Motorship Noordereiland: report of an impossible journey

Siebe Thissen Foreword in Joe Cillen's publication, 'From Paal to Pala - From somewhere to nowhere' (Trichis Publishers Rotterdam, 2016), 14.03.2017
Christian van der Kooy

Look, it's really there. Paul Gauguin scribbled the three lines in the upper left-hand corner of that fantastic, meter-long, colorful oil-painted canvas: D'où Venons Nous / Que Somes Nous / Où Allons Nous [Where are we from / What are we / Where are we going]. While a series of heart attacks tortured his body, syphilis narrowed his consciousness, broadened it again, and wept for the death of his daughter Aline, Gauguin combined the essence of life into three questions in a final effort. To get to that final insight, he should have traveled to the end of the world - to Punaauia on Tahiti, far in the French-Polynesian archipelago.

Exactly a century after Gauguin's death, Joe Cillen put the finishing touches to a work of art on the island of Kiritimati. It was a beacon of light, Port it was called, with which he physically and spiritually connected his own island, the North Island, with the atoll in the Pacific Ocean. While the beacon lit up and gave the night a red glow, he dived a talisman from his backpack. It was an anonymous wooden stirrer, but for Joe the thing had great meaning. The rudder was one of his scarce possessions and had never disappointed him. "Here," he said to Dominique Perrier, a French-Portuguese sailor who kept him company and was on his way to the Marquesas Islands. "If you wear Hiva Oa," he continued, "can you place my piece of wood on Gauguin's grave?" So it happened.

Traveling is nothing more than moving yourself, Joe says. From one place to another: from the North Island to Kiritimati for example. But also moving yourself from one thing to another: from life as a sailor to life as an artist, for example. Or move yourself in one and in the other: in the fate of the 3269 co-passengers of the Motor ship Noordereiland for example. Because one thing is certain: one day the largest ship in the world will leave and go offshore. And then we desperately need each other and each other's talents - so let the dress rehearsal begin today.

Joe is inspired by the surrealism of René Magritte (whose mother chose death by throwing himself blindfolded into the Sambre), by the infernal machines of artist Panamarenko (the pseudonym is a combination of 'Pan American Airlines & Company'), the visionary Wilhelm Reich (who built a rain machine and saw sex as part of the ecosystem), and by saxophonist Pharoah Sanders (who regards imagination and endurance as the most important fuels on earth). Love drove him ashore (as a sailor, in 1972, Joe fell in love with the niece of the manager of the Baby Doll Bar on the North Island). And art offered him a context in which he could reconcile with his journey from Paal to Pala. In front of us, in this book - designed as a cabin trunk, is his stirring rod. Let it also be a talisman for us, because Where are we from / What are we? / Where are we going?

Related artwork

Motor ship Noordereiland (2000) Joe Cillen
Port / Starboard (2002) Joe Cillen
Machine room MS Noordereiland (2003) Joe Cillen
Orgon, orgon, orgon (1995) Joe Cillen
View of Cape Horn (1996) Joe Cillen