Milone, you told us that you started your professional life by being a nurse. Could you explain what brought you to do that?
When I was young, I saw a lot of people in my surroundings that were working in a form of care facility. So basically a lot of people of color work in the care industry, whether it is as a nurse or as a teacher or as youth work, or anything like that. So it felt very evident that I was going to do something in that field, without having any kind of experience of it. But just like I had an aunt, I had another aunt around me and it inspired me and I thought this is something that I can do. I didn't see myself working in an office or some kind of job like that.
And then somehow later on you changed to pursue an artistic career, could you tell us what brought you to also make this decision?
You know the Dutch schooling system a bit? MBO and HBO? So when I started nursing school I was 15 because I finished the MAVO quite young. I thought ok this is something that I am going to do and then I went to the MBO to study nursing. Basically from having this kind of idea that this is something that you would like to do, actually being 15 years old and already starting to do it was of course, you could see, it was already kind of like wuuu. But then I was actually quite good at being a nurse, it was something that I could do. I was able to take care of people, and be interested in them as persons, interested in what are the illnesses that are surrounding them. And you know in the Netherlands you have the system of 5 fields where you could work being a nurse. So you could work in a psychiatric context, from home like with thuiszorg, a bit like what you are doing. You could work in a nursing home, you could work in the hospital as a professional, and you could work with people who have mental or physical challenges, most of the time they are connected to each other. My diploma taught me to be able to work in more fields. Back in the days it was, you want to be a nurse in a hospital, then you study to be a nurse in the hospital. But they changed it and they made a new education and new curriculum where you could choose a little bit. It was good for me, because I was 15 and I didn't know what I was talking about, so it was good to have more options. So when I did a lot of these options, I was young. I worked in a psychiatric hospital, I worked in very intense worlds. You know when they do the internal, everything that has to do with what is happening inside basically, everything that has to do with your stomach area. Most of the time if people have injuries in their stomach and if you have symptoms, it is not good. It means you have some kind of cancer, some kind of chronic disease. I was very young, and I was fortunate, or whatever to be in these quite intense places already, which now that I am further in my life, it was more for me to witness than it was part to be my work basically. And I did theatre at the side. So that was actually "the hobby", that was supposed to be not the main profession. I was doing that, pursuing this nursing career and doing this theatre on the side and I started working in a hospital, when I was 19, and at that point I was like "I don't know if I want to do this for the rest of my life.." . I think what happened was also, I worked in this world when I was 19, with these kinds of people who had kind of like heavy things, all these talks you were having with people who were dying or close to dying.
Do you get prepared, besides all the medical stuff you need to know, also to get the empathic side, how to talk to people etc.?
Yes yes, so we did a lot of role playing also in school. And those were things that came quite naturally for me. So for instance,that you learned when you touch a person when you are talking to them, or how you deal with a conversation like that. In this case we didn't do the conversations, the doctors did, but we were the first people who would have to explain, or we would, by doing this kind of like care, giving them a bath, taking their temperature or whatever kind of medical treatment we needed to do. That was the moment we could also engage with them like "I heard that this and this happened, how do you feel about it?” etc. These were the moments, which is a task for the nurses to be present and understand what was happening with the people at the time. And for me the most important was doing that. But that was not what the job entailed.The job entailed doing all the technical aspects, so being busy with the IV, with the medications with this and that. All of these charts. Filling in these charts which are important to monitor what is happening with these people. But what is happening with these people from a body functioning point of view and not from a body functioning taking in consideration what is happening with my mind. When that happened I thought " I don't know, I am on the wrong side of this thing". And the reason why it didn't come to my mind to pursue a career in the arts was that there were no examples for me in the arts. Art was not, for where I am living in the Netherlands, was not something that felt naturally to pursue. Those were the two things that felt natural to do something that in the end I was quite good at but did not feel like the right thing, and then it took very long for me to shift towards art. I thought actually I needed to do something with what I am learning now and with people in real conversations and real relationships. When I say real relationship, I don't think this is what I mean, but what really matters for people. And what really matters for people is not only being a body but it is also feeling.
And, do you see connections between your nursing job at that time and your current artistic and curatorial practice?
