LEEUWARDEN WHO CARES FIELDWORK An artistic project that examines the space of care in our society
Dernière mise à jour : 25 avr. 2022
For three months on and off we join the routines of the housekeeping staff of Senior flat cooperative Nijlanstate in Leeuwarden. We learn their work, we become colleagues, we clean, we cook and we distribute food to the residents. In between dishes and sponges and the never-ending labor that it takes to maintain such a space, we also take some time to talk about care.
On our way to Leeuwarden we accidentally sit in the silent wagon. For those who are not familiar with this concept: There are some wagons on the train in which you are not allowed to talk. Here people take this very serious and if you do talk they tell you to keep quiet. We really like to talk on the train so we always avoid sitting in the silent wagon. Nevertheless, for some reason we often end up there. Jus like now, we made the same mistake. The train is full and we have no chance to change our seats. Alice is stuck with a group of drunk Germans and Olivia is trapped with a grumpy old man. All that until Zwolle where we finally get reunited, happy to talk... until we get reminded that we are in the silent wagon.
We are travelling with Momo, Olivia's little son. He is 10 months old and he always smiles. We need to find a solution so that someone takes care of him while we are working. Janka, our good friend, is coming with us to do that for the first few days.
We arrive at our usual bed & breakfast. They don't even have to welcome us, we find the keys under a rock. Momo is in a very good mood. We are looking forward to starting our fieldwork with the housekeeping staff at Nijlanstate, a senior flat cooperative where we worked already 3 years ago.
We don’t know what time our shift starts so we come too early with the fear of being late. We wait in the personnel room, there is no one and we wonder if it's because they already started. 10 minutes later everyone arrives slowly. The shift starts at 9. Good news for us, we can sleep a bit more next time. Except Olivia because Momo wakes up at 6 every morning.
Ieteke (the director) is the first one we meet. Little chit chat about the summer and the difficult housing market of Leeuwarden. Gerri and Gea, our colleagues from the housekeeping staff, welcome us like we never left this place. It’s been three years since we haven't seen each other but if feels like we were just here yesterday. Nothing changed. The staff seems generally curious why we are here again but they don't question it so much. As if our presence was anyway normal and accepted. Later in the morning they do ask about our plans and about the performance. It is a nice balance between accepting that you don't need to understand everything but still wanting to know a little bit.
We are amazed how things are preserved just like they were three years ago. It is not only the work but also something in the essence of the place. The building smells the same.
We immediately get tasks to do, most of them without any extra explanation. Everybody assumes we already know what is what and where is what. We do know more or less but it's been some time and actually we only ever worked here for 2 weeks. Nevertheless we embrace our role and fill in the gaps on the way. We figure it out.
Our 1st task is to clean all the toilets.
Our 2nd task is to fold towels.
The 3rd task is to clean the personnel room, because the floor was full of beans from the special volunteer group who assist the cooks by preparing vegetables. They are all residents.
The 4th task is to clean the salon of the house, what they call in Frisian the Opkeamer. It's nice to be back there. This is also where we showed our performance last time. We remember the room filled with all the residents when we performed, the mess and the success it created.
The 5th task, and our favourite, is to wash dishes and to distribute food. There is a whole system which we are truly amazed by. The whole logistics, the team work. So precise. So pam pam. Everything is fast and efficient. It is a very satisfying feeling. Everything works. Everything has a direct impact. However it is all in the background behind the doors, under the surface. Like the work of little ants, collectively serving and maintaining the same cause.
Hereby a video of a short moment from 3 years ago:
Then comes the moment of food delivery. We are once again thrown into the deep water. Alice gets lost in the corridors trying to find the mysterious and hidden room 21. We follow the same routine: Ringing two times. Opening the small cupboard. Leaving the trays. Olivia forgets to take back the cards which define what meal which person gets, and she bumps the food trolley into every door steps.
We start the day with a new task: cleaning and disinfecting all the elevators. Since Covid they have to do this every day. Today we also meet Annie and Hester from the kitchen. They seem happy to find us back. Gea, one of our main colleague from the housekeeping, is analysing our big come back, she compares it to a handcraft which keeps developing. Like knitting a never ending scarf. She shows interest and curiosity trying to understand our goals. We have a nice conversation in the cleaning room between the brooms, the mops, and the vacuum cleaners.
We meet meneer Van de werf, Menno by his first name. He is our dear friend from last time, 89 years old, former cook. His daughter is taking him out. He just fell, it was dark, he lost his wallet, something with the grass. He also said that he should have known that you don’t walk alone in the dark. He looked tired. There is something scary about becoming friends with people in their 90s. We get scared to lose them at any time.
