In neither of the variations the theme on which they are based is recognisable.
Each variation is different in character, mood, tempo, rhythm and technique.
They only share the facts that they are all based on the same harmonic structure, and that they are all in the same key or in the parallel minor key.
The whole work may last as long as an hour and twenty minutes or even an hour and a half, but it never fails to keep you listening from the beginning to the end.
Seeing Jos van Merendonk’s (1956) present exhibition at PARTS Project, a presentation of twenty-four paintings, all one by one metre and – of course! – all of them Merendonk-green, reminded me of Bach’s grand set of variations.
Not just for the concept but also for the sheer variety of ideas.
On one hand they make you want to walk from one painting to the next, just to know how the next one looks like, on the other hand they make you stop in front of each painting to see everything – and i mean everything! – in it..
(Ah, yes, painting is still a fascinating business!)
They all have their own individuality and logical or illogical construction, and they are all made with an intense dedication.
Some works are relatively old – the oldest is from 1991 – others are from as recent as 2020.
In fact, from the second painting onwards every third painting is from the same 2020 series which are purely painted copies of earlier collage paintings.
However, the copies are not just copies; they have become translations, and, as such, works in their own right.
In the mean time the other sixteen paintings are a fascinating showcase of different developments in Van Merendonk’s painting (and there are more themes and variations in them too).
This is another memorable show in the PARTS Project series, austere as well as versatile.
– By the way, in the Goldberg Variations every third variation is a canon -.
Now that you’ve come here, you might as well subscribe to Villa Next Door (top right of the page)!
The physical installation at the gallery is in three parts, but the sounds of it can also be experienced partly on PARTS’ website.
As the installation should be very much experienced on the spot, it would be a serious spoiler to tell you any of my experiences with it; it is better to visit it yourself (which i’d highly recommend).
Additionally some works from private collections are on show as well.
Last weekend three-hour sessions were held by different instrumentalists each in one of five different locations, dealing each with one of five so-called mental disorders: ADHD, anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder and autism.
Whether it was percussionist Klára van de Ketterij (ADHD) running around a collection of drums and other percussive instruments, cellist Jan Willem Troost (anxiety disorder) grappling with his instrument and his environment, or electric guitarist Santiago Lascurain (depression) in his bathtub with dirt, they all showed an extremely meticulous dedication to what they were doing within the sheer unbreakable walls of their supposed conditions, for three whole hours.
The performance by clarinettists Enric Sans Morera and Jorge López García (bipolar disorder) and the one by trumpeter Justin Christensen (autism) were even quite similar in ideas of expression: experiments with water and plastic in combination with the unexpected properties of their instruments.
In the case of the depression performance, the expression was almost too literal, with the performer covering himself in black mud, and even while the guitar was only playing a slowly transforming sound by itself, one could call it a melodramatic performance.
In the anxiety act the public was invited to use a triangle now and then, but what influence that had on the performance was hard to see.
Was it an invitation to ease the tensions with the sound of the triangle or an invitation to be cruel to the performer with an unexpected sound?
A confronting perspective is, of course, the fact that sufferers of these so-called disorders have to cope with it every day and night in all circumstances and not just for three hours.
In the mean time one must be completely un-self-reflective or even narcissistic (!!) not to realise that we all have bits of these disorders in ourselves, in spite of the fact that most of us are thought to be ‘normal’.
They do not just confuse our brains, but may also make us cope with confusing or disturbing situations or stimulate dedication and creativity.
The fact that autism can be most associated with all five acts, is maybe because art itself needs complete dedication both to the whole and to the detail and complete surrender to the performance, whether one is making music or a painting or whatever.
As for the five acts, as said they each lasted three hours which is quite a superhuman effort by the performers.
They performed for three hours for four days, and must have practiced and prepared for many hours.
That in itself and the co-operation between the composer, the performers, the five art platforms and everybody technically and psychologically involved is a great job.
In spite of that it should be said that none of the performances were artistically interesting enough to follow for three hours (or maybe that depends on one’s own disorder?).
Also the question asked by the composer “Can we find compassion in order to expand our concept as a society of what is ‘in order’?” may be a relevant question generally, but do these acts stimulate any answers or reflections on the subject?
And if they do, are they doing so implicitly or too explicitly?
Either the question may be too wide-ranging, or the performances need more (yes even more!) aesthetic reflection.