Well, at the moment if you ask me this question, and I am now thinking about it because when this whole crisis started I was like "maybe I should go back into nursing". But of course it is a super romantic idea of leaving your practice behind. Your artistic practice, like this. Like a romantic.
You could do it. You are the one who could do it!
Of course, but the only reason why I would do it is to bring something back from it to this side. I have some friends that still work in the nursing home. You are from Amsterdam right? Do you know Verpleeg huis (did not hear properly the name)by any chance? If you go further down the Bilderdijk, there is the Dirk, you go down direction westerpark. Next to that there was, if you look carefully, there is a nursing home. It's kind of like hidden. I used to work there for 10 years. When I started school in Amsterdam, I thought I can't afford this, I need to work as well, so that is what I did. I worked weekends and summer breaks. Also when I got my diploma, when I was a director, I still worked there. So I went in and out for 10 years. So people really knew me. There is a different kind of relationship that is occurring for people. Because you are an insider but you are also still an outsider and I thought, if I would still be living in Amsterdam then probably I would maybe consider working again, because I knew it there, so I could be of real value.Now going to a place where you don't know, also being out of it, as it is a pretty tough career to pursue. I have friends who are still doing it. I know what it is that they are doing, and it is also physically quite challenging to do. And I really asked at one point a question to the sky, if this is something that I still need to be doing and the answer was "No". And I thought,I think I paid my dues in that respect.Care does seem to have some kind of end point. I mean it is good that children grow up and then at one point you don't have to do all of these tasks anymore. There are some people who are doing it forever until they retire. But I think it would be healthy at one point to do something else.
Would you see specific values or qualities that you took from the time when you were nursing to what you are doing now?
Well I think that what I find difficult is to keep things in a way grounded. I do think of myself as a very practical person so I can react to things when I see them. So I am not a person who takes a lot of time thinking about things. At some point the thinking needs to become practical.That is just part of my nature in general. So when it is a lot of philosophical then at one point comes" what are we going to do?". I need to do. I worked in an organization that loves to do as well. I think I learned later on that there is this practice kind of way. That you think of something. You stay with it. You put it into the work. You come back to it. That is my way of working and I thinkI got that from doing, in a doing facility. I think that is good. Also maybe in retrospect,repetition is good, doing the same thing over and over again.I think being able to connect with all types of people. Yes that is the biggest thing.
Finding that you can connect with basically all types of people, and also respect them. Because when you are working in places such as nurse facilities, or hospitals, you encounter the walks of life. You encounter everybody. And to be able to see "oh actually I can have conversations with all of these people at some point" even if it's like just a small joke with someone, and something a little bit more profound with somebody else, doesn't really matter. It is just about how to connect with people. I think that that is something.
And if you find yourself going back to the nursing job, what would you think are the qualities that you developed through your artistic/curatorial practice that you could bring back to this job?
I think from the artistic practice, to have a form of imagination and also imagination in how you could approach things from just another angle.But you need to be an insider to change this angle, otherwise people will not take you seriously and also trust is necessary. Some form to build on this idea of trust.
This is very good what you say. I think that you need to be inside in order to shift. It is also for us, when we do a project somewhere, which is completely out of the context of the theatre, or art, this “earning the trust”, earning your place. Because otherwise it is alien and it doesn't connect and I really get what you say with this.
And also maybe to be able to stay out, is also to be able to help reflect on what is happening.That is why you say trust, and I say trust again.Trust is important, because people need to know that you are there not to criticize.
I think that what I have encountered the most is a lot of people. I worked with a lot of people of color, who feelunappreciated with the jobs that they are doing. For me it was always a struggle, because I was already studying, doing my second study. That's why I needed to fund myself, and I felt in both worlds this feeling, from a society standpoint,"we are not that important". When actually on the one hand, we are the most important. On both sides, we are the most important.So it was really interesting how society values the things that are most important, your body, your health, and also your mental health as a person. Those are the things that are pushed to the side. And the things that make no sense for me like numbers, in that sense, the things that get a lot of value from society. I find this very interesting.
