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Speech by Jan Hartholt, November 2004, for the presentation of the MILK project by Esther Polak and Ieva Auzina, Groeneveld Castle, Baarn (NL).

A warm welcome to all from the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, (which I will henceforth call “LNV”), and especially on behalf of the directors of the departments of Industry, Trade and Countryside, who helped make Esther Polak and Ieva Auzina’s Milk project possible.

I would like to say a few words about what LNV is looking for, and a few things about how artists, and in particular the Milk project, can help us in our search. Then I will invite you to see the installation as it is presented here. The milk machine – but with a difference.

What is LNV looking for? In his policy statement, “Vigorous and Together”, Minister Veerman is clear: “recovery of the bond [between LNV] and society”, “a good balance between the three dimensions of the concept of durability: people, planet and profit” and “directly and intensively involving society in the development of policy”, to cite a few phrases from the beginning pages. This is the vision from which the ministry must (set to) work.

Making people (again) central to the LNV policy process; creating policy by starting with people and being aware of the effect of (new) policy on those people: this requires us to be sensitive to the many meanings that different groups in society give to the subjects of our policies.

“People” cannot be seen as separate from “Planet” or “Profit”. Thinking in terms of models and rationalizing are the strong suits of policymakers, and this is also true at LNV. But people are not simply rational, but also irrational and inconsistent. The reality of the citizen is undivided. That consumer, that citizen, or that farmer does not exist, and this requires new ways of working, for which receptivity and imagination are part and parcel.

In many places, it is clear that artists are interested in and working with subjects that fall in the sphere of LNV policy. In film, literature and theatre, there are many examples we could indicate. Unlike science, art brings morality and aesthetics to policy themes – attractive, good, ugly or bad... So culture ‘meddles’ with us at LNV. A meeting between the world of art and the world of agriculture, nature and food quality – of food production and the countryside – offers opportunities for us to innovate in our work.

This meeting is a challenge to renewing how we think about these themes. It is important to the public debate and consequently for the bond between LNV policy and the society we serve.

As no others, artists are in a position to (re)present reality in a manner other than the rational and the logical, thereby enlarging the range of issues and solutions. Wiel Kusters, professor of Literature at the University of Maastricht, has taught me that Artists are society’s seismographs. It is they who let you feel what is rumbling beneath the surface.

What it is about, as it were, is a new bond between our culture and the agri-culture (a word that, unlike French and English, we do not have in Dutch). (Peter Sellars)

Ten countries, including Latvia, have become new members of the European Union. The accession of ten new member states is not only an economic challenge, but also a cultural one.

With the World Trade Organization, the European Union reaches agreements on markets and trade, on import and export tariffs. Agriculture is always on the agenda.
There we have the globalists, who point out the importance of a free market for welfare and how free movement of goods binds countries together. There we also have the anti-globalists who battle against the consequences of the consumer society and the negative consequences for the earth due to loss of biodiversity and climate change. What happens at the international level, what people think of it and what people want to happen are the subject of policies and politics. This is the modern political agenda with the collision between cultural perspectives that they entail. And this week, that political agenda has become extremely clear.

Latvia and the Netherlands are the two countries that together form the connecting arch in the MILK project. Soon, the Latvians and the Dutch will share the same European constitution. What do we actually know about Latvia? What the name of their president? How many people live there? Is there such a thing as Latvian? How many farmers do they have and how much farmland? You may have known the answers, but in any case, I did not. And yet there are those invisible threads connecting the Latvians and the Dutch, because we drink their milk, eat their cheese in an Italian wrapper, and Dutch companies, disguised as Frau Antje, sell Latvian milk to our eastern neighbours. Thanks to projects like this, we come to know something about one another.

The MILK project follows the route that milk takes from the udder of the cow in Latvia to the mouth of the consumer in Holland. That route is traced by GPS (Global Positioning System). The MILK project has been visualized by way of an installation and a website. Whoever sees it will from then on realize with every bite he takes that the foodstuffs from which that product is made could come from the most unexpected places in the world and that there in those places, the personal lives of many people are associated with them.

The Milk project has been presented in Latvia and has already led to a variety of publications. Now it is here at Kasteel Groeneveld and it will thereafter be presented at an agricultural trade fair.

That LNV policy wants to give artists a place and that it is important for the way we work is evident in the fact that LNV has incorporated Esther and Ieva’s MILK project in the programme for the upcoming conference on Changing Land Use in Europe. This conference will be held here at Kasteel Groeneveld from November 10th to 12th in association with the Dutch Presidency of the EU. At the conference, with a presentation by Esther Polak, the national policymakers for the countrysides of the various member states and the European Commission can acquaint themselves with this way of looking, researching and communications.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Herman de Coninck wrote a collection of essays on poetry, entitled, Intimacy under the Milky Way. In it, he shows how poetry binds the familiar and the nearby with infinite and unknown space – the uniqueness of individual people with the generality of humanity.

It is something of this nature that Esther and Ieva do in their MILK project. And they add to this a literal meaning for Milky Way. They follow the way of the milk. That is what artists do: add meaning, add value. And that is why they are important to policymakers.

They connect the international movements in politics and economics with unique human lives at specific places, by way of invisible threads spun by 24 satellites turning like spiders around the earth. The threads reappear as visual patterns on a screen. And you can zoom in or zoom out on these patterns and at each level ask yourself: what is actually going on here? What does this mean? What does that stand for?

So, I wish it upon ourselves that we as policymakers also apply ourselves to having an eye, a heart and the hands for what is really going on in the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is milk time and I propose that we pay the milk machine a visit.