Bodies, Buildings

My body was lacking the energy to stand up. Its legs felt more heavy than usual, the shoulders were hanging low and weary, my mind was drowsy. The gravity of last nights drinks made me stick to the museum bench. No need to talk. Just hang in there.

Try not to clench your fingers into a fist. It's better to let them rest. Relax.

The anthracene floor was slightly more sparkly than a regular institutional grey. Heavy neo-classical walls of sand coloured stone were surrounding us. Light entered the galleries from the ceiling through a curved window. The two vast spaces were divided by a rotunda — to enter you'd walk under a soberly decorated arch. I wanted to hug the ionic columns, press my cheek against the soft stone, close my eyes.

But we were not alone here. Two fighter jets had entered the museum. I pulled myself up, and made a slow walk, with my hands in the pockets of my coat, to have a closer look. Two fighter jets had entered the museum: sharp and brutal, their size impressive. One was hanging from the ceiling, its nose cone suspended about two feet above the ground, coming to a sudden standstill. The second aircraft lay on the floor, stranded on its side. It was polished into the brightest silver, so shiny I had to face myself, reflecting in the mirror. To pace slowly around it was like pacing around a sleeping predator — but this animal couldn't attack anymore, it was caged by the gallery space, where any danger inevitably dissolved.

The Duveen Galleries were the first public galleries in England designed specifically for the display of sculpture. Despite of all the sterness and neo-classical grandeur, for me the space felt like a warm blanket, something to wrap yourself around in. Still hungover, I walked back to the bench. I enjoyed the growing silence within me, that became more infinite with each minute passing. Let it linger for a while.

An American had done the Louvre in nine minutes and forty-five seconds. They decided to do better. And off they go. Running through the monumental gallery spaces, hand in hand, their feet sometimes sliding over the slippery floor. Clattering steps on the stairways, laughter. The calm rhythm of visitors watching paintings gets interrupted for a moment, when three friends are running through the museum for the joy of the adrenaline rush. They need those museum walls, to make it into a fabulous run.

The trick to recognize them, is to check out their shoes. They all wear running shoes. Of course, these days both art school kids as older American tourists in nondescript Walmart jeans can be seen walking around in colourful Asics Gels — but here, in the crowded Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, it appeared that a specific group of people are wearing running shoes for a specific purpose.

The industrial hall has the feeling of an airport lobby. Visitors who arrive, are smoothly guided to their destination by friendly wayfinding signs, to the restaurant on the top floor, the members area, the collection — while with a similar friendly tone of voice money is made on the way through the gift shop, passing the cloakroom that is free, but where a donation is kindly suggested. Visitors coming and going are crossing the space like they are walking on a public square, or are spending some time at one of the plazas that William H. Whyte is describing in The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.

I already arrived at my destination, resting my back against a pilar, spotting people with running shoes. There are about 70 of them, and if you look closely, you will notice that their way of walking is going against the tide of the rest of the crowd. They stick around, take their time, wait for the right moment — and then they accelerate. Walking becomes jogging, jogging becomes running, until the group has gained enough speed to emerge as a sprinting swarm, moving swiftly, like a flock of birds through the hall, in a euphoric crescendo.

Later, they will become a choir. Later, they will approach visitors individually for a small conversation. They will stand still, move again, chase each other up and down the sloped floor, and dissolve once more in the crowd.

How I'd love to run around in a museum for three months.

The gravestones in the church are smoothened by footsteps. In some classical paintings dogs are walking around in this building, but these days pets are not allowed. Still, the grey gravestones on the floor keep being polished by new foosteps everyday. There are more than 2500 of them, predominantly simply decorated with inscripted initials, a family name and a date. A few of the stones are more ornate, with curly patterns and coats of arms, that give a strange sensation under the soles of my feet.

Outside, groups of English men in embarrasing outfits are blaring on the cobbled streets. In the bar on the corner you can still sit down with an old jenever at a small table, but the smell of waffle shops is occupying more air, just as the coffee bars and pop-up shops that slowly but surely replace the women behind the windows.

I've been for almost ten hours inside the church now. It's time for the final hour of the programme. I take another sip of a bottle of Ex Voto, that F. brought earlier today. The Nuns Ale contains water, barley malt (pilsner, caramel, amber varietes), candi sugar, wheat, hops (hersbrucker, saaz), grains of paradise, yeast. Beer with some weight to it.

O plays firmly, the thunderous sounds of the record are reverberating from the walls, his music is slowly pressing us, it's boiling. We're just a small group, and usually this wouldn't feel cozy, but we've been hanging out here for a while now, embraced by the building. Suddenly, a hand starts to move. And there, a foot. A head gently rolls back. Shoulders sway to the slowly pulsing rhythm. Arms are claiming some more space. Feet are stomping on the ground. Each body affects another body, the motion gradually spreading. A slender pale guy jumps up, and takes his shirt off. Now there's no way back. We stomp and jump and smile and dance, trying not to trip over the ornated grave stones. Bodies dancing on top of bodies.

The church bell rings. It's midnight, I walk over to the DJ. The record stops. Silence. Breathe out.

'Architecture is so reassuring', a friend writes me. We e-mail about bodies, buildings. A coat is reassuring too. I just bought a new one, an olive green bomber jacket, at least two sizes too big. It doesn't show my body that much, but rather lets the body nicely inhabit the bulky shape of the coat. Leaving just enough space for warm air to float around. For a whole month, I enjoy long walks in the crisp winter weather, being reassured by the scale of London streets, it's stately Georgian houses in white stucco, the Brutalist presence of the Trellick Tower, while the City is always looming in the distance.

The bubble coat is all about cold winter days in New York. As depicted in video clips on MTV, where people exhale small breath clouds in the air, hiding in their puffy jackets, hands in their pockets. We've seen this before. But in 1995, four men, dressed in oversized jeans topped with bubble coats and layers of sports wear, walk through a New York backstreet quite differently. It's a very confident way of walking, with big steps forward and making wild gestures with their arms while rapping. But something is not right, as if the forward movement is sublty hindered by an invisible force. They fall, but no, they fall upwards. They pass by some garbage cans, cars, while leaving the back alley to enter a wider avenue where people are passing by. But wait, these bypassers, are walking backwards. The camera makes sure we keep our attention close to the four rappers, who are suddenly undressed, but piece by piece have their clothes thrown back at them, clinging back onto their bodies, including that dark blue bubble coat. The 3 and a half min video ends with them drawing a spraypainted image on a glass plate, depicting four creatues and a black and red ghost in the sky — during the last seconds, they make the drawing disappear.

The video of Drop by The Pharcyde, directed by Spike Jonze, is a magical video. Because it looks so incredibly familiar, while at the same time being completely surreal, ungraspable.

First we reversed it.

Then we mixed it.

The video is completely shot backwards. And later reversed again, so that a backwards walk becomes a walk forward with a slightly different shift, with its own reality.

How to become stubborn material? To walk confidently, with serious intentions but also some lightness. To hide in plain sight. To be embraced by buildings.

Try not to clench your fingers into a fist.