I remember when I was studying, at one point, sometimes you get really fed up with the institutions and you think this is not real life. You are not encountering all of these people. Who is this audience that you are talking about? You are not outside. The audience is reflective of who you are, and who you see going through the theater. You are not busy creating a space for somebody who is not within your bubble. So how can you communicate with those people? And from the other side, why is it so important for you to get validation from the outsidewhen you internally know that what you are doing, is the most importantthing.But it is also the “most people think that they can do it” thing, but actually it is not. People think they are able, that they can have nice conversations with the persons and put them in the shower or whatever, or to the toilet. But no, no. It is the same with everybody who thinks they can be an "at home teacher” and realize that it is hard. Yes, teaching is a job. Oh my god, taking care of my child the whole day, it's hard. Well yeahh! So I think that those things are interesting. I have a friend who is a nurse. She is pregnant now, so she is kind of happy but she is also fed up already of being pregnant, it's funny. She is like " these people are now clapping for us, oh my god. I am not having it.". Maybe what she feels is also like "I don't need your validation to do this. I already understand why I am doing this.”
I made a play once, where I was able to use what I have learned as an artist and really put it in a space where I thought that both sides could get from it. I did it 8 years ago with productie house, back in the day. It was "The maids" from Genet. We kind of re-wrote it and restructured it. The whole thing was taking place in a nursing facility, and basically the idea was that these two maids were making rituals. And these rituals could really be a kind of layer on top of what all these people need to do in the nursing homes. Washing the people etc.In the nursing facilities there is a very very strong hierarchical presence, that I really don't like. It is really toxic. Something that they could try to remove. Another thing they could learn is thatyou are part of a chaininstead of being like "I am the doctor so I am more important than you". It’s not true.
That is what you mean, that there is a hierarchy, not between the nurses but the whole organisation..
Yes, and this hierarchy is also because when it comes to the money trickling down with all of these layers, then you come to this economic system, that they are trying to force also in these places, how it is counterproductive. They put all these layers of management and then they remove them again and then put them again. But it's all kind of shifting to the left a little bit, and shifting to the right but the people who are doing the work,they are there.They don't get the same validation and it goes back and forth constantly. If people, whoever does it, would get that, this internal validation, what you do is really important then, also money is a way of showing that it is important of course. There is also that we live in a society that believes, I worked in a nursing home for quite some time, the people who work there, not all of them have the capacity to be good. Like this is what it needs to be functioning in this organisation, what you get is people who are also themselves in that hierarchy busy with who is more important etc. So the person who works in the nursing home as a manager is maybe less important, than the person who works in a hospital. So all this economic way of thinking which in the end makes the people who work in it, or for it, suffer.
Is there a hierarchy between HBO and MBO nurses?
Yes of course. And now there is HBO and MBO nurse, I am an MBO nurse. Back in the days you had three kinds of levels and within these levels there were all kinds of levels. So in the Netherlands, we love to make different sorts of entry levels. All these barriers to keep people outside. They say we want to protect quality but the quality, what is the quality really about? Because a person who has the quality to really be able to connect with people is another kind of quality than the person who is able to give a shot. Those are the things that in this space is totally taken over by the economic way of thinking of it.The higher you are and the more treatments you can do, the more important your job is. The more important you are. So being important in a way becomes very damaging.
So going back to the performance that I created. Because there were also a lot of people of color, we could combine a lot of things at the same time. Bringing the subject that all of the people who are working in these places are "black" or "undereducated" or whatever kind of education.But also how do we look at people who are living in those places, who have maybe racist ideas, are we still this to them? Or how do we navigate between that?
Also what do we do when we internalize those ideas and those feelings. That we are not "worthy" because we do not "worthy" work. Then what was interesting, because it was very layered, so people who knew about Genet could think that it was an interesting adaptation. People who had no idea about Genet but came from the nursing home they would just laugh at our labia jokes, which we also made. So that was something that I kept in my mind, because when I made this show it was 2011 and then in 2013 when (did not hear properly the name)came then everybody was sitting on their ass, because there was no more money for nobody. We all needed to regroup, and render, and so that's where I personally came into a dip but I never forgot that actually I would like to create works that could bring more different kinds of people together. And also now that I am saying out loud because I feel that, I restrained from making connections with different people.
