Thanks to the Romans’ shenanigans almost two thousand years ago, this irregular update is late. My apologies.
While some say it is winter in Europe (watch that video!), it feels like spring. In Holland, Covid restrictions have gone entirely. Thus, with the flowers, the cultural world opened up. I visited three very distinct opening events last week. In no particular order:
Friday, I went to the opening of the cultural program of the Floriade. The Floriade is a once in the ten-year exhibition about horticulture, i.e., gardening, fruits, and vegetables. Given the world is on the brink of a global food crisis and multiple significant shifts in how we think about food and land use, the Floriade is timely.
With few exceptions, the reviews of the Floriade have been negative. Worse still, they’re short. They mention the financial troubles in the run-up to the exhibition or that it isn’t finished. I do not think this does justice to the experience. On the exhibition’s 60 hectares, the organizers have created a unique snapshot of humankind’s relationship to nature in this very moment, flaws and hopes, and ambitions included. Suppose you look beyond the empty plots of countries that had to annul their participation because of Covid. In that case, it beautifully shows the absence of true nature and attempts to welcome it back into our lives.
To reach for a parabole: The 2022 Floriade may be to anthropocentric attitudes to nature what Woodstock 99 was to nu-metal, but with much better toilets.
The Floriade is an exhibition of our desire to control an idealized version of nature. A version of nature defined by insect hotels, tiny house living, micro gardens, and mycelium. A light version of nature that fits within a human-designed and dominated world.
This results in some shockingly bad installations but also in hopeful, even brilliant exhibitions. Specifically:
Shockingly bad: Bouke Groen’s installation Passage. Amidst beautiful trees with chirping birds, white walls, and annoying sounds draw out nature. To me, it is a work of hubris, placing humans above nature rather than in nature.
Hopeful: The pavilion of the United Arab Emirates. It was the first place where I was welcomed by friendly hosts after I entered the exhibition. They took me on a tour through the desert, explaining how to turn sand into food and saltwater into freshwater for human consumption.
Brilliant: The Spiral Puzzle of Vakgroep Wilde Weelde, a complex, layered, beautifully designed, and highly detailed structure rich in opportunities for all sorts of animals to nest. (However, impossible to get on a photo.)
Part of the Floriade is the new museum for immersive art M. It is a testbed for a new museum that will be developed over the years to come for art that in the Netherlands does not always have (physical) space in the existing museums. Its director Denise de Boer and her team have done a tremendous job in doing something that is both familiar and fresh.
The temporary museum pavilion is a wonderful, round, pink building with only three exhibition spaces (one of them outside), each with its own mood. It dares to do less, thereby doing a lot. Well done, Denise!
Finally, and firstly, last Wednesday, Meta and her team at Leiden2022 opened the Stadsbauhaus in Leiden. The Stadsbauhaus is a physical space where art, science, and society meet, inspired by the New European Bauhaus. In Leiden, it is home to Leiden2022, a showroom for the beautifully designed circular products of the Circulair Warenhuis and artists and entrepreneurs. Given the diverse and energetic group of people joining the opening, I expect to hear a lot from them in the coming months and years.
While the Floriade aims to shape nature, the Stadsbauhaus strives to design the human world.
Walking through the Floriade, I saw many attempts to get nature to behave differently so that we, humans, do not have to change our behavior. Carbon emissions, then, become a problem for the trees that need to capture them, not the humans that emit them.
We can place as many insect hotels as we want to (and the Floriade has hundreds). However, it is not a solution as long as we use round-up, plant monocultures, and do all the other things we do wrong. It only looks nice.
On Easter Monday, on the island of Texel in the north of the Netherlands, I bumped into Jacco. Jacco is a beekeeper on the island, and we spoke when we went out to look at two of his colonies. Texel is home to some of the last colonies of the indigenous black bees that used to dominate the Netherlands and Europe. They’re not as tame and predictable as regular honey bees, and Jacco spoke about losing colonies when they decided to venture off elsewhere. They also sting more and produce less honey.
It was magnificent to see the colony, still small, buzzing in the spring sun. Little black bees brought pollen home industriously. Jacco only takes a little bit of their honey for sale. After all, nature is not invented for humans, but it can give us a lot if we care for it.
Thanks for reading; see you next week!