Thoughts on nomadism
Background of the Danube project ‚Potamos‘


Modern man's world problem of over-population, (which results in the tensions caused by people trying to settle in new areas) may be solved by a new concept of nomadism. Although, not migrants in a physical sense, our surroundings constantly change, causing that even the most sedentary types have become nomads. Therefore a nomad should not nescessarily be seen as an historical figure or nomadism as an old-fashioned way of life.
In my view nomadism is prevalent in our society. Hence the thought „If people today can put up with constantly changing conditions in their lives (basically like nomads) then by the same token, they should be able to free themselves of all the self inflicted tensions that morals and traditions tend to create“. These are the tensions that can lead to extreme right wing politics or fundamentalism.

To explore this idea of modern nomadism in my visual work, I have created a way of working which I call 'road-art'. 'Road-art' is a counterpart to the existing visual concept, known as 'road-movie'.
At first I tended to use a rather direct, descriptive approach to explore this visual language. For example: I took snapshots of different scenes on or along roads, often whilst driving, and linked these to form chains of photos. In addition, I used video material and incorporated both (photos and film) when making my installations, using car tyres, wind screens and mud traces symbolizing the dirt tracks.
After this explorative phase of making 'road-art', I concentrated on the 'why' of being on the road. As compared to a 'road-movie' where there is always a motivation for the character to leave, in my road-art I completely emphasize on the idea that being on the road is far more important than arriving at the destination. This is according to me the core of the concept of new nomadism, namely tthe ability to put up with constantly changing conditions.
This contrast between the 'road-movie' and the 'road-art', brought me to the concept of pilgrimage and formed a base for further exploration into the reasons for being 'on the road'.

Pilgrimage (as I view it) is a journey that confronts the pilgrim with the unknown corners of his soul and finally brings him to deeper understanding and purification.
In the process of looking for a way to visualize the concept of pilgrimage I was inspired by the Greek philosopher Heraclites and to quote from his words:  “I counselled myself”.
Facing the landscape and the world around me, Heraclites’ conclusion that “One man never steps twice in the same river” appealed to me strongly and I therefore decided to concentrate on the concept of a river, both metaphorically and physically.

My assumption is that a man may only be himself when he is in a permanent state of change and that in this state he will be able to face today’s crises. This assumption is explored in my pilot project using the river as a metaphor. If my assumption is correct, then rivers should confirm this by showing their ability to accept permanent change and express the strength gained from this acceptance.
The river herself is a nomad, always on the road, even in time. She links all places on her banks and all events to one eternal ongoing chain. Hence, she can be used to investigate Heraclites’ philosophy of the unity of opposites, and give value to Heraclites’ words: “The same is: alive and dead, war and peace” and “we are and we are not”.
The Danube, Central Europe’s main stream and the only river flowing from west to east, attracted me the most for several other reasons. The Danube links ten countries and four capitals. On her banks are cities with huge cultural and material wealth as well as areas of horrid actions of war, drama and human annihilation. Moreover, she flows through areas, which changed drastically after the collapse of communism.

Travelling and filming down the Danube, as if I was a pilgrim, I tried to look through her eyes. I saw that every place on her banks had the same value because each gave the river the right of existence. I saw that after recent dramatic events the Danube affirmed my thoughts about permanent change. The Danube shows her resilience and flows on as she always has. She will await new change. The Danube shows strength in adapting to constant changes, whereas man struggles and mostly stays conservative.




Nomadic life

From my point of view a nomad should not nescessarily be seen as an historical figure or nomadism as an old-fashioned way of life. On the contrary nomadism is a prevalent phenomena in our society. We might not all be migrants in a physical sense, our surroundings constantly change, causing that even the most sedentary types have (forced) become nomads.
This friction between these two opposites, nomadic versus sedentary, is not a new one. In fact the story goes back to the cradle of our civilisation. To the first two people born on earth: Cain and Abel. Cain, the eldest was a farmer and Abel, the youngest, a shepard. And cain was jealous of Abel and killed him. These first people had already opposite characters. Cain, the farmer, is symbol of the archetype of the sedentairy, civilized human. Abel, the shepard, is symbol of the archetype of the human travelling or the nomad.
Cain, the elder, the stronger one, kills his younger brother Abel out of jealousy. This biblic story is a metafor of what by now has taken place in the whole world history. The civil person kills the nomad. Worlwide every form of nomadism is being enclosed, surpressed, destroyed and exterminated.
Though archetipally seen half of the people (better half of every person) is in core a nomad. Contemporary civil culture leaves almoast no space for this (once the misunderstandig stood up that civil is equal to civilisation, though in origine it means no more than urbanisation) Nomads have been locked up in dwellings, reservation grounds, condemned to a slow death. Nomadism only continues existing in a cultivated form: holidays under exotic sun and tropical safari’s.

This world wide tendency to force complete humanity to stay in one habitat causes tensions and eventually evoces war. Because everytime the Abel within has to be killed until we will be able to let him live freely.
Abel, the innocent one, symbolises the purest of humanity: the ability to move and to adept to changing circumstances. Because after his horrible deed, Cain plees to God to let him wander the world as a refugee. It went wrong, as said by British author Bruce Chatwin, with the humans after they stopped hunting and settleds down in a home:; who doesn’t travel, who doesn’t roam, won’t find peace.




Should I stay or should I go?

Background of the residency at Greatmore Studio's, Cape Town


I am convinced that the worldwide feeling of fear and the concept of narrow-mindedness may be reduced if people from different cultures stay open to exchanges. In my opinion Artists in residency programs and diverse exchange projects can substantially and positively contribute to the action of stepping out of this situation. As I am a (visual) artist, I see it as my duty to keep discovering and reflecting on the richness that lies in exchanging and sharing.
Because of my own background, the attitude of sharing and exchanging comes naturally to me. I was born in the Netherlands – a country which for many years was known for being ‘open’ with respect to admitting a relative large number of foreigners. I spent my childhood in Cameroon. For me this has been an intense experience and it made me abandon the concept of one language and one skin colour at early age. My marriage to a Czech woman caused that I also developed strong bounds with Eastern Europe.

It may come as no surprise that an important part my artistic activities took place abroad, especially in Africa and in Eastern Europe. Finally it has resulted in the fact that the concepts of non sedentariness and being ‘on the road’ have become the major themes of my work. Here I see a new form of nomadism, a ‘contemporary nomadism’. Because of over- constantly change. As a consequence we can state that the old definitions and patterns along which we used to live no longer fit us. Basically nobody lives any longer in a mono cultural, mono religious, mono ‘racial’ society or mono sexual (in the sense of sexual preferences and the relations between the different genders). In this sense –according to my opinion- everybody has become a (contemporary) nomad, looking for new patterns and definitions. Therefore nomadism should not be seen as an old-fashioned way but as a contemporary state of living that is relevant to all of us.

I view South Africa as a nomadic country. It has a long history of (re)creation, i.e. foreigners and settlers came to this territory and in fact created and recreated the country. Consequently, people in South Africa live in a constant changing society because of the social and political developments resulted (among others) from the creation.
South Africa is a country of great contrasts. To a certain extent this has created a situation where the majority of the people have become very uncertain of their position in society.

On one side there are millions of poor living in townships next to the big cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town. These people live in semi-permanent settlements; this makes their existence fairly insecure: on one hand they try to build up a secure housing and living and on the other they are constantly aware of the possibility that they can be forced to leave any moment.
On the other side there are wealthy people who profited from the luxury position they had during the former political system. They now feel threatened and question themselves whether they should stay in the country.