`Almost Real`
projects & works
Draw a Farm

`Almost Real`, Wapke Feenstra (ENG)
Published in OCD, a fanzine by Annie Fletcher and Otto Berchem 2004

ALMOST REAL conference was held 11 – 14 march 2004 at the POST CM building in Utrecht. ALMOST REAL is initiated by the European Cultural Foundation in collaboration with the Centraal Museum Utrecht.

While the title of second day of the Almost Real conference was “Rural Interventions” I didn’t hear too much about that issue, although there was a ‘live performance’ on a farm with 150 people who were bussed in.
Getting lost on the way to an ecological farm the Dutch passengers were asked to tell the visitors from abroad about the landscape in “The Green Heart of the Netherlands”. I told some people from Sheffield about the drainage systems that farmers use and how they try to avoid dehydrated land in the summer. As a farmers daughter I could tell my English guests strange details I never had an audience for.
I tried to avoid speaking about the view from the bus as a landscape. The stories of the struggle of irrigation and cleaning ditches was my way to counterbalance the irritating way the landscape was introduced to the audience as: “Look we Dutch made our land ourselves! It was never meant to be a place to live.” BLUH! You need a dialogue with the ground and knowledge of the place, not a view out of the window and a consumers gaze. That dialogue is never ending.
Reading marks on the land brings me to the lecture that was held that morning in the Centraal Museum by Mike Pearson, who “examines points of convergence between contemporary performance and interpretive approaches in archaeology, natural history and the rural” according to the press release. He gave a great lecture/performance in which he introduced something called “the deep map”. The deep map is related to “the first square mile” in which we all grew up and from which we have a knowledge that is so deeply experienced that we never repeat it. He showed childhood pictures and his knees, relating the fact that talking about the marks of youth is a longing. True. Every time I look at my right hand I see marks of a stone bridge that I once crashed into on my bike on my way to school. Apart from his knees Mike Pearson also showed a video of a performance he made in his hometown. He was acting as the archaeologist that he is. The audience were people that knew him when he grew up. The performance was set up as a guided tour with Pearson as guide, a small audience (his mother, schoolteacher and so on) and of course a camera (so now we also know a bit about his youth). In the tour he was showing where he was photographed as a child, where he was climbing over a wall and other spots. In general Nothing truly unique, but marking his memory and part of his deep map. Presented in a constructed personal way with a talent for performance, he really touched the audience and me. Is talent for performance the glue in his stories? I think it plays a big role, but it is more interesting that he shows the mediation of the body in a very clear and direct way. The reaction of the audience was immediate. We see this also in the taped performance: his mother is turning her head when he is overacting. Another person is giggling. That they play and have a role in their tour is scratching the surface of the real on many points and sometimes they disappear altogether into the private. It is a serious game and the escape lays in the fact that the archaeologist is often clownish and makes his body a tool. It is therefore very important choice to tape the performance. Why was the body not enough? Why do we need a taped image? Is this image bringing us closer to the issue?
Back on the farm where we arrived a bit to late, I feel very strange and not only because the lunch is delayed. The fact that we are with 150 people on a farm, makes that farm to a stage and we are the public. This makes me uncomfortable. The fact that the farmers also have to do this because farming and working hard is not enough to get by bothered me. I don’t feel comfortable with my role as spectator in the “performance” of the farmer. I try to turn my head, but our appearance as public is too strong. Too many bodies. Having so many people on a cattle farm feels like an auction. This negative emotion is for sure influenced by my “deep map”. I am upset when (rural) images are fed by “roles” and there is no escape or stop or reset. Just play.