Just a quick reaction. Because I also do this thuiszorg thing, but the woman I work for was many times in the hospital, and I also had to work in the hospital with her because she has 24h care. She was 2 times operated while I worked for her so she went to the Reade but also to the hospital. I was working next to the nurses and I learned a lot from observing them, but it was crazy how quickly I could identify who is a good nurse and who is a bad nurse. This is about the quality of connecting or not connecting. It was very clear, even from the moment someone stepped in, to see how bothered this person already is, or annoyed etc. It was just very clear.
Now we go to the second category "Care" which is more your personal opinion on certain things related to care. The first question would be: what does care mean for you?
Because when this notion of care came to mind I thought of what is care actually. In Dutch it is "zorg", Zorg by being there, taking over if necessary. Youneed to be able to see a person, and from seeing or being there, be able to take over what the person can't do.This is at least with the word "zorg". Care feels a bit more general. Zorg feels like taking care of a person. I need to do stuff. If stuff needs to be done, I will do it. I don't see those things I need to do as a burden.I see them as something I am willing to do, as simple as cooking something or preparing something. What I was thinking about, which I thought was very interesting in regards to what you were investigating, is that for me care of zorg is connected to "handeling" to doing stuff, the action. Zorg equals for me some sort of actions. Consoling, listening is also an action. It's all things that you can do. Care is also very practical in a way. In a nice practical way. That's why I also really liked making that play because with all of these actions, we didn't have to invent anything. I hate it when you go to see something and people are like "ohh now I need to invent something and make something with this cup". It's nice when there is something already there, that feels logical instead of when you need to invent handelingen.
I like this word "hands on" and this is also what I associate with the care work. It’s really “hands on”, which sometimes I personally miss, this “hands on” from the art.
I think it’s also, if you ask me now, because after 2013, why am I now not a director, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that at least now I started to manage to put the things that I learned in practice to other people. So there is some kind of teacher or whatever bound back person in me. Also now working for Het Huis "oh yeah its kind of makes sense" but there needs to be a point when I do go back to create art for the people. But I now feel like paying my dues to the art or to the artists. Being in conversation with that is very important because its "hands on". It is a way to be practical towards the things that I learned and also directly being able to do something with it. instead of maybe waiting for an application fund to come in and then be able to start working. I am always paying dues for something or someone.
Where do you see care in our society? Where is it the most visible for you?
Care in a way that I described it is also put in certain places within our society. I am just trying to make some kind of like parallel between societies where people need to take more care of themselves because society is not able to pitch in. We have a lot of organised care, I feel. I remember back in the days, the Netherlands was a society where people kept their elders at home. Then at one point came this idea actually it's good to put the people in a home with personalized care. I feel like we are in a society that for some reason caring, or the things associated with care, is also taken and put into the system and it also created challenges.Because then all of a sudden we didn't realise that all the people were going to be much more and much older than the young people, and then basically we realised "oh my god, if we go on like this we will not be able to give the specialize care". Actually people need to stay at home longer.
How do I see care in this society? huum..
But so would you say that it is too much taken out of the hands of people somehow?
I wouldn't say that it is too much taken out of the hands, I would say that taking it out of the hands has created challenges that people didn't foresee and I think that what they have taken out of the hands, was not only from an altruistic point of view but also from an economical or how to keep our society alive point of view. But I am also thinking because I love looking at the flowers outside. People take care of that also of course. Or the animals that walk around. What does care look like in our society? I don't know.I do think that care needs to have a personal relationship, otherwise it is just a task. Maybe that’s why in the relationship we have with care, there are things that are preventing that from happening in an organic way. The personal relationship.
What aspects do you think are directly linked to care in your current work?
