Anne Marijn Voorhorst - At Your Service
Eighteen young authors have brought nineteenth-century artefacts from the Rijksmuseum to life. They have taken inspiration from the question: what do you see when you look at these objects with an eye for invisible labour? Anne Marijn Voorhorst looks at a mustard pot made by Jean Baptiste Claude Odiot around 1819. ‘Sir, the entire staff asks you to eat your food more slowly.’
Mustard pot, Jean Baptiste Claude Odiot, c. 1819 © Rijksmuseum Collection, Amsterdam
At your service
If you’ll permit us, we’ll place this in front of you. The tops of our heads approach you and we wish you a delectable, delightful evening meal. We bow to the tableware we polished this morning.
Not a peep from you when our arms brush past you while we cover the table in dishes. At your service. It’s no trouble.
We stand behind you. From among the pillars and palms along the walls of this dining room, we’re at your disposal. We like to bend over backwards for your comfort.
Today you wanted something sharp with your fish and we arranged it for you. Not a problem at all. Please allow us to adorn the scaly skin with a dollop of this distinctive, golden-yellow condiment.
May it please you. May your back feel the warmth of the wall of bodies and may it satisfy you. Soothe your somewhat ruddy cheeks.
Now you cut firmly through the slice of pink flesh. You start chewing and we notice that your spit sprays the cutlery around you. The angels on the ceiling observe it too. They rest on a cloud – chin in hand. Despite their looks of languor, they conjure sweet sounds from their harps.
Your mouth is watering, your chewing motions can be seen from behind, your shoulder blades are jerking. The angels and we, your team, are noting this development.
Sir, the entire staff asks you to eat your food more slowly. The same goes for your dining companion, Sir. The fish’s tail is lying beside your shoe.
Now your arms are flailing about like sails. No! your voice booms across the table. The shipment of tobacco will not turn back, we overhear.
Our backs bend lower to dab the mustard from your shoe. You growl and spit out a fishbone that gets caught in your shoelace.
We kneel before you, Sir, we pick the shards up off the floor and disappear under the tablecloth to intercept each and every splinter.
If you’ll excuse us, we’ll slink backwards out of the dining room, nod our heads at you and walk away from you and your life left in tatters. You roll onto the floor and your face is wet.
We hope you don’t mind too much if we join the crowd of singing and dancing folks outside. Throw off our uniforms and adopt a different disguise. The harmonious sound of the angels’ harps makes way for a fanfare of trumpets.
Jeering. A five-metre-tall woman sticks out her tongue and does a twirl. Please allow us to laugh. An unstoppable avalanche of paper covers our grins.
We have a final kneeling in store for you, Sir. Would you look out of the window? There you’ll see us, decked out as crabs, crawling through the streets. Not long now before we disappear into the sea of people, pompoms on our limbs. We have claws on our hands and swarm around the courthouse, bank, police station.