There is a beautiful weather so we all eat outside with the cleaning team.
After lunch we have a care talk with Ieteke, the director of Nijlanstate. We ask her if it's ok to do it in english. Our talk is soft and personal. For our care talks, we always ask the people to pick a card with a word on it. Ieteke gets the card rust (rest) which she says really fits her. She connects it to her energy and to her approach to things. We talk about the challenge covid brought. For the older generation but also the young ones. She has two sons who are 17 and 20.
We are already feeling tired from our new routine. It's quite physical and in the afternoon we still have to do a lot of MOHA work (our organisation) + one baby to take care of. In the evening we feel it quite strong. Empty bodies and empty minds.
There is a new woman working at the management, Sjoukje. She takes care of different things: the planning, the activities among others. She also seems to be organising the teams, following how they are doing, taking care that everything is ok. She is very nice. She arrived shortly after we left last time in 2018 but she said she heard so much about us.
We have again a new task today, we get to use the big cleaning machine.
We also have to wash the windows around the doors, they get dirty quite fast as everybody tends to touch these windows with their hands. Alice gets confused and thinks we have to wash all the windows of the third floor. It is a never ending task. Washing windows is also our least favourite activity. You can try your best to do a good job but it's never perfect. It is only after already washing a couple of windows that we find out we didn't have to wash them. Gerry and Gea laugh at our mistakes in a sweet way.
The big cleaning machine is fun. It has a system that makes it sometimes go very fast by itself. We take turns and vacuum the whole floor like children discovering a new game.
We look forward to get back to the magic time of the kitchen and lunch distributing.
Olivia, in between two dishwashing rounds, talks about kids with Cetin another colleague of ours. Everybody is very curious about her children. Last time she was here she was pregnant of the first one. It is a good way to get into conversations. Cetin had to stop with work for some time as he fell from his bike few months ago. Since then he has a hernia. He is now in integration back to work so he only works few hours a day. They talk about COVID and how it makes it difficult to visit family when you come from another country. He is from Turkey and his family didnt see his kids for 3 years. Olivia is from Hungary. He will go to visit soon.
We always get very hungry around noon (we seem not to eat enough in the morning) so when we get to the kitchen its a torture to smell all this good food!
Our week is finishing, after the shift we pick Momo back and jump in the train to Amsterdam.
Hereby a summary of all the tasks we achieved in three days:
We travel in the morning, this time we escape the silent wagon but have to sit in this in-between space because there is no other place where we can fit with the baby stroller.
We brought a child-seat for the bike with us so we can be more mobile with Momo but of course it doesn’t work as we planned it. It is raining. Cold. We lose a lot of time fixing logistics. There is this romantic idea in travelling with children but logistically, it is never easy. Eventually everything works out and it is already time to run to our new babysitter, Mariam. Olivia is a bit nervous because it is the first time she brings momo to a babysitter. Alice tells her that everything will be fine. Alice always says these sort of things.
We go to Mariam and her mother. They are really sweet and relaxed so it feels quite reassuring. We think we found the missing pearl for this project. The one who will help us combine being a mother, travelling with your child, working and performing at the same time. This is a parallel line on the topic of care and labor which will follow us along this whole research. We leave Momo there quite happy.
We go to a cafe nearby to do some computer work. Working in the art field, one should master the skill of juggling with various tasks at the same time. When we are in Leeuwarden we can't only dive into our fieldwork, we also have to think of how to communicate about the project, reply to emails, logistics, organisation and planning for the projects happening in parallel or afterwards.
In the night we watch the handmaid's tale. We have this tradition when we work in a different city to always watch a series and smoke a joint together before sleeping.
Our working routine in Nijlanstate is starting again. Today we have a new and very special task. Every second tuesday of the month the residents can eat together for lunch in the opkeamer (the pink salon of the 5th floor). We are asked to prepare this room for the occasion and also to serve the lunch at 12.00. It is a big responsibility and we feel honoured that we have been chosen for it. Everyday we feel the trust from the organisation growing. As a preparation we set the tables. Cut flowers in the garden to put them in a little decorative vase. We study the list of attendants with all their specific diets and exceptions and we set the buffet.
At the break Jan the cook tells us that our dutch really improved in the last three years. We are very proud because we are always insecure about it. Dutch learning is a slow process.
