Holland

by Norman Fischer | February 21, 2005 at 7:41 PM

February 21, 2005. The Hague, Netherlands

A very long flight here. About twenty-four hours journey, though it is hard to tell whether twenty-four hours is actually twenty four hours when you are speeding faster than the clock ordinarily measures the earth's organized journey around the sun. The whole body wonders what time it actually is. Our son Noah picked us up at the airport in Amsterdam and we journeyed here by train. I am always astonished at how civilized Europe is. America is so rough by comparison, in every sense of the word. We passed suburban areas, neatly arranged, with people living quite close together in appartment complexes, and lots of open space around the inhabited areas. Canals defining open fields under a fuzzy gray sky. In America everyone wants his own piece of God's earth. And the right to stretch out on it and mess it up as he sees fit. I have always felt there was something supremely odd about the idea of "owning land." (You think you own the land but in the end you are buried in it; so who own who?) 

Cold, with some rain and sleet. Today we visited Panorama Mesdag, where Noah is working on an installation. Very complicated, being an arist in the modern world. Where art once had to do with careful craft, faith, a good eye, and good connections in a small world, it now has more to do with international conceptual acumen, fundraising, politics. Panorama Mesdag (I think I've already written about it in this blog) is a circular canvas filling completely a circular room depicting a scene at ocean's edge in a small local fishing village (that has since been incorporated into the Hague: after visitng the Panorama we bicycled to it, on the dunes). The picture is lit by natural light from a big ceiling skylight and this is possibly its most salient feature, for one almost never sees painting under natural light. The painting dramatically changes as clouds come and go or the sun brightens or sets as the day ends. Which makes the paining strangely vivid. Also the painting sits in the middle of a man made sand dune that fills the room, creating the optical illusion that you are actually at the beach. This I knew before, but what I didn't know was how artfully the indoor dune was executed: it is full of debris, fishing nets, pieces of driftwood, beach chairs, fishing gear, very realistic.

Hendrik Mesdag was an important painter in the Hague toward the end of the 19th century. Van Gogh first studied painting here. Mesdag painted a lot of seascapes, many of which you can see downstairs in a small gallery in the Panaorama building. Some are quite good. Sky gazing and sea gazing are good Zen practices I think. Practices I do all the time. Watching the sky change and the sea change is like watching pratitya samuttpada (interdependent causality) at work in all its beauty and power, sometimes its calmness and exquisite majesty. Turner must have practiced this and got to where he could somehow depict it. I can still remember seeing immense seascapes of his many years ago at the Tate in London. In at least one of the paintings we saw today Mesdag also managed to make this sense of things come alive. 

A vignette from a movie about a trip the violinist Itzak Perelman took to China (I think it was Perelman; the reference is from Marcia Prager's book "Blessing.): a young Chinese girl plays a piece by Bach technically perfectly. Perelman picks up the violin and plays the same piece, same notes, but with something else besides the notes coming forth from the violin- the actual living spirit of the music. That isn't exactly in the notes, but somehow comes through the artist as a message from elsewhere. This is what I found in the Turners years ago, and what Masdag achieves in his picture. What art can do. What you experience in sky or sea gazing if you really pay attention to it long enough. Hard to remain tangled up in your problems or your various happy or unhappy moods when you are open to that experience.

 



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