We Tell Stories, Story II- WE HEAR SAME



Story II – we hear same
David Bernstein & Robert Snyderman
& Eveline Nieuwveld
Exhibition: 2/6 – 6/7

Social gathering: Friday 1/6 at 17.00
Performance starts at 18.30

At the city celebration, my great grandfather’s
brother shot a gun into the air and
the bullet came back down to kill him.
Brothers, twins, children, parents, I come
from you and we are together. I reproduce
you and I become you, we become close.
We stand side by side and raise our glasses
for a toast, though my glass is not the
same as yours. Who are you? Why have
you sold me? I lent you my identity and
you flipped it. A chair as a person as a chair.

we hear same is a constellation of objects,
ceremonies, words, and movements
taking place in and around the spaces of
DE KIJKDOOS. Robert Snyderman and
David Bernstein, a poet and an artist, have
collaborated to tell a story on the evening
of June 1st by activating this constellation.

Essay: Eveline Nieuwveld
Presentation: 23/6 at 15.00

With works by: Gediminas G. Akstinas, Rūtenė Merkliopaitė, Gerda Paliušyte, Jurgis Paškevicius and Ray Ray Mitrano

David Bernstein | http://www.yesyesdavid.com/
Robert Snyderman | http://sites.google.com/site/thecorrespondingsociety/robertsnyderman
Eveline Nieuwveld | http://www.evelinenieuwveld.nl












The book Genesis tells about the twin brothers Esau and Jacob. Esau is the firstborn of the two and therefore has the right to the inheritance of his father, Isaac. Jacob is interested in these rights of Esau; he wants to take over the wealth of his father. When Isaac is blind and dying, Jacob acts like he is Esau, receiving the blessing for the inheritance in Esau’s place. Jacob steals Esau’s ‘identity’ and receives the blessing in Esau’s place.

The biblical names of the twins are mentioned in the exhibition we hear same established through the collaboration between the artist David Bernstein and poet Robert Snyderman. we hear same is a part of the exhibition series We tell stories. The exhibitions are in and around DE KIJKDOOS, a window gallery that is situated on the outside of a flat in the former Jewish neighbourhood of Amsterdam.

The work is presented in two rows of six relatively empty-looking windows. Two windows are fully empty, the remaining ten are varied with objects or without objects and eight of the windows display an A5 sheet with some typed lines of text by Snyderman on it. In one of the windows there are two wine bottles connected with a cork, one bottle is upside down and attached to the other through the cork. Under this window is the text, ‘3. Yacov-Esau’. A good example of the metaphoric that is interwoven throughout the entire exhibition.

Perhaps in this case I should speak of ‘constellation’ instead of exhibition. Because of the temporary aspect of performance art, the exhibition carries a complex character that can’t be overlooked all at once.

At the opening, a story is told by Jurgis Paškevičius, wine glasses and bottles are given to the public, there is a cheer on the roof, and on the other side of the street – behind a monument designed in 1947 that carries the text in Dutch, To the protectors of the Dutch Jews in the years of occupation – there’s a listening to an audio clip by Ray Ray Mitrano that first has to be dug up from the ground. The metaphorical play is plentiful, from the stool where the storyteller sits on, to the cheers on the roof. A comparison with earlier times – stories that went from mouth to mouth and ceremonies/traditions in an even higher esteem than today – is not farfetched, rather, it’s already visible at the beginning of the performance. The speaker sits on a stage on a type of seat that acts more like a stool than a chair because the two rear legs of the chair are mounted at the upper end of the back seat. Because of this strange construction, the chair still has its function but in an in-efficient way and it marks the aesthetic aspects of the object more. For the story, the public must stand closely and listen carefully, which creates a bond between the people that is further implemented at the cheers.

After climbing the stairs – the public follows with the glasses and bottles of wine – we reach the roof. There is a toast by standing in a circle, holding your left hand on the head of the person to the right of you and with yourright hand giving the person to the left of you a sip of wine. After a few sips of wine, which you received from the person to your right, there is a positive atmosphere because of the succeeded complex cheer. Performance art often creates a distance, a distance between the performer and the audience, but during the opening of we hear same, this is not the case, the distance is actually smaller and the performers are more like storytellers. The public is speaking to each other while moving from one location to another around DE KIJKDOOS, still nobody seems to be surprised by the tour Bernstein is taking us on. Like a master of ceremonies, he takes us into three different gestures, the public lets the gestures happen, but still the character of the group changes. or rather, a character of the group arises.