At 11.45 we are ready to welcome the first guests. Some of them remember us from our previous stay. They were at our event. One old man who danced with olivia at the end of our performance comes to her to let her know he remembers and is still looking for a dance partner.
Fortunately Sjoukje who manages the teams and activities comes to help us out in the rush moment. Some residents did not come, others sneaked in. Some of them eat soup while they said they didn’t want so we don’t have enough for everyone. Same happens with the dessert, the Vla, that Alice called yoghurt which caused a big confusion within the residents. But all in all it all goes well and people are happy.
We are very hungry and there are left over from the chili sin carne and the croquettes so after we served everyone we decide to take a few bites. We both feel a bit insecure about this but then we realise that we are not actually working here and we do provide free labor, it is 12.30 which is lunch time, and we are hungry. Jan, the cook, comes to check if we need anything extra. He arrives when olivia is taking her first bite. We laugh about it together. Jan is the last person who would judge this as during our last stay he always offered us the left over. That has always been his way to show he cares for us.
We start our day with one of our care talk. This time with Gerry. We see her as one of our manager and mentor. She works here for so long that she knows everything about this building. She is the one who already taught us the job three years ago.
We are a bit clumsy and start the talk without clarifying how we are approaching the word care. In dutch "zorg " is really related to medical care which often restrain people from thinking beyond this context. Nevertheless, during the interview she slowly opens up on her own relation to care. She says care smells fresh but also not fresh. It is two sided. We find it a nice way to define it because although it is rarely mentioned it does have two sides. Gerry says it well: care can be very sweet but it can also be rotten.
She says care sounds like being open and that in order to be good at the job you need to have an insight, to be able to see what needs to be cleaned, and to be independent and pro-active so that you can make these decisions by yourself.
After the interview we feel like we got closer
After the talk we jump back into our daily tasks. Today we are full on in the kitchen doing dishes. As we start a bit late we literally step into a mountain of dirty dishes. It is rather impressive. The kitchen is already running for some time and there is no time to lose. Radio Veronica is on in the background, the sound of the dishwasher cycles, we do not talk anymore, we just work without stopping. When something gets clean, another dirty pots arrive. It feels like a flow. We first feel like we are failing as we are still behind our tasks. We don't even take a proper break so we can catch up the delay and reduce the mountain.
Slowly we get things back in control. We even get a compliment from our dish cleaning expert Gerry . She says “ Good girls. I am happy with you”. We are so proud
It is also today the birthday of Wiebe, one the gardener and technician of the building. It is his last year before retirement so the team is preparing a surprise. They ask us to decorate a chair for him. Alice wonders if this is a dutch tradition as she never had to decorate a chair before. Apparently it is only done for very special people. In the middle of our cleaning we stop, we run to go decorate this chair quickly with little kitchy things given to us by one of the cooks. Alice finishes just in time before Wiebe enters. There is a cake. It is a sweet gesture. A short moment to acknowledge his work before everybody goes back to their tasks.
Today we are having our care talk with Gea. She is, together with Gerry, the other one of our mentor in this job. Gea is always full of energy, she is talkative and she likes to laugh.
She talks about all the little gestures that she associates with care. For example when she is vacuuming the building and sees someone coming with a heavy shopping bag, she stops so that she can carry the bag.
We have always during our talks a little associative game where we ask what care smells, sounds or taste like. At first Gea doesn't know what to answer but eventually she has a very straight forward answer to it: When care is good it sounds good. You can hear it in a hello or a thank you. It makes the difference.
We also talk about the bureaucratic aspects of care. Gea says it takes time away from the actual care. Writing reports all the time. It becomes more important than the people you care for. Gerry said as well during our talk yesterday that she had the same feeling with her mother when she was at the hospital, she became a number on a form.
After that, back to work. Today we clean the lifts and vacuum the so called “achterstuckjes”. We did it last week so we already know what to do. Then we come to the kitchen and as the dish corner is a mess, Olivia jumps right at it, while alice finishes her vacuuming.
In some point comes the time to chitchat again, Annie asks Olivia if we get paid to do this work. We try to explain shortly where do we get our money from. Then she asks us if we have a man. Gerry shows Alice some photos on her phone, she is looking for a photo of her partner. She shows her house, how she decorated it, her garden, her sisters and eventually the man. On the photo he is sitting with sun glasses on. She apologizes that we can’t see his eyes. Alice shows a photo of Ivan (her partner). Gerry says that they fit each other well.
After two weeks of being back, it feels like home. We got our routine, our extra work is appreciated by the team and like last time we feel like we are becoming part of this very specific and caring environment.
