What to do in corona-times with… Petra Heck

In times of #socialdistancing, we’d like to introduce you to all those people at the wharf. We’ve asked them for their Monday motivation and how they’re getting through these unusual times. This week: Petra Heck.

Petra Heck has been the curator of the Stichting NDSM-wharf foundation since March 2019. Previously she worked as a freelancer for TodaysArt in The Hague and TAAK Amsterdam. Petra has a great interest in the built environment, art and culture, and especially the socio-political relationship between them which all comes together at NDSM. As a curator she realised Willem de Haan’s Landing Trip and the Neons: Neo-logos by Annaïk Lou Pitteloud.

Hi Petra, how did the Stichting NDSM-wharf foundation cross your path?

Meanwhile 7 years ago we moved to North, just behind the NDSM yard to a house with a garden. Civil vinex house, but the idea of a garden, soundproof house, empty rough pieces of undeveloped land around the NDSM and a frayed NDSM, made the idea of moving from the Indian neighborhood (more) bearable. Although it took some time getting used to it. Meanwhile I have become very attached to North, and the typical North feeling, haha. The skate park in the hangar was one of the reasons we wanted to move here. It disappeared quickly, just like the empty unbuilt spots on the west side of the NDSM. But the IJ-halls, Sexyland, Kebec etc. are still there and what new exciting things are coming? When I was made aware of the vacancy last year, I first hesitated. I got used to freelancing and working in different contexts and locations (TodaysArt in The Hague, Dronten and Amsterdam with TAAK, Antwerp). But the history of the Shipyard, Dogtroep and the current transformation fascinates me immensely. And I found it important again to bite me in a specific context, and what kind of one.

In the beginning everything fell silent at the NDSM, what did you mainly occupy yourself with then?

Homeschooling, postponing projects, trying to think between all the chaos about what this all means for the current systems, the world and my own role within it and for the NDSM. In short, juggling between having too little time and the urgency to think everything through and having enough room to question everything.

I think it was mainly to keep thinking about where the fun can be found within the limitations. The bottle of white wine opened every day for the first period, which really wasn’t the case before. We ordered food every weekend at a different restaurant in Noord as Coba, Hotel de Goudfazant or the Pizzabakkers. I also cooked and baked more, like Swedish cinnamon rolls that I had been planning to make for a while. And there was time and space in my head to clean up the bookcase…

I think the present time has forced us to think about what really matters. Running and running past yourself is not really part of that ;). Flexibility is key. The lockdown caused stress in being close to each other and the obligation to continue with work, school and private life. Accepting this and trying to let go of trying to be the perfect school teacher, parent, employee and social safety net for e.g. my mother – who was having a hard time alone at home and whom we did not want to visit as a precaution) has been a challenge. Fortunately, much less obligations for my children’s school, no openings, birthdays and parties also provided the necessary focus. I think at moments like these, you are forced to focus on the now, and not think too much ahead. This is sometimes quite pleasant. As soon as more space is created, you immediately notice that a lot is possible again in your head. I was very happy with the occasional chat with parents in the neighborhood, I must say. I don’t really flourish working alone on my computer and being busy with myself all day.

Sounds like you’ve got a lot of balls to keep up, but still manage to find your twist. Have you also listened to music to relax?

I have to say that I listened rather little to music and more to Radio 1, on 1, New Hour and for a change Netflix series like ‘Kalifat’. That’s a very intense Swedish series in which young girls are recruited to go to Syria to be married off to an IS warrior. Super exciting. Or ‘Unorthodox’ – wonderfully played by the protagonist – about the escape of a woman from an orthodox Jewish community. And finally the French short series ‘The Henry’, about an unknown piece of Paris, a Parisian jazz club, its musicians and the music that conquers other issues. I think it is more and more important in this day and age to illuminate other perspectives and to ‘understand’ how people sometimes even accidentally end up in certain situations. Trying to reduce the distance to others and empathy is of great importance, this also appears with the Black Lives Matter movement. The documentary series ‘Why we hate’ places radicalisation in perspective. It is interesting to see, for example, that one of the reasons for radicalisation turns out to be that ultimately everyone is looking for a community to belong.

A handful of good viewing tips! What about podcasts?

For some blatant self-promotion, that of the NDSM of course! Especially the new episodes in which Ewa Scheifes and I interview Raquel van Haver and Ama Koranteng Kumi. And furthermore I am a fan of Yous & Jay: New Emotions, in which musicians Sef and Pepijn talk about all kinds of things with all kinds of guests, and always start with the question of what they have for breakfast, but in the end they learn a lot about what the guests are doing. Superrelaxed to listen to I think. We regularly listen to it in the car: conversations with rapper and amateur chef Freddy Tratlehner, Arie Boomsma or singer Merol.

Yes, you should definitely listen to those NDSM X podcasts (via Spotify, Soundcloud and Apple Podcasts) ;). Did you come across some good books while cleaning up the bookcase?

