[TWINS] Anne Frank, Zanele Muholi, Brigsby Bear and Whatnot

The Week In New Stuff, Episode 4, in which I glimpse the future, get caught up in the past, weep all over the city and once again realise the limitations of my own ignorance...

Monday 2 October :: A Glimpse of the Future
On Monday I went to the house of a couple of friends, ate some very delicious food and talked about the end of the world. There's a lot of that these days. But nothing new in it, per se. However, tonight the impending apocalypse was discussed a little more loudly than usual for the simple reason that in the background, very loudly, the future was fighting back.

What the hell am I talking about? 3D printing, that's what. The brand new 40-year-old technology that's emerging half-dressed into dinner parties across the globe, building knickknacks, spare parts, gewgaws and guns, not to mention stents, cranial plates and collapsible coffee sleeves. Oh, and this...

Not Anne Frank — a thing

Can you guess what it is? Answer at the end. This is exciting, isn't it?

Tonight made me realise that if we do ever manage to isolate and disempower our sociopathic overlords and actually survive as a species, everything will be 3D printed. Except love, which will be given away free in the streets (which will be 3D printed).

Tuesday 3 October :: The Anne Frank House
Sometime in June or July maybe, my flatmate mentioned he'd written a novel called Anne Who Lives, about what Anne Frank's life might have been like had she lived. I decided I'd like to read it, but realised I couldn't do so until I'd read the original diary, which I never had.

So I did. 

Coincidentally, just after I started reading the diary, I was asked to look after a cat in a flat directly opposite 263 Prinsengracht.

Not Anne Frank - Lola

This is the cat in question, pretending to be in a mood. She's not in a mood. She loves me.

So for a couple of weeks in the summer, I was able to lift my eyes from The Diary of Anne Frank and look across the street and into the windows of the very same house in which it had been written. I was able to listen to the bells of the Westerkerk, even as Anne explained that the Nazis had stopped them from ringing. And when she spoke of peeking through cracks in the curtains and seeing people outside rushing round with umbrellas, I could see exactly the same thing, except now the people with umbrellas were standing in lines, waiting patiently to get inside the same annex that Anne was so desperate to escape.

I finished the diary on a train to Nottingham a couple of weeks ago and the ending tore me apart. I mean, obviously I knew how it ended, but to have it stop so abruptly, and then to hear what happened to each of the members of the annex, was devastating.  

Then to finally experience the museum itself this week was peculiar and powerful.

Anne Frank

I did not take this photograph. I had too much respect. (I stole this photograph.)

At first it seems odd to shuffle through the narrow spaces surrounded by dozens of other people, some of whom will inevitably be doing something to annoy you — taking photographs, talking loudly, having babies or toddlers with them — because it feels disrespectful.

It also feels odd to be there at all. It doesn't feel real.

There isn't much to see. There are photographs of the former inhabitants, and words on the wall describing what happened. There are also photographs of the rooms carefully reconstructed according to Anne Frank's descriptions, but for the most part the rooms themselves are empty.

Then there is one small room in which the walls are still decorated with pictures and photos of film stars that Anne put there when they first moved into the annex. As you imagine her pinning these images to the wall, it starts to hit home again. The whole thing. Glimpses of the extent of the depths to which we sink.

Other ordinary things bring it home too. A box of marbles Anne gave to a friend before they went into hiding. Anne and her sister Margot's physical growth marked in pencil up one wall. Smiles preserved in photographs. That inadvertent bit of film. The bookcase of course. Jesus God, the bookcase.

Afterwards I had a cup of coffee in the museum cafe and looked out across the canal. The sun was shining.

"I don't think of all the misery," wrote Anne Frank, "but of all the beauty that still remains."

I think of all the misery.

I think of the Nazis marching up Rozengracht in 1940. I think of the Nazis marching in Virginia just a few weeks ago. Then I ride home in the sun and get on with some work.


If you can, avoid the monstrous queues by booking online a couple of months in advance. 

Wednesday 4 October :: Zanele Muholi 
Between Dutch class in the morning and Taste Before You Waste in the afternoon, I stopped in at the Stedelijk to take in a couple of exhibitions.

