If you follow this blog regularly, you will know that I’m always in for something weird. Especially when it comes to art. I like to make things that make people stop for a while and wonder. Something unexpected, that gets you out of your daily routine and see the world from a different angle. This can be done in a multitude of ways, from art pieces to instruments, lectures, events and performances. But I always try to do it in a friendly, non harmful way, often with a little twist of humor. It’s easy to shock people, and while this sorts effect in the first place, they also get defensive. In my opinion it’s better to do something positive and constructive, rather than offending people. And while there will be always people who take offence (you simply can’t waltz without stepping on a few toes) it isn’t my intention to do so.
Like my little “Making Masonite Guitars” book. It’s completely against the grain of normal guitar making books, small, handwritten and for a modest price. Encouraging people to make guitars from simple, cheap materials. Making it easier to start in instrument making…
Or like the little free library we placed in our street. It’s something out of the ordinary, a strange little building made from trash. Not very pretty, but simple and effective. The idea was that putting something odd but positive in the street would set something in motion. To get people to read and meet. In the few weeks it has been there we’ve had many reactions from all over the neighborhood and even outside of the village. People who have lived there for years, but never met the family across the street. And people with unknown talents.
We got the idea at the community of Taizé in France. A group of monks from various nationalities and denominations, living together in a community. Throughout the year they invite people to come over and stay for a week. Everybody is welcome to share and engage in the life there. The church is at the center of the premises is different from everything most people expect from a church.
The core was built in the early sixties, from concrete prefab elements. It reminds a bit of the works of LeCorbusier. As the number of visitors grew, it rapidly became too small and the building was expanded up the hill. For this they used simple materials, the outside is formed by the planks that are left over at a sawmill. Inside the size of the church can be adjusted by rolling up metal screens. Its architecture doesn’t suppress the surroundings or people who use it, but accommodates them. Here in the Netherlands there are hundreds of churches, made from the best materials available, styled to perfection, where nobody likes to be. At Taizé it’s the other way around: the church is built from humble materials, but the people like to be there and take care for it.
I think doing something positive is a better and more effective way to change things. Although it’s also harder to do. It’s easy to ban or forbid something, threatening with punishments. A lot of politicians always cry out for more stringent punishments. But we’ve seen in the past that punishment only work up to a certain point. Beyond that it doesn’t bring down the rate of transgressions. It’s better to prevent these, by giving people a better alternative, or change the way they act. Bring people together to MAKE something. But this is a lot harder. First it takes some courage and trust in the people. Some may say that trust is fine, but control is better. But when you give people trust, they start to care and take up their own responsibility. It also takes time, real changes are more often a result of a long evolution rather than a revolution. This doesn’t go well with the short-term-result-thinking in our culture, but it pays out in the long run.
One of my great inspirations in this regard is Pete Seeger. Who even in his old age took up his banjo to share his music with the people around him. Songs of change, songs of peace, songs of sharing and the power of collaboration. Rather than playing just for them, he engaged the audience to sing along, making them a part of the song. But also with projects that seemed mad at first. Like the Sloop Clearwater, to educate people on the pollution of the Hudson river.
This has become a rather lengthy post, filled with parts of my own philosophy. Feel free to disagree, it’s just something that comes forth from my experience and observation. It’s the way I like to live my life and try to make the world a little more beautiful. Building up people and communities instead of spreading hate and breaking them down. This way of thinking might seem odd in our individualistic present day society. Trying to think ‘inclusive’ instead of ‘exclusive’. To engage people, instead of shutting them out. And to reach out, rather than close up. It might be hopelessly idealistic, but without ideals there would be no hope.
Here are some inspiring videos in this regard. First a TED-talk on Guerilla Gardening…
Further someone who pushes the boundaries of music and how we think about it. A sort of contemporary John Cage.
This is “Dirk the Homeless Robot” made by artist Fred Able…