Palinuro, video-installatie 1989; foto Mediamatic












by Ole Bouman (1989)


Not far from Naples lies the Cape of Pali­nuro. There, sometimes, the ele­ments can be rough, even if the Tyrr­heni­an Sea is tranquil. Whi­le the lightbeacon on the coast cuts into the darkness regularly for a split se­cond, helmsman Palinurus keeps watch on the bridge of a scour­ing galley. Behind him lies Carthago, where departure had lead to trea­chery and death of the so­vereign. In front lies Lati­um, where soon the model of all usurp­tion that history would know would be built. Treachery in Africa for the sake of the holy mission in Europe, divinely presented to admiral Aeneas. Fire was im­minent. But now, on the waters, there was still time to reflect. On the bridge, the bows, by the mast, in the hold and at the stern by the helm, wherever on the ship he might be, he brooded and found in the cor­ridors of his mind the inevitabili­ty of his desertion. Palinu­rus left ship...

This is the story Nol de Koning con­veys with his vi­deo-installation Palinuro, to be seen until the last day of this decenni­um in gallery Rene Coelho. While within our realm the Society of Friends of Classical Edu­cation barely have the stam­ina left to pull at the toc­sin, De Koning has managed to create a workpiece of genuine gram­mar­school perso­nality, and to top that, of bril­liance and irisciden­ce. Sit­ting in a darkened room, one can turn one's back to a large vagu­ely grained photo­graph of a none-too boiste­rous sea. The spec­tator wat­ches three monitors on which the melan­choly moods of Pa­linurus in all its shapes and phases glide past. The middle screen has been re­served for the ever-retur­ning pharos splas­hing its light off the cliff. Screens left and right, now and then ac­compa­nied by sounds of Berlioz, project water and more water, from below and above, hard­ly touched by the scanty light the night fir­ma­ment relents. Sometimes the vision of the rol­ling waves is cut by fish, birds, firehor­ses, classical bron­zes and erup­tions of volca­nic blood in a long, visual monologue. The ray of light on the middle screen is oc­casiona­ly su­per­seded by a cloudy collumn of fire in the distance.
Judging by the clarity of the images, the subtle in­genuity of though­ts, the mournful­ness of the will to flee, Palinu­rus has a lot to think about. He, helm­sman of the flags­hip of Ae­ne­as' fle­et, gets made re­dundant in Virgil's epic of the ship when he refuses to give in to the obvious se­ducti­on of sleep. 'Then the god took a twig dipped in Lethe's li­quid, and with in­toxi­cation from the swill of the Styx, brandis­hed above his head thus doing away with all resis­tance of his sleep-vei­led counte­nan­ce. As soon as repose had brou­ght him re­laxati­on, Sleep hurled it­self upon him and cast him, along a part of the deck and all of the helm into the sea, head over heels, with fruitless cries for hel­p.'  For three days the shipwrec­ked man floated arou­nd, un­til he washed upon the road­stead of Veli­a. There awai­ted him, ac­cording to Vir­gil, not saviour but robbery and murder. Later, on a coi­ncidental meeting at the en­tran­ce of the under­world, Palinu­rus and Aeneas speak with each other again and the helms man can tell his tale: 'Saved I would have been, if savage folk had not, while I, with wet atti­re, clung des­parately to the rocks, asassi­nated me, ho­ping for fortunate spoi­ls.'
Not everyone has since then been convinced that the h­elm­sman had true­ly met with accident. Nol de Koning, after British writer Cyril Connolly, lets Palinurus, who, inci­dently, we only get to know through his mind's eye, leave the ship on purpose. De Koning views the occuren­ces as an act of resis­tance against the inescapable solem­ni­zation of a violent world-destiny.
Had De Koning left things at this anecdoti­ve narrative, the half-hour needed would have resulted in accusa­tions of prolixity, but now, with his edited screen­poetry the maker has, like Hermann Broch in Der Tod des Virgil, done justice to the song and dream in Vergilli­an poetry. After all, what is time to characters that aren't bothered by centuries?

 ‘De Groene Amsterdammer’ vol.113 no 50, Amsterdam, 1989

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