What I was saying. The fact that I feel the need to put myself "out of it". Being a person of color in these institutes where they are teaching you art was very interesting. Because all of a sudden you are kind of questioning what you are being taught. Questioning because you think "I don't feel like I am represented in the people you want me to be inspired by". "I don't feel like you are understanding what I am saying because there are not many people in this institution that I can relate to". So there were all of these kinds of questions that had to do with the personal and then of course with the artistic, that came together in me. So then when I was not able to create myself, I still felt that I had something to give or something to offer, because I knew that my point of view of being in the artistic world was very unique (now it is changing thank god). And therefore necessary. My personal preference is to be invisible but my visibility is kind of needed also. For being the first person this, and the first person that and therefore being the first you have the responsibility of being the first. So how you behave is how they behave. How you are is how they are.
The interesting thing is that I was not a rebel in these places. I came. I tried to learn as much as I could. I wanted to have my good grades and make my beautiful performance or whatever and then while I was there I was asking myself "who am I doing this for?". I am not seeing people who reflect my worldview in the things that they are offering me or that I want to give to the people outside. That became something that I am very advocate about. How can we change how people look at art, how people perceive, what people want to see and also what they create? So I had to ask myself a lot of questions about creations and also I studied abroad, thank god for that, because it helped me to see that this is something we in the Netherlands find really interesting, but it doesn't mean that you don't need to have skills to do something else. What are those other skills? And that's why I think I can contribute now something in all these different kinds of residencies, because I have experience even if it is in a small amount of something. And if I don't, I just say, I am sorry, I don't get it, explain it to me. Until you get what you need to get out of it. And I think that is actually, because I care for this. I care for art in general. I think it is very important.
When I was 15 and I was growing up in Rotterdam. We were in a pretty ok situation. Not in the best situation, not in the worst situation. But I had a lot of poverty around me andpoverty had a lot to do with the mental state of mind. The mental state of mind was nothing more than you not believing that you were capable of more than what you saw.All of a sudden it became like "I need to do this to show myself where I am from" and also this was my life line. It was not that bad, I am not going to romanticize being from an unfortunate backgrounding but it was also intense. Child pregnancies, people being totally destroyed, and also finding validation, being afraid and transforming it in hip hop as a way of putting on this armor. And sofor me being able to do art was that there I could let everything go. There I could be who I wanted to be. So for me art became very important. And now that we are at home listening to the news all day, you are just losing your mind, you need to move, to interact. I need to be upset about some stupid performance that somebody made so that I can feel like "oh my god I am wasting my time..". it's also a way of keeping ourselves alive from the inside. So being able to give that to other people is I think very important.
Yes it becomes even more visible and obvious now.
So for me it's also important that now that I see a lot of people wanting to create what they wanted to create 4 weeks ago, that's why I am very happy with you. You had a topic that feels very connected to what is happening now. Because it feels like for me art is something that is ever changing but could always be reactive. And not in a type of "we need to jump on it" kind of way, it can be collective and cool, but if I don't feel that then I don't feel like from inside this intuitive "oh yeah, we are on the same track" with all of us. Because I don't believe in thoughts. I think things are connected and then they just drop down into forms.
What keeps you moving? What helps you through difficult moments? I mean its art but maybe there is something more?
Art in general. It's as broad as being able to laugh about stuff, your own silliness, about stuff, being able to play basically.I am so happy that I was able to be in a facility where I could play and I think a lot of people feel self-conscious when they do, even as simple as doing yoga in the morning. To have an inner dialog etc. but to be able to let that go and just go wherever you need.I think that there are things that I learned from studying art. To be flexibleor at least, because this situation now has hit me as hard as anybody else, but at least I was now able to sit with it, and say "ohhh this is what is happening to me, huhuhuh" and I think this is the first step in whatever healing we need. I think that it is very important. Now I do also my repetitions, I see what repetition gives in terms of , "hou vast", so not only structure but it is kind of like I need this to be able to go through this. What do I need to go through this? And I haven't read a book yet. It is the same as when the summer holidays come and you are like you going to read all of these plays, and you going to make 20 dresses, and you gonna I don't know. But creating stuff is something that art gives you, and also that youcreate something that you don't need to know in advance what it needs to be, or needs to give.
And what is your biggest fear in relation to society?
