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'A Postcard from Amsterdam' 2018. Courtesy LOWER.GREEN

            

later beneath the blueness of trees the future falls 

out of place: something always happens: draw nearer my dear: never fear: 

the world spins nightly towards its brightness: and we are on it [1]

 

What does the hard look do to what it sees? Pull beauty out of it, or stare it in? [2]

 

A Postcard from Amsterdam is above all a collaborative exploration and celebration of movement. Sea creatures and liminal figures slip and swirl across ship sails that hang throughout LOWER.GREEN, the Norwich gallery currently hosting work by Netherlands-based artists Charlott Weise and Franziska Schulz. LOWER.GREEN is itself a consequence of movement; previously an empty unit in the brutalist, chiefly concrete Anglia Square shopping centre, it exists ‘because Anglia Square will soon be gone’, subject to the investment company Columbia Threadneedle’s redevelopment plans to ‘improve’ living conditions for residents—by demolishing local shops to build a ‘leisure quarter’, 200-bed hotel, multi-storey carpark, and a 25-storey tower block with penthouse apartments and a roof-level bar. [3] Opened in July, LOWER.GREEN remains in a permanent ‘temporary state’ until March 2019, hosting 8 exhibitions in between, which seek in part to engage with the unfixed nature of its presence.

A postcard has traditionally functioned as a convergence of image and words—a (usually glorified) glimpse of somewhere—anywhere—that is not here, with a message accessible to anyone who skims their eyes over it at the sorting office. The ‘postcard boom’ began around 1900, and by 1918, more than 800 million were sent via the Royal Mail annually. “Wish you were here,” goes the cliché. I sent one last week—the image of a totalled car among the sand dunes close to my new house—inscribed to B, “Things are looking up.” I received one two weeks ago, from M—a picture of a Latvian forest, “After swimming we will hit the road and cycle in the direction of Estonia…I feel so free and grateful.” Whenever I leave the UK I send my Grandma—who has left only once—a postcard; an attempt to translate my experiences into a form she may understand.

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'A Postcard from Amsterdam' 2018. Courtesy LOWER.GREEN

We know where we are until we don’t. Projected onto one wall, a video diary loops footage of artists Weise and Schulz roaming Amsterdam. Together they take a boat across the river—buildings edging closer—then lips mouthing something impenetrable, jellyfish orientating their tentacles, the safe soaking of a car-wash from inside a vehicle. Things move to become other things. Sandy footprints lead us to a kite that mutates from limp material to something altogether more vertigo-inducing in the sky—like a dodman turning into a hushwing. [4] In one sequence, Weise and Schulz take it in turns to dance down a dimly-lit, empty corridor. Hips are thrown to the side, shoulders thrust backwards then forwards, arms occasionally reaching beyond the rest of the body. While not often seen together in the same shot, we glimpse—we sense—the close contact between Weise and Schulz. Wish you were here. Somehow the platitude doesn’t stick; the imagined audience of ourselves is nowhere to be found in this ecosystem of friendship.

Defined by perpetual movement until it arrives at its destination, a postcard is more of a conversation between its sender and their environment, than sender and receiver. In the artworks—Weise and Schulz’s postcard to LOWER.GREEN, and us, its gallery-goers—message and environment collide. The tongue taken up with licking the stamp, the postcard presents itself wordlessly: floor-to-ceiling flowers made from the leather of fly-tipped sofas; inscribed with sea creatures, flickering faces, expressive shapes, the billowing sails present dreams and fantasies from a traveller between worlds. 

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'A Postcard from Amsterdam' 2018. Courtesy LOWER.GREEN

Ecosystems, and their particular landscapes and soundscapes, continue to impact linguistics—letter forms, syntactic construction, pronunciation. A Postcard from Amsterdam is particularly evocative in light of the historical relationship between the Netherlands and Norfolk; thousands of Protestant refugees sought political asylum in Norfolk in the mid-sixteenth century—so-called ‘Elizabethan Strangers’—the majority of whom spoke Dutch. The influence of the language can be traced in landmarks (Strangers’ Hall), place names (Nordelph), cultural markers (Norwich Canary)—and even through specific characteristics of the Norfolk dialect—the naming of open areas as ‘plains’ (from the Dutch plein), and the use of the third-person singular zero (‘she sing’ not ‘she sings’).

Weise and Schulz’s work offers an experience of, rather than an attempt to represent, distinction and difference. The standardisation of language—most fiercely found in the UK in the conflation of geographically-distinct vernaculars to produce a single vocabulary and accent—like that portrayed and propagated by the BBC—means that we are not only expected to speak in the same language, but to use language in the exact same way. ‘Integration’ is a term often bandied around to assume the idea of people/s of many cultures and languages living among one another; more often than not, it masks the real demands behind ‘integration’—assimilation and standardisation. A large-scale impossibility in a society that offers neither the space nor the solidarity, multiculturalism does the opposite of what it claims to, allowing difference only to the degree that everyone can understand the real requirement to suppress the proliferation of ways of being, seeing or feeling in favour of a dominant universality—a language we all must speak.

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'A Postcard from Amsterdam' 2018. Courtesy LOWER.GREEN

Social relationships can also be convinced to follow this logic. In a letter to the novelist Arturo Islas, the poet Adrienne Rich writes, ‘Sometimes, in our conversations, I’ve heard myself asking, Does this make sense to you? Not wanting to take anything for granted.’ To enter into experience with another person or place—whether through participation or witness (and I would claim that the latter is nearly always the former)—is to place our trust and belief in a grappling for understanding, and the potential for never understanding. Am I not trying here to translate my experiences of the exhibition into words? Isn’t it sometimes better to just be, and let our imagined audience work out for themselves what it means to them, as equal interpreters? [5] ‘I refuse to translate’, poet and translator Don Mee Choi writes in Hardly War. Weise and Schulz’s postcard offers a distinctly subjective, shared portrait of living—of moving—reminding us that understanding does not necessarily rest on explanation or translation, but acting attentively towards ourselves and our environment—transitory and unfixed as it is. 

[1] ‘Crescent’ in Tremble by C.D. Wright.

[2] ‘Outside from the Start’ in Selected Poemsby Denise Riley.

[3] Press releaseLOWER.GREEN.

[4] If you know you know.

[5] In On Being Blue, William H. Gass writes about words,“It is the gravestone we visit, when we visit, not the grave…We say a name, and only a faint simulacrum of its object forms itself (if any at all does) – forms itself in that grayless gray area of consciousness where we put imaginary maps and once heard music; where we hunt for lost articles and diagram desire.”

***

A Postcard from Amsterdam, Charlott Weise and Franziska Schulz, LOWER.GREEN, Norwich, 6-26 October 2018

Lotte Lewis is a poet living in Great Yarmouth. More of her writing can be found here