6 April till 17 May 2011
Review by Suzanne Rietdijk
translation: Pieter de Bruyn Kops
‘De Stille Revolutie’ (The Silent Revolution) by Rory Pilgrim (Great Britain, 1988) begins in Beetsterzwaag. In the windows of Kunsthuis SYB posters hang with slogans carrying an evangelical under tone. One poster reads – “My House is Your House, Come Inside, You’re Welcome”. Passersby are provoked to come inside and turn their words in to actions; ‘Elkenien is wolkom’ (Everyone is welcome). With the ‘De Stille Revolutie’, Pilgrim mediates between the global and the local, and their functions are put in relation to one another. The work requires a moment of rest, with the coming together of individuals in the rural surroundings of Beetsterzwaag. Words, silence and music facilitate change.
In the work of Pilgrim historic social questions, with a universal character, are repositioned in the present. Thereby, these social questions are given a new context so that existing social conditions can be re-examined. By coming together in music and performance, Pilgrim once again fights against ideas of Us vs. Them, and I vs. The Rest. The moments that are created invite individual and collective contemplation, and provide both singularity and diversity. Although Pilgrim does not define himself wholly as an activist, this connotation is apparent in many of his works. By striving towards collaboration with a variation of groups and individuals, new moments are created that collectively call into question socio-political questions and statements such as: ‘Can we leave things as they are?’ (Tiananmen Square never happened in Holland, 2010), and ‘We must protect all love’ (Love in Uganda, 2010). In order to offer opportunities of transformation and revolution, a disparate heterogenic collection of people, media and history are often united together.
Exploring the passive activism of the human voice, Pilgrim uses it as a way to encourage acceptance and integration. In this way, the voice has both an aesthetic and referential function that is used as a political and religious instrument of power. Pilgrim’s education as a musician, being the son of a preacher, and his connection to the Quakers all form personal motives for using sound and silence as a medium within his work. The spiritual function of music is used to strive for moments of clarity and transformation: ‘a sound revolution’. Often used in today’s society for its negative capacities, Pilgrim uses the power of the human voice to generate openness and understanding. Sound, and the conscious lack of it, forms a medium to bring individuals and groups together, whereby Pilgrim manifests himself as a moderator.
For ‘De Stillle Revolutie’ in Kunsthuis SYB, Pilgrim created a library, bringing together a collection of books, magazines, videos, and audio material. Presented on long tables, the space took on the appearance of a formal reading room. When the articles are examined more closely it becomes apparent that they all date from around 1988, Pilgrim’s year of birth. Also evident are overlapping themes that relate to socio-critical questions. Questions regarding homosexuality, feminism, and radical ideology are represented, and construct a personal relationship with the artist. Not only do they form a collective inspiration for the work, but also a global context, wherein Pilgrim’s life has taken place.
The second part of ‘De Stille Revolutie’ occurs outside Kunsthuis SYB, in the open-air theatre of Sparjeburd. Here the inhabitants of Beetsterzwaag take part in a musical performance, where the expanding tones of brass instruments from local big band ‘Euterpe’ are countered with individual contributions consisting of spoken word, the dreamy timbre of Pilgrim’s harp, interspersed with moments of quiet. By virtue of its repetitive nature the composition of the musical parts, the spoken word, and the silences in between, generates a rhythm; a new ritual is created by systematic repetition through which the audience can experience a moment of rest, quiet, and space. The absence of a podium, and the positioning of the speakers and musicians situated within the audience add to this collective contemplation. Pilgrim positioned himself playing from the back of the audience.
With the Silent Revolution, Beetsterzwaag forms the spatial context for a new collective contemplation of change. In 2007, Beetsterzwaag was the backdrop for the cabinet formation of the Balkenende IV government. Isolated from the constant flux of the city, the relative quiet of the village was essential to the harmonic merging of ideas. In ‘De Stille Revolutie’, the village is once again the backdrop for harmony. By uniting individuals in a collective experience, the present, past and future are put in the context of ‘glocal’ thinking. In the musical composition, Pilgrim combines two folksongs – ‘Out of the village’ and ‘We must go home’. Combining these songs raises a poignant question in Beetsterzwaag – Should we leave the village, or return to it? The personal contribution of the two speakers brings the question of change even closer, and allows for an intimate moment of sharing. The first speaker is a young woman from Beetsterzwaag who has decided to leave the village. The second speaker forms her local antithesis, and is a woman who, 20 years ago, chose to leave the city, and return to the village. With their answers to the question – What does change mean to you? – the two inhabitants share their perspectives, and their polarized positions become central.
By using old melodies and historic social questions, it becomes clear that themes from the past can return, and offer a rich foundation for the present, and the future. Change and revolution can also emerge by going back to old ideals and historic critique. With ‘De Stille Revolutie’, Pilgrim presents a new narrative with a historic prelude, wherein change via the formation of a collective, in a harmonious collage, is possible. By using a large diversity of media, such as music, image, literature, and video, a collection of ideas is sculpted together in a harmonic moment of clarity and revolution in which everyone is welcome.