Mediamatic Magazine vol 5#1+2 Nol De Koning 1 Jan 1990


The Artists

The Desertion of a Helmsman


Palinuro -

Let far out al sea that cruel stranger/see the flames rise of this fire/in token of his own future land!, these are the ominous last words of Dido, foundress ond queen of Carthage. Despite the idyllic time spent at Dido's court and her pleas that he should remain foithful to her, Aeneas puts to sea in secret, his heart bound to the pursuit of fate and the will of the Gods. Indeed, he has a divine task to fulfil: the founding of the Roman Empire. After Aeneas' betrayal, Dido commits suicide. From far out at sea the flames can be seen of the funeral pyre that she has ordered to be lit.

A bleak foreboding comes over the Trojan crew. Especially with Palinurus, Aeneas' mate and the protagonist of the video installation Palinuro, doubt is beginning to creep into his mind.

What price will they have to pay for the founding of an empire that will rule the world? How binding is one's duty to the Gods and one's mother country? To what extent does one have to be resigned to the apparently inevitable fate of the world? Perhaps this kind of question is running through Palinurus' mind when he keeps watch on the afterdeck at night, with the sea deceptively calm. At this very moment, with the final destination of the journey already in sight, sleep overcomes him, and with part of the afterdeck and the complete helm he is thrown into the sea. After three storm-swept days he reaches the shore, where the local inhabitants murder him, hoping for a handsome booty. The place where his body was left unburied was later named after him: Cape Palinuro.

When Virgil describes the fate of Palinurus in Aeneid, his falling overboard seems nothing more than a simple accident. However, following the English author Cyril Connolly, the video installation Palinuro presents Palinurus' falling into the sea as a deliberate disappearance, a silent protest against the doomed divine task and Aeneas' sense of duty (some authors even regard Virgil's Aeneid as 0 covert accusation against Rome and Augustus, and not primarily as a patriotic ode to the Roman Empire).

in Palinuro, everything revolves around the nocturnal hour of fate before the ambiguous fall into the sea, when Palinurus is keeping watch, contemplating his situation. Before him lie the shore and the lighthouse, whose beam of light sweeping around we see on the middlemost of the three monitors, lighting in its motion a photograph of the sea on the wall facing the monitors. This lighthouse light is the main theme of the installation, throwing as it were light not only upon the destination of the odyssey, but also upon Palinurus' fearful forebodings, upon the somnia Iristia, the sad, ominous dreams, reminiscences and obsessional thoughts spinning around in his mind, the video images of which are interwoven with the lighthouse theme in various rhythms.

The installation never presents Palinurus himself, only his desperate imaginative universe is made visible. In order not to reduce the representation of this imaginative universe to an illustrative sequence of images, Nol de Koning did not use the story itself as his main guideline, but instead applied the form principles of the Aeneid. One of the form principles which most appealed to him is the elementary animation of the work in its entirety. Everything becomes a token of the soul. Everything happening around and inside the character's inner self can be derived symbolically from heaven and earth, sea and wind, lightning and volcanos. The entire Aeneid is permeated with the passionate forces of nature (Poeschl). It is therefore no surprise that the choice of Palinurus' dream images is determined by (symbolic) images of the elementary forces of nature. These passionate forces of nature have always played an important role in Nol de Koning's work, for example in the series of abstract paintings for his video installation Bulicame (1986), based on his pictorial perception of the seventh circle of Dante's Inferno. However, he has never admitted any figurative elements to his painting (tanks to represent violence) and despite the fact that he is faced with the narrow boundaries of autonomous painting he has remained faithful to its principles.

There is another medium, however, which enables him to visualise his themes, sometimes literally, sometimes allegorically: video. The reason why, for him, video is the better medium to do so, remains strictly personal. The structuring principles of pointing and video art ore the same, but video allows him to elaborate on his themes, such as that in the Palinurus story, in a more figurative manner.

Aeneas' helmsman deserted. Now it is we, the viewers, who take his place on the afterdeck and have to keep watch in the darkened room of the video installation. Now it is our turn to contemplate our awkward situation and make a choice.