Kenneth Berth: The Table
Eighteen young writers from Flanders and the Netherlands have brought nineteenth-century artefacts from the Rijksmuseum to life. They wrote their stories in response to the question: what do you see when you look at these objects through the lens of impending doom? Kenneth Berth invites us around a lavishly decorated table. ‘Let’s splatter until the sauce has casually changed our bellies into pointillist paintings.’
Table, Friedrich Frickhinger, 1834 © Rijksmuseum Collection, Amsterdam
I’m inviting you. Come join me at this table.
We’ll sit on the 18th-century chairs I’ve taken out of another gallery for you.
I’ll make spaghetti bolognese with shavings of Emmental cheese, stocked up on for 1.88 euro at the supermarket.
I’ll cover the table with a floral cloth, which belonged to my 88-year-old grandmother.
I’ll give you a white T-shirt; put it on and spill as much as possible; let’s splatter until the sauce has casually changed our bellies into pointillist paintings.
‘Another glass of wine?’ the waiter asked the first people round this table 188 years ago. They didn’t hear his question. They were yapping away, talking over one another about the Belgian rail network. Building four hundred kilometres of track all over Belgium is a ridiculous undertaking. ‘Give me a carriage any time.’ Life was better in the old days, they thought to themselves.
What would you like me to say?
‘The spaghetti bolognese is cold,’ I say indignantly. Your train was 18 minutes late, you missed your connection and I waited for you for an hour and 8 minutes. I say that the neighbours have just put the Ukrainian family living with them on a train; they’d had enough. ‘After 10 Facebook posts with the cute 8-year-old Ukrainian daughter, they’d earned enough brownie points.’ Life was better in the old days, we think to ourselves.
‘Take off your T-shirt,’ I insist. I stretch our T-shirts on a canvas and hang them on a spare hook at the Rijksmuseum. I want everybody to see them, ‘as long as you keep your gob shut.’ Your train stories are really dull.
‘I couldn’t possibly eat another bite,’ they sigh at this table 188 years into the future. They switch off the 3D printer, having eaten their fill of printed spaghetti. With their bionic thumbs, they check the departure times of the Amsterdam-New York hyperloop. ‘The one scheduled for tomorrow takes 18 minutes – ridiculously long.’ Life was better in the old days, they must be thinking to themselves.
I draw my conclusions. Enough is enough. I pick up a chainsaw and reduce this beautiful table to strips of ornamental wood. The decorations I melt down until they’re beyond recognition. I bring in a woodchipper that transforms the strips into oak chips.
‘Another marshmallow?’ I ask as I use the chips to make a big bonfire. We gather round it. I promise you: I’m going to really listen to you from now on.