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Everyone is dead except us (2020), Ben Zegers. At the Hoogstraat / Binnenrotte intersection, on top of the 'Dam in de Rotte'. Photo: Jannes Linders

Let's go

There they are. Two feet, made by Ben Zegers. They are very large, quite present here at one of the busiest points in Rotterdam. They are positioned like the feet of the Degas dancer. That is in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. How defiantly it presents itself there, it defies the gaze of the visitor with downcast eyes. But these feet are not just for viewing, for admiring from a distance. They are part of the movements, pursuits and concerns of the people who are on the street there. They participate, they belong to what we call public space.

The two giant feet here at the Binnenrotte do not stand still, they continue where the dancer stops. Not only have they left the museum, they have also started dancing. No idea what they are dancing: the tango, the rumba, a new dance, just picked up on TikTok? They swing around and do what it is about, they show us that we have to keep moving.

Artists have long been fascinated by movement and are looking for ways to depict movement. For example, the creators of the cave paintings of many thousands of years ago would already suggest movement. Bison, deer and other animals seem to flee across the walls of the cave in the flickering light of the fires. Since the end of the nineteenth century, we can really capture movement. Film, later television and video, and nowadays all digital media, show every movement and every part of movement in detail. What the British photographer Eadweard Muybridge initially had to unravel with a series of photos, no longer holds any secrets for us. Fascination has become fixation: every sports match today consists largely of repetitions, slow-motion representations of crucial moments and movements. The brilliant passing movement, the goalkeeper's futile soaring jump, Dafne's last steps just before the finish line, we can dream them. Despite this profusion of depicted movement, artists are still trying to grasp its core. In other words, they try to stop the movement in order to show it better.

That seems a bit unnecessary. We can speed up, slow down, freeze, and restart any image. However, those frozen images remain part of an action, belong to an action that started somewhere and can continue immediately. No matter how still they stand, they still carry within them the purpose that once set them in motion. The dance of these feet goes nowhere, has no purpose and has no purpose. Its energy twists them around, puts them on tension, but they stay in place. They do not represent a movement, but form the essence of the movement. And we don't get to enjoy that core in peace, while we reflect in a museum, it stands here in front of us, in the middle of the world, between all the hustle and bustle, as part of the daily bustle and bustle.

Everyone is dead except us, is the title of the image. That sounds strange, but I understand it in relation to the energy stored in the sculpture. The fascination of art with movement has always been a fascination with life. Life as essence, but also life as the hassle of everyday life. While works of art can succeed in grasping that life, making tangible what we often forget because we are busy with it, they often themselves become alienated from that life, they lose their energy. Locked in a museum, stored in people's homes, they become distant memories of a life once and elsewhere. However, Ben Zegers' two feet celebrate life where it is bubbling and bubbling. At the same time they remain images. They are very large and permanently present. Other artists who work in public space today choose to avoid the rigidity of images by directly participating in everyday life. Performances that draw energy from the interaction with people and the environment and that change the mind of the audience by placing them in new perspectives. They prevent the neglect and oblivion that enduring works of art in the public domain threaten by going along with the transience of events.

This image remains: it is a monument to the here and now. In doing so, it distances itself from other monuments that want to forever remind us of what once seemed to be. Statues of dead white men staring gloomily at the past they placed on their pedestals. They don't like all the forms of life that go on around them, they look down on it. These two feet are not on a pedestal, they are large but not elevated, they hit the ground directly and celebrate the life that flows by.

The two feet dance to the rhythm of time. At one time different voices were heard here and a different culture was dominant. The feet, however, listen to the sounds that can now be heard, the voices and atmospheres that crowd each other in their call for attention, the hidden beat of the here and now. And because they respond to the rhythm of everyday life, they have no message. They are here now, they will stay for a while, but they may be gone soon. They make no claims, they do not proclaim new truth, they only show that there is movement. Always.

Text: Jeroen Boomgaard

More information

Publication date: 01 / 10 / 2020

TENT is the platform for contemporary art in the context of Rotterdam with exhibitions, new productions, educational projects, performances and events with makers from the city and beyond.
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Forest polder fox, Florentijn Hofman, Schiedamseweg, 2020. Photo: Otto Snoek

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Art Office mediates, informs and supports visual artists from Rotterdam with regard to their professional practice. For artists, institutions and individuals.
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