Niels Bekkema; a selection of works made over the past few years which attempt to animate that which is just out of reach, moments of sudden disorientation and strangeness that can erupt in the midst of everyday life —
A sculpture in flour, based on photogramming experiments in the color darkroom of the Banff centre for arts and creativity.
after hours After Hours is a filmic research project examining the dialectics between interior and exterior space. Set at the Dwingeloo Radio Telescope, this film portrays the various rooms, corridors, balconies and office spaces that comprise the telescope’s research faculty as the entire observational structure slowly completes a 360 degrees rotation. By considering gradual light changes, revolving landscapes outside the window frames, and the soundtracks’ altering intonations, these films give place to a site that exists between motion and stillness.
2017 - 2018, 4K, 34min
e-mail me for vimeo link
Supported by CBK Rotterdam
and alternating currents Alternating Currents departed from questions evoked by writing short stories. Is it possible for objects to have an open end? Can an arrangement of objects be like an arrangement of words? With these questions in mind, I build a cabinet for a collection of objects, to examine the dialogues between objects, and to address the complicated relationship between container and contained.
2017, 98,5 x 80 x 13cm
with seashells that look like petrified ears Seashells That Look Like Petrified Ears is a collection of short stories. Each story departs from the idea of walking. Sometimes characters walk physically, such as in Train, where two characters are looking for a place to sit in a train, and observe how the train transforms into a mountain landscape. At other times the walk is considered more abstractly, such as in At the Same Time, or Nomad, which revolve around notions of economical frugality, companionship, longing and disorientation.
2016, self published editions of 25
/ As a library sculpture As a library sculpture for the exhibition "the House", curated by Samantha McCulloch in Twil Sharp, Johannesburg, RSA, 2017. Photography by Anthea Pokroy
Read: At The Same Time He is two things at the same time: a small hill in a flat field just outside town – like an upside down soup bowl on a kitchen table –, and an office clerk who answers questions about tax problems by telephone with the help of a script he reads on a computer screen.
As an office clerk he longs for cliffs, boulders, fresh air and Marram Grass. As a small hill in a flat field he longs for fleeting contacts, central heating and endless peering at advertising signs along the freeway. or The Backyard 1.
Five years ago they bought a house in the suburbs. It was built with white bricks – the type normally used to build swimming pools or holiday resorts. Their house had a small backyard of about 75 square meters that was tiled with concrete, there was a little shed at the back where he used to store his bicycle, an old broom, two plastic chairs and a shovel. A pile of concrete tiles were left in the corner of the garden. Although their friends were jealous of the backyard, they themselves never really used it.
He worked from eight to five in an I.T. company, where he was a team leader. He had started working there straight after graduation. She was a doctor’s assistant.
Every day after work, he would smoke a cigarette standing at the door to the backyard. She didn’t want him to smoke inside. Since he had started doing this, he noticed several peculiarities. For example, the green moss had creeped upwards on the garden fence, and he suspected that the colour of the concrete tiles was gradually shifting from grey to a colour somewhere between grey and pale yellow. Next to that the weeds between the joints were pushing the concrete tiles little by little upwards. She just looked at him with a bored look whenever he mentioned these finer details of their backyard.
One day he sat at the kitchen table, leafing through the TV guide. In it, he read a quote by Heraclitus that said ‘a man never steps in the same river twice’. The next day he typed this sentence into a search engine and learned that rivers are a metaphor for the passing of time.
He took a drag from his cigarette and gazed at the pile of concrete tiles in the corner of the garden. Their shift in colour was happening so slowly that they made him feel like his time was passing by very slowly also. He wondered how valuable his thoughts could actually be while staring at a pile of concrete tiles. He threw his cigarette butt against the fence and closed the door. That night he dreamt of the fountains of the Taj Mahal.
When he woke up the next day he made a decision: he should take his thinking in the backyard very seriously. Therefore he decided he would make a pond with a stream in his garden. That way, his daily moment of contemplation would be filled with cultural significance. What’s more, the pond and especially the stream would nurture his newly discovered spiritual life.
