Rorschach Raumuberdruck  

    Beneath the local government offices in Dalfsen, a small town situated near the river called Overijsselse Vecht, the Dutch army has built a fallout shelter. A large, and empty basement totally isolated from the world. Initially this cellar was meant to provide safety to a number of privileged citizens during a nuclear disaster or a nuclear war. After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the détente between East and West, the fallout shelter is currently used by a group of artists who call themselves Stichting Safe. They are allowed to use the space, provided that the shelter can be made operational immediately whenever necessary. What happens to a human being when he is totally isolated from his natural and cultural environment and left to his own resources?

In his book Geen Paniek – Bescherming tegen Rampsituaties (Don’t Panic – Protection against Disasters) which was written in 1987, the then
  minister of defence Joris Voorhoeve explains how we can protect ourselves against catastrophes. He offers a survey of different ways to survive. As a recommendation for civilians to be prepared at all times, he introduces a number of medical clues for domestic purposes and also an emergency ration. This ration is supposed to enable us to pull through for fourteen days in our cellar at home or in a fallout shelter. During my two-week stay in the fallout shelter of Dalfsen, I test some of this emergency ration and I try to shed some light on the feasibility of the survival scenarios discussed by Voorhoeve.

From Saturday 25th of July until Saturday 8th of August 1998 I am locked up in the fallout shelter of Dalfsen. The public outside can keep up with the proceeding of this event by means of four letters that are published in newspapers.

    Letter 1. Mail
Outside the sun is shining. Inside, in the fallout shelter of Dalfsen, there are only humming neon lights that radiate their cold tones on the bare concrete walls. It is Saturday, July 25, 1998. The broadcast journalists have gone and Pim, staff member of Stichting Safe, has locked the door behind him. Now I am really on my own for the next fourteen days.

Two big boxes filled with the emergency ration, which Joris Voorhoeve recommended in his book, have been delivered earlier this afternoon. Does Voorhoeve have any idea how much that really is? Previously in the supermarket I needed four large bags to carry all the purchases. I had to buy fourteen tins of condensed milk according to the list made up by Voorhoeve in order to stay alive! In his book he also forgets to mention that these supplies cost more than hundred euros (once Dutch, always Dutch!). How does a mother who lives on social security cope with that? Apart from this, one has to be blessed with two strong arms in order to be able to reach the doors of the fallout shelter in due time... running with these boxes. I wonder whether there are still people who permanently keep some sort of emergency ration locked up in one of their cupboards. If there are any: what about the tins, cans, and packages that are perishable and overdue?

In the centre of this shelter, in the midst of this bare, empty space, I have made up my emergency-station. There is a bed and alongside a chair behind a small square table. On that table I have spread out my writing stuff: a large journal in which I will try to register all details of what will happen during these two weeks and some paper on which I shall write my letters to you. I have gathered all my personal belongings around me; the books, the drawing-, as well as the writing materials, so that these objects constitute a sort of base on which I can determine a course. Unfortunately I forgot to take my talisman. It is a shell that is handed over from generation to generation within the family. We call it ‘eye of Biak’, a colourful shell fixed in a golden pendant. Here I shall have to find my way without ‘the eye’.

Seated here now feels like being on a spaceship or in a submarine heading for unknown territories crisscrossing time and space. As in a dream. Outside around that spaceship everything is ink black. Not a single trace of light marks a boundary. Time in this place is frozen, because all the light is being excluded.

A little uncomfortable and uprooted, I am sitting at the table writing this letter to you. I do not know anything about you and you know hardly anything about me. Despite that, I really would like to come to know you. Therefore I would like to invite you to answer the question at the bottom of this letter.

Question: What is the most precious object you would like to take with you when you are forced to leave hearth and home? And why are you so fond of that object?

Letter 2: Mailbox 135
They are up there, busy with a brand new day. I am down here, in my sleeping bag. Do not take it for granted that I have left behind the outside world, because I have not. Upstairs high heels are clicking there and back (or do I hear them only in my head?) and there are many more sounds that fill this empty place. The electric water heater starts up every now and then, the ventilator makes a hell of a lot of noise, the neon lights hum all day and I have an inkling that I can hear it rain outside the shelter when I am standing near the drain of the shower. Apart from these noises the sticky smell of concrete is colouring my days. It is this stuffy atmosphere that makes me feel at times very uncomfortable.

In order to keep some sort of a natural life pattern I have developed a system of light, a variation in brightness to prevent myself from spleen. The result is that morning is imitated by switching on only one group of neon lights. After some time all neon lights are on ‘right out in the sun’. Turning off half the neon lights simulates ‘evening’ until night sets in at complete darkness when all neon lights are turned of. Despite of this system I caught myself waiting to take photographs ‘until twilight’. It is important to keep on moving, to concentrate on work and to vary daily routine.

It is not that all these grey walls of concrete would not be of any interest. On the contrary: they give back pictures from memory and consciousness. This morning for instance, laying in my bed and staring at these walls, they revealed fragments of an old movie from childhood. It was not until the early sixties that we had television at home and that medium was for me a complete mystery. What was broadcasted entered my eyes with a tremendous violence. The film that I refer to tells of a boy who leaves home in order to get to know the world, in spite of the pleadings of his parents to stay. After a long time roaming about, he returns searching for his parental home. But his father and mother have died, where once stood his home is now an empty spot and the son is standing in a middle of nowhere completely abandoned. I must have been presumably six or seven years old and I still remember that I cried my heart out. Here was something going on that I could not express in words, but that I understood intuitively.

