Visitor Account by Jessica Gysel of ‘Midsummer Night’, VU Hortus, Amsterdam, 21 June 2014

    2. On 21 June 2014 Sara van der Heide invited her fellow artist, writer and curator friends to contribute to a very special solstice celebration, as part of If I Can't Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution's Emma's series of gatherings with the artists of its current programme. The evening took place at the wonderful VU Hortus in Amsterdam – a straight plot of land with a surface of 10,000 square metres, bordered by rivers and roads on all four sides, and host to the biggest cacti and succulents collection in the Netherlands – a secluded safe haven, an unfixed utopia.

      The evening felt like a preview, shining a first ray of light upon van der Heide's new body of work Mother Earth Breathing, which proposes a different model of time through the breathing and the presence of the body, and the earth, moving with the light. Starting at 20.33 and ending at 00.53, a plethora of presentations – gently, and not so gently, igniting all senses – followed the light of day and night. In theory each contributor was allocated five minutes to make a personal presentation, In reality we saw time moving at its own speed, a natural pace taking over. It felt as if we were temporarily transmitted to a different world. 

      Lightness gradually faded to darkness, lanterns were lit as we moved through the various parts of the garden. Each presentation asked for a different kind of gathering. We were sitting in between plants, on the ground, in chairs, on pathways, or just standing, but always united. The voices shifted from whispering to crying out loud. We were inside and outside, and literally turned inside out as our senses were played in the most touching of ways.

      20.33 – Subtropical container plants: If I Can't Dance's curator Tanja Baudoin says welcome. We’re all ears and feel blessed to be part of this night. Some late arrivals hush their way in.

      20.36 – Subtropical container plants: Sara van der Heide gives a short explanation of her new work and recites parts of the diary she has kept over the last years, sharing a personal experience of bodily and spiritual transformation, an exploration that happened concurrently to the making of Mother Earth Breathing.

      20.44 – Bamboo bush: Nelly Voorhuis takes us into the garden where she plays a short music piece by Robin Rimbaud, better known under his artist name Scanner. The piece is a reinterpretation of the soundtrack of l’Eclisse, a film by Antonioni from 1962.

      20.52 – Rock garden: Riet Wijnen leads us to a different part of the garden and reads from her publication about Marlow Moss.

      Moss was:
      a painter
      a sculptor

      an artist

      Moss had a relationship with:
      Mrs. Dodd, or was in love with her
      Netty Nijhoff

      She was:
      a recluse
      a persona non grata

      a phenomenon
      a Don Quixote

      a lone wolf
      a mystery

      an Amazon
      a heroic figure

      an exotic foreigner


      fastidiously neat

      her self-constructed identity

      Moss and Nijhoff had a pet:

      21.02 – Outside of the fern greenhouse: Yann Sérandour – unable to attend in person – made the piece Cloudy with a Chance of a Ray of Sunlight, in which mirrors are given to those in attendance to cast a beam of light over a shadowy spot. More latecomers drop in.

      21.07 – Trees: Maarten van Bodegraven, one of the managers of the VU Hortus, is explaining that the site is forty-seven years old, three years from meriting the status of a monument.

      21.19 – By the waterside: Jacob Korczynski couldn’t make it to the evening either. He chose a text called Bright and Dark, from a film by Ellie Epp, which was read out aloud by Tanja Baudoin.

      the way a hand on an arm is a contact that allows a flow so bright so soft it must be fluid love**

      21.22 – Trees/perennial plants: Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky's magical photograms of different shades and shapes of leaves are popping up at different locations.

      21.28 - Cactus greenhouse: Marcel van den Berg is reciting his poem 'Nyctalope'.

      21.35 – Subtropical container plants: Pause. A good moment to check out the ceramic pot made by Frédérique Bergholtz and Maria Pask.

      22.09 – Australian plants and Japanese bonsai: Nora Turato spitting her way through the New Power Generation.

      Fall of men in tux
      too many brain lux

      still acting like duck
      more yuck than man driving trucks

      in times of constant flux

      man of flux

      ku klan
      co co

      you are a coo coo
      if i may say the truth what you do

      is way too goo
      screw u


      22.24 – Subtropical container plants: Moosje Goosen gives us a copy of the press release announcing Edward Steichen's exhibition of Delphiniums at the MoMA in June 1936. Naturally, a couple of delphinium flowers were serving as the backdrop.

