Staring at the ceiling of my four meter by three meter flat, I screamed in thought “God why have you forsaken me?” I was trapped in my mind, and physically contaminated with agoraphobia and a disposition for narcolepsy. The worst part if this situation was that I had done this to myself. I had trapped myself in Satre’s play No Exit, hell was all around with no means of escape. My external freedom had been apprehended by an internal notion of longing for escape, but escape from what? There were so many reasons at the time of the decision: avoiding commitment, avoiding complacent actions and situations, running from the people with no fashion sense, fearing anything that defends one’s opinions, banality, and the economics of the place. I traded one social and mental prison for another, but this time as an added bonus culture shock was included in this sentence.
I was incarcerated with H. Cleyndertweg 13, a socialist high-rise housing flat of the north part of Amsterdam. The color of the building was a marvelous fusion between pink and institutional grey-blue, with two small metallic cubes, reeking of piss and bad indonesian food, making up the lift one has to take everyday to get home. Every floor was divided into two sides made up of fifteen cubes and a kitchen with rotating cleaning, dictated by the student council president of the floor. The two walls making up the hallway are covered with archaic posters of past rock shows, newspapers and random social events, giving it a post nuclear war aesthetic. In my kitchen a confused attempt had been made one Christmas to decorate in accordance with this American holiday. These festive artifacts of a more decadent time, still hang there in decay from at least ten years past; becoming permanent decorations for the entire year.
The divisions of the floors meet in the middle where the inhabitants obtain access to the metal piss cubes. The inhabitants very in age and economic status, the flats are known to some as The Suicide Flats, because more than not someone takes a leap of faith from this architectural structure. Some of these inhabitants have been here for years, my neighbor being one of them. His name is Dirk, a nerdy looking Dutch fellow in his middle forties. At the time of meeting him, different accents in conversations were creating distortions in understanding one another. After the initial introduction I thought his name was Dick, not Dirk and for the next month I referred to him as such. Dirk, not Dick, was an astrophysicist that kind of reminded me, in appearance and attitude of Hitler before he took power. Dirk told me hie had been living in H. Cleyndertweg 13 for about seventeen years and at this point I wasn’t sure if I was going to last more than a week. I was stunned to find out that many of the people here had lived in a cube no bigger than a walk-in-closet for most of their adult lives. Was this what growing up was, getting your very own cube to live in? I had expectations that hadn’t been met, but this seemed to be more of what life was about, dealing with the space between getting what you want, and dealing with what you have.
I had crossed the dark sea of transition from adolescence to adulthood. I had crossed the Atlantic Ocean via airplane to crash land in to the H. Cleyndertweg 13. I had crossed the limits of everything that I knew to be true and left everything and everyone behind. The need for isolation had always been the goal, an escape from the complacent life I was living in Los Angeles. The culture shock and the very shitty new living situation had taken this desire to the extreme, why the fuck was I living here on the thirteenth floor? The ideal that complicity is next to death and like death unavoidable, had been the initial motivation, but ending up here on the thirteenth floor seemed all too ironic!
In the States the thirteenth floor is skipped by most modern architectural structures, (name only). Which means the numbers on the lift do not have a thirteen button to be pressed. When I arrived to my new cube that was unfurnished and had a concrete floor I knew things would definitely not be the same. I guess that’s what I wanted, things not to be the same, and that is what I got. As I entered this space that I now inhabit, darkness has come over my heart. I was living in a space that had been forsaken by superstitions, and sleeping on a concrete floor I was afraid to leave this space, because if the inside world was this bad, what was the outside like? Mentally my mind was in pandemonium, would I ever have what I wanted to make me smile again, or would I always have to run from myself, only to end up alone on the thirteenth floor.
Now in the last six months of inhabiting the thirteenth floor things have changed, especially my cube. It now resembles an office with a bed on the floor. Dark blue institutional carpet now covers the once gray and dirty concrete floor. A plant, a light, two chairs, and a table now fill the once vacant space. The walls still remain blank, white except for the pink door leading to the outside world. It is really amazing what one can adopt too.
I decided to ask a group of artists/friends to react to the space that visually exist to them, but one that has manifested out their imagination. A space that is described as and feels more like the exploding glass elevator at the end of Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. It is a space that has become a floating glass cube with an amazing view of the desolated wasteland of the North. The space physically manifests as my room on the thirteenth floor, but conceptually explodes into different worlds of existence. Many of the artists asked to participate are reacting to the exhibition in H. Cleyndertweg 13 live in different parts of the world and are existing in their constructed cubes. Theses artists are providing bricks for me to build a space that existed initially as a hostile environment, but now has become a liminal space of living, at one time an exhibit, another an office to work, and finally a private room for sleep. The variety of slippage that this space creates, provided a way to present these very different artists, in a place they’ve never seen, but were willing to let their work be exhibited here. This place being: H. Cleyndertweg Space 13.
Jay Batlle 2000