He arrived at work fifteen minutes early. Nobody was there yet, so he printed out a few inspirational photographs of the ponds of the Taj Mahal. Back home, he scotch-taped the prints onto the window of the door to the backyard. He lit a cigarette and looked at them. Although he aspired to a majestic pond like the one on the photograph, the Taj Mahal's ponds seemed too rectangular for his taste. He felt his thoughts were like circles and ovals because he often thought about the same things for long periods of time.
He pressed his cigarette butt against the wall and grabbed the shovel from the shed. He used it to lift one of the concrete tiles. For a couple of minutes he jammed the spade into the ground. Then he realized that his partner might not agree with the pond.
On Saturday he made a plan: he would start digging on Wednesday – she always worked on Wednesdays, he always had that day off. If he spent that whole day digging, it would be hard for her to discourage him when she saw how much effort he had put in. He also decided to buy and collect all the equipment he needed for his pond and hide it in the cellar.
That evening she went to bed early. He ordered a water pump, pond liner and a water filter online. He asked for it to be delivered to the office on Monday. He spent two and a half hours trying to find stones and boulders to make the water stream, but none of the stones you could buy online seemed right.
When he passed the mansion on Observatory Drive Monday morning, he noticed the stones that marked the driveway. He slammed on the brakes and the car behind him honked. It was hard to tell, but from a distance those rocks looked exactly like the ones he needed.
He couldn't concentrate at work. When he wasn't thinking about the unopened boxes with the equipment hidden underneath his desk, his mind wandered off to the rocks he had seen earlier that morning. He missed three telephone calls, which made his boss angry, and the intern caught him printing out a photograph of Monet’s’ water lily pond. When he arrived home that afternoon, she wasn't there yet, so he could hide the equipment in the cellar.
He left early from work the next day, and made a stop at the hardware store. He bought a wheelbarrow, working gloves and a black hat.
When he was sure his partner was asleep that evening, he drove to the mansion.
He parked his car at the side of road, and looked at the mansion. Nobody seemed to be home so he put on the black cap, took out his gloves and wheelbarrow and ran up the driveway. He pulled one of the rocks out of the ground; it was about as big as a tennis ball. When he shone his torch on it, the rock's quartz speckles reflected the light into blue, red and green. The rock felt smooth.
It must have been sanded down by the tides of the Mediterranean Sea, he thought. He put as many as he could in his wheelbarrow and hurried towards the car. Before he went to bed, he carried all the rocks into the bicycle shed.
She was still asleep when he woke up the next morning, so he quickly carried all the concrete tiles into his car; he drove to the canal and dumped them. Back home he called work and he told them he had the flu and needed the rest of the week off.
It took four days of digging the pond before he was satisfied. It was about a meter and a half deep and almost three meters wide. He sat on a white plastic chair and smoked a cigarette. He looked at the large sand hill that was now leaning against the fence. lt seemed much bigger than the hole he had dug.
Next he started making a slope for the stream. In his vision, the water flowed between and around rocks, before ending in a modest waterfall. He used the rocks he stole from the mansion for the stream and he used a few to keep the pond lining in place. After the filter was installed he turned on the faucet and smoked a couple cigarettes as the water level rose.
Three days later the pond was full. He switched on the water pump, and waited for the water to fall down. When he heard the water tinkling, he walked into the door, lit up a cigarette and glanced at his rocks and the glistening water. The water rippled, and refracted the clouds. He took a last drag of his cigarette, threw it in the pond and went to bed. or Learning To Speak They were never able to understand each other. Whenever they tried to, they spoke in every language at once.
They didn’t mind not understanding each other; they spent their time wandering through forests and cities, through towns and along rivers, on beaches and through parks.
As they walked they used their fingers to point at things they thought where interesting.
As they walked they gave each other rocks, shells or wooden sticks that they found along the way.
When they got tired they checked into a motel room, turned on the central heating, and listened to the humming sounds their voices produced until they slept.
Once they tried to hum to a tea drinker in a café but all he did was click his tongue back at them.
When the winter had passed and the temperature had risen, a stammer interrupted the usual monotone hum for the first time.
As time went by this stammer increased.
After a year, maybe two, their voices were no longer a hum but they had a rhythm. Sometimes this rhythm made them laugh, at other times it made them sad – they missed the hypnotizing hum that had helped them reach those deeper layers of sleep.
Sometimes they suspected that there was a reason, or maybe an intelligence behind the rhythm, but they could not be sure: this way of speaking and listening was still too unusual.