I’m already working on a book by Lize Spit, ‘Het Smelt’, a publication of Das Mag (top editions). Super-strong debut novel by her. The metaphors she comes up with are so apt and well written. I also became a fan of ‘De Groene Amsterdammer’ again. You can really feel the increased importance of public opinion at this time and I had a bit more time and focus for it now.

Is there, for you as a curator, a work of art in particular that has inspired you lately?

Actually, now the environment offers me the most comfort, nature, the NDSM for its emptiness. The sound of birds or crickets. All very banal. All the activities online I found a solution anyway. The regular irregularity of nature seems to be good for you. Just like sports, I always notice too late that it does me good. Although I do have a longing to visit exhibitions again, but I wasn’t one of the first to book tickets for them. I’m certainly not someone who is bored and yearns for time…

Although you haven’t been bored lately, is there anything you’ve really missed?

Spontaneous actions and normal physical interaction without thinking about the 1.5 meters and parties of friends. The fact that you now watch movies or pre-corona series strangely and start to shudder at the sight of large crowds of people or even the close proximity of a few people… I hope that changes soon. I also consciously avoid descriptions like the ‘new normal’, because in language you also record certain ideas and I don’t think it’s precisely these kinds of concepts that should be fixed now, because that way they also become a fact. My daughter already talked about the corona pole, the pole to press for the bicycle traffic light. Of course that’s also because of me, but I really hope that children (and we) won’t have some kind of blemish fear from this.

Have you mastered a new ritual in all the printed materials?

With the children we did a lot of morning workouts in the beginning, e.g. via Youtube ‘superhero workouts’, quite fun and good to do – with your hands held as if you had a lightsaber in your hand.

At that time we were very busy getting a fixed structure, but we noticed that it worked better with the children if we took a looser approach. Finding the balance and boundary again between control and no structure with the children was a bit of a puzzle. Furthermore, after developing the daily ritual of a glass of white wine (or two), I had finally started trying to run 5K again, from couch potato to 5K. Very nice then to be outside for a while, to empty your head. Maareh wasn’t halfway through the training yet, when I was flat with the flu for a week, no corona, and I haven’t continued training yet. So that’s back to couch potato. I intend to go through with this, but no guarantees yet.

I can relate. That coach potato part then :). Have you come to a certain realization?

It’s really about balance in life. My mother always said (I hear her blessing): ‘everything that ‘too’ stands for is not good’. And although I absolutely don’t want to take over all values and norms from my mother, I do believe more and more in continuously finding a good balance. We have long since lost the balance when it comes to dealing with our surroundings and the environment. Disrupting nature by the demand for specific products, industrialization and globalization has enormous consequences. Everyone has known this for a long time, but the enormous consequences that such a pandemic can have on a global scale have only now become clear. We have now been forced temporarily to rebalance the situation, but only as an emergency stop, now permanent changes have to take place.

The virus also made specific issues super visible: who had to physically go to work and take risks, who had to bear the risks of no income, where do the blows fall in such a situation, the zero-hour contracts, the migrant workers – the vulnerable in the society on which much of the country revolves. In addition, many of us suddenly had no ‘crucial profession’ and had to stay at home out of solidarity. But being able to work at home is also a luxury position, which greatly reduced the risk of contagion. While the elderly were suddenly really lonely and locked up. Inequality, social vulnerability suddenly became super visible.

Angela Merkel is now fighting for solidarity, at least on a European level, not to go under collectively as a continent. Also at the beginning of the lockdown a lot was called for solidarity, by being able to continue to show solidarity at home. The border between activism and doing nothing, or doing nothing as activism, is something Margarita Osipian and I wanted to touch in a 2-part radio broadcast called The Power of Doing Nothing with Radna Rumping by JaYYYaNeeNee. Under the title The Power of Doing Nothing with a 3,5 hour broadcast with all different ‘lazy’ contributions and a conversation recorded by Framer Framed with the speakers Flavia Dzodan, Quinsy Gario, and Joy Mariama Smith. Aspects such as activism, exhaustion and/or idleness as a form of activism, political aspects of ‘rest’ and who can rest were discussed. And with the protests around Black Lives Matter in the background relevant to discuss. We had already started this subject a year earlier, but it suddenly became more unexpectedly relevant than we thought.

Finally, what do you expect from a post-corona period?

I hope that we really start looking again at structural consequences and that we can take care of the vulnerable people who are having a hard time right now and who are going to have a hard time. Maybe we should finally get that basic income. Furthermore, I hope that we can rather be together, hopefully soon with a lot of hugging. I think the word ‘2020’ will be skin hunger. How can we get closer to each other with all the protests in mind, speak to each other and understand each other if we are not literally allowed to be physically close to each other, and have to fear the other when he/she is chastened? It was as if I had travelled to The Hague by train for the first time.

The idea of solidarity needs to be reshaped and given meaning, I think. I think many of us are looking at the world with new eyes again. And if we really do that consciously, and think about the consequences of these times, then it all has to be possible to do things differently. And I don’t mean small adjustments, and only on a personal level – although that’s also super important, being kind to yourself and the other, but especially systemic changes. This in the social field and sustainability. The balance can and should really improve. And so maybe a little less running from one to the other, and more often actually running the 5K.

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