"The sick body has its own demands and requires attention. But that also means that the sick body knows much more than it is given recognition for."

Nathalie Hartjes wrote this publication on illness, societal appreciation, and the value of bodily knowledge on the occasion of the exhibition ‘The Mind-Blowing Institute‘.

On January 8th of this year, I reported sick for the first time in my working life. Truly sick, with a notification to the occupational health service, not just a ‘hey, I’m taking a day off’ kind of sick. Every day, bright red scatological evidence stared me right in the eyes from the toilet bowl. Looking away was no longer an option. A detailed description is truly only for enthusiasts and available solely upon personal request.

Impossible timing – because it always is. Now it was three days before the opening of the first exhibition of the year. And not just any exhibition, but the first one within the new program, where MAMA consistently gives voice and space to a different emerging program maker. I couldn’t think of a worse moment to throw in the towel. I found it remarkable myself; after all, I had been dealing with this daily discomfort for three weeks and even before that with its occasional appearances. Just make it to the finish line, endure for three more days based on sheer willpower – that’s more or less the usual routine, because being sick is not normal and therefore undesirable. And we all prefer not to be undesirable. That’s been drilled into me systematically as well.

The so-called sick body doesn’t really care about ‘normal’ working hours and routines. The sick body has its own demands and requires attention. But that also means that the sick body knows much more than it is given recognition for. And that happens to be the origin of The Mind-Blowing Institute, founded by Dieuwke Boersma in the year 2050. MAMA had the pleasure of hosting the institute’s first appearance here on Earth. Four artists with bodies and brains that are currently considered undesirable; as difficult or troublesome; as a problem to be solved or repaired. The Mind-Blowing Institute is an exhibition disguised as a future research institute where the wisdom of the body, and especially the body in all its variations, is taken as the starting point for new knowledge. And it gave me the courage to gather my own knowledge that had been swept under the carpet.

The Mind-Blowing Institute articulates an artistic alternative to the way we currently conduct science. The cool blue waiting room is simultaneously an observatory of the parallel world of 2050 where science is practiced. Science that consists not only of data but draws from the knowledge embedded in our bodies, from precise analyses of the various ways in which these bodies receive, process, and emit stimuli. Video works by Amanda Baggs, Kamil Guenatri, Johanna Hedva, and Vanja Smiljanic are located in the green room, which serves a dual function. In the traditional sense, it refers to the green waiting room for artists just before they step onto the stage – emphasizing the avant-garde moment of their knowledge by Dieuwke. The green environment also functions as a virtual intermediary space where the visitor becomes part of the future. None of the bodies in the space can escape being observed or becoming subjects of study. I sincerely hope that The Mind-Blowing Institute has encouraged the audience, as it did me, to rid themselves of prejudices about so-called shortcomings, but to embrace them as a deepening of self-knowledge.

The transition between the cool distance of the blue present and the green future is achieved through red radio waves, composed by Ioana Raillieu. The RGB model, which determines the layout of The Mind-Blowing Institute, is a metaphor for all the colors that can be formed from red, green, and blue light sources, thus celebrating the entire spectrum and leaving behind the stigma that ‘the spectrum’ has carried for so long. Even before the end of the exhibition, I am catapulted into another illness. My mother, who has been trying to manage MS for four years, is floored by what seemed to be an innocuous flu. The medications prescribed to her as MS inhibitors have broken down her natural resistance to zero, and because being sick is undesirable, she relegates herself until she ends up in critical condition in the hospital. The noticeable lack of white blood cells cannot be denied as the cause, but to what extent has her own denial of bodily well-being also been culpable?

A recent episode (One Head, Two Brains) of Hidden Brain leads me to believe that I cannot solely blame my mother’s almost fatal stubbornness on herself, but that it is part of a societal pathology. One that deserves more attention in general, and in the West in particular. Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist explains his book ‘The Master and His Emissary, The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World’ and reveals how our left and right hemispheres communicate with each other. In essence, our left hemisphere is focused on acquiring knowledge, while the right has the wisdom to apply it. The left hemisphere is, in fact, the emissary of the right hemisphere – The Master – who can make decisions based on this knowledge because the right sees the bigger picture. Or in the words of the late British journalist Miles Kington. “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.” The left hemisphere is rigid and focused on details, cold data, while the right hemisphere helps understand them through intuition and metaphors.

McGilchrist points out that in the West, appreciation for what our left brains produce has prevailed. The left hemisphere has no regard for what it doesn’t know and tends to disdain the input of the right hemisphere – while ironically, the right hemisphere tends to weigh all input from the left side carefully. This has led to an exponential growth since studies in science and technology have become detached from more intuitive fields such as literature and arts in the last century, because our brains are plastic and react to the appreciation (for the left hemisphere) they receive from society. That the response of ‘denial’ also resides in the left hemisphere is hardly surprising, but in the presence of various large-scale, and therefore also individual, crises, it is worrying because we give it too much space in our cerebral imbalance. McGilchrist mourns the loss of reason; making decisions not only based on (rational) data but informed by an understanding of the whole context in which a living human being in a dynamic society operates. He ends the interview with a quote from Einstein “The rational mind is a faithful servant, the intuitive mind is a precious gift.” And, he adds: “We live in a society that honors the servant but has forgotten the gift.”

That resonates beautifully with the slogan of The Mind-Blowing Institute: “Let intuition take hold of your actions.” I now know that when my intestines act up again, the tingling on the soles of my feet feels like a mix of moss green and ochre. I may not have been able to spend as much time with the exhibition in the past few weeks as I would have liked, but I do know that thanks to Dieuwke’s sensitive and vulnerable exhibition, my own color palette has been enriched.

TMI(RGB) calls for a futuristic paradigm, where intuition, logic and imagination cooperate equally. Embrace the absurd! Together we build a bridge to the future; and a radical alternative way of thinking.

Get to know four forward-thinking artists in TMI(RGB). In 2019 these four artists fall outside of the mainstream, but in the year 2050 they are part of the avant-garde of conceptual art. In collaboration with TMI(RGB) they challenge you to restart your intellectual powers. TMI(RGB) dismisses old-fashioned methods of civilization, which only confirm what you already think you know. Beyond educational traditions, and from the future, TMI(RGB) eradicates institutional and mental barriers.


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