Whoever passed them by, when they heard the strange rhythm in their voices, would look at them as if they were ill. So they decided to only use their voices when they were alone. Everyone else they encountered still spoke with clicking tongues and humming voices.
After a while they felt lonelier around others than when they were alone, so they started avoiding all contact. They stopped sleeping in non-descript motels, they bought a tent so they could sleep in the deep woods instead. They didn’t buy their food at markets anymore but drank from rivers, ate grass, nuts and sometimes a squirrel or a pheasant.
At night they listened to one another’s stammering. They fell asleep with a headache from trying to understand what the pattern of the stammering could mean.
The next year they learned that this was the beginning of the period in which they forgot languages, one at the time, like a fresco flaking, revealing layers that had been withdrawn from view for centuries. They called this ‘unspeaking’.
After some years passed they started to understand the first simple patterns. The first words to make sense where the pronouns: you, tú, jij and I, yo, ik. Later the first nouns appeared: time, año, dier, thing, punto, voedsel, way, lugar, leven, company, cuerpo and steen. Later they learned how to conjugate a few simple verbs: to need, vragen, ayudar, to talk, spreken, querer, to take, wijzen, saber, to use, hebben and trabajar.
In the end they remembered three languages, one of which they spoke the best and called their mother tongue. They began to forget the other two languages as well, so they called one ‘fluent’, and the other ‘competent’.
Often they would talk about what would happen next, and wondered when the period of unspeaking would end. What if they forgot the language they spoke best? Would that mean that they would be back to where they started, with only a hum left in their voices?
I remember after one of these talks that you kept quiet for a long time, and just stared into the fire we had made earlier. You stood up and walked into the woods and came back with a log. You put it in the fire, sat down and with your arms over knees you told me that you had found the words to ask me about everything we had forgotten. or Nomad Hendrik lived a frugal life since he started working a job at the register of a bank three years ago. He talked to people about their basic financial problems and helped old people to withdraw cash from their accounts in the mornings, and in the afternoons he filled out forms and answered the telephone.
Hendrik didn’t care too much about his boring job because he was planning to throw his life around radically; for this he needed to save money. After work he did research: he watched road movies and read his collection of travel books that he once bought at a second hand store.
Hendrik dreamed about living a life on the road: a life where he would always be on his way to someplace else. He wanted to be subject to ever-changing horizons and new landscapes, meet new and interesting people in motel bars, smoke American cigarettes while talking to truckers, and eat fried eggs in the morning at roadside restaurants.
On the day of his three-year anniversary he got fired. He couldn’t sleep for a couple days. He often yelled at the cashiers of the supermarket, and once he threw a rock against a passing train. He calmed down when he realized that there was still some hope left: he could ask for a subsidy to travel from the local government.
He arrived early at the municipality and had to wait in a queue. There were only two counters open.
Finally, after nearly an hour of waiting it was Hendrik’s turn. When he explained his situation the civil servant wearing a beige suit two sizes too big sniffed. He explained that due to recent political developments subsidies supporting lifestyles of a nomadic nature had been cut.
Now that he had all the time in the world to be a nomad, Hendrik lacked the financial funds to act upon it. This contradiction frustrated him so greatly that he spent the following week drinking nothing but black coffee and wandering aimlessly about his apartment. Sometimes he kicked against the legs of his kitchen table.
Learning from his constantly changing surroundings is the nature of the nomad, he thought. So, if he really wanted to be a nomad, he had to start on a different scale.
Without friends, money or a job he didn’t see any reason to go out – his landscape was the interior of his house. His horizons were the skirting boards; the recently stuccoed ceiling was a blanket of clouds and, if he wanted to see waves and tides, all he had to do was pull the plug of his bathtub.
After another night of insomnia Hendrik made a decision: he would add castors to his furniture. That is, his dusty cabinet, the oak desk he inherited from his grandfather, his bed, his pale yellow sofa and the Formica kitchen table, including the chairs. If he could not be subject to ever-changing horizons and new landscapes, at least he could make his interior into a constant state of flux. or The Train It is after eleven p.m. and we run through the train hall to catch the last train home. Our footsteps echo in this large empty space with hard marble walls and floors. I run after you up the escalator. The long red train with its silver details is still there, we run towards the open door at the end.
