Dear Terry Anne
What a privilege it must have been to take your mother back to Pier 21 so she could relive those first days on Canadian soil all those years ago. Your thoughts on our tribes and mini-tribes spoke to me. I can only imagine the emotions that must have surfaced in her and also in you as a result.
I write today after a thoughtful few days here in Holland, still musing on the subject of belonging. I’ve been with my mother too. She came to stay, bringing her friend, Chris, with her for a week. We had such plans. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, my mother succumbed to a terrible bout of sciatica that has left her agonized and immobile, her face ashen with pain. Finding things to do that would entertain them, when my mother could not walk, has been a challenge. However, we soon discovered that art galleries here are wheelchair friendly, and better still have a stock of them to loan to visitors. And so we headed out.
It was on one of those Dutch four-seasons-in-one-day days that we went to my new favourite gallery – Voorlinden. I’m not sure how excited about the trip my mother was when I told her it was a modern art gallery, but this is not a place of weird splodges in big frames. No, there is something for everyone here to the extent that the place was packed with children (it was half-term break). It’s a mixed media kind of place, some pieces are interactive, and every artwork’s a talking point. I was delighted to see one of Louise Bourgeois’ vast spooky spiders perched on its tiptoes outside the entrance. Over the next hour or so we watched the spider shine in technicolour sunshine, loom lugubrious when grey clouds hove overhead and removed the light, then dazzle us with coppery tones when pelted with rain fat as exclamation marks.
A film played in the theatre and in the brief ten minutes that we popped in for a watch I heard Bourgeois explain that ‘it’s all about emotion. It begins with emotion.’ Every piece she creates is not about the form, the materials or the placement, it is wholly and totally formed out of her emotion. Indeed that spider cannot fail to emote, its long legs extruded from her inner turmoil. It is terrifying, delicate and maternal. We love it and dislike it yet we cannot fail to admire it and keep on looking despite our mixed emotions.
Voorlinden is like that. Every artwork tells a story, or many stories. Every piece makes the visitor feel something whether it be wonder, confusion or recognition. I watch people as they stand in twos or threes, incline their heads towards each other, compelled to discuss their thoughts and insights in earnest.
Another day we headed to the newly named Kunstmuseum to see the visiting Monet and his Gardens exhibition and again we were entranced, this time with vague brushwork caused by an old painter’s cataracts and his ability to see the same scene again and again with new eyes and new colours on his palette. Again, visitors come together to discuss and point, take photographs and absorb the waterlily pinks and wisteria blues that are a recurrent theme.
As my thoughts wandered to belonging I realised that art brings people together and initiates conversation. Art connects us across the decades, continents and generations. Art connects us to other people and it connects us to our own emotions but it works the other way round too. Emotions lead us to connect to people, to places, to the familiar. Those connections, however fleeting, make us feel something and in that feeling lies a sense of recognition. A sense of belonging.