S C E N T O F D I S O R D E R (Scnd draft)

a series of 7 installations prompted by the poems of Harold Pinter

(see also my thesis (Dutch) and de website of Harold Pinter: http://www.haroldpinter.org/poetry/poetry_inart.shtml)


George Tokaya
Stedum, 29 July 2000 - version 4.2


I have been working with Harold Pinter's texts for more than four years. It began with the start of my own theatre group 'La Tempé with the intention of presenting Pinter's short one act plays. My role in the group was that of director.

Pinter's work appeals to me because of two central themes:
1. Communication and all that goes wrong with communication.
2. Pinter's social engagement, chiefly in his recent works.

Whilst broadening my knowledge of his entire oeuvre I came across his poems. Whilst reading his poetry I quickly discovered for myself that 'images stay stuck to them'. Existing images from the media (newspaper, television), but also images from my own experience. The content of his poetry touch me because themes are touched on that are occupying me or were recently occupying me.

War for example hasn't stayed in my memory, not even any direct images of the Bersiap period. (I was born in Indonesia and repatriated to the Netherlands at the end of 1959. I do remember that we weren't to leave the sugar plantation because the pemudas (?) would chop off our heads.

A piece of history as intermezzo:

Shortly after the Second World War Dutch Indonesians and other Indonesians that had worked with the Netherlands had a difficult time. The nationalists suspected that they were pro Dutch and many were the victims of cruelty (?savagery) from nationalist gangs. No wonder then that many Dutch Indonesians no longer felt at home in Indonesia and left for the Netherlands. Others stayed in the hope that the situation would improve. Until 1951 people could choose between Indonesian and Dutch nationality. Thereafter the attitude de Republic of Indonesia towards the Dutch became more hostile. Many who had chosen for Indonesia had regrets and moved after all to the Netherlands.

" When Indonesia became an independent country, many Indo-Europeans otherwise called Dutch Indonesians left for the Netherlands. Those who stayed behind could choose to stay Dutch nationals or to become Indonesian. They had until November 1951 the opportunity to choose Indonesian nationality. The Dutch government gave the following advice: To choose Indonesian citizenship is for the most natural solution for Dutch people who are focussed on this land. At the end of the day the majority of Indo's came to the Netherlands between 1945 and 1965. Under Soekarno's administration they encountered increasing discrimination and anti-Dutch feelings; conflicts with the Netherlands had broken out about the nationalisation of Dutch firms and about New Guinea (West-Irian), an area that in 1949 - according to Indonesia unlawfully - stayed under Dutch control. Under these repatriates were also 25,000 people who regretted their choice of Indonesian nationality. From the middle of the fifties their lives in Indonesia had become more difficult. Despite their Indonesian passports they were considered Dutch and discriminated against. One of those repatriated was Tjalie Robinson. He wrote the following about the doubts and anxieties of the 'Indos': What will you be in Holland? You realise now completely that you're an Indo: in the middle between two fatherlands and with a vague realisation that you're not welcome in either. In Holland because you've got too many strange habits and don't fit into the society immediately. In Indonesia because you are clearly not wanted."

The most vivid is not actually that period of violence that has stayed with me but the experiences of my father in a Japanese prison camp in Burma. The unbridled violence, the satisfaction in power, the terror, the torture, the death of friends, brothers and co-prisoners and horrors too many to mention. That my father was treated in such a way is for me the tormentor of my existence, a continual but repetitive return of being powerless against violence.
I recognise the same in Pinter's plays (for example PARTY TIME, MOUNTAIN LANGUAGE, ONE FOR THE ROAD), but even stronger in his poems such as in The Old Days (1966) and American Football (1991). Violence, chaos and abuse of power aren't limited to times of war. It's from everyday. To be found in the family, the marriage, on the street, very close and continual.

The danger for an artist engaged with these themes, is hypocrisy, sentimentality and kitsch.
When I want to capture social phenomena in images I have to take care not to function as the social conscience - then I'd have been better to be a vicar. The images don't work if I explain too much, lay it on too thick (the pitfall of tautology). Indeed war and violenc3e are bulging with tautologies. My way out of these dilemmas is to search for the ambivalence that is present in these phenomena.

