On excursion with Lotte van den Berg
Date: April 2, 2018
Travel time: 5 minutes bicycle, 1 hour delay for cancelled train, 125 minutes train
Meeting time: 4 hours
Reading time: 5 minutes
My name is Marouf. I am a boy. I was born nine months ago in the Dutch town of Vlaardingen. In 2060 I will be an adult. I will be 43 years old. I will have a job and a home of my own. But first I have to grow. I will look and listen and learn and dream. I am a thing.
Today I am part of the Parliament of Things. I didn’t choose to be here. Somebody invited me. I am in the company of the earth and the sun and a nice brilliant can with toxic sludge. We sit together on a hill on the beach. Water and wind are there too. And fish and shells and worms. And more Things that are part of the Parliament.
I get bored being a little boy. I am the industry now, looking out over this beach from the harbour of Rotterdam. The boy is sitting here right next to me now. As industry I feel more comfortable to take part in the Parliament. But still I feel very close to the boy that used to be me. We are kin.
We both want to grow and earn money and have a place of our own. We know how to dream of a better world. We make worlds. We look and learn and dream. We believe in the power of the earth and the sun and the water. They are there for us. We like this place where we can be heard, where we can make things believe in us, make things believe in a better man made world.
We got here by bus. The bus left in front of the Rotterdamse Schouwburg on Easter Monday at 2.30 pm. On the bus, a gentle man from Rotterdam – his name is Andre – traces the history of the city.
1940 (2.40 pm): Hofplein was still polder. 1970 (2.50 pm): the A20 highway is brand new but will become something else soon, when the Rotterdam Ring will be moved a few kilometres further. 1970 (3 pm) is also when the Maasvlakte was reclaimed from the sea. 1980 (3.10 pm): the new harbour. 2000 (3.20 pm): Europoort – more land reclaimed from the sea to expand the harbour. 2015 (3.30 pm): we arrive at Rotterdam Beach where Andre, with his friends from Observatorium, built a sculpture: Zandwacht. This is where the Parliament of Things will gather.
Zandwacht sounds like an echo on Rembrandt’s Nachtwacht (Night Watch). Translate it as Sand Watch: an observatory for the sand. The sculpture follows the movement of the sand. In 2060 this will be a new dune, completely covered by sand. Unlike the boy and the industry, Zandwacht will not grow but get smaller, until it disappears. It has something of a ruin, like in 19th century romanticism: something left behind on the beach. Or of a skeleton: archaeologists in a thousand years may wonder what kind of animal once lived in these dunes. But in fact it is part of the man made world, called “Rotterdam”.
Andre says they found a tooth of a saber tiger on the beach. The sand to create this beach was dredged from the North Sea. The North Sea is 9000 years old. Before that there were tigers in Rotterdam. The tooth becomes one of the things in the Parliament.
Lotte van den Berg invited the tooth. Lotte also organises this Parliament. Together with artist Daan ‘t Sas she developed Building Conversation, a project where the conversation itself becomes a piece of art.
The Parliament of Things is part of Building Conversation. The Parliament is inspired by the ideas of French philosopher Bruno Latour. In 1991 Latour published a book, We have never been modern. For Latour, modernity never took place because we never succeeded in separating culture from nature. Humans still are part of nature, just like things in nature also have culture. Latour learns us to understand that humans share this world with many: animals, plants, objects and other humans.
The Parliament of Things is a space where humans learn to talk as things and to listen to things. It is an ongoing work. In 2015, during COP21 in Paris, Latour simulated together with a group of students an alternative summit where not only nations, but also oceans, the atmosphere, endangered species, the internet, young people or climate refugees are represented.
Later this month the Embassy of the North Sea will open in The Hague. Lotte will be there too. I will meet Lotte again in June, when she will present a new work – Tide – on the island of Terschelling in the north of Holland. Something to look forward to.
And in the mean time I also went to another port city – Hamburg – where I met Sibylle Peters and Armin Chodzinski and to Lyon, where I met Thierry Boutonnier, who was a student of Latour and who talks to the animals on his parents’ farm. He really does that. More soon.