Chapter 4: Abraham’s Maze
For the final chapter of Common Grounds: Story / Heritage we turn to reflect upon the story itself with a newly commissioned text by Laura Herman and Maarten Mertens.
The preliminary narrative chosen to accompany us on this journey focused on the site of Lange Nieuwstraat 7 (and the historical Abraham Dolehof) and its imaginative possibilities as a site for commoning. Who are the hidden commoners of this place, past, present and in the future, and what could we learn from their stories? Over the course of several chapters since March, perspectives from a wide variety of storytellers gathered to contribute to this emerging sense of place. Each stage of the story also featured artists and writers as main characters (Bart Luneburg, Jumana Emil Abboud, Kanitha Tith, Laura Herman and Maarten Mertens) whose newly commissioned works foregrounded notions of inheritance, storytelling, time, and relationships to place.
Of course, no story would be complete without obstacles or conflict. Soon after the opening of the exhibition Chapter 1: This Creaking Floor and All the Ceilings Below with Bart Lunenburg and co-presented with our neighbours FOTODOK, we were forced to close the physical spaces due to the far-reaching impacts of Covid-19. Continuing with the program online, we turned to the interactive archival platform are.na to provide safekeeping for our collected stories. Here Chapter 2: The irresistible shade of the vine highlighted how stories not only help preserve a sense of (and actual) place but can also save lives through sharing and bearing witness to them. With this in mind, Chapter 3: “How heavy is time?” sought to let go of desires for a linear narrative, opening up the main story and setting to the complexities of the present, which continue to be both urgent and ongoing. We looked to what stories, tools and resources could help gather commons-based approaches for interpreting and facing the challenges of the present. During this time, the global pandemic gave way to a rupture of enormous awareness and structural change, following the recent popular uprisings against police-violence in the United States, The Netherlands, and abroad, and the surge of support for the movement for Black lives internationally. We learned that mutual aid, collective support and strategic planning, artworks and written word, must accompany us through the long haul of this movement.
If, at this point, by way of a kind of afterword, we reflect upon this process and the “quality of our narrative,” we might find that desires to tell a common and common-ing story of this place revealed gaps and uncertainty, relationships that were “uncommon” too, and some characters that were present don’t show up in the plot. The nonlinear reality of time and “inheritance” as it relates to our understandings of place and what you are given, revealed the importance of submitting ourselves to inevitable changes in the narrative. At the start of the year, before Common Grounds: Story / Heritage, we read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower in our celebrated ReadingRoom, organized with Terra Critica. This beloved work of science fiction taught us that “All that you touch. You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God is Change.”
As we arrive at the last chapter of our adaptive exhibition program, we return to the courtyard of our shared space in Utrecht. At the Abraham Dolehof we hear from a final character in the story, a voice previously hidden. Abraham’s Doolhof (Abraham’s Maze) by curator and writer Laura Herman and writer and dramatist Maarten Mertens is a story delivered in the form of a dialogue between the Dolehof, the courtyard, and a clever wanderer, who helps the Dolehof discover a sense of its self. The courtyard is not only an (un)common ground, but also a maze in which different realities collide.