Toespraak van Prins Constantijn bij de uitreiking van de Prins Claus Prijs 2012 in het Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam

12 december 2012

De toespraak is uitgesproken in het Engels.

Context is everything. One time something is garbage the next it is art or a book cover. In one context a joke gets you jailed, in the next you get completely ignored as irrelevant or simply not funny, or be awarded a prize by some unknown fund on the other side of the world.

Several of you make a living of speaking up against authority, expressing yourself; though you sit silently and respectfully in this great hall. A scream - a regular occurrence in the bustling life outside - would upset this carefully choreographed event. A silly ring tone on you mobile phone that made you feel young and joyful when you installed it, becomes highly embarrassing when it rings at a meeting or here tonight during my speech. 

The context of place and time determines why some acts and people are heroic or exemplary and worthy of an award like we are handing out today. A very simple every day occurrence like tweeting or blogging can be a revolutionary act and a source of inspiration if you offer hope and a vision a better life in an oppressive society.

This issue of context intrigues me. Take that podium. It is functionally useless as I am standing over here. It becomes an obsolete obstacle that we can now observe differently. We cover the thing in flowers as if it were a monument. It also could be the pedestal for a piece of art. For me - on this occasion - it symbolizes the empty space where my brother should have been standing.

We once chose 'Humour and Satire' as our theme for these awards. In giving a prize to a cartoonist or a comedian humour suddenly turned into a very serious business. It is nearly like putting an every day object into a museum. But what if you start using it again for its original purpose, like the 2 Chinese artists Yuan and Xi did with Duchamp's fountain, or give the same object a new meaning? Can we laugh about someone who went to jail for a joke?

With us today - and on view in the PCF Gallery - is an exceptional artist from Mexico, Teresa Margolles, who has found her own way of expressing her indignation about the violence in her country. She does the opposite of Duchamp as she actually uses the predictable context of the museum or gallery to delay the clash of object and context.  With her apparently aesthetic work she induces in her audience an utterly disruptive confrontation with the horrific meaning of her art.

Giving a prize is putting a spotlight on a remarkable person, organisation, or achievement. By doing this we run the risk of isolating it from its original context. Making books from waste cartons in itself doesn't justify an award however pretty they may be. We are invited to look at the efforts and their effects in the time and place they occurred. Graffiti in itself is not a reason to fly someone from Nairobi to Amsterdam; we have enough graffiti of our own. But to apply it for peaceful means, with humour to empower people in a context that is turning more violent every day. That is a story worth telling. 

The PCF award deliberately does 3 things.

  1. It takes you and everybody else who is aware of the Fund's activities to be inspired by the richness and ingenuity of people all over the world making a difference in their own contexts.
  2. It attempts to show to the communities in which the laureates are active that they are outstanding and acknowledged at an international level
  3. Most importantly, it allows us to celebrate something deeper, more universal: qualities like resilience, resourcefulness, optimism, creativity, and human and cultural sensitivity.

This is what all laureates share. They make their point not by arms but with humour; not by wasteful consumption but by ingenious reuse of products; not by controlling people but by empowering them and giving space for free speech and expression.

These are human qualities we need more of - everywhere, everyday. Through their outstanding performances, the laureates inspire us and reconfirm the central importance of these values to our societies.

We should do justice to them - not by putting them on a pedestal - but by drawing them into our own lives and the daily moral decisions.

I hope the video images have triggered your curiosity. I invite you to acquaint yourself with the laureates and their work and experience the Fund's activities across the world.

You will find that the PCF is continuously seeking to encourage and support new expressions of the same basic values of human culture, freedom, and development to suit the narrative of the time and place we live in. In 17th Century Netherlands, it was this grand hall of Citizenry with all its allegories. Today it is tweeting, blogging, recycling, as well as art, publishing, satire, poetry, as well as preserving and documenting the heritage on which identities depend. 

Therefore it is my great pleasure to present the Principal Prince Claus award to Eloisa Cartonera. This cooperative venture from Argentinapublishes work from emerging writers and poets from the region in affordable hand-made books with recycled hand-painted cardboard covers. Eloisa Cartonera came up with a collective response to a context of crisis, by  combining art, circular thinking, and creativity to promote expression and generate social and economic welfare. As such they present a positive example for us all.