The ambiguity of violence is that it tastes, smells nice. That a certain emotional justification exists in meting out punishment to those who overstep the social norms.
The electric chair as method of punishment (official name: final correction method) has the same ambiguity. What do we do with feelings of dissatisfaction and revenge towards someone who has 'done someone else in'. It is a method, aesthetically acceptable, that quickly and justifiably reflects our desire for punishment. A true symbol of revenge but at the same time impotence.
The marriage bed is the symbol of wanting to be together, community, and resisting nighttime loneliness. However it is also the place of discord, distance, separation and miscommunication. I keep searching for divergent aspects of the same social phenomena and Harold Pinter's poetry has brought me a step further.

There follows a short description of the seven installations (draft version). They or some of them will be exhibited in the Netherlands, England and Spain from 2000-2003.









On an iMAC (the Internet computer of the times) can be seen images of a marriage counsellor on Internet. The databank with portraits of happy spouses, who have successfully followed Internet therapy, is displayed.
In the rhythm of the following 28-line poem we see the images rushing past us.

Subject: happiness via Internet
Healing via the telephone is an old treatment (help-lines), Internet also has proved to be an outstanding method of offering help and gaining happiness. About the degree of which everyone must speak for themselves.

A chalk outline of a victim discovered on the floor of a cellar in the house. The silhouette is filled with flower petals. Close to the image a mobile telephone with a number (0 651 620 851) and an invitation to ring the number. The visitor hears Harold Pinter reading aloud the poem Daylight.

Subject: parting
The silhouette on the floor is for me a poignant symbol of parting. The flower petals through their large number the scent of sentiment. The telephone represents for anonymous requests for help. Mostly you drive past. Or you stand and watch. Questions such as what should I do? can I do anything? am I a disaster tourist? Go through your mind. But you can do something, pick up the phone.

In a bedroom stand a double bed, where only the bare springs remain. The springs are divided in the middle by electric fence wiring. On the ground the box where the wire is attached ticks. Is the wire electrified? It is not known. On the bedside tables left and right of the bed nothing. In the bedroom further nothing, no clothes, no shoe just empty. There is a linen cupboard but it's locked. Behind the bed hangs a frame with the text (screen print) of:

Subject: the darkness that we shared.
The marriage bed is for me the symbol of the current human desire for community, togetherness, not wanting to be alone. The answer to these desires is frequently thwarted by miscommunication (the silent understanding of every person). What remains are bare bedsprings).

A living room, above everything cosily furnished and a television showing the following images. Two 17-year-old boys (members of a gang?) are standing somewhere in a suburb. Baseball caps on, printed T-shirts. (Dialogue from Pinter's Request Stop)

Subject: safety and peace can't be enforced with violence.
Is the thought that peace can be achieved can be achieved with violence a dangerous and seductive myth?

In a very piercingly lit room where you have to shade your eyes against the bright light, is with great difficulty the outline of the electric chair used in Texas, to be seen. No fake just the model specified by Fred A. Leuchter Inc., the firm that supplies these chairs. You certainly can't look for long at the chair. The light is too bright for that.
On a wall the hand-written text of Poem (Don't Look).

In a room directly next to this area can be heard a recorded voice that reads the specifications for the chair aloud. The text is as follows:

This chair discharges exactly enough electricity to kill but without burning the body. If the body of the convict should burn any aesthetic considerations would be lost. It is namely the most protocolised and extensively described penalty machine of these times. Better specified than the gas chamber, the lethal injection, firing squad, shooting in the head and hanging.
On the wall in this room are listed the names of the inmates who will be electrocuted in Texas during the period of the exhibition.
Against one of the walls stands an open steel cupboard with shelves. On the shelves lie transparent plastic sacs. The contents of the sacs can be seen; watches, purses, necklaces, bunches of keys, portrait photos. Also there is a pile of the protocols.

Subject: an eye for an eye and everyone is blind (Ghandi)
The electric chair is the most extensively protocolised lethal punishment method on earth. It fulfils our need for revenge. Everything is done to ensure that the punished after the shock still looks relatively reasonable and any semblance that the condemned has been roasted on an electric barbecue is avoided.

Outside in order of battle 21 crosses, made from perfumed paraffin (incense), that burn to the ground and leaving a skeleton of rusty reinforced iron over. In the garden the voice of Pinter who reads aloud the poem Order.

In a straight-line, 7 mortuary tables and on each a reference to unknown death drenched in the smell of Lysol.

Poem Death by Harold Pinter is recited by Mr. Pinter himself



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