Interview with Margriet Smulders

“Doing nothing for 84 days, so difficult, and so important!”

It looks like I am doing nothing…
I was sixty years old when Frank and I arrived at CAM for the first time. It was winter and it
was cold.
On our way there we saw Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar, France. His
five-panel painting was made in the years 1510-1515 to restrain St. Anthony’s fire. My
mother studied art history for some years and has written an article on this former Main altar
in the Monastery of St. Anthony. In this painting Grünewald has taken great pains to paint
festering wounds on people, wounds caused by eating moldy rye bread, and on the body of
Christ on the cross, too. I was moved by the painted demons that were torturing St. Anthony. I
was reminded of my mother. Who had she written this article for? Did she write it to curb my
dad’s demons?
There is the syllable ‘Cell’ in Celleno, cell meaning seclusion or a cell in a monastery. In
winter we go to Celleno to withdraw from our daily concerns, five months in all, Frank
Bezemer and myself.
Once in Celleno, I hide in my shell. It is so obvious: My name is Margriet, Margarita, which
means a pearl. And this pearl is growing in a shell; I, Margarita, am returning to my shell,
brooding and twisting. Before it is born an unripe fruit is fed in a cell, like a foetus in a womb.
In order to shine, I first want to grow in a hole, in a shell or in a cell.
We sleep a lot on our mountain at CAM. Sunbeams awaken the bedroom. The room wakes
up, with a white cloud of sheep jingling under the balcony. Then the sheep move on across the
hill, like a wave, with the sheepdogs barking and the meadow sunlit, each and every day.
This meditation, seven days a week, with the sheep urging me not to do anything. I practise
doing nothing but lazing around, reading, tidying the house and day-dreaming. I also go for
strolls a lot. I practise being Ms Bezemer and I paint brooms (broom being the English word
for Dutch bezem).
Doing nothing is harder than one would expect. I consider meditating as doing something, and
meditating makes sense. But I don’t feel like doing anything that makes sense! I want to find
my origin, this childlike enthusiasm of mine, and create something without having to. This is
why I want to sleep a lot, enjoy the sheep and wait. Wait for the sun to enter our bedroom
every morning and enjoy the skies and the sun shining on the plastic tablecloth. Enjoy Frank,
who is working hard on his projects and who is there all the time.
We visit Villa Farnese and Villa Lante, and the Duomo in Orvieto, as well as Viterbo. I take a
lot of pictures. I am most impressed by Villa Farnese with its mannerist wall paintings and its
16th century texts written on the ceiling. In these texts philosophers tell the bishops of that

Those who are not doing anything are in fact doing a lot.
There are paintings of sheep, goats, plants and people on the walls too, and there are some
huge maps.
On our last trip to Italy we stopped in Switzerland to try and find my roots. My dad fled there
during World War II and as a young man he worked for a farmer in Aigle, together with other
refugees. His name was Antonius Maria Smulders and he was called Tom. During the war he
was a brave member of the Free Dutch forces, a very intelligent man who became psychotic
later in his life. We enjoyed the works of Tinguely and Len Ley at Musée Tinguely in Basel.
We also went to my gallery in Munich.
In the open hall of the shop next to the grocer’s in Celleno, Italian brooms are smiling at me.
At the bottom of the wooden sticks there are wicker skirts tied up with red and blue string. I
have painted them. My husband is called Bezemer and being Ms Bezemer I just do something
and sweep the floor as a matter of course. I do things of no importance, I give brooms a
colour. On one of them I wrote ‘Nothing’, and on another one ‘PLUS AGUNT QUI NIHIL
Just like in No Mud No Lotus, deep down my blood is scalding, and I follow my heart. Here in
Celleno I can’t photograph my flowers. I will be able to when I am back at home in
Nijmegen. There I can use my supersonic camera on this large mirror of mine.
We are on our way back home from Celleno, passing through the North of Italy; we are very
careful and in good health. Like a tulip slowly rising, showing its spear-like buds, unfolding
hesitantly and slowly starting to bloom, to be rocked by the wind. Once back home I will be
able to bloom again and sweep the house with a colourful broom.
Look, everything is getting new, even now, after corona. I am glad I have practised staying in.
Creation will flower and I have started painting oyster shells. I feel refreshed and, by the way,
the sheep are there to stay!

Translation Hans Kal

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