king willy nilly
December issue, Mr Motley, written by Tan Tunali
The King seeks for new forms of governance whilst enjoying a cup of coffee.
Written by Tan Tunali
Spring 2013. Whilst the crowning of Willem Alexander captivated The Netherlands, artist Marieke Warmelink quietly worked on her project Office of the King. Warmelink concluded that the monarchy at this moment no longer represents the society we live in today and therefore started to search for alternative forms of governance.
Warmelink changed into a King’s outfit and welcomed the public in her homemade office right on the border with the Netherlands and Germany. Whilst enjoying a cup of coffee, she questioned the monarchy and asked visitors to come up with ideas about new forms of governance. Is the monarchy in its current framework credible or should it be modified? What is the relevance of the King in today's society? How should the King perform, could there be an alternative? These and other questions were considered.
"When I ask myself how I can change the world, I don’t know the answer myself straight away either. By engaging in dialogue with different people I was seeking to find certain values people care for at this very moment," stated Warmelink this summer in Istanbul. In this city, the port on the Bosporus in Turkey, she sew the seeds for the Office of the King earlier this year.
Pioneer in Istanbul and inauguration in Berlin
After a residency in Istanbul in 2010, Warmelink returned to Turkey many times for several art projects; earlier this year for a project called Shared Voices. Warmelink asked visitors and passersby’s to take place behind a microphone in front of a mobile wall painting, representing the Dutch Parliament, and to answer three questions about the political system in their home country. It was the first step towards a thought process about creating alternative systems for a better cooperation between governors and the governed.
In May this year, in Berlin, Warmelink launched the Network of New Humanism (in short: NNH). During this launch, Warmelink was officially inaugurated as King of the network. The NNH served as a theoretical background for the project Office of the King. Three important beliefs characterize the NNH: equality, respect and trust. With these principles in mind, the king discussed his future position this summer in The Netherlands.
The Office of the King was not always without any trouble. Warmelink talked about the preparations: "I worked under great time pressure and knew I had to take big risks at certain moments, but fortunately everything always went smooth. For the permission of the landowner where I wanted to build the office for example, I had to wait for an approval. I did not have time to look for an alternative. When he finally picked up the phone he answered with a short "yes, that's fine", which was great because for me there was simply no other answer possible! Also during the construction of the office, we survived massive thunderstorms and heat waves.”
Triangles and gender equality
Eventually an office arose where the King sat behind a desk surrounded by three richly colored walls. The colors represented all political parties in the Netherlands and Germany. Remarkable was the logo in the middle. A large yellow triangle joined by two smaller triangles on either side. The triangle, pointing upwards, represents male power, where egos and tyranny dominate. The triangle pointing down represents feminine values such as dialogue and tolerance and thus all together stand for a redistribution of power.
Warmelink strives for a better balance between masculine and feminine values ideally resulting in equality between different levels of society. Therefore the fact that this King held office in the public space was very practical for audience participation. "I heard opinions on the monarchy from many different people,” said Warmelink excited about the turn up. She drank a cup of coffee with day visitors and locals, presenting them with a questionnaire to submit their ideas on the monarchy. Since the setting was partly serious and part
ly staged, the reactions were continuously very different. "For example, one gentleman suggested a coup of smart people, smart people like him...," Warmelink said.
"As King, I make sure the whole is greater than the sum of its parts"
While the King received audience in public, Warmelink in her role as King also wrote a King’s speech. In between wild growing weeds next to her office she addressed her audience. The ideals of NNH resonate clearly throughout the speech: "As king, I care for the needs of each individual. As King, I make sure the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.
The king then explains to represent an international network that reaches beyond the borders of a town, city or country. In that context, the location chosen for the office, the border of Gronau-Glanerbrug, is symbolic: "This implies the King’s office is boundless and searches for solutions by connecting differences” Warmelink explains, who is, apart from a sash, also wearing a German-Dutch fraternity pin on the King’s outfit.
"As king, I can not always say what I want," continued the King, while the weeds in no-man’s land swayed back and forth and the cars whizzed by. "As king, I cannot say: “I just don’t feel like it today”. Sometimes it is hard to comply in my role as King. Sometimes I would like to say: I don’t want to be King today". That the king can expose himself so vulnerable and open would nowadays in a live news broadcast undoubtedly be designated as 'modern monarchy’.
The King brought a piece of modern monarchy into practice during the King’s office. After gathering enough opinions from the public, the King moved his office to TETEM art space in Enschede, where audiences continued and Warmelink exhibited the collected material. Visitors could watch the video of the King's speech, and fill in new surveys.
Magic between fiction and reality in The Good Conversation
The exhibition officially opened with The Good Conversation. In a panel discussion city councelor Jan van Lijf, theatre maker Ab Gietelink and critical history student Theo van Tijn questioned the monarchy. Dozens interested participated in the discussion. The conversation was a partially staged performance in which several people were given specific tasks. After a brief lecture, which explained the current system and its shortcomings, Warmelink led the discussion with the panelists, while the audience proposed alternatives. Some of the presented alternatives were; the King as Minister of Comfort, freedom of speech for the King and a King who would make career in the entertainment industry rather than dealing with politics.
Everything came together during the panel discussion. The King was certainly very pleased: "During the discussion I experienced a certain magic, where the line between fiction and reality became very thin. This was exactly what I was looking for. The audience did not know whether they had to play the game or to react seriously. Their contextual framework changed completely, so the audience was forced to respond in a different way. That made the conversation entirely playful and surprising. "
"Apparently people want believe in false democracy"
Warmelink looks back at the project with satisfaction; "During the project, I have experienced what it is like to be a leader myself. During the project above all, I had to deal with people. I had to constantly take decisions in continuously changing circumstances. If I didn’t take a decision, nothing would happen, which forced me to be clear and to take position. Overall I noticed that there are still many people for whom the current governance system does not comply with, it is then easy to complain, but to bring forward alternatives, is proves to be more difficult.
The main outcome for Warmelink is to emphasize the necessity to question the position and role of the monarchy: "With our mild attitude, we contribute to and sustain a system that indirectly opposes democracy. In any case, the system of our current monarchy does not represent democracy. In fact, he King is not elected and doesn’t possess freedom of speech. This contributes to the "false democracy" which people apparently want to believe in. "
Warmelink is not finished yet. "This topic is still very relevant and will only become more relevant. In recent years all over the world we have seen the uprisings against current governance. Therefore, I would like to showcase this work again with a similar discussion on a bigger stage. "
Warmelink seems to be in line with the global changes. The emergence of the occupy movements in Spain and this summer also in Turkey, Brazil and Greece, shape the decor of mass protests against ruling power systems demanding more power to the people. With the Office of the King Warmelink indirectly undermines the same system she uses to perform in, in an artistic way. But above all she arouses people to think about a false democracy we all apparently like to believe in.
The project Office of the King is part of the German-Dutch art and culture Programme GrensWerte and Germany-Netherlands INTERREG IV A, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the provinces of Overijssel and Gelderland and the Ministries of Economic Affairs of Nordrhein-Westfalen and Niedersachsen. It was accompanied by the programme management of Euroregio.
Tan Tunali is freelance Correspondent for Turkish TPO Magazine.