Beeldend Kunstenaar

Martijn van Elferen

Gastkunstenaar mei/juni 2023
Locatie GGz Breburg - Dongekant
Tekst: Lot Louis Veelenturf


Remember the first time you witnessed your father do a magic trick. It was probably a simple one -children are a willing audience- like pulling something from behind your ear: a coin or a piece of candy. Try to really remember what it felt like to believe it. Your father was a wizard, or if not a wizard, he had at least met one who taught him how to conjure candy out of thin air. Remember how full of possibility the world felt to you in that moment. Perhaps you would meet a wizard too, or maybe even become one yourself. This sense of wonder, a feeling of pleasure and possibility, is what you might experience while engaging with Martijn van Elferen’s work.

It all starts with a cave. A place in nature to live together harmoniously with one another, filled with colourful frescoes of dancing people, brought to life by the glimmer of flames. Living here feels like you’re part of the creation of a new ancient myth. A tale first pressed into the wall with pigment, then carved out of wood, then told by our moving bodies. We tell the story of our sanctuary and bring it to the street, the park, the public space, and we inhabit it with so much joy that the public space, for a moment, does not make us feel small. We dance and do cartwheels and sing, not because we are scared, but to conjure up a utopia of movement; a glimpse of what life could be like if we were allowed to truly celebrate it.

Sometimes, when we leave the cave on our own, we cover ourselves like Odysseus, and hide from the cyclops’ eye of public opinion. Ostensibly we become part of the flock -never to truly conform, only to save energy- until inevitably our cover is lifted, our hide stolen, and we are left with only the skin of our bare ass. Immediately the cyclops throws us some clothes and demands we act ‘normal’; we -disgusted but tired- try, for a while. Nobody is happy in this arrangement, and before long we, the inhabitants of the cave, grow bored and start to play.

It happens when we are unprepared, the pull of the game too strong to resist. A yellow ball bounces towards us innocently and we pick it up. It feels light and full of possibility -like it wants to bounce and skip and be thrown around. It reminds us of our cave and the joy we were once able to feel, and before we know it the yellow ball is up in the air, with us chasing after it.

The ball leads us to a small river, a stream under a bridge, where it escapes our hands and dives into the flowing water. Unafraid we jump after it, play with it in the whirling creek, until we release it and let it drift down the river, its yellow head bobbing up and down in the current.

In the distance we see a shape appear on the horizon. A shape in a pale shade of orange is being carried down the stream towards us, luxuriating in the water. As it approaches, we recognise it to be a creature from the cave, a fresco brought to life with beeswax and paper and the pure spirit of fun and play. We let it drift by, not wanting to disturb its pleasure, while another one appears, this one bigger and a slightly darker shade of orange. Another one pops up on the horizon, and another one, each one bigger than the one before, and a deeper shade. The last creature to meander down is a red figure that holds out its hand and allows us to dance with it. The music of the trickling water and the croaking frogs in the reeds guide our limbs as we close the procession of orange and carry the red one onto the riverbank. We recognise in it our love for our cave and our desire for pleasure and when a familiar melody arises we don’t hesitate to hum along. We sing and dance until we can no longer sing and dance, and ultimately let our feet carry us home.

In this work, Martijn van Elferen invites everyone -truly everyone- to find joy and wonder in movement and play, and to question who gets to celebrate and be celebrated in public space. In creating a momentary utopia for the body -an inherently queer ritual- van Elferen shows a possible future where a club is a cave is a park is a river is a song is a sanctuary for joy and pleasure, and reminds us that all we have to do to conjure it up, like candy from behind an ear, is to believe it is possible.