Most of the sensory properties of an object – its material, shape, dimensions, smell, weight – can be experienced in the dark. But an object in the dark has to be found first. Can it attract me, lure me in, make me open a box? Can it call out, does it have a voice? Is it vibrating with energy, awaiting? Or is it at peace, hiding from light and interference? Throughout the project The spread of a crack is halted by a hole, the object in the dark played a significant role. The spaces of research that I entered together with artists Sarah van Lamsweerde, Luiza Margan, and Hristina Ivanoska, and fellow curator Anastasija Pandilovska were dark spaces, ill-lighted sanctuaries for relics and protected objects.

Performer Leroy de Böck and curator of the Allard Pierson Theatre Collection Julia Hartendorp in the IWO book depot.
Photo by Anastasija Pandilovska
The first space we accessed was the IWO book depot in Amsterdam Zuidoost, where the former National Theatre Institute (TIN) Collection, now part of the Allard Pierson Collection, resides. Sarah van Lamsweerde and dancer and performer Leroy de Böck guided our entrance into the dark depot in an attempt to reintroduce objects that used to act in the spotlights.

The other space of research was the Oude Kerk, a thirteenth-century church in the center of Amsterdam which today functions both as an institute for contemporary art and a place of worship. Luiza Margan and Hristina Ivanoska were invited to Amsterdam to research the collection of the Oude Kerk. Their research period in the church happened to coincide with the massive site-specific installation by Adrián Villar Rojas, Poems for Earthlings. The Oude Kerk is a dark space by itself. Rays of sunlight are filtered through the stained glass windows. The moment of the day, and the time of year, curb the available natural light and its distribution in space. Now that the Poems for Earthlings occupy the church, blocking the windows, the darkness has become almost substantiated, and it shaped the radius of the research.

Let’s just observe darkness for a while. Can we see darkness? In the Netherlands it is almost impossible to face complete darkness, but I once had an experience of seeing darkness in Suriname. During a stay in the morbid “big house” of a former plantation on the banks of the Commewijne River, I woke up in the middle of the night and looked into complete darkness. I cannot deny the dark emotion of the place, but the darkness I saw felt solid. I saw darkness, and the objects in it were swallowed by it. It was an impressive encounter with darkness. Although it was more than two decades ago, I can still picture the image in my mind’s eye.

Now, while this kind of darkness was not present in the Oude Kerk, darkness was however sculpting the scene. The collection of the Oude Kerk is for the bigger part comprised of graves. Thousands of blackish gravestones constitute the floor of the church. These stones are dark objects, so it was very hard to see them under these circumstances. One of the stones had an attractive shine, maybe it was a beam of light slipping through, interacting with the smooth surface of this particular stone. In order to experience this object I had to kneel. The stone felt cold and indeed smooth. The edges of the rectangle were chipped and the corners rounded. Its outline felt familiar, it was practically the same size as me, but it had almost no depth, as far as I could feel. All over the surface there was some sand, probably brought in by shoes or which had perhaps emerged from the soil beneath it. My hand discovered little marks on the surface. The most profound mark was a hole, somewhere near the top or bottom or left or right side. In the dark I could not determine the stone’s orientation in space, other than that it was below me. In the proximity of the hole, near one of the short sides of the rectangle, there were signs, two, probably numbers. On the other side of the hole there was one sign, probably a letter. In the middle of the surface, there were several signs, no more than sixteen. Because of the darkness the object could not speak to me in my language and my hands were not practiced enough to read these signs.
When we try to remember an object in the dark it sometimes seems to be unsubstantial and frail, like a picture of a ghost or a shadow. But an object in the dark is of course just as substantial as an object in broad daylight. It is simply in a place without light. It is in a box, or inside the human body or in the darkness of a depot.

In the early spring of 2020, as part of the project The spread of a crack is halted by a hole, Sarah van Lamsweerde and Leroy de Böck rehearsed the new performative tour, Sightless Seeing #5: The TIN Collection. The objects in the IWO book depot – masks, costumes, magic tricks, and puppets – were not to be touched, at least not by a nonprofessional. Luckily, a professional was at hand and willing to be the hands of our tour guide Leroy. Leroy is a performer who can paint a picture of the circumstances in which these objects, now in the depot, were dancing and acting on theatre stages, in other times. Leroy himself has little sight; he once explained that he can see movement and dark and light. What does Leroy see when he sees the dark?
In Seeing Dark Things,1 Roy Sorensen asserts that we see about as much in the dark as we do in plain daylight. For the object in the dark this is good news, or not if it is quietly hiding from inquisitive interferences.

1. Roy Sorensen, Seeing Dark Things: The Philosophy of Shadows (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

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