First was The Crossing, a two-part installation of objects and video focused on forced migration and the persecution of LGBTQI people. I watched a couple of videos for a few minutes but I was feeling fragile and just not up to facing the suffering of others, not in that the moment, so I skipped out of that installation and up the stairs.

Upstairs I found the work of young German artist Jana Euler to be colourful, playful and energetic if mostly juvenile and unpleasant on the eye.

Not Anne Frank — a horse riding a man

Then I wandered into the Zanele Muholi exhibition. Zanele Muholi is a South African photographer and self-proclaimed visual activist and I really like her stuff. Her self-portraits are particularly striking. They are confrontational and provocative, and at the same time witty and very beautiful...

Not Anne Frank - Zanele Muholi

I enjoyed her portraits too, mostly of gay and trans people in South Africa.

Then I came to a wall that featured written details of, if I remember correctly, over 10 years of fatal hate crimes in South Africa. When I realised what I was reading, I recoiled and looked away. I just wasn't up to it. You need to be in the right mood to be able to immerse yourself in such things. I looked at some of the photographs on the other walls instead.

Then I thought, Jesus, man — just read the goddamn words and thank your dumb lucky stars it's not details of your grisly death hanging on an art gallery wall, being read begrudgingly by someone who doesn't know they're born.

So I read the words.

Each piece of paper was a short account of somebody being murdered, after having first being raped, tortured, mutilated or a combination of all three. It was horrendous and painful and weirdly compelling. I felt I had to read them, and as a piece of art, or visual activism, it was an incredibly powerful collection of stories. In truth, overwhelmingly powerful. When I was done, I had to leave the museum.

Outside of the museum I wept in the street like a sad clown. I wanted to hold someone but there was nobody to hold. I felt helpless and hopeless and rotten, and just then I saw a big black dog running in my direction. It ran slowly towards and then past me, its massive pink tongue lolling out of its mouth, flopping from one side to the other like a cartoon exaggeration of what a dog's tongue is supposed to be. I laughed and in that moment, decided that the dog was a sign.

Why not?

I was glad I had read about the horrible ways in which those innocent people had been killed, because it's important to know what happens in this world. And I was glad that it hurt, because if you can't feel the pain of others, then you're part of the problem. But the dog reminded me, quickly and just when I needed reminding, that there is still beauty in the world, and that it's everywhere. Or as Anne Frank put it, "Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy."

I'm trying.

The Zanele Muholi exhibition is on at the Stedelijk till October 15.

Thursday 5 October :: De KasKantine
Someone somewhere recently recommended KasKantine to me, so I went there. That's me all over though. I react. I proact.

Located just inside Westerpark at the end of Bos en Lommerweg, KasKantine is another one of those places that Amsterdam people tell you don't exist anymore, or at least, not like they used to.

It's one of those places that offers a genuine alternative to unfettered, no-holds-barred, superficial and soulless capitalism. For example, they grow their own food and have some difficult-for-me-to-understand aquaponic system going on that involves coy carp. They also have worm hotels that fertilise all their compost, self-pollinating plant bins and an overall energy system that's around 99% off-grid.

While I was there, an adjacent table filled up with around sixteen people and one of the members of staff (who probably refer to themselves as the KasKantine family — I bet they do) gave the diners a 20-25-minute lecture on how the place functions and the philosophy behind it. I understood about 5%. Suffice to say, these are my kind of people and I vow to return one of these Fridays or Saturdays to try the vegan pizza.

Friday 6 October :: The Parool Film Festival
Het Parool is an Amsterdam-based daily newspaper that began life as a resistance paper during the Second World War. (All roads lead to Anne Frank.) It's had its ups and downs over the past 70 years or so but currently things are on the up and this week saw the opening of the second annual Parool Film Festival, or Paff.

The first film I saw as part of the festival was Brigsby Bear, which made me laugh more than any film has for years. It also made me cry repeatedly and that — those two things — are all I really ask from a film.

What's particularly wonderful about Brigsby Bear is that it could have been really harrowing, but instead the filmmakers chose to make a film where all of the characters, even the ones who commit the terrible crime at the heart of the film, are actually good-hearted people.

Go see it when you can.

And in the meantime, hey — have a good week.

Not Anne Frank - that thing again

It was a phone stand! Phew. Everything is going to be alright. 

About the Author

I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you'll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven't already.

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