- Webmaster SENSOPROJEKT
- 20 février 2023
Cottage, Diamond, Pigeon
In my early childhood we sometimes went to a cottage in the countryside, one with a thatched roof and red and white shutters. “Huisje in het bos” we’d call the place, and so over the years it got confused in my memory with Huis ten Bosch, a palace of the Dutch royal family. The confusion was due to the name, but also because it had once belonged to an aristocratic family. It didn’t seem farfetched if, when we weren’t in the cottage, the queen and her consort would be staying there.
I hated going to the cottage in the woods. There was nothing to do except to play board games and walk in the forest. I hated the forest, nature in general, and the unfamiliar sleeping place. In those days, every unfamiliar sleeping place would immediately upon arrival fill me with a deep homesickness. Only the thatched cottage was dear to me, and even more the shutters with bright red diamonds on a white background, as in a pack of cards. Back in our suburban home I dreamt of those shutters. Somewhere else there would be a house with just those shutters with just those red diamonds but behind them would lie a world of happiness.
Now I am middle-aged and no longer dream. Yet my heart did not remain unmoved when, in the opening shot of Annelein’s film, I saw a painting of the “Zomp”, the house where she grew up, with a thatched roof and beneath them the same shutters and the same red and white diamonds, as in a pack of cards. The painting was made in Pakistan, says Annelein, after a photograph. You can see, says Annelein, that the painter has never been in the Netherlands. The thatched roof looks like it is made of a different material, a branch is hanging from the roof in a somewhat oriental manner, and the bench is as it were reclining in front of the house instead of standing firmly in the Dutch clay. In the opening shot the contents of the painting start moving. A group of doves flies up above the house.
The star of the film is a pigeon. Due to a never explained condition, its neck is folded backward, so that its little red eyes are always looking up to the ceiling, or as is often the case, up to the concerned face of his fancier Francesco. We might say, perhaps a little fanciful, that the pigeon has put his head in his neck, so that it sees the world upside-down. Lukaku is his name. And he speaks. From beyond the grave – he is already dead – he tells his story. “I am an upside-down dove, I see what was.”
“Strange,” says Geert, the eye photographer. “It’s a pigeon that makes you think.” Lukaku makes you think because he sees the world upside-down, because he cannot fly, and because he asks questions that cannot be answered but can nonetheless be discussed. In the beginning of the film he philosophises: What came first, the turtle or the dove? The night or the shop? The honey or the girl? The good or the for-nothing?
Let’s begin with those red eyes. May one evaluate a bird by the colour of its eyes? The pigeon fanciers in white lab coats object: a special way of looking out of their eyes might be relevant, but not the colour of the eyes. More important than a pigeon’s eye-colour is its name. A good pigeon has been given a name by its fancier; a named pigeon can win awards, without a name it is destined for the boiling pot. By this standard, Lukaku is a good pigeon. Despite his disability he has not been made into pigeon soup.
I confess that I have always evaluated pigeons by the colour of their eyes. Of all birds I would put them at the bottom of the pecking order, unjustly and unfairly, only and solely because of those chips-addicted eyes, accompanied by their always smudgy-looking beak. Just to compare, I harbour warm feelings for sparrows. Those little winged fat balls can always hop on my table. And yet, even the urbanised rock dove, jaded by time, numbed by the noise and pollution of the overcrowded city, after it has found a nesting place in a nook on the university’s roof (look, look, look what I found?), grooms its partner’s feathers so carefully, so lovingly.
The city pigeons are too wild to keep, too wild to love. But Lukaku is a homing pigeon, a carrier pigeon, though a flightless, unemployed one — a good-for-nothing, like the girl in the honey shop. He is tenderly petted and tickled under (above?) his upside-down head and receives compassion when he has lost a feather. In summary, he is a pettable pigeon, the proud bearer of a name, loved just because he is useless.
Just as there is no turtledove without a pigeon and no pigeon without a turtledove, so there is no night without a shop and no shop without a night. Thanks to the night shop there is light in the street. The sleepless have a place to go, as long as they can afford the minimal excuse of urgently needing to buy a pack of cigarettes or Pringles. Usman, I must say, never seems to be truly awake; he looks as if he is sleepwalking. But when I watched the film a second time I noticed that I had grown attached to him. It was like seeing an old friend: his despair when he loses his pigeon, his joy when the pigeon returns, and his sloth which is the sloth of the never-ending night.
The birds in the portraits are good birds because they have a name: a first name, which they share with the human person for whom they were fashioned; and a family name, which is the month and year in which the artist handed them over. Birds with the same last name are related to each other though they don’t know each other. So they fly out into the world.
In the film, an expert explains that a homing pigeon, once moved to a foreign place, may not be set free, lest he will “fly lost”. The same can be said, in a sense, of the painted birds. They are captured in a frame, as in a mirror, and indeed they mirror, according to a secret formula, the namesake in whose house they hang. In this way you might try – though surely in vain – to determine the character of their owners by the look of the birds.
Their maker calls them ducks. And they do look like the unique members of still undiscovered duck species, sometimes with the long neck of a goose or a swan. The first thing you notice are their eyes, in the middle of their mysteriously coloured feather coat — or rather, the eye, because there is ever only one. I once heard that ducks sleep with one half of their brain while the other stands guard. Since then I cannot pass a quiet pond without thinking of this amazing ability to split yourself in two. In the portraits one eye looks at you, often with a melancholy look, as if the bird is bearing the burden of its beauty; the other, unseen eye leads its own, secret life.
A bird is a traditional image for the human soul, like the winged souls in Plato’s Phaedrus. According to this tradition, there is a light, airborne creature in your body, which will be set free upon your death. Which immediately makes you think: if my soul is a bird, what is the soul of a bird? The answer is obvious: the soul of a bird is a human being. That would explain why Lukaku can talk to us after his death: he is a human being that had been held captive in a broken flying machine. This human being, in his turn, has a soul, which is a bird, and so on…
— Martijn Wallage
23 October 2022, Leipzig