After a 3 weeks break we come back to Leeuwarden. By now it feels like commuting to work. We take the train always from Zuid, we always spot the handicap wagon to be able to place the babycar there. We always try to travel when momo is sleeping so it goes smoother. We arrive at our usual B&B, we find the key under the rock. We work. We bring momo to bed.
At 8.30 Mariam, our babysitter comes to pick momo. We bike to Niljanstate. We pick our uniform, go to the changing room, put it on and then directly go to the personnel room to hear what are the tasks of the day.
When we arrive neither Gea nor Gerry are here, which is pretty rare. Lian and Cetin are here. Alice tells Cetin pretty proud that she went to turkey the week before, he is going there next week to see his family. He is very happy. He makes a joke on how white Alice is for someone who was at the beach two days earlier.
We ask everybody if it is ok to film them this week. Cetin replies laughing that usually he doesnt like being filmed but if it is for us he will do it. Sjoukje, the manager, jokes that the team will accept anything from us because they are under our charm. We do feel comfortable with each other.
It is again the samen eating day of the month, as we took care of it last time and we are responsible for its organisation again. It is the occasion to see residents. This time we are a bit more confident. Olivia even has a plan on how to remember who is who and who eats what so we can keep full control. We set the tables, little flowers to make it prettier and when we are done we go to the kitchen to help there, where it is always the most needed.
During the coffee break we talk with Gea, who is today zorg assistant, and with Lian about an ongoing issue they are having. The new girl who was supposed to join the team just stopped showing up, they found another girl but after a day she said the job was not for her. Gea wonders what she expects from life if she is not able to handle this job. Maybe she was too young. They are very happy to have us these days as with holidays and days off they are understaffed and they start to feel the pressure of it. The shift should be for 3, sometimes they are often only 2 and in worse case 1. We wonder why it is difficult to hire as we think the job is not too challenging and most important the atmosphere and the team are very nice. We could work here.
We hear as a confidence that the previous director was difficult and that her management was really bad. She fired a lot of people. The staff is more happy now. It is nice to feel included in the stories and gossip of the place. We are colleagues.
After the break we are getting all set for our big sameneating moment. Jan the chef cook is making jokes to Alice that she doesn’t get because of her crap dutch. He has to repeat 3 times and she still does’t understand. It is funny how some days dutch is flowing and others it is a total failure. Later today we are having a care talk with him and Annie.
The sameneating goes smoothe. This week no mess with the menus of the residents about who eats what and who came instead of whom. We see regulars who most probably come every months, the same who came to our performances. They ask us how we are, where is the project going. One woman ask us which one of us had a baby. She remembered Olivia pregnant 3 years ago.
Like last time we eat the leftover in the corner. When we bring back all the dishes Jan asks if everything went smoothly and if we also managed to eat some of it. He knows. Thanks to one of the resident not showing up, we ate her part.
In the afternoon we are set for our two care talks. Annie comes first, we explain how the talk goes. As part of the ritual she picks a card: “Orgasmic”.
We can’t help but to giggle as it is a bit awkward as a first entrance to the talk. The same thing happened to us when we worked in Rotterdam with one of the social workers there.
While laughing Annie asks is she should pick another card, we say no we should work with this one. We put it on the side and will come back to it in the end of the talk.
When we ask her what care smells like she answers very naturally: what type of care: good or bad care? We noticed that everyone in this building always replies this way. It is funny as it is the first time people make this distinction with this question.
What is important for Annie in her work is that it is a team work. She is a joyful woman and she tries to bring it through there. We can recognize that. To us this is her strength and this is also the way she cares. When we come back to the card (orgasmic) in the end of the discussion and ask her how she relates to it she says that it is about fulfillment. Doing things fully. We laugh again about the meaning behind, she is very open about it. She says she talks about these things also with her mother, although she is 93.
5 mn later Jan comes in. It is the first time we see him without his chef cook outfit. He is a 63 years old cook who works at Nijlanstate for some time now. He used to work in Horeca but he says that it is difficult to combine it with having a family. This type of work is more balanced in this matter. The card he picks is “space”. He tells us right away that he doesn't have a very abstract mind. We tell him it really doesn’t matter. Nevertheless he talks very poetically and with a lot of passion about his work and, to our more abstract questions, he always comes out with surprising and beautiful answers.
