Keizersgracht, Amsterdam (April 2018). Photo credit: Jonathan Zorn.

Let’s begin with the bird, bound for Jakarta. A panacea—or apparition? The breadth of its distended wingspan was to be thirty-two kilometers. Its scare-quote eggs were to form islands, surrounded by crystalline blue. In the language of its Dutch progenitors, this outsized bird—of Hindu-Buddhist and Indonesian extraction—was to convert all manner of threat into boundless opportunity. Band-aid or blind-fold, its shiny, digital façade was offered up as cure-all for a litany of urban affliction: traffic, pollution, overcrowding, and, of course, floods.

I offer the following poetic fragment as a plumb line of sorts. As a diagnostic of dizzied depth within a morass of the mind left (temporarily) bereft of its bearings, having attuned perhaps a step too far towards this ‘object’ of observation—a potently-charged, dissembling delusion through which a tussle over the future of Dutch-Indonesian relations was then being waged.


When you dream in/of Holland
you’re afloat
in a bath on a
barge, moored
without motor
on the emperor’s ditch.

Walk the plank,
enter the wheel
house, descend
through the hatch, and proceed to the
—long since cleared of the dregs
it was built to transport.

Down in the hold
of this relic, this
ruse, this stereo-
type of a dam’s storied
-scape, you draw
water in
through a tangle of tubes
to lie low and long in the
fold of twinned soak.

Weary and
wizened, eyes tuck
behind lids as you fall
up once again through
a slipstream of scenes:
of fata morgana and mise en abyme,
of ghost ships and cocoa
cups and mirrors without
tain, til you’re back at your
perch on the twenty-sixth
floor, in the city that
sinks, in the city
of floods,
where you begin once
again with a view to the north,
out past the gathering
of cows and pigeons that race,
beyond thickets
of towers and on towards the bay
spills forth,
where you wait for a bird beyond
measure who will fail to appear
—as anything other than
a dissembling delusion,
a wager of ventriloquism,
a conjuration off-kilter and out of tune,
a masquerade with pilfered masks
dressed up in the trappings
of triumph if not coup.

And when you
wake from these scenes of retinal
remainder, and take legs
back to land to
procure further
fodder for those bickering
swans who peck at the port
hole and demand to be
fed, you remember the
woods for which this land was
named, cut down to
fashion piles to
drive in
to the mud
to prop up
the floors
with their cantered
topped with pulleys and
rope for hoisting the
goods that came in from the east.

It’s only then that you
falter, doubt your common
in the wake of a
ground that sways
under foot.

You’ve read of the
drought and the rot that
sets in once the poles are
exposed and the fungi fix
on feeding.

You’re convinced it’s
come time on this
desiccating marsh for
more than mere
to belly
up and


Rachel Thompson is an artist-scholar working through text, sound, performance, and moving image. Her current projects explore the role of simulacral spectacle within political struggle, longue durée socionatural entanglements between Indonesia and the Netherlands, and the materio-symbolic ways in which the past presses recursively on the present. Previous work examined cultural and political legacies of colonialism, dynamics of cultural exchange and assimilation, and artistic practice in the wake of political violence.