Just before the train leaves you jump on board, I follow. For a moment I am afraid my backpack will get stuck between the doors closing behind me.
Inside I lean with my hand on the cold glass window to catch my breath. Condensation appears around my fingers. The train hisses as it departs. You glance through the door’s window inside the seating section.
We have to travel for five hours.
You open the door and I follow you. We can hardly hear our footsteps on the soft beige carpet. We walk through the carriages of people that are made drowsy by the rhythm of wheels on the train track. The air-conditioner mumbles and breathes cool air on my neck and shoulders.
I hear the rustling sound of a newspaper as we walk the path.
The seats are old and the foam is visible through the yellow fabric, I think about the skin of your heel that shines through your old socks.
You are thinking about the monotonous, liquid way the train moves. You put your hands on the seats as you walk. This isn’t really necessary, but you have to adapt when you walk through something that moves as fast as a train does.
A woman walks past us, towards the open door at the end of the carriage. Without touching the door or its frame, she passes through.
I walk behind you and look at your hands that are sinking slightly into the leather headrests as you walk.
A boy places white seashells that look like petrified ears on his mother’s forearm; she is asleep.
It occurs to me that when everybody on board is asleep, the train is transporting dreams. You open the door and exit this carriage.
The sound of the train is louder here, between carriages. I ask you to wait because I want to wash my hands in the bathroom. You say sure, when I open the door the light bulb inside flickers a couple times and then turns on. You look at the tongue of the lock that slides into the strike plate.
You walk to one of the three small windows, and stare into nothing outside. Sometimes your eyes fix onto something, but you do this without thinking about it. Sometimes you try to recognize what it is, but that makes you nauseous after a while.
I open the door and ask if you want to continue walking. I found a wooden stick in the toilet that I can use as a cane. It is about as tall as I am and rests comfortably in my palm. A friendly orange tint common to beech wood reveals itself in the spots where the bark is damaged. We continue walking and I hold the stick somewhere in the middle. It must be fresh still because with every step I take, it bends slightly.
I breathe heavily as we ascend the slope. After a while I put my stick down, kneel and put my hand into the stream next to the path. The water flows upwards. The current is strong and cold – I shape my hand into a cup and try to catch something that is not there, but I cannot close my fingers. The water keeps pushing my fingers aside, for a while I play with the current, and look at the refractions caused by the waves. I put some water on my neck and cheeks, and then I resume walking.
You walk ahead of me; I can barely see you in the dark. You were always better at climbing. I am better at walking long distances on flat surfaces. I remember how we walked when we just met, both a bit frustrated by our inability to find a comfortable pace.
After another hour of climbing you suggest we take a break. We look around for a place to hide from the wind. You shine your torch at a group of boulders that are almost the same size as us.
One is pink, one has blue spots, and the other three are grey. We sit behind them and look at the stream. I grab my bottle from my backpack. I must have filled it in the bathroom earlier, you think.
We look at the man who sits next to us. He takes sand out the pocket of his jacket, and lets it slip through his fingers, into his other hand.
You point at my bottle and ask for some water. I give you the bottle and look at my compass. We’ll reach a plateau soon, I say. Let’s try to keep walking in a north-easterly direction.
You give me the bottle back and say yeah, whatever in a way that sounds like you don’t really care. You say that you have no idea where we are anyway.
We continue ascending the slope. We walk past a man and a woman who are asleep; they are using their jackets as blankets. We climb into a cloud; this must mean that we are close to the top.
We enter the plateau; no trees grow here. The horizon is straight and flat and it seems to surround us. We sit down exhausted next to the stream and stare at the stars. After a while you roll up your sleeve, put your hand in the stream and lift out a rock that the water has turned it into a smooth oval. You pick a few more stones up off the streams floor, and stack them at the bank.
You look at the pile and after some minutes you say we should continue if we want to find seats, so we continue following the stream. We hear your pile of rocks collapsing behind us.
The sound of water falling becomes louder. You start to run. I keep walking because I am too tired to run.
You emerge from the darkness. As I walk up to you it becomes bright again in that specific vibrant fluorescent way. You found two empty seats with a view of the waterfall.