Care to him is the responsibility he has to make good food for people and to provide it to the ones who can’t cook for themselves anymore. He always makes sure everyone gets what they want. He doesn’t get much complaints which for him shows he is doing a good work. He says it's not something he should get a medal for, he just likes to do it well. He sees art in the colours he chooses for the food so that it looks attractive. Art to him is this little trick that not everybody knows how to do. His art is that everything comes together, it is healthy, it is tasty, it has all the ingredients one need in a day, it looks good and it is diverse. To the smell of care, again comes the answer of good and bad care. Good care smells like a nice perfume and bad care like poop. We laugh.
When we get back to the word “space”, together we make up the answer: In his work Jan makes space for so many different skills and things to comes together. How to pass on knowledge, how to be a good leader, how to be a good cook etc. He says he keeps learning about it still now.
He tells us already he will come to our performance on the 3rd December. We are looking forward.
Morning starts quite fast, Gerry immediately puts us to work to collect the evening dishes.
She is alone and therefore we are a crucial help for her. We agree that today we will be taking care of the kitchen which makes us happy as we really like it there.
In the kitchen, we are cold so we put on our sweaters. Everybody laughs at us as if this was the weirdest things to do. We tell them that we are from Amsterdam and that it is really cold up here in the far North. They laugh even more. (It is really cold!)
We feel very satisfied because we are on top of our work, everything under control, everything cleaned on time. We even have time to make a little presentation video:
Annie tells us she kept thinking about our talk in the evening. She did not expect this. All the things that she has not thought about for many years. Memories came back and stayed with her. She says it must be so nice for us to get to know so many different people. We can only agree.
Alice gets upgraded to a new task which we never thought we would ever reach. She works directly under the hands of the cooks. She puts the lids on the different metal boxes that contain the food and go into the "koffertjes". These metal tops are so hot that she has to wear special gloves for it. She needs to check if it is menu A or menu B before she takes off the box, she also needs to make sure she follows the good order of names as people have specific food arrangements.
While Alice is florishing from this new experience, Olivia remains at the dishwashing room continuing the never ending cycle of washing. Yet, she is proud of Alice. She even makes a little film of her:
In the middle of the collaborative food distributing kitchen work, we always find the time to joke with one another. The team ask us why we don't solicit for the job. We say that if we move to leeuwarden we will let them know but we need a good contract then!
We get a lot of compliments about the way we work and our involvement. Afterwards we think that the only reason we do a good job is because they taught us very well. They are the ones who manage to share their sense of details and their dedication. They know how to pass it on. This is a great skill.
In the afternoon we go back to our B&B to do our other type of work. We make a first plan for the expeditions/performative fieldwork which we will be presenting in November at Explore the north. From being frustrated about the restrictions of the format, 15mn, random location, not being able to bring people to Nijlanstate, we turn it into a strength and start to get excited about our ideas. We talk about labor and how we would make the labor of our work as artists visible, the work we put into reaching out to an audience, inviting an audience, leading them into our world. This is for us as well a direct parallel to this daily invisible labor that our colleagues are part of in Nijlanstate. We want to lead our audience through a physical experience which touches upon intimacy and labor. About feeling physically dependent, about the exhaustion and the work it asks to maintain a care facility, and about the very specific contract that exists between the workers and the ones who are being taken care of.
We won't reveal everything for now.
As soon as we pack out our things, move into our rooms here, we are already packing back, cleaning up the kitchen and the rooms and we leave Leeuwarden again. Once someone said leaving a situation is as important as getting into it.
We arrive at Nijlanstate with all our backpacks and the food we take back home. The personeel kamer is dark. We hear from Sjoukje that our colleagues are already at work. They don’t want to lose any time as they are not enough people.
We start with our care talk with Sjoukje. As mentioned already, she is the manager of our team but also of all the different workers in the building. We have a very moving discussion. She is a soft and caring person with a lot of feeling for responsibilities. Funnily enough the card she picks is "responsibility". It is following her. She has a very human approach that she brings with dedication into the work she does. She talks about care as these little things that seem unimportant but actually can make a big difference. This is how she tries to work with her team. Trying to make them aware of how much the small things you do in your work are actually important for the other teams.
After the talk we are back in the kitchen. We are amazed that there is actually not much to do although Lian is working there alone. We noticed already that she is a die-heart and that she always seem to have things under control. She is discreet, she never complains, she always has a smile on her face. We therefore jump on every dirty dish that comes in so that we can feel important. We don’t have to worry too much because dishes always come back and pile up really quick.
Olivia sneaks herself close to the core of the action so that she can get the same upgrade as Alice got the day before. She succeeds and does the work. She even prevents a mistake to happen. This is level up.
