Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Power Thonik Design

Yesterday, I went to visit the Power Thonik display at the Shanghai Art Museum. Upon entering the exhibition, 25 posters of the Dutch Queen first jumped at me. After reading the brief description of the design, I was still quite baffled by the purpose of this particular work. I understand the Dutch, unlike the Brits, place the royal family as a rather insignificant portion of society. However the thonik Design clearly celebrates the past 25 years under the reign of the Queen with excessive glamour and acclaim. Each poster portrays the Queen at the annual first parliament session, giving the speech as to announce the official opening of this year’s parliament. Such ceremonial power could also be traced in other constitutional monarchies across Europe. One could almost say, the opening of parliament is perhaps the most important ceremonial power of the monarch for many of these ex-monarchies. To celebrate the power of the Queen, even at its maximum strength, is still a mere reflection of historical customs. Thonik Design captured the insignificance of the Queen at her prime role within the Dutch society. In this sense, I could almost understand the ironic element within this design and its impact within the Dutch society.

Moving on from the room with the posters of the Queen and 16 hand made carpets, I came across an empty small screening room. The film was short, yet unexpected moving in many aspects. According to the introductory portion, in the year 2007, the Dutch government passed a new law, stripping away many of the elderly benefits from the home care system. The Socialist Party of the Dutch parliament was unable to amend this new law due to lack of seats and power. Under such case, the SP contacted thonik and aired an extremely provocative commercial demanding a more “humane house care system.” As the film suddenly blacked out, an elderly woman slowly edged on to the screen. She began telling the audience how the new system took away her trusted social worker because “she was too expensive” and now random strangers bathe her daily. While narrating her terribly misfortunate experiences, the elderly woman began taking off her clothes one by one. At the time I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I couldn’t believe how such provocative material is allowed to air on public network. Finally, the elderly woman took off all her clothes; I sat there in awe of what I’ve just witness. Rather clueless at the beginning, I stayed behind and watched the film another three times for a clearly understanding of the message behind such over the top public advertisement. At the end, I forced myself out of the room. The message of the film was too strong for me. Starring into those ancient yet unbelievably strong eyes, the elder woman is determined and ready. Towards the end of the film, she looked deeply into the lenses of the camera. Through her gaze, I could almost imagine my own grandparents, aged full of grace, dignity yet powerless and unable to help themselves in many ways. We prospered through the wrinkled hands of the past generations. If we can’t even guarantee the most basic house care for those who raised us, then where is humanity? How can we declare ourselves as human?

I’m glad a year later; the provocative ad received its deserving place within the Dutch society. The Minister of Public Health finally announced the amendment of the new law after pressures from all fractions of society. At the end of the film, the director stated: “the commercial made a policy change.” It is true, a change in policy has been made, however the change is paid at the expense of the public’s conscious. In a way, such change occurred because the majorities within Holland still have a vague idea of humanity and conscious within their mind. But one day, when all humanity lost their connection to their inner self, and refuse to acknowledge the humanity within us all, then what would happen to people like that elderly woman appeared in the ad? Within matter of minutes, I seemed to forget all about the old woman and her terribly defiance glare.

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