      To avoid confusion, it should be noted that the actual delphiniums will be shown at the Museum -- not paintings of photographs of them. It will be a 'personal appearance' of the flowers themselves.****

      22.32 – On a small hill among flowers: Rory Pilgrim's Little Reflections were big.

      Maybe we won't see the changes happen in our lifetime. It keeps growing. Gardens to nurture our dreams and our voices.

      22.44 – Chinese penjing: Nathalie Bruys presents a silver and a golden pitchfork resonating the Earth, the Sun and the Moon. They create a full-blossomed tone, the perfect score to the evening.

      22.54 – Tree: Vivian Ziherl has brought a Banksia pod and reads the poem The Young Girl Wanda by Oodgeroo Noonuccal. This species of Banksia germinates when burnt by a bushfire. The force of the fire breaks the seeds open, replacing the plants that have been destroyed.

      'I love all young things,
      The young dawn, not the grey day dying,

      The white of daybreak on awaking waters.
      I love happy things,'

      said the young girl Wanda.*****

      23.01 – Great tropical greenhouse: Arnisa Zeqo and Laurie Cluitmans are re-enacting Jane Bowles' play Two Serious Ladies.

      Into the winds and sunshine or into the winds and moonrise******

      It is hard to remain serious when a couple of big bugs appear onstage.

      23.12 – Subtropical container plants: Pause. Time for a Tequila Sunrise by Susan Gibb.

      23.44 – Formal garden: Agnieszka Polska projecting a movie consisting of a super close zoom of a cover of America magazine – a very popular publication in Poland (her country of birth) in the 1950s.

      23.50 – Chinese penjing: Sands Murray-Wassink touching our olfactory system and warping us back in time with samples of Vent Vert, a perfume created in 1945 by Germaine Cellier, the first female nose for the House of Balmain. The perfume contained an overdose of galbanum, and is universally seen as the first unisex perfume.

      Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender. *******

      This is the evening at its fullest as the whole crowd sits together in a circle, a circle of conspiracy.

      00.02 – Evergreen ferns: Katja Mater’s custom-made projector splits light with a prism in the six colours of the spectrum. It’s pitch dark by now and different compositions of light beams playfully touch the screen, set up in the lush greens.

      00.11– Perennial plants: Kyle Tryhorn beaming his photographic work Keeper of the Psychic Garden onto a bush. Digital leaves touch upon physical leaves.

      00.19 – Great tropical greenhouse: Irene Kopelman talks about her fascination for botanical gardens and their inspiration for her personal practice. Some people are starting to linger in different parts of the garden.

      00.36 – Great tropical greenhouse: Sara van der Heide is premiering part of her work Mother Earth Breathing. While Sara places herself lying on the ground, a projection starts to play just above her: a mesmerizing movie where a triangle, a square and a circle slowly morph to new colours and dimensions. While for twelve minutes the breathing of her own body (and ours as well) is the only perceptible movement, the projected shapes almost become tangible and start to float in space. It is a beautiful closure to a sacred night.

      00.53: The End.

      At times we were lost in translation. Babylon Sisters moving through different time zones (literally but also symbolically as the contributions spanned over a century worth of anecdotes). A work in progress, where the twittering of the birds and the soft-spoken, and at times fiery, voices of the participants were overshadowed by helicopter noises from the VU hospital and the sounds of racing cars.

      One cannot exclude daily reality, even in the most idyllic setting. But that didn’t matter, quite on the contrary. As is the intention of Sara: offering a new option, a paradigm shift of the unlimited growth of our current capitalist system and a different experience of being in time. Time to be together, and to celebrate. And ultimately, to dance.

      *Marlow Moss, Riet Wijnen, 2013
      ** Bright and Dark, Ellie Epp, 1995-1996

      ***Yoko Ono Voice Box, Nora Turato, 2013

      **** MoMA press release of 'Steichen Delphiniums', 1936
      ***** The Young Girl Wanda, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, 1992
      ****** Two Serious Ladies, Jane Bowles, 1943

      ****** In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose, Alice Walker, 1983

      If I Can't Dance,
      I Don't Want to Be Part of
      Your Revolution