A hundred projects in Corona Times, Mels Dees

A few months ago, when Mariëlle and I decided to stay on Terschelling, our ‘Quarantine Island’ just north of the Dutch mainland, I felt elated, because there we were: in an isolated beauty spot, no tourists, no serious obligations, no problems (there was, and still is virtually no Corona on the island) and we were able to concentrate on our work. That, and walking around the island, finding beauty in the smallest of things, was exactly what we did, and we had a great time.

Page from my notebook IPOTOT (In Praise Of The Opposable Thumb) nr. 2, Terschelling 2020

For lots of reasons we had to leave some weeks ago and go back home – mostly against our will, of course.
And then, inevitably, reality struck. Our son Quirijn, working from home, had problems finishing his B.A. without the stimulus from his excellent Music School. A niece managed to get divorced in the middle of the Corona Pandemonium. She needed support for herself and her baby, and a temporary home for her lazy, grumpy bulldog.
The C-virus turned out to be even more vicious than we had ever thought it might become. And our regional government was taken over by an ultra right wing party. They immediately refused to recognize culture as a valid goal for any regional policy or funding. There is a new page for the Reconstructivism for Beginners book (see my SPARblog from March 27) summing up my feelings…

Reconstructivism for Beginners, page 28

Etcetera, etcetera. Of course, Quirijn has found a way out, the bulldog is now very much at home in our house (Mariëlle, I suspect, has fallen for him and takes the creature for long walks) and a well-supported protest movement against the regional farmers and fatheads has emerged.

But in my own studio I was confronted with a load of unfinished projects and overdue repairs. I dived in almost immediately, which resulted in nervously switching from one project to another and accomplishing very little. One of the things I have to finish is my contribution to the graphic art edition which our studio collective Patagonia will publish this year. I try to find a way to sum up my years of etching, making paper reliefs and photographic work, but the result has been pretty chaotic until now. Still, I’m having fun…

First design for Patagonia Art Edition

Another project that more or less exploded in my face over the past weeks was a series of photo works on mushrooms. I had planned to join in a group exhibition last year at Wodek (a Polish mushroom-and-art lover who initiated an art centre in Brussels: Atelier 34zero Muzeum). For that occasion I made a few large-scale (100 x 100 cm) sculpted prints of weird mushrooms and cast them in epoxy resin. However, they missed something, I did not know what exactly. They just were not unsettling enough, maybe.

One of the prints was a picture of a myxomycete: a weird life form that seems to consist of a huge cell with multiple nuclei, and is actually able to move around slowly and find its way in a labyrinth. Mariëlle found one in the backyard of our house some years ago. I decided that, if I could not make its movements visible in the picture, maybe I could make the picture move around on the wall.

The hidden Brownian Motion Generator

As I should know by now: if you decide to do something technical in a work of art, be prepared to spend a lot of time, effort and money before it actually works – and keeps on working. Although I’m not quite satisfied yet, the print now moves imperceptibly slow, in a kind of unpredictable Brownian motion. Come to think of it – it’s nice dig at arrogant curators as well.

So in the end I decided to work on and on, as if the End Of Time is not near at all. Forget about Corona, Climate, ‘Conomy, whatever. Do what needs to be done. And, if necessary, do it all at the same time.

  1. Liza Ordinartceva

    Dear Mels, thank you for sharing! I love the decision and mood you come to by the end of the post.
    Though it is really striking to read about anti-art government in your region. How does Van Abbe museum react? Or they are too big to be influenced by that?

    1. Mels Dees

      Hi Liza,

      the Van Abbe is not really affected (mostly funded by the city, partly by national/international funds). The museum is not very relevant to local artists though, as it is terrified of being branded a local museum, and artists from the region are rarely invited nowadays – it used to be different in the past. The anti-art sentiment in Holland has been growing for decades, I’m afraid, in the wake of a series of racist, anti-immigrant and anti-intellectual parties.
      There also is a powerful movement of (sometimes violent) farmers’ protests against environmental policies – and they have no interest in art either. So the political and artistic climate in our country is not improving, I’m afraid. In the cities the effects are not so evident, although a lot of galleries have closed since 2008, and I’m sure more will follow. And quite a few smaller museums are expected to close as well, because of the Corona crises…
      However, on a national level there still is some support for artists, and they can even apply for a special Corona subsidy (except if you’re too old – grrr).

  2. Avatar photo
    Nazar Niazmetov

    Dear Mels,
    First of all, I would like to note what a gorgeous visual series you have turned out to be!

    Your projects look very fresh.
    Can you tell us a little more about the Brownian motion generator, it is a creation of your hands? If I understand correctly, it is part of a mushroom art object: it sets the printed image in motion, right?

    I’m sorry for the troubles in your family. I often come across psychological online trainings, apparently, this has really become an important way to keep calm: many people’s social life has changed too much. I wish you a final resolution of your difficulties!

    “And our regional government was taken over by an ultra right wing party”
    You probably mean their devotion to Thatcher’s ideas: “small government” and “the invisible hand of the market”. Despite all the confusion of ideological frameworks, when, for example, in Russia the Communists defend christian dogmas + those who were considered economic liberals (non-statesmen) now offer to distribute social assistance in large volumes, – at least someone remains unchanged (neoliberalism and greediness are still features of the right wing)!
    I am joking 🙂

    Thank you for the bright and witty message!

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