The lunch distribution actually happens quite fast so we can already start the clean up which usually is part of the afternoon shift. It has something satisfying as it gets into a fast tempo. We just go for it and Cetin has to tell us to stop and take our lunch break.
After lunch, we drop the invitation letters for next week. We will organise a little gathering for the residents to talk about care with them and about our projects. We always underestimate the time it takes to send these invitations. We put a lot of care in the way we do it. We know it makes a difference. It is important for us to have nice envelops, add our little signature stickers, write a word by hand on each of them.
At 16.00 we take the train back to amsterdam where momo will join us too. We have to entertain him in the train. We take turn in distracting him, holding him, showing him landscapes, singing for him. We are tired. Feeling slightly sick. It is a full time job.
This week is a special one because Biljana, our collaborator is joining our fieldwork. The other reason it is special is because this time instead of travelling with Momo, Bowie (the first son of Olivia) is joining us. Bowie is almost three so for him it is a week of adventure in the horizon. Bowie met Biljana when we performed in Amsterdam in September and since then he has a crush on her. He calls her Biljan. On the train he tells her that he likes her because she has a nice face. Biljana loves Bowie too of course. Bowie is also obsessed by "the theatre". He knows that coming to Leeuwarden means to see the theater where mama is working. What he doesn’t really know is that we don’t work in the theater these days. But yeah.. It is complicated to explain everything in details.
We arrive at the B&B , set up everything and get ready for our first day tomorrow
The day starts a bit bumpy. Before she can go to work, Olivia needs to prep her friend Janka who came to babysit bowie for the week, Alice is falling apart because of a severe blader infection which attacked her during the night. She was awake between 3 to 6am wandering in the corridor. This specific corridor is also super annoying because each time one moves an aggressive bright light turns out. There is no way to be secretly sick.
So at 8am the conclusion is that we can't make it on time for our shift. It is the first time that that ever happens. Alice needs to sleep more and get antibiotics, Olivia needs to take care of Bowie. Biljana as it is her first day can't go there alone either. Olivia calls the reception and tell them we will come at the coffee pause. We feel shit about it but of course it is no problem.
Olivia and Biljana come first. They start by having a little round in the building which feels a bit labyrinthic to Biljana. Their task of the day: to clean toilets and elevators.
During the coffee break they chat about languages with Gea. Biljana doesn't speak dutch but everybody makes an effort to communicate with her. After that, same routine, kitchen, washing dishes and preparation for the lunches.
First impression for Biljana:
The feeling is pleasant, it feels like a well oiled machine. It brings her the sensation of serious tenderness. If you are attentive you can easily fit in and start to work in. The place is already clean so your task is to maintain that cleanness. She notices the wall art on the hallways as well.
Alice joins at 11.00. In the meantime she had to call 4 different doctors. No one could prescribe her the antibiotics she needs as it seems like there is a shortage of doctors in Leeuwarden. She eventually got it prescribed by her own GP and could pick them up at a pharmacy nearby. All good. The staff is extremely sweet with her when she arrives. They all know about her bladder infection and they all ask how she is doing. It feels kind of funny to have something so intimate shared between one another. But it feels good because everyone understands.
Today we stay longer at Nijlanstate as after our usual shift we are organising a tea gathering with the residents in the opkeamer (the big salon). We have been so busy working on our relation with the staff that we did not have time to reach out to the residents at all, so we are happy to finally fit it in. Our gathering is announced on the planning of the building and hanged in the elevator:
We set up everything. We bought some cake on the occasion. We will serve the usual black tea. Last time we tried to be fancy with the tea but it was a failure. They just wanted the most basic black tea you can get. Fine with us.
Slowly everybody arrives. The gang of the 4 ladies who always hang out together are coming. We have a history together as they joined our event last time. Some more familiar faces appear. They are all happy to see us again. Some look exactly the same, some have been marked by time in these last three years. Some are new residents and are just curious from the letter we dropped in their postbox.
We explain everything in dutch, slowly, to make sure everybody hears and understand. We handle this task better than expected. Our dutch was more crap three years ago.
It is not easy to explain the type of art we do but we take the time to share different examples. We talk about our believes in society, our views on care and the tools we use to share it in an artistic way. In order to create more vivid images Olivia uses Shakespeare as an example.
