IN PROGRESS

Sunset Inferior Mirage
(c)Brocken Inaglory-Own work

 
SOMETHING (out of nothing)

 

I don’t know exactly where it is that I am: this is what happens when we are in the dark. You cannot tell where the limits of your body are, or where the limit with the outside world is. A vertigo, of becoming space. Are you alive or not? (André Lepecki, In the dark).



In SOMETHING (out of nothing) 9 figures wander around on a stage. They are often no more than silhouettes, shadows, living sculptures: a negative of life. Performers and robots criss-cross one another, barely distinguishable from each other or even the decor; living and dead matter share the same space.

This latest performance by Kris Verdonck / A Two Dogs Company in collaboration with ICK Amsterdam presents the human, the performer, as a ghost in a world that is becoming ever more haunted by technologies, by imminent destruction and fading democracies.

SOMETHING (out of nothing) is made up of two parts, a museal part and a theatrical part. The performance literally runs from the museum into the theatre. The same objects and figures that “are” in the museum during the day are later to be found on stage in the theatre. We go from the white space where the objects reign to the black box, the terrain of the living people; and arrive in a world where the difference between objects and bodies no longer counts, in the realm of “the living object”. A place where everything is marketable; plants, objects, machines, people and animals, the earth, everything becomes equal under a commercial status.

GHOSTS

The theatre has a long history of ghosts, of living, dead entities.

One could also describe ghosts as forces that imperceptibly yet unmistakably influence our daily life. There are various strong, invisible forces around in 2018: computer and internet protocols, the ghost of automation and as a result the disposability of workers, the ecological catastrophe that we still continue to underestimate,… Are we ourselves not “dead men walking?”, just like the stateless, those without rights who wander in a legal no-mans-land?

In ecology one speaks of ‘ecological extinct species’ when the impact of a species on its environment has become so minimal that its role is ‘played out’ in the ecological chain. It is no longer of any importance to the environment whether such a species continues to exist or not. The figures in SOMETHING (out of nothing) find themselves in the same situation, extras in their own existence. They are literally Unheimlich: without a house, a place, nameless. A humankind that has eliminated itself through ecological and technical and developments.

The driverless car is perhaps the clearest “form” of a living ghost that is starting to nestle in our daily lives. Who is the driver? Who has the ultimate responsibility? What is the statute of the ‘operator’ behind the wheel of a driverless car? Moreover, what is the statute of the woman who was recently run over by such a car: a mistake in calculation, an anomaly in the system?

Are these ghost technologies not turning mankind more and more into a pointless, hyper-relative presence – into a ghost, in fact? On the other hand, the ecological catastrophe and the growing socio-economic inequality clearly indicate the need for a different conception of the human. The main question of SOMETHING (out of nothing) is then: what is our place in this world?

BECKETT AND NOH

There are two important historical types of theatre that deal with “the actor / the person as object”: The traditional Japanese Noh theatre and the work of Samuel Beckett. SOMETHING (out of nothing) is a first stage in a long-term study into the common ground between both elements.

In Beckett, the use of “voice-over”, the separation between voice and body and the way in which he reduces the actor to an object are intriguing. A voice without body or as in Krapp’s last tape: a machine that keeps reproducing a recorded voice while man can only sit next to it and listen.

In Noh the performance is traditionally of a ghost that cannot pass to the hereafter because of unsolved emotions. The character of the ghost takes shape through a Noh mask, complex costumes and a minimalistic and codified package of gestures and choreography, as well as through music, the choir, the scenography and the other characters. Everything is arranged to ensure that this artificial appearance can take place. In Noh, just as in various Beckett pieces, there is traditionally little ‘action’, everything has already happened. The absence created by the mask and the mechanical movements of the Noh dancers form elements on which Verdonck wishes to work further. What’s more, robots were already used in the seventeenth century in Noh theatre: the combination between Noh figures and objectified people is propelled further forward in SOMETHING (out of nothing).

In Noh music plays an important role in the ‘summoning’ of the ghosts and in the creation of the appropriate atmosphere. The soundscape as landscape. In SOMETHING (out of nothing) the noise cellist Leila Bordreuil will formulate a musical answer to the questions in the performance. What is a present absence in music?

LIMBO

SOMETHING (out of nothing) takes place in a sort of waiting room, a limbo between life and death. Between being and not being, between visible and invisible, like a mirage. Are we people here actually real, or have we become part of the mirage – forever the copy, no longer the original, broken loose from the material reality?

The patriarchate of technology is further expanded, such as in the automation of lawsuits, parole juries and the use of linesman technology in sport (finally, no further discussion). But if like a game, life is regulated by sterile calculation, where is the excitement, the dirt, our body, eroticism? Is a part of our being human not being responsible for our own deeds? The traditional shaking hands after a dispute?



 

detail
(c)NASA/JPL/Cornell

 
DETAIL

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.
(Samuel Beckett, Murphy)

In the installation DETAIL, a large and massive boulder hangs on the ceiling. It is hanging on a steel cable, on a ball bearing, allowing it to fully turn around its axis. The ball bearing is put in motion by a steel wheel rotated by a motor which takes its energy from solar panels. The whole chain leads to a relatively simple situation: whenever the sun shines, the boulder turns around its axis. A mobile with sunlight. A surreal image with an undertone of danger and yet fascinating at the same time.

You could look at DETAIL as a zoom-in on the living landscapes in the installations MASS I and MASS II. In MASS I it was thick, undulating smoke, in MASS II a mass of small, grey balls, continuously in motion, that create and then disperse landscape formations. DETAIL could be an enlargement of a single ball from this latter installation. A detail that is already a landscape in itself. A game in dimensions that disrupts our own human measure of things. A floating block, a stone cloud, a comet, a cold sun or a planet: these objects, usually considered enormous, become but a detail in a galaxy and are already totally insignificant in a universe. Looked at it in this way, man becomes very small, coincidental and vulnerable.

TECHNOLOGY AND PROGRESS?

The whole (complicated) technical construction has no other goal than to have the “poetry” of a heavy colossus float and turn around. DETAIL is in this sense a pointless use of knowledge and material which makes it even all the more alienating. The question can also be put forward as to whether many other developments that we call ‘technical progress’ really do help the world. “Progress” is quickly linked to “technology”. The destructive potential of ever greater, faster, more efficient and automatic algorithms, processors, motors and fire power assert their influence on a daily basis in wars and in the depletion of our planet.

DETAIL addresses the meaning and impact of technological developments on our lives and humanity. The poetical of the pointless – a roaming planet? a discovery that changes nothing? an escaped particle from another dimension? – is at the same time an appreciation of knowledge because of that knowledge as well as a threat hanging over us like a dark cloud. Once the sun shines, and therefore the stone starts to revolve, the mechanism is simultaneously unrelenting: the fatalism of a world that has to and will turn. Where is technological knowledge taking us and does it make us able to handle the problems of our age for the most part caused by ‘technological progress’? DETAIL is then also a stationary situation: frozen, hanging in the air, turning in circles in a vacuum.







KRIS VERDONCK CONVERSATIONS KVRANCKEN 2017 8703
(c)Kristof Vrancken

MASS II

 

MASS II is a poetic, moving landscape. A graphite-grey mass flows slowly as if it was water. The matter appears light and yet heavy