Perquin introduces Weiwei's Human Flow with her poem Like Water

    On Sunday in the Carré, Dutch poet laureate Ester Naomi Perquin introduced Ai Weiwei’s examination of the worldwide refugee crisis, Human Flow with — of course — a beautiful poem, which is reproduced exclusively in the English translation by David Colmer below. She wrote the poem specially for this introduction.

    Like Water

    Standing still is going backwards, that’s what they say. They say that someone
    who freezes is nothing, a statue whose arms will break.

    If only we did go backwards – then our houses would rise like dogs 
    that have slept too long, shaking the bullets out of their plaster,
    snapping split beams together as firm supports, standing up
    and opening their rooms for us to back 
    back into, with the dust. 

    From above you see a herd, a maelstrom, migrating birds. We drift
    ashore. We are not the boat, but the sea. Not the feet, but 
    the footfall. We exist now only in thought, forming 
    the stripe, the blur, the blot. Something filthy 
    that runs down walls and leaks from bags, 
    something to wash away. 

    We are the nightmare, the banners, the hate. We can be shaped 
    to any likeness; we missed the sharing out, we missed
    creation. The world began and we arrived too late. 

    Once there we will learn to see again.
    Once there we will learn to hear again.
    Once there we will learn to speak again.
    Once there we will be reborn. 

    Once there we will be boring people in a bourgeois rut, 
    we will be brilliantly erased. 

    Standing still is going backwards, that’s what they say. They say that someone
    who freezes is nothing, a statue whose arms will break.

    If only we did go backwards – then our houses would rise like dogs that have slept
    too long, shaking the shrapnel out of their woodwork, forming new views
    in their windows, hauling themselves to their feet
    and opening their rooms for us to back 
    back into, with the dust. 

    This standing still is moving. This is not the hand of God. This is no country, 
    but one’s aftermath. We are caught between two lives,
    leading neither. Our hands are empty. 
    Our heads are empty. Our lungs, 
    hearts, arms, eyes. 

    We see ourselves from above. Carrying on our backs what you cannot see: 
    an accumulation of thoughts in an old language, images of a garden, 
    a bookcase, fallen gods, the smell of roast chicken, soft blankets,
    the word ‘me’, the names of the dead.

    Once there we will assume a new name.
    Once there we will adopt a new face.
    Once there we will don a new body.
    Once there we will accept a new history. 

    Once there we will be boring people 
    in a bourgeois rut, once there 
    we will finally be forgotten. 

    Our longing to become boring people in a bourgeois rut
    is a fraction bigger than our fear. This longing is our
    escape, our curse, our debasement, our blessing. 

    If we still moved – our houses would collapse all over again, 
    rafters snapping like twigs, walls tumbling onto floors,
    ceilings turning black, cracked windows hazing, 
    charred rooms closing with us inside, existing
    only as the dead, as stones, as dust. 

    We will become mind-numbing. Picking up habits. 
    So many habits they will keep us busy for years. 
    We will have been through everything together 
    and depleted all common ground. 

    We will be determined strangers. Always in the dark. 
    Longer than anyone. We will stand still.
    We will never move. 

    Human Flow

    • Ai Weiwei
    • 2017
    • 140 min

    Ai Weiwei depicts the global refugee crisis using strong and confronting images, forcing us to look beyond the anonymous headlines. 

    IDFA 2017 in words

    • Other
    • November 30, 2017
    • The staff