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In the end I was the last person to participate in Een voorspel. Originally I was supposed to attend the performance last Friday, but for one reason or another I had missed the appointment. I landed on the highest floor of the OBA (Openbare Bibliotheek van Amsterdam) building without having met my contact person on the ground floor. I saw the woman who was supposed to see me only 15 minutes later when I was back down, empty-handed. But it was already time for the next participant, and I could not wait for another session that day, as I had to go to Brussels. Appointments that go wrong… Funnily enough, this is one of the key features of the performance.

However, last Sunday I was again in Amsterdam. After a few phone calls there seemed to be a slot for me. The last one, by the way. After being welcomed on the ground floor, I was thus a bit nervous as I took the lift to the restaurant at the top of OBA. In fact, it had been there, where everything went wrong the last time. I feared that this might happen again. I saw nobody doing anything that could look at all like a performance. People sitting at tables, plenty of people on the terrace - they all looked so…ordinary. A waitress led me to a chair next to a window with a view to of the Ij river below; she placed a GSM in my hands. An old one with the wrong date, i.e. a day in 2008. And then nothing happened for a while. Time for me to worry whether something had gone wrong again or whether I could cope with this old model of NOKIA, and thereafter to worry how neurotic my reactions were, now and again.
But I had also time to consider the strategy of the performance. Perhaps this time it was part of the strategy. Perhaps the artists wanted me to be here, but what did they want me to see, to think, to be aware of? One thing was certain: as soon as I entered the restaurant, I didn't know what to look for or what would happen. So I began to look at the room and the people in another, almost paranoid way. I was convinced that something would emerge, something different and unusual that would change the slight chaos that usually prevails among people in a café: they are busy in their own world, their thoughts, their intents, their ambitions. But nothing happened.
In hindsight, this was a quite significant moment. Not only because it reminded me of how much our view is driven by presumptions and expectations. A deadly dull place like a café is full of details, of people and of occurrences that you do not see, and yet very quickly, you form in your mind a general idea of it all and therefore you can easily cope with the situation. In this case, I entered with the firm conviction that something was there that did not meet my expectations and preconceived opinion. But quickly it turned out to be uncertain what the thing, or the situation, or the proposal or whatever else at hand, could be. As a guess: maybe the artists wanted me to see what happened, to look at the occurrences within, without putting everything into specific drawers. Maybe I was supposed to sit here for half an hour and to look at the life in the café. Maybe this was in fact part of the performance. It's like how John Cage lets you listen to a sound during 30 seconds, wherever it comes from.
The absence of something "special" had a peculiar side-effect. You can speculate as much as you want, you can fly ahead with your thoughts, and it doesn't help you: when "nothing" happens you feel excluded from what you fail to see around you. You are left alone with your longing for…what indeed? An experience, an encounter, a moment when you can trust in things?
The more you look around, the more you feel that the surrounding people look at you. How do the others see a man who looks around, who strolls aimlessly to and fro, who stares at people he doesn't know, as if he expected something else to happen? This awareness throws you back to yourself.
The view over the Ij river gained another significance. From the top floor of the highly sophisticated house blocks along the Oosterdokkade, you have a tremendous view over old Amsterdam. Over the town as an endless amass of houses, warehouses and cottages, settled along the "grachten," here and there a church and hardly any stately homes. Despite their various forms, these buildings have a certain character; they have a tale to tell. How could it be that the chaotic features of the market, mixed with, or the expression of, the protestant ethos was able to establish a specific order and build a town that is one of the most beautiful and splendid places in Europe? Effortless. It seems to be an old tale from bygone times. This is shown by the development of the old port, the real source of the town's wealth. During the last decades, and at a rapid pace, a new residential neighborhood had been built with ingenious living quarters. But how tedious and weak is - despite their formal prolificacy and the prestigious totems such as OBA - their contrast to the old town! And still, the old tale persists. Like a Dickens novel set against the background of an entire town, which tempts and provokes you and wants you to choose a place for you, to become outright infatuated with the town. I did the latter.
Then my cell phone rang. A woman. But one who usurped my name at once: "Are you Pieter T'Jonck? This is Pieter." Whether I could see her? This was quickly done. She was waving a stick out of a window when I spotted her. A large house at a great distance, on the other side of the Ij river. There she was and there she wanted me to come. The house of a patrician, so to speak, with a stately cornice and three rows of four high windows each. With a peculiar detail: the house front was painted light yellow. Funny. This color in a town where it had always been "de rigueur" to conceal power and wealth behind joyless house fronts with bricks painted in black. With such a yellow color you should not attract attention in the golden age! Incidentally, the lady sent me in the wrong direction to reach her. "Go to the left, then along NEMO and up Prins Hendrikkade." To the right and over the bridge next to the floating Chinese restaurant would have been quicker and easier to get there. Thus, she wanted me to see or to experience something.