Things gets more complicated when we actually ask something to the group. We want them to write down a memory from when they received care. At the beginning we get a little bit bullied for asking such a question. Older people can be very straight forward. They won’t do something they don’t feel like doing. The 4 ladies gang seem to be unhappy about our task. We get this awkward feeling in the stomach, same as 3 years ago when they interrogated us at the bridge club on our first day, or at the beginning of our performance when they didn’t understand yet what they had to do. We do know that this feeling always passes. We all start writing.
We try to stay confident, we don’t give up, it is just about explaining well, repeating and being patient. Eventually the atmosphere becomes better and everybody starts sharing their stories. They are beautiful stories. One woman shares a memory when she got lost with her car and got a bit scared when two young boys pulled over. They helped her and showed her the way. One man describes a moment when he went to the supermarket with his wife and someone he did not know asked him if he was about to do something special today. A lot was said about being neighbors and friends: " When she comes to pick me up always before we go for a walk", "When we go visit together our other friend in the building", "We always eat together for lunch, I just come to her apartment". A debate starts on how much we can expect from our children to care for us when we get older. People have different opinions on the subject.
Eventually we have to close down the discussion as it is time to leave. People seem happy and we had a touching exchange in the end. Gea , Savannah (the receptionist) and Yvonne (the care assistant), come together to have a sneakpick from the back door. They want to see who came and how it is going. It is sweet.
The high point to us is when Meneer Van de werf, Menno, our friend from 3 years ago arrives in the middle of the meeting because he wanted to see us. We spend 5 min talking together after everybody leaves. He is recovering slowly from his accident. He can walk again now but difficulty. When we ask him how he is doing he says soso. We can see that he is tired yet he still made the effort to come. He says he needs a lot of care these days and that it costs a lot of money. He is annoyed with this. We promess to come visit him when we are back in November.
We clean up everything and go to the Westerkerk where we have a little office for our residency this week. This is also where we will perform in December. We have only one hour but we make a good plan for the rest of the days defining what are the points we need to talk about: Desires, expectations, fears and dreams about the performance. Our fieldwork and what we see in it. Care, where we are now with this notion. The contract with explore the north, the planning etc.
We go home, Bowie is waiting for us there with Janka. The first person he always wants to see is Biljan his true friend. He had a great day at the spielplaats with Janka.
Every morning this week one of us is falling apart. This morning it's Olivia who is in bed with a migraine. We go with Biljana to start out shift at 9am. It is anyway enough to do the shift with just two people.
Tasks of the day: clean offices, tussen ruimtes, personeel kamer and opkeamer.
We work efficietly and we feel like we manage to achieve a lot. Biljana says after cleaning the personeel kamer that you need to clean a place before you become intimate with it.
At the coffebreak everybody asks us about our meeting with the residents yesterday. Gea talks in english with Biljana, she says it has been long time since she studied it and she is a bit shy with the language. But you can see she is happy to try, she is very sweet with her.
They tell us again about the failure of trying to hire new people. They had found someone who came through the uitsend bureau but it had to be cancelled because of some papers problem. This person did a great job though.
We finish with our usual kitchen work. The morning goes very fast.
In the afternoon back to Westerkerk. We brainstorm by writing our ideas on series of posts-its with different themes. It is the first time we take the time to reflect a bit more and it feels good. We do three rounds, first about the fieldwork. We write what stays with us, what is strong to us there. Second round about the performance. Third round about care.
A lot of words adds up on each other: backstage of care, protected space, economy of care. Labor. Choreography of washing dishes. The specific smell of industrial kitchen. Repetition. Being attentively invisible. being part of a team. Chaine work. details are important. slowness and comfortability VS fast and efficiency. Good care and bad care.
One thing that already seems clear to us is how from approaching care, during our work with social workers in Rotterdam, in a more reflective, psychological, cerebral way, we are now approaching care in a more hands on way. Care here is intimately linked to doing. Care is a physical work.
After the brainstorm we dive into a different task: The care contract.
The care contract is a form we are experimenting with. An addition to the more formal contract we share with our partners, it includes the small in between things we do not often name. We try to highlight there what is important for us in a collaboration. Those things can seem obvious but, as we are in the art field very often over worked, we can easily forget about them. Like calling each other to check how we are doing, being curious about one's process, being pro active, reaching out, thinking along, solving challenges together.
We come home to a very excited Bowie who tells us everything about his day. he did the gorilla train today and he loved it. We have a pizza party on the floor of our bedroom and even better we get a puppet show in the evening by great theatre makers duo Bowie and Biljana
Today we are for once a full on housekeeping team, they are three from Nijlanstate plus us three. It feels like a blast. Gerry is very happy about this. She says It should always be like this.
