This near-worldwide lockdown we’re experiencing for the moment in de midst of the Coronacrisis is a weird time. It’s a time for self-reflection among other things, but even that gets old after a while. For artists who suffer from a lack of inspiration, a mandatory lockdown can be a gift from heaven. The obligation to re-explore your work, past and present, can give way to insights previously thought out of reach. Isolation can also however provide newfound inspiration. Being stuck inside I’ve started browsing my 100+ collection of photo books. (Sidenote : the Japanese have a word specifically for this, the art of accumulating books that you haven’t yet read or might never endeavour to read : ‘Tsundoku’).
I’m starting to think that Dante and Rodin spent a lot of time hopping trams in Antwerp, because taking one of these on a daily basis is Divine Comedy in itself.
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”
Anyone acquainted with Dante’s Inferno knows that this is the sign swaying over the entrance to hell in that story. Sadly, it’s also my exact thought every time I enter an overcrowded, jam-packed Tram 7 heading to work in the morning. Being a man of the people, I take the tram/subway to work quite often. It’s not always pleasant. Scratch that, it’s bearable. Sometimes. Not really. On one of the rare occasions during which I managed to grab hold of an actual seat, giving me the opportunity to sit like a decent human being instead of clinging to one of the bars on the ceiling and swinging upright like a drying carpet in that vertical sardine can, I remember catching a glimpse of my reflection in the condensated windows. I couldn’t help but notice the eerie resemblance between the pose I was in and the one Rodin’s Le Penseur is perpetuated in, perched on top of the doors representing Dante’s infamous Gates to Hell. The similarities between that rusty tramlike cage and the cavernous confines of hell didn’t stop there.
One of my favorite quotes stems from renowned American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides and goes a little like this :
“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”
Ever noticed how almost everything you buy these days is preformatted in some way? Computers come with useless software bundles. Your phone comes with applications you’ll never use and can’t delete (hey Apple, thanks for making me delete precious photos and memories so that I can keep super-useful apps like ‘Game Center’ and ‘Compass’ installed) and your brand new microwave comes bundled with a dozen manuals you’ll never read in a plethora of languages you can’t even decipher. There’s no room for personal discovery anymore. There’s no room to wander anymore.
Life hands you metaphors for the phases you’re going through in life at the weirdest times and in the weirdest forms. It’s usually a couple of times each year that you get one of these eye-opening moments. One of the greatest and most exciting things in life is the fact that you never know when life will impart you one of its next bits of wisdom. You’ll get these mini-epiphanies in the weirdest of places and in the aloofest of moments. Be it in a Chinese fortune cookie, a poster above a strip-club urinal or on a hotelroom doorsign.
The best piece of advice I ever got was the following : when you meet or are about to meet someone who is imposing, or important to you, and this makes you nervous, or unsettles you in any way, never forget that how big and mighty, how powerful and awe-inspiring that person may be, at one time or another in their life, that person was on his or her hands and knees with explosive diarrhea, praying to their God for a hasty end to aforementioned rear-pipe decompression. Visualising the subject of your idolation in a state of agonising flatulence will pretty much level the playing field you and that person. Gone is the anxiety.