For example, how it felt to look no longer at the scenery of the port but simply to walk on the ground. Over a rather small bridge I crossed the water of the Oosterdockskade towards the entrance of the turned-around, copper-green cone of NEMO. Despite its massive dimensions, the building seemed unimpressive. Maybe because the entrance differed little from the glass fronts of an office block. From below I couldn't see the sloping terrace on top of the building designed by Renzo Piano, but I knew that it was there. The NEMO was closed, but I had an appointment. Yet again, the visit to NEMO, planned long ago, could not happen. What I wasn't aware of was that this building was positioned on top of the Ij tunnel. While I continued to walk along the pier of the Oosterdok towards Prins Hendrikkade, I only looked at the boats that were anchored to my right. I paid no attention to the speedway to my left. It was only later, when I repeated my tour virtually on Google maps, that I became aware of the tunnel here, through which the Ij river flows. Maybe because I couldn't take that tunnel and thus it was not part of my mental map of Amsterdam? It is crazy how you often see only the things that you know of.
On Prins Hendrikskade, however, there was nothing left to be looked at. By foot you are not allowed to cross the road, so you must walk up to the end, to the other bridge. But I didn't feel like it. So I had to look carefully left and right if I wanted to safely reach the yellow house on the other side. In fact this was not the moment to look around quietly, and I was certainly not the only one to cross the road in this way. The woman on the phone kept chatting while I approached swiftly. This was conceptually an important moment. Since she used my name, she was definitely my "Doppelgänger." But it was a poor fit. My partner differed so much from me that it did not feel as if I were hearing an alter ego, a shadow-self, with all their unsuitable implications. It is unpleasant, even frightening, to "encounter oneself." A picture of one's own face or a soundtrack of one's own voice can meet with one's forceful opposition. But here I didn't care. Or perhaps I did. Why did I feel so little like participating in this game of speaking with somebody who pretends to be me, although she was obviously somebody else? Maybe I had to follow along; maybe this was the beginning of a handover with my "namesake" or alter ego. Nevertheless, I preferred to be left alone with my view over the port and with my thoughts. Ports make me restless and nervous, but in a way which needs speed, which makes me eager to know how things work, what the logic is of all these unusual activities. I like losing myself in these thoughts. To go astray with pleasure. It has always been like this, since I roamed the port of Oostende as a child. There is no place for talking.
Finally I reached the yellow house. The door was wide open. If it was impressive from the outside, the inside seemed a few measures larger than the façade had indicated with its severe order of windows that structured the wall. (With houses, there always exists in our perception more inside than outside). To the left, next to the entrance stairs: a door upon which was hastily written in black, "this way up." A service staircase I suppose, as it made two steep quarter turns. This was not a staircase that you could take respectably, but one where you rushed up and down. Still, perhaps this was the sort of stairs that was customary for the old times in this town? Without much pretention and ado? My guide took leave of me here. At the top of the staircase I had to enter a door, which immediately closed behind me.
The contrast to everything that had happened before could not have been greater. The room was pitch dark. At first I saw nothing at all. Then somewhere very far and high up, a faint bulb flickered. The room was probably huge, much larger than I could have imagined upon entering the building. As if the building would grow, the deeper you penetrated it. (Again, this was a reference to our human perception.) The closer I came to the light, the more tangible was the surrounding darkness, such as a thick, dark curtain that receded somewhere a few meters in front of me. The room was not only inscrutable, but amazingly quiet. So quiet that I almost heard myself thinking. After my earlier, sensory and violent tour from the OBA, along NEMO and the piers up to this house I suddenly experienced almost complete sensory deprivation. My thoughts sped on. Thoughts behave obviously in this way from time to time.
Thus, an earlier feeling returned in all its intensity. As my thoughts could not grasp what I wanted to see, they created a latent sensation of radical loneliness. Here, the distance between me and the little world around me could not be ignored. To my mind, this was the most meaningful moment of the performance. The little events which followed were a mere consequence of it.
My eyes had just enough time to adapt to the twilight when they became aware of two objects: two black boxes, which appeared nearby in the tiny glimmer of the bulb. Going closer, I saw that they were neatly placed on the two corners of a Persian carpet, and that a faint sound of voices came from them. I bent down between the two boxes and looked at the dark firmament above. First there was a voice to my right. A woman. She left me with the boring sensation that overcomes you when you think you have noticed somebody but you can't place him. Then there came a tale from the left. Also a female voice. And a tale of an utter desperation that suddenly overwhelms you. She told me how she stood waiting for someone, somewhere in a public place, and that she didn't know how to act when her friend didn't show up. How she feared to reveal her discomfort to the outside world. How as an ultimate calamity she let her bag fall over into the street. She ended up with a disheartened question as to why she stood there near the pole.
After this, everything was quiet and dark. As the lights gradually brightened I saw that the room was very large indeed: it was as large as the front of the house, and very high with wooden roof beams across the ceiling. At that moment I received an SMS: "It was a pleasure meeting you." Signed: Pieter. As if a meeting had taken place with the usual courtesy statements, advices and casual comments.
But this was exactly the subject. You can well stay in the middle of hundreds of people, in a big town with fantastic buildings, but you are radically alone with your thoughts. There is no straight link to the world around you. It is your thoughts that form a kind of "high resolution" picture which fits with your own preconceived pattern. In fact, the title of the performance tells us everything. It was a "voorspel," an introduction, at least during the whole tour from OBA to the house over here. And recollections: my own afterglow of the tour - what I felt there and how my feelings inadvertently mixed up with older memories - or the tales of the women I heard in the dark room. But what happened in the margin, the "real occurrences" - when did they occur? Or are they without importance? Do you always meet yourself by chance, as suggested by the phone call with your namesake?

Pieter T'Jonck, august 2010.