The wind has settled and I sit down next to you. Together we stare through the window and listen to the falling water. This sound always makes me sleepy, so I pull down the beige plastic tray-table in front of me and put my backpack on it. Then I rest my head on it, and fall asleep. or Waves From the bus window she watches buildings pass by that are softened by the slight morning fog. It takes about three hours to get Zapotalito, so she puts a newspaper on the seat in front of her to rest her feet on. She leans her head against the window and closes her eyes.
For a while she doesn’t know if she is dreaming or thinking about bungalows and cotton fields.
The rhythms of sun and shadow wake her up. She looks outside and sees that they are driving on a road with trees on each side. She hadn’t noticed the woman on the other side of the aisle before she closed her eyes. The woman tells her with a faint smile that time here passes like the Guatemalan Firs outside. She nods to the woman not knowing for sure what she means, and looks away. In about five minutes she will arrive at her stop, she tries to not fall asleep again.
She is the only one who gets off the bus in Zapotalito. She starts walking southwards down the road, to find a way into the park. The rainforest overgrows the soft drink adverts that are painted with blue and yellow sans-serif fonts on houses next to the street. A taxi driver who is wearing sunglasses asks her where she needs to go. She ignores him and keeps walking. The high sun throws small cloud-shaped shadows around the trees.
The path on the right appears, and she enters the rainforest. Soon she is swathed in the muggy scent of Cohune leaves and red sand. She climbs the closed gate that marks the park. She tries to walk as quietly as possible - this makes her feel as if she is not there.
She sets out to follow the faint sound of the waves and the smell of salt that seeps through the thick humid smell of the fauna.
Ten days ago she was watching the news: a forester being interviewed on a beach in Lagunas de Chacahua national park. The beach looked exactly like the beach her grandparents took her to when she was small. She hasn’t been able to go back there since.
She has been descending a slope for a while now. Her feet press into the soft texture that is familiar to dunes. As she walks to the top she leaves the deep green vegetation behind her, the wind blows comfortable fresh air through her hair. At the top of the dune she decides to pause and take in the landscape. The Pacific Ocean is on one side of the dune, the rainforest she has just passed through on the other.
When she feels her eyelids becoming heavier she stands up. She doesn’t want to sleep - not yet at least - So she starts descending. Walking downwards is different from climbing; it seems like she falls a little with each step. After some steps she learns to use the force of the fall to take the next step. Before she knows it, she is running.
The sound of her feet is not soft and grainy like on the dune, but hard and sharp. She looks down and sees that it is not sand she is running on but glass shards in a multitude of colours. A cold shiver rolls down her spine. This is exactly the place she was looking for.
With her eyes fixed onto the ocean she starts to walk. She thinks about the collection of marbles she had when she was young.
The shoreline has been hypnotizing her for a while now.
She squeezes her eyes together and looks for the thin line of the horizon where the earth and the sky seem to fade into each other. This line is like a promise that the ocean can never fulfill. It does not matter how far or long she swims, drives or sails, she will see sand turning into sky, or water into air. It seems all that is left to do is throw sand in the wind and look at the clouds passing by.
She puts her hand into the ocean, and pulls out a glass bead slightly bigger than her hand. She sits down and moves her index finger along its edges: it is no longer sharp but sanded by the salty current. She continues to walk along the shoreline. She throws the bead from one hand into the other; it makes a slapping sound as it falls into the palm of her hand.
She keeps on walking and the waves move glass particles up and down the coast.
The glass particles on the beach and in the sea crackle along with the rhythm of the waves. These sounds are the waves singing songs made from glass. She leaves deep footprints behind her as she walks. She stops and looks back at the glass beads that the waves have left in the imprints of her feet. In a few hours, the current will pull them out of their newly found nests, and into the water again.
After a while she finds a hole a bit further away from the shoreline. She lies in it and takes a nap. As she drifts off into sleep, she feels how the waves gently pace glass beads on her. She doesn’t care. When she wakes up, a glass patchwork covers most of her body.
She closes her eyes and falls asleep again.
When she wakes up again she is completely covered. She can see the sun through the glass quilt and water above. She cannot move and has to wait six hours for the ocean to retreat. She stares at the pink snappers and the turtles swim by. With her eyes closed she listens to crab feet tinkling lightly on the glass canopy that covers the hole she is in.... also broken river logic The short stories that comprise Seashells that Petrified Ears have clear beginnings and endings, and follow a somewhat traditional narrative structure. I became interested in extending writing into space, across different media. Broken River Logic is comprised of two separate components: a radio station titled Waves, and a short film titled Flood. Although both components have been developed in different media, both are explorations into narrative notions such as beginning and ending, of closure and opening, of the story arc and the fragmented recollection.
