Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Visual mindfulness

A film role brings me back to Mindfulness

Gijs Scholten van Aschat, an old friend of mine and one of Holland's most famous actors, needed an English native-speaker to play the role of a Mindfulness counselor in the 29 minute tragicomic Dutch film Jack (a Journey to Fulfillment). I was offered the part and thought "why not?" 

Gijs stars as Jack, who is desperately trying to combat his fear of failure, his frustration and pain as he tries to renovate his house (and actually himself). Instead of more pills, his doctor recommends the CDs of the popular Mindfulness guru Jon Sabat (no, not that other guy with a similar name).
     photos and cinematographer Marjoke Haagsma

So I become the voice of Jon that Jack, during his emotional predicaments, can hear in his headphones speaking the wise advice that many of us have heard before and then forgotten: "Focus on the wonder of this present moment and on your own potential right now, accept yourself as you are..." and so on. Although Jack doesn't really have time for this stuff, the voice continues to haunt him. Jon even becomes his mainstay, support and inspiration.
But wait, people ask me - are you an actor? Well no, I just pretend. Ah yes, that's what actors do all the time, right? Ha, ha, it's amazing what you can achieve with such a gifted young Director as Jim Süter and with this fascinating script by screen-writer Jeroen Scholten van Aschat. Jim is amazing - he could gently talk me through the psychology of any situation and for him I would do whatever it takes. Not to mention the support of an experienced actor like Gijs. Playing opposite this guy in full emotional swing - and trying to stay calm, is unforgettable. 

It was fun to be involved and fascinating to observe the making of this film, but more than that, getting inside this role made me reflect a lot on real life. We might laugh at Jack's pathetic figure as he gets ever deeper into the troubles he brings upon himself, yet his problems are uncomfortably familiar and he invokes our sympathy. Jon Sabat's message starts to make sense. I had to believe it to play the role. In fact, I needed it myself. I also realized that it reinforced something I've possessed for years - my own form of visual mindfulness, developed through kinetic painting to music - which can only be done (and viewed) by focussing on the now. This real-time art form carries so many risks, but if you dare take them - to quote the musician Nikolaus Harnoncourt - even on the edge of disaster you discover great beauty. 
Film is related to my own kinetic painting in that it's a time-based art form. Film (or in German Kino, for the movies) and my continuous painting only exist in the present moment. Hence my affiliation to Mindfulness. The spectator focusses so intensely on the moving images because she/he knows that they are ephemeral. This exercise in heightened awareness takes you out of this world, my spectators tell me. Quite therapeutic. So am I a therapist? Nah....I just paint with the conviction that the synthesis of kinetic painting and music is good for my well-being - and for yours. It may well lower your blood-pressure or, in the case of the Poem of Ecstasy in the trailer below, get you really turned on!

This year is the centenary of the death of the composer Alexander Scriabin, who fervently believed that music and colour together have a special synergy. In his honour, here's a 9 min. montage from my performance with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy. Go to full screen, turn the sound up, focus and enjoy each moment!


June 30th sees the première of Jack (a Journey to Fulfillment) in the 
EYE Film Museum in Amsterdam. The first night is sold out, but for my Dutch-speaking friends, here's the link to the Keep an Eye Filmacademie Festival with other dates and screening times, to book online. If you can't get in, Jack will also be televised on Dutch KRO-NCRV in mid-September.