These fragments of film intermingle on that wall in the shelter with a memory of our move from the province of Brabant to Overijssel. I see a picture of a crying mother saying farewell to her neighbours in the street and a little girl sitting between boxes on a cold floor (the floor covering was not delivered on time; the stoves could not burn). The pictures are all in colour, but they are not complete overall pictures. They are not like photographs covered with information from edge to edge. Towards the end of the edges of these fragments the pictures are vague and unclear. It raises the idea of a frosted glass mirror. These shadowy landscapes mix with pictures that are evoked by the footsteps clicking above my head. If it were true that emptiness calls upon so many images, what does that huge amount of images and pictures do with us in everyday life?

The title of this letter refers to the box I made for ‘Safe Depot’ 2000 and that was the immediate cause for starting this project. It represents a fencing mask that is hanging in a box measuring 60 x 60 x 60cm. Behind that mask light emitting diodes illuminate the letters
  SAFE-SF. Question: Can you remember your very first movemove? How did you feel and what images or pictures are evoked now that you think about it?

Letter 3: Mail codes

‘This is Major Tine to Ground Control...’ Gradually this place is beginning to put pressure on me: it causes damage to the mind and my health is failing. The codes we use in everyday life are here totally out of tune, the rules do not function anymore, appointments I make only with myself, and emotions want to take over reason.

In order to resist that pressing atmosphere I have developed what I call a system for measurement, apart from the system of light that is being continued despite of the fact that the system and my biorhythm more and more diverge. I want to size up the cellar where I keep my bed and table. But how does one do such a thing without any equipment? Sitting still for some time makes me very cold: the temperature in the fallout shelter is 18 degrees Celsius, and please remember that rays of sunlight are absent here. So, by means of keep-fit-exercise, I measure the outlines of this cellar every day with the simplest form of calculation I can think of: putting my legs together, then one big step forward and that should be approximately one metre. But somehow not a single day shows similar results. Does emotion colour distance here?

The outside world has turned into another planet. At the be-ginning of this two-week stay I wondered for example what the weather out there would be like. This is of no interest anymore. Radio or television, I do not miss them. I am sitting here, totally satisfied with my own thinking, with the plans that I make and ‘The Great Survival Game’. However there is one thing that I ought to mention: without the books I have taken with me, I would not manage. Take my advise: should it ever be the case that you find yourself in this kind of situation leave half of the ration that Voorhoeve prescribes behind and take some good literature with you instead. At times like this, when it becomes a little too stuffy in the shelter, books give you the opportunity to travel through a sea of words into other worlds. Your mind will get stuck less easy.

Within this self-contained situation, this situation in which I keep myself company, it is more or less feasible to survive. But really, I cannot imagine what it would be like when 2500 people are gathered in this cellar for fourteen days. I cannot see, or only with the greatest effort, how this can be done in a decent manner when outside everything is destroyed.

Until now there has not been one moment in which I have been captured by non-describable fears and I have not doubted my mental capacities for one second. Yet I notice how gloomy feelings try to take possession of me. This cellar slowly goes for someone’s throat and I definitely have to call myself to order, like a Major in front of his company, if I do not want to be lured into an ambush. Question: Are you willing to tell me your most beautiful dream? To cheer me up.

Letter 4: Mail festum
Cheers! Your health! Here’s to you...! Take another one...! A few more days and the party will be over. The subterranean caverns have been investigated, those within myself as well as those beneath the local government offices in Dalfsen. Interesting, I must say, very interesting.

Inevitably things have been left out. I had invented for example a liquid-supply-system, that is, a system designed to transport water from the kitchen to just above my table in order to fill a glass. Unfortunately it could not be carried out due to lack of material. And if I would have to stay longer I absolutely would have done something about the air conditioning system here. In any case I have finished ‘The Great Survival Game’ so that it can be played.

I am looking forward to seeing and kissing my beloved again, because honestly, I am longing for being touched and to be able to touch someone in return. That is the way things stand. Apart from this, I picture myself sitting at a lavish dinner consisting of all kinds of colourful food and with an ample supply of drinks. I cannot bear any more tinned vegetables and I would be better off without the wholemeal crackers.

When you ask me: ‘Was it worth all that trouble?’ I say wholeheartedly ‘Yes’, although I call it a day by now for I am longing for the common everyday human world. In this cellar everything is possible, but nothing has any significance and it is boredom that tries to pull you into the black hole of the inner. Yesterday I tried to break the silence of the cellar by screaming out loud in order to open up that black hole. And I spread my arms as far as possible from my body into space and I danced around my emergency station and I conjured up the green trees and the yellow sun and the blue sky and lots of red roses. And I also thought of things, softly humming, that are very private.

According to Joris Voorhoeve the end of this painful ordeal is followed by a so-called ‘honeymoon phase’. It is characterised by an ecstatic feeling of public spirit and altruism. Maybe it is better for my beloved to take some precautions the moment the door of the fallout shelter opens. Cheers! Here’s to you! Take care of yourself! I hope from the bottom of my heart that we will not have to use these kinds of shelters for a long time. But to be quite honest – between you and me – I would not stake my life on it.

This is a project about time and space and the necessity to protect us on our expedition through the universe. It is an everlasting paradox: curiosity makes that we want to see around corners, we are fond of every breathtaking view. But the need for safety and the fears obstruct seeing. It is in the eye we meet and are able, if only for one second, to fuse into a Space Odyssey. We travel through black holes (watch out they are shooting at us!) beyond the soul and the shadows into the ink black sea of the unconscious, waiting for the Omega. To realise in the end that it all was just Science Fiction (about knights and heroes...). I do not mind: on this journey, far away from home, the stories of fear and hope we tell each other make sure that we find the courage to face the future.

Question: When was the last time that you waved at someone, without reason, just like that?

  25.7 - 8.8 1998
Shelter holiday.
A two-week solitary stay at the fallout shelter in Dalfsen (NL).