Poetry in Art


Face the Dead

photography by Bob van Zahn

The Poem Death (1997) by Harold Pinter silkscreen on 7 hospital bed sheets / 7 forensic dissection tables, surrounded by the smell of lysol George M. Tokaya 2000

This installation by the Indonesian/Dutch artist George M Tokaya

Death (Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953)

Where was the body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?

Who was the dead body?

Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?


Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?

Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the body was dead?

Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

George Tokaya's installation was first presented at the 'Pinter in London' convention, London June 2000.

About the artist and his work: (adapted from a text by the Project bureau Academie Minerva)
George M. Tokaya Born Subaraya, Indonesia, 1951. Before entering the Academy of Fine Arts MINERVA (Groningen, The Netherlands) Tokaya was already uncommonly interested in the absurdity of human contact. 'The insanity of talking at cross-purposes', 'hanging on every word, but not having the faintest notion of any content' and other aspects of miscommunication grip him every time: language as a barrier rather than a means to communicate.
In communication, there is often no clear story line. Instead, there is a series of 'free floating images' which influence the way in which the addressee interprets the words.
When Tokaya emigrated from Indonesia to The Netherlands as a young boy, his first encounters with the Dutch language mainly consisted of series of nonverbal images and body language of the spoken sentences and words. In several aspects Mr Pinter's work touched him from the beginning. And because Harold Pinter writes so visually, so full of images it is easy to picture the setting. Since two years Tokaya has directed several short Pinter plays and sketches (The Bald and White, That's All, Night, The Applicant, Interview, That's your Trouble, Dialogue for Three). Pinter's work is an inspiration for him to design installations, make videos, paintings and graphics.

The poem Death (Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953) of 1997 forces us to face the dead. In Harold Pinter's words:

'Do the structures of language and the structures of reality (by which I mean what actually happens) move along parallel lines? Does reality essentially remain outside language, separate, obdurate, alien, vital correspondence between what is-to distort what happens-because we fear it? We can't face the dead. But we must face the dead, because they die in our name. We must pay attention to what is being done in our name. I believe it's because of the way we use language that we have got ourselves into this terrible trap'.

Campaigning against Torture

The questions in the poem are inevitable for Tokaya. As inescapable as the inevitability of death. The word 'inevitability' is a key for the choice of strong images, such as hospital bed sheets and forensic dissection tables surrounded by the smell of the cleaning liquid lysol. In a repeated motion, as in the poem, it creates almost a tautology comparable to the absurdity of war and cruelty.

Current Revenge (2000)

By George Tokaya in response to Poem Don't Look (1995) currently on exhibition 3 February - 4 March 2001 in The Netherlands at Borg Rusthoven, Rijksweg 39, 9971 PT Wirdum. For information and appointments telephone + 31 (0)596 572762

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