has anyone fled here in great haste?


The installation ‘The same room’ by Minne Kersten.Picture Natascha Libbert

In the middle of the Bonnefanten Museum is a messy bedroom, probably belonging to a student: worn socks and open books are everywhere on the floor, the bedside table is full of lighters and used coffee cups; there is a shoe by the door and one on the unmade bed.

Guard. Even the biggest slob doesn’t usually leave his shoe on the bed. Where did the owner of those shoes go?

The installation The same room van Minne Kersten is small, but full of things and clutter, and invites you to look, look very closely, actually trace. It’s not so easy: the clothes in the open closet have been stripped of their labels, the books (many detectives) are largely painted white. Essential details have become illegible, as in a vague memory.

Faded vacation photos

There are few things that hint at what happened here, who lived here, like the faded vacation photos on the wall. In these still images we see a boy jump into the water, he makes a bomb, disappears below the surface. And of course there are the ripples in the wall paint, the creaky, lumpy floor, the crooked books. It takes a while to sink in: the room has been flooded.

Behind the scenes during the creation of 'The Same Room' at the Deltares Institute.  Statue

Behind the scenes during the creation of ‘The Same Room’ at the Deltares Institute.

It’s not just a suggestion that Kersten makes, she actually did that at an institute that does water research to better prepare society for floods. ‘This bedroom was placed in a pool of water, where it formed the background for three days of wave simulation’, according to a text accompanying the exhibition. ‘Kersten processed the filmed result into a video, which is deliberately not shown here.’ Mysterious – maybe Kersten doesn’t want to overfeed our already stimulated imagination.

Torn mattress

Nice on The same room is that it will evoke different imaginations in any viewer about what preceded this scene. It is reminiscent of the work of the Canadian photographer Jeff Wall, whose images often resemble stills from a feature film.

Especially the similarity with The broken room (1978) showing the remains of a room. The room appears to have been turned upside down and turned inside out: drawers hanging open, women’s shoes and piles of clothes scattered on the floor. Most notable is a torn mattress in the middle, the foam of which bulges out like the entrails of a slaughtered animal. The only thing untouched is a porcelain figure of a feeble dancer who seems to survey the destruction.

'The Destroyed Room' (1978), back in light box, by Jeff Wall.  Statue

‘The Destroyed Room’ (1978), back in lightbox, by Jeff Wall.

In both rooms, Wall and van Kerstens, something drastic must have happened. And in both realistic-looking, but carefully staged rooms, the artificiality of those rooms is also emphatically made visible. With Wall you can see the walls of his studio and the beams supporting the ‘room’ on the left. Kersten’s room is also built by himself, and although it looks authentic inside, the entire pier can be seen from the outside. As soon as you leave the room again, you step out of the dreamscape.

Artist Minne Kersten Sculpture Pauline Niks

Artist Minne KerstenPicture Pauline Nothing

Kersten’s work is the more layered of the two. It also leaves the viewer with more questions. Has anyone fled here in a hurry? For an ecological disaster? Did someone leave who didn’t care so much anymore, who really didn’t care anymore? Did he take one last leap, the realities merged and then everything that belonged to his life was also soaked?

In his famous poem Go away wrote Rutger Kopland: ‘Departure can be described as/ a kind of stay. No one / wait because you’re still here. / No one says goodbye / because you don’t go.’

We don’t know what happened. What is certain: goodbye was not said here.

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