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Today, Margaret Haines’ first solo show at 1646 in The Hague, showing her latest video work I dreamt in heaven, opens to the public. Liza Prins met Margaret in the week leading up to her solo-show for some food, thought and sake. 

“In heaven, we would probably not feel any empathy.” That is what she, Margaret, tells me when we discuss the title of her new exhibition. I’d just asked her how empathy, which is an important element in the film and objects she will be showing, relates to the word ‘heaven’ in the title. I learn that it is there to playfully refer to the connection between empathy and mortality, that Jeremy Rifkin worked out in his book The Empathic Civilization. It is in the moment when we, as human beings, realize that life is fragile, that pain is very real, and that we will deteriorate together with our bodies, that we develop a sense of empathy. We develop the ability to feel with other bodies, to feel their pain, their loss. In heaven, where only immortal bodies reside, empathy can therefore not exist.

I meet Margaret Haines on a gloomy evening in The Hague. While eating miso soup and sipping some hot sake, we discuss a broad range of (artistic) problems and topics. I have the strange feeling that this evening somehow seems to fall together with Margaret’s film, that she had send me earlier that week. The gloominess of weather mimics the ominous sounds in the movie. The Japanese restaurant where we need to ring a bell to be served and the skaters in the film that speak a language I don’t understand, both have something very familiar and something very unfamiliar at the same time. And then empathic feelings, which I have (and not have) repeatedly that evening, or I might just be more aware of them. All these elements start to create a world together, which is not very different from the way Margaret’s work is build up out of different layers and perspectives that exist in, or form, one reality.

Following a motorcyclist that is browsing through the city (as a forerunner of browsing the internet?) Margaret’s film shows us different urban situations. One skater asks the other “Can I have some empathy on my fries?” The answer is: “How about some empathy to pay my rent?” The two boys talk mockingly about the concept of empathy. They also do not feel with a third skater-boy that enters the scene. Are they heavenly creatures, immortal bodies? Am I dreaming? In heaven?

She, Margaret, tells me about the skate scene in the US. She tells me about the youthful stubbornness and, at times, what seems to be an anti-political-correctness of corporate skateboarding. But what happens when skate culture is appropriated for the sake of neo-conservative beliefs, exactly because of this attitude? She quickly tells me that it is in no way her intention to connect the boys in the film to controversial political ideologies, because they are not connected to them.

We travel further with the motorcyclist, to a small dance school. We see a man, dancing in a classical (may I say feminine) manner, who seems to be rejected by two strong girls, whose dance style is much bolder. Is this about gender? Knowing some of Margaret’s earlier works, this is definitely a possibility, but the fragment in this film becomes never explicitly about (only) gender. It simply shows how this theme is integrated in Margaret’s thinking in the way she experiences the world. There is no need to make anything specific.

Although the film is really short, about four minutes, different themes, socio-political views, concepts and bodies build up a complex and interrelated narrative. The exhibition that will open today in 1646 will also contain objects, among which an email conversation Margaret had. I haven’t seen the objects yet, and also I do not wish to spoil the whole experience of I dreamt in heaven, but I am convinced they will only add to the very urban, but also very magical world that Margaret opens up in her film. I will definitely go and see the finished exhibition myself. I want to dream in heaven.

But for now: back to hot sake.

I dreamt in heaven. An exhibition by Margaret Haines, 1646, The Hague, 03.11.2017 t/m 03.12.2017 

All photos: Margaret Haines, I dreamt in heaven, 2017, filmstills, courtesy of the artist 

Liza Prins

is kunstenaar

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