Waves is a portable radio station that emitted a series of short stories and soundscapes at given times between two art spaces, at a circumference of about 50 meters. The audience was invited to bring a hand-held radio, as they walked from venue to venue, so as to be able to receive this sound work in public space.
2016, portable radio transmitter
Flood is a short film that comprises various overlapping voices and images. A sequence of colors attempts to mimic speech becomes intertwined with recollections of moments when the continuity of everyday life becomes interrupted by the unknown.
2016, HD, 9 minutes
plus in light of In Light Of consists of two light bulbs, blinking at a random pattern. These bulbs where installed in two different spaces. During twilight, these lights started the blinking sequence, establishing an immaterial connection between the two unrelated and unconnected spaces for a brief period of time.
2015, two lights, two TL starters, a contact microphone, an amplifier and speakers
and peter & the strange houses This is a story told in three short chapters, a prologue and an epilogue about a man who longs to be in the woods.
As an audio work in Twil Sharp, Johannesburg, RSA, during the show The House, curated by Samantha McCulloch:
In which we find Peter alone in a forest, searching for a phenomena he witnessed three years ago…
Peter had seen the strange houses in this forest before, but now he could not find them.
After hours of walking the forest became a monotonous being, and Peter lost hope.
He drove through this forest almost every day for ten years.
It had never occurred to him to walk through it, until three years ago, when his car had broke down on the road through.
To kill some time while waiting for the rescue service, Peter walked into the forest.
Six hours later he found his car gone, and the night had come.
Stunned by his encounter with the strange houses, Peter decided to walk home.
Three years later Peter parked his car on the same spot as last time, and entered the forest.
In which we learn how Peter found the houses, and how they communicate…
Three years ago Peter found the strange houses by accident.
He was not sure how he understood how they communicated, but they did so by shining light through their curtains at night.
Peter was not supposed to find the strange houses, they showed themselves to him, not the other way around.
He tried to explain this to them, but still they wanted him to leave.
Peter left, and the houses took his thoughts as a deposit.
"If you come back, we will make you lose your mind", he could hear them say.
But how could they ask him to leave, when they owned a part of him?
The memory of the strange houses becomes heavier, Peter goes back to the forest…
The memory of the strange houses shaped Peter’s imagination.
His personality became more and more at odds with itself.
Had Peter really seen the strange houses?
Was his imagination the reason the houses existed?
How do you find anything by chance?
Peter’s doubt transformed into anger,
his anger transformed into obsession.
Peters confusion gradually separated him from reality,
and drove him back to the forest.
In which Peter finds the strange houses and convinces them to let him stay…
As Peter wandered in the forest, he feels sure he has to stop looking.
Everything was similar to three years ago: it was dusk and the weather was the same.
Before Peter knew it, some hours had passed and he could no longer move. His legs had frozen stiff to the ground, and his eyes where open wide.
Peter understood that his desperation had convinced the strange houses, all he could do now was sleep.
In which Peter transforms into stone and wood, and becomes one of the houses…
Some time has passed and Peter’s transformation is complete.
He is no longer afraid of losing his mind,fear was the first part of himself to become dormant.
The rest of him followed.
At first Peter had arms, now he has windows.
Before he owned feet, now he has a roof and ceiling.
Previously he had skin, now he has plaster and a chimney.
His senses have transformed into light,which he shines through his curtains at his fellow houses. — combined with a paragraph My filmworks, installations, and short stories point to the strangeness that sometimes erupts in the midst of everyday life. Attending to these small moments of disorientation, contradiction and rupture, as well as the bewitchment of ordinary language, my works expose the hidden narratives and codes that organise daily experience. I explore the potential for new ways of framing reality, making poetic alterations to existing sites, structures and stories. In this way, my works propose alternative relations to time, the environment and others, opening up a speculative space in which to renegotiate our relationship with the familiar.
framing all this in a bit more detail & also a c.v. and lastly contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org, +31 6 23 65 48 35