The two themes in which the exhibition can be divided are that of the self (identity) and that of the things to which man gives meaning. How these two themes flow in and out of our everyday life (for us in a very obvious way), is transmitted in the ‘constellation’ of objects, ceremonies, words, and movements that have arisen from the collaboration between Bernstein and Snyderman. In the theory of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, these themes are indicated; Bernstein names Winnicott in his artist statement.

According to Winnicott, each person has a private space (the mental space inside) and a public space, outside ourselves. Then there is also a transitional space, the place where we connect: this place is not purely inside or outside; it’s more like an in-between space. Winnicott argues that this space is the place for play and creativity – where teaching and learning happens, where culture or love can grow and art is made. The transitional space connects inner and outer world, but also other contradictions can coexist in this space and not knowing can rely on tolerance.

Winnicott’s ideas about transitional space have arisen as a result of his observations on children and babies. In the first months, from the perspective of the baby, mother and child are one. Then comes a slow realization of the self. In this gradual process Winnicott noticed that the baby uses some kind of development space, an intermediate state in which the baby is “experimenting” with the being one and not being one with the mother. Spatula game is an example of this; the baby picks up a spatula from the table and plays with it. At one point, the baby is still, without moving the spatula; he takes some time slowing down. Then suddenly the spatula becomes ‘something’, maybe an airplane, moved to and fro by the enthusiastic baby. This moment of doubt, where the baby had the time to be in his own world, undisturbed and without interpretation from the outside to the meaning of the object, is important for Winnicott. It’s an investment in the meaning of the object, and without the time and space for this ‘moment of doubt’, the object remains an alien object from the adult world. In Bernstein’s work, this moment of doubt is an important strategy, and the public, when looking carefully can also experience this moment.

He himself calls this moment of doubt thinging, a reciprocal process of thinking, making things, thinking through things, and seeing things differently through thought. Bernstein works with objects as if they are words and with words as if they are objects. He removes functions, extends them, rotates them, pulls them out, until a whole is created in which stories are written and rewritten in the head while watching the work. The things as well as the boundaries between the other and ourselves are questioned. As Winnicott indicates, what am I and where do I end and blend in with someone else? The collaboration between Bernstein and Snyderman is an additional confirmation of this boundary. Working together is a common practice for Bernstein, for example in his Studio Conversations of 2011, where he works with different people, often in a duo, experimenting with things, words and space without an audience. A shared transitional space emerges in which rules and structures are revealed depending on the character of the relationship.

The Studio Conversations and other works of Bernstein, like Shit Job from 2010 – in which he walks with a construction of steel with ten toilet paper rolls trailing behind him across a lawn and then cleans it up and repeats the happening – all carry a ceremonial aspect in them. The reference to Bible stories is however specific for the exhibition we hear same, where the context of the work, the former Jewish neighbourhood, plays an important role.

The reference to the story of Jacob and Esau in which an ‘identity’ exchange takes place is not only in the poem but also provides guidance for the performance. The story goes further than described in the introduction, Jacob (sometimes called Israel) receives many sons, including Joseph. Joseph is the father of two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who are blessed by Jacob. Normally the right hand should be on the head of the oldest child, hence Joseph places his eldest, Manasseh, on the right of Jacob, but Jacob crosses his arms so his right hand blesses Ephraim, the younger. Ephraim and Manasseh are told to be the first sons without arguing about the right of the firstborn.

The blessing of the children is a Jewish tradition that is still topical, the hands of the parents are put on the children’s heads and the phrase ‘ May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh’ is pronounced. In the case of Jacob who blesses his grandsons or in the case of the cheers on the roof, the arms crossed. We cheer, but do not drink from our own glass, instead of we drink of our neighbor’s glass. Quoted from the flyer of the exhibition: Brothers, twins, children, parents, I come from you and we are together … we stand side by side and raise our glasses for a toast, though my glass is not the same as yours.

Where Bible stories explain and give context to stories, here thinging (or Winnicott’s moment of doubt used by Bernstein) cares for an openness, that we have to give meaning to ourselves. This makes a fascinating exhibition with multiple layers, including a psychological, historical and religious layer, rich in references and interpretations which activate our personal story-archive. For Bernstein there is also a possibility to take the objects, ceremonies, words and movements separately. Many of the works by themselves would certainly not be less in an even deeper study on image, object and meaning. Bernstein drilled a well with the exhibition we hear same that is not so easily to deplete.

Eveline Nieuwveld