Task of the day: finish to clean offices, "actherstukjes" and toilets
Alice is proud of her work in the achterstukjes. With the fall, there are so many leaves and she got read of all of them. Direct satisfaction. The magic of cleaning.
It is our last fieldwork day. Difficult to realise as it became part of our routine to do these shifts. We will enter now a more reflective phase but no cleaning anymore. We will miss it. We almost feel emotional when thinking about it. We suddenly regret that we could not have a care talk with everybody. We consider coming back in january to make more interviews. Those talks are so inspiring. We are thinking as well to give back something to the residents and organise one evening there, as we know a lot of them won't come to the Westerkerk. It is difficult for a lot of them to go out in the evening. We dream about all that.
We keep on going with our shift. Alice meets en old woman in the elevator who tells her "You have to work and I have nothing to do". There is something sad in her voice. In one sentence she summaries the duality that exists in this building.
Biljana and Olivia joke about how people associate them naturally to housekeeping because they are from eastern countries. They say it is different with Alice, when she says she is French, people think about their holidays, about food and wine.
We print a letter to each of the staff members with a little envelop and their names on it.
We tell them how much it meant for us to work with them.
We willen je heel erg bedanken dat je ons verwelkomde binnen je dagelijkse werk. We
voelden ons thuis, alsof we nooit weg waren geweest en we hier altijd al werkten. We
voelden ons welkom, en verzorgd, waardoor we onze dagelijkse taken met plezier hebben
kunnen uitvoeren. We zijn blij dat we hebben kunnen bijdragen aan jullie werk en voor een
kort moment onderdeel van het team mochten zijn. Jullie doen allemaal echt fantastisch
werk. Jullie doen niet alleen maar jullie werk, jullie ondersteunen elkaar, geven elkaar
energie, maken grapjes met elkaar en de bewoners, zijn nieuwsgierig en gul. Dit is voor ons
allemaal direct gerelateerd aan care. Jullie zijn allemaal, op de een of andere manier, care
workers op je eigen wijze.
Zoals we sommigen van jullie al vertelden zijn we druk met onderzoek rondom dit thema.
Ons project heet 'Who Cares?'. Care betekent voor ons veel meer dan zorg. Het is een
breder begrip van alle verschillende aspecten van wat zorgen kan betekenen, waar het
woord zorg vaak beperkt blijft tot gezondheid. Gedurende ons onderzoek gaan we langs
verschillende plekken en werken we met verschillende mensen om gesprekken te starten
over het onderwerp. We hebben gewerkt met zusters, begrafenisondernemers, straatvegers
en boeren. Hier in Nijlanstate hebben wij met jullie gewerkt, de mensen die zorgen dat deze
plek een thuis is.
Als onderdeel van dit onderzoek en geïnspireerd op onze ervaringen hier presenteren we op
3 en 4 december een voorstelling in de Westerkerk in Leeuwarden. Het zou leuk zijn als
jullie allemaal komen. We hebben nog niet alle praktische informatie paraat maar in
November zijn we terug en zullen we jullie een persoonlijke uitnodiging sturen.
Zie jullie snel en nogmaals dank.
Alice en Olivia"
We leave the letters on the table of the personeel kamer. We wonder what they will say between each other about it. We invited them for the show, we have the feeling a lot of them will come. We will send them a personal letter again in November about it.
We go to westerkerk, prepare for our meeting with the team of explore the north our partner. Those meetings are important as they can avoid miscommunication in the future. We made mistakes in the past when we assumed we understood each other but realised we did not. We tend to be worried about PR and technical support. But its all under control now. Bowie joins us and finally sees the theater after having built theaters the whole week with giant duplos. Of course when the moment of the meeting comes, he doesn't want the fun to stop. Olivia ends up staying with him and Biljana and Alice take the lead of the meeting. It is a bit frustrating for Olivia as this is one of the challenge in having your kid at work. There is always unexpected factors, tantrums, low moments, sicknesses, things that do go as planned. It becomes in the end a constant mental charge for the mother who also wants to be an artist at that same time.
At the meeting we talk about everything. We also explain the whole idea of the care contract. We were a bit nervous about that but It feels good to be so honest. Olivia leaves before us with Bowie. We take the Train back Biljana, janka and me. We are exhausted yet we miss the energy of bowie.
We will be back in a month entering the other side of the work, diving into our creative process, translating our fieldwork into a shared experience, the performance.
In the meantime the vacuum cleaner will keep smiling at us in our dreams.