It was the beginning of the project. The late Bert Hermans introduced me around in Turkey. Art funding from the major banks is the main motor behind artist development in Turkey, and I was invited to look around in the archives of the Garanti Platform. With a little help from my friends, I selected a few artists and contacted them to explain my mission. And this guy says, “Well… I will not accept any invitation if I cannot look you in the eyes. I live 130 kilometers away. You are welcome.” So, I went there the next day. I met him in his house, and he introduced me at the university. We sat down and the television was showing news about bomb explosions that had occurred in Istanbul – very near to where my truck had been parked that night. I mean: very near. He was shocked, as well – not about my truck and that coincidence, but about the fact that people use such horrific means to achieve their self-interests. “The authorities will respond with more Big Brother methods. Everybody is going to fight his own war,” he said.
Meanwhile, I had to ask him to make a little painting about hope. “But listen, my friend,” he replied, “I do not know if you understand the situation, but if this continues, the situation is hopeless. Everybody in this country knows you have one hand for politics and another for religion. You cannot mix them. And now there is a minority, a very small number of people, who do not respect this and start throwing religious bombs. Since humankind is very capable of making mistake after mistake, and so many splinter groups want to respond, it is a very dangerous situation.” He became a kind of very relaxed sort of desperate, realizing he is big enough to understand, but too small to do something about it. “What to paint?” he asked me. But after he accepted the little white board measuring 25x35 cm and pointed out the dangerous geopolitical situation to me, that was really not my problem anymore. So, he wished me good luck and safe journey, and he asked me to wish him luck, because the painting about hope needed to be ready in six weeks and the situation was more or less hopeless. What will happen in this country?
I came back several weeks later. His friends and colleagues at the faculty had also made some great paintings, and when we finally had some time, he sat there, with a little modest smile on his face. He shows me a painting of a man with a telescope and a bunch of other people looking at this man. He starts talking: “The painting is called Mars. You see this man? He’s the center of the painting. He is also the center of my attention because he is looking for something. I like people who are looking for something. But he is looking for something pretty far away. Not that Mars is not interesting, but still… He does not seem to be interested in the society that surrounds him. All the others are looking for nothing. They are just waiting, waiting to see what happens. Maybe the man with the telescope finds something, and all will be happy because their friend found something. But maybe the man with the telescope must admit after a few days there is nothing out there, and quite a few of the people will laugh, ‘We told you there was nothing out there.’” And this painter keeps on talking this way and suddenly he says, “Hey, did you notice? I have a great painting. My story is not too bad, and I did not give you any little piece of false hope.”
Years later, I was present at a terrorist attack in Apeldoorn, when a hideous, freaked out person drove his car through the crowd to attack the Queen on her special holiday, live on TV, killing and wounding dozens. I was there telling stories about paintings, and obviously the party was over. But I could not leave because the flea market was still going and our truck was parked behind everything. And all those people, especially the couples, who did not want to go home and watch TV wandered around in a city with this strange atmosphere. They desperately needed to reflect, socially. Many visited the exhibition, and I told them this story, just in order to give people some space for incomprehensible things.
It was one of the most beautiful days I had, but I could not tell anybody. Until now.