Michael Koevoet: Mourning Position
Eighteen young writers from Flanders and the Netherlands have brought nineteenth-century artefacts from the Rijksmuseum to life. They wrote their stories in response to the question: what do you see when you look at these objects through the lens of impending doom? Together with Michael Koevoet we look at the painting A Windmill on a Polder Waterway, Known as ‘In the Month of July’ by Paul Joseph Constantin Gabriël. ‘I look out on the polder. Newly reclaimed land like a wager made with God. A childish cry for attention.’
Paul Joseph Constantin Gabriël, A Windmill on a Polder Waterway, Known as ‘In the Month of July,’ c.1889 © Rijksmuseum Collection, Amsterdam
It’s a sumptuous day in July. I’m standing firm in peaty soil that was said to be unsuitable for building. I don’t feel it. Every day I raise my face up to the sun and today my sails sweep gently, rhythmically. It feels like wind force four, all my sails are covered in cloth. My fresh coat of paint catches your eye, and that glint is reflected upwards by the ditch. I feel ... useful.
I look out on the polder. Newly reclaimed land like a wager made with God. A childish cry for attention.
I spot my brothers and sisters and give them a warm-hearted wave. We call the shots here. We make mustard by creaking wood, grinding stone and breaking sweat. We cut timber out of Norwegian trees so desire and drive may take shape in ships and other building works. We use the splinters to make your paintbrushes.
Yonder, my brother creates paper for your sketches and frames. The white surfaces on which you capture me for posterity. He makes the canvas on which you encapsulate the past, outlines the future.
My sister mills flour for your thick slices of bread with artisan cheese and liverwurst. She mills barley into beer so you can quench your thirst after a hard day’s work. It appears to me to lubricate all of your bullshit, philosophising and sometimes it seems to be the reason you get out of bed. On many an occasion we have seen you tumble into the ditch, bike, donkey and all. Your drenched shirt green with duckweed and your clogs full of slime. When that happens, we giggle in the wind.
And me? I drain the polders and link meadows, towns and villages with water. I may not be making anything substantial, but I do give you space.
And how you’ve taken to it...
My view is filled with black gravel paths on which horseless carts whizz by. Iron snakes crawl along rusty lines. You could set the sun by them, that’s how precise they are. Thick spider web threads are woven from east to west and from north to south.
Cities appear to be forever on fire yet, funnily enough, keep growing every day. My brothers and sisters make way for second cousins that appear to turn for no reason, capable only of standing. So slender, so cold, so alone without a miller. They don’t even speak the old language of the wind. Who knows, maybe they can make more than us. Give more space than me.
What I do know is that you’d promised to work with the water, with the wind and in the sun. And yet I see a whole lot less of you beside the water, in the wind and in the sun. I can only guess at your frown or your smile now. There are fewer bicycles on the dyke, fewer people asking for a glass of water and fewer couples in the reeds on dusky evenings like these. You no longer paint me...
Do you still paint at all?