Operatic stillness

By Simone Zeefuik

Notes on a loving, part 1. For Jeanine van Berkel, whose imagination and kindness inspire me.

It’s exactly because she’s not looking at anyone that I know we’re seen. Not watched but understood in our desires to see ourselves in the sceneries of the cities that we’re part of. She inspires me in these considerations that have been heavily on my mind: I’m in need of our visibility to not depend on our physical presence. And, I long for a visibility that’s centered around a recognition that actually brings us joy. Or at least a soothing, a relief that doesn’t require or remind us of a wrecking.

For this gentleness to happen in the form of a four metres tall ode to our moments of rest and our interior lives, that’s a loving. Moments Contained, the work of British sculptor Thomas J Price that will be installed on the square in front of Rotterdam’s Central Station, is a loving. There’s a softness to her. Part of it has to do with the intentional choices with regards to material and form, yes. But, there’s also her vibe of easing, a settling into self that’s both focused and flowing. The serenity with which she looks both beyond the viewer and inwards makes me think about Stillness. Hers, ours.

She’s part of my reconsidering and rethinking of Stillness as matters of space. And, how powerful it is to create these spaces in the midst of chaos. Or, as Toni Morrison taught us, as a response to it. Seeing Moments Contained, this beautiful praise to pause, in a space that’s so synonymous to sound, busyness and haste, is poetic. It’s a beauty we often miss or rush past because we have been made to believe that stillness is a waste of time rather than a part of it. Relearning to not just value our sounds and to also recognize ourselves when we’re not presented in a spectaclized forms, requires imagination.
Often, we need something to build our imagination on, so bless the hearts of artists who, when considering how to portray us, choose our Quiet. Decisions like this require vision and care. And, tenderness because even without her plinth, it takes more than craft and an eye for carefully laid baby hairs to make a four meter tall girl represent relatability. Especially if that relatability is a subtle, ever so clever method to not just critique, but to refuse these Eurocentric links between scale, materials, form and importance. With Moments Contained, Price offers us ourselves in one of my favourite forms of rest: unbotheredness.

Because of his intentional decision to offer us very few codes to contextualize her, she’s a nod to the perhaps. A speculation. We can’t even be sure of what it is she’s doing. At first consideration, I imagined her to unclench her fists. It reminded me of an Instagram post about loosening our shoulders, lowering them and not pressing your tongues to the roof of your mouths. I forgot the source but recall the lesson and every so often, when I find myself trying to exhale towards relaxation, I’m reminded of these instructions. Maybe we see her in the moment right after that realization and in the midst of easing. Then again, perhaps she just snapped her fingers.
Try it: right after the snap the hand curls into what looks like a fist. Maybe that’s what’s happening. Perhaps her thoughts drifted her along a sonic soothing. And maybe, as she thought about what the work of Romana Vrede and Adison dos Reis taught her about belonging she remembered the sounds of Benjamin Clementine and Césaria Évora. It could very well be that, as her mind’s ear smoothed his operatic voice towards her heart-movin’ Morna, she remembers Lorraine Hansberry’s note about a classical people deserving a classical art and as a co-sign she *snapped*.

The plethora of possibilities offered through Moments Contained shows us that with his sculpture, Thomas J Price offers us a work that is both art and artist. Whoever people imagine her to be and whatever they think she’s doing, says a lot about the person who’s watching at her. Those who are not concerned with the ways how folks who they find irrelevant are looking at them, become spotlights.” When you don’t engage with someone’s urge to turn you into a spectacle, you redirect that focus they tried to put on you right back unto their faces. The circus they tried to build now turns into a one-person clown show because why on Wangari Maathai’s earth are they getting so worked up about this?
For example: when you’re asked to smile but you don’t, there’s a disruption. When you’re asked to behave according to certain social codes that promise very specific forms of comfort and you don’t, something changes. When you think statues are about status, grandeur and value… and you believe that the honour of your awe must never be bestowed upon a young, Black woman wearing casual clothing and sneakers… yet she still appears, refusing to give you even a fraction of the attention that she put into those baby hairs… mad things rearrange.

These shifts, no matter how humble or massive, inform us. About others, about ourselves… More than carefully phrased intentions or whoever we hope we are, these changes tell us something about our abilities to connect to each other. They’re information. Which gives Moments Contained its double role of art and artist, sculpture and creator of psychological portraits based on people’s world views.

Our daily experiences are cluttered with distractions. Cookies, clickbait and other ways of grasping for attention, sure. But, I’m specifically talking about these distractions that, as Toni Morrison once analysed, keep us explaining our reasons for being. I’m curious to experience how the installation of Moments Contained will impact our senses of belonging. And, I wonder about hers. I look forward to seeing what the organisations involved in her placing her at the square in front of Rotterdam Centraal Station put together for her installation ritual. Her homecoming, if you will. I wonder what, to them, matches Stillness. Hers, ours.

My ceremony would include a sixtysomething, soprano singing, Cape Verdean aunt and Pelumi Adejumo. They would both be dressed in Marga Weimans’ reimaginations of Moments Contained’s outfit. I’d invite them to stand on a 2,5 metre high installation across from, but not too close to our new Rotterdammer. There, as we’d gather in between them, I’d let the three reimaginations of our Quiet cross their representation of our unbotheredness. That. Four metres above our heads and as close as we imagine that to be, that would be my welcome. A sonic settling of the possibilities we represent. A homecalling. A loving.

Publicatiedatum: 22/06/2023