At the moment? My biggest fear. We did a podcast about fears, I was moderating so I was not on the other side. What you were doing now to me, I was doing that to other people. Or doing that with other people. I do think my biggest fear is that we need to stand still sometimes in order to reflect, also in order to see what we have been creating and how we have been creating. And, I already from being a person of color trying to navigate through the system and seeing that you are actually on the outside of the outside, was already kind of conscious and then what happened was like "oh actually yeah" how you are still in a quite comfortable position. So when you are being kicked of it you think "my reactive time was not quicker" and maybe a little bit but not super quick. I just feel like that people who are on the outside should be able to react very quickly because you are on the outside right? That's the whole point. What was your question again? I lost myself hahaha
About your fear.
So I am afraid that we will quickly go back to whatever we thought it was and I am afraid we only want to do that because it is familiar, not because it is "the best". So sitting with stuff, being mmmhhmhhhmhh, I am getting better at it but that's something for me that I hope, at least from an artist point of view, that we don't immediately go into a production mode. Or if we do, we try out stuff, like real stuff. The thing is that now this idea of the society where we live, 1.5m away from each other, there will be artists who think of things that will make it work, but for a lot of people and for a lot of festivals that will not work in the way that we have set it up. And I think this is a very unfortunate thing to realise, but at the same time it is really unfortunate if we don't learn anything from it. If you learn something it is valuable, if we don't learn anything, we are upset then that something was taken away from us. And I have to be honest, I don't trust this society fully, because we live in a society where we plan everything, where everything is organised, and everything is taken care of, and now all of a sudden we have to also figure it out a little bit on our own. What you see or maybe what people seem to want in this country is like the government is over there and we are safe here. Now all of a sudden between what is happening with us and what is happening with the government, we are all in the dark and they are just like "we have this flashlight and I can see this this this, but not really” and we are behind it "where are you going? do you know where we are going?" And then there are other societies that would say,let's just see where we go, you call me when you see where we go.Our society is like "nononono we need to know, where are we? Are we there yet? Where are we going? When are we opening?"
Many people started to talk with me about this app. But it's like something is bothering me about this. It is not the app, it's like this government is showing his true VVD colors again. They want us to go outside. They don't care if this app is going to be good. The first thing that we need to do is to get the economy going again. Which I understand from all kinds of point of views. But from a point of view, we could also think maybe we need to get this really in check before we let the people go out again with this sort of app.
This app raises also a lot of other questions. I also had a talk with someone and he was telling me "yes you have this app, you are sick, then the app knows you are sick, and then they know that you can't go outside". And I was like oh my god, what are we talking about? I mean, if you are sick just don’t go outside, anyway.
That's not something I am super afraid of, it is more that I ever since I realised that this could be our new normal, being in this kind of situation, then for me is like we collectively need to work on this. How are we going to give more space to be in balance with nature? Or being in balance with animals, or with whatever. But I don't believe that people want to do that. I think people just want to be safe with how it was. The person in the podcast was saying that the next catastrophe will probably be linked to climate change. And then all of a sudden, while we have been always saying we need to bring 2% down here and there, but now we managed to make everything stop, we don't move, we don't travel. So if this is our 0 point now, then maybe 2% is not that big. Maybe we can do 5%.But I am afraid that people will forget actually. I am also afraid that all of the people who are getting applause for the good work, don't get the monetary validation. I do truly believe that this government will forget. Or will have some form of excuse to be like "yeah yeah it was very important back then but now the situation is different'' . I really do believe. Going to clapping every day at 8pm to not giving them the money that they deserve.
Yes because it was also not important before so if we go back then... yeah. Ok so we have a quick last round.
(Our last round is called rhetoric. We have few words that came up during our research, words that we are figuring out what it means for us. What we read in certain texts or that appeared in our discussions. We list these words to our interviewee and we ask them to answer them with the first association that comes to their mind.)
core - stability
continuity - Ongoing
turning precarity into possibilities - I don't get that one
non efficiency - government
side job - exhaustion
stubborn/committed - kingdom
taking different shapes -transformers
adaptable/flexible - barbapapa
non tangible - love
long term - quick
equity - nee
imperceptible - ghost
gestures - sign language
unspectacular - mundane
not radical -"huisje boompje beestje"
unconditional - love
hands on - active
care based economy
trust / love / longevity