at the supermarket, the prices being determined by the economical situation which is inextricably wedded to the political situation.

In the same newspaper I found the two articles about art and Europe there is an article about the hiphopsinger Nelly. He talks about the language he and his friends use. How negative words get a positive meaning. “Pimp” meaning “friend”, “gangsta” meaning something is wonderful, “bad” meaning good. And there are more examples. Like “wicked” or “awsome”. Or in my own language the word “wreed” (cruel) meaning “te gek” (brilliant).
Lets face it: we live in a world where bad can be good and the other way around. A world where borders aren’t borders at all, a world where every european citizen has his own Europe. We live in a relative world. There are facts, I won’t denie that. In 1917 Sturovo was located in Hungary. In 2005 it is located in Slovakia. But what should we call the man who was born in 1917? And what should we call his son? There are a lot of answer to this question. Should we call them what they calls themselves? Should they call themselves what the politicians call them?

Living here, people ask me about life in Holland. They ask me what I like about being here and how it differs from Holland. I tell them I measure the things I encounter. On the one side of the balance is a Dutch event, experience, person, on the other side I put a similar Slovak event, experience, person. The balance always stays equal. The things are different but have the same weight. Do I prefer apples or chocolate? It depends. As a drink, I prefer apple juice, but at a party I prefer the chocolatecake over the applepie. In the morning I eat an apple for breakfast, with my coffee I eat chocolate.
For example. Things aren’t that efficient here. Things go slow. I hate that when my heatingsystem needs to be fixed. I love it when I don’t feel the pressure I feel in Amsterdam to get my duties done.

Apples and oranges. In Holland we compare apples and pears though. Anyway, in the supermarket in Sturovo you can get anything. Mango’s, kiwi’s, banana’s, lichees, rambutans, cockonuts, any fruit you want. It feels like shopping in the Albert Heijn in Amsterdam. It feels like shopping in the European Union. But only until I reach the checkout and have to pay an amount which is ridiculously low for a Dutch mind. Then it feels like shopping in the Slovak republic.
I could tell you I eat a kiwi every morning. I could tell you I eat a piece of fruit every morning. I could tell you I eat some food every morning. There is a difference, off course. But does it matter?

I can tell you I am a Dutch citizen. I can tell you I am a European citizen. I could even tell you I am a world citizen. But does it matter?

Naming the things is necessary to life our lives. Without names there is no order. Without order there is chaos. The human being can’t survive in chaos. That is why there is a country called Hungary and a country called Slovakia. That is why there is a continent called Europe. That is why there is a European Union. That is why there are writers and artists and artcritics and border patrol guards and hiphoppers and cats and bridges and rivers. And that is why there are borders.

There is something which Anna Tilroe calls Europe. I put it on the one side of the balance. There is a collection of fifty countries, the ones Benno Barnard mentions. I put them on the other side of the balance. Two different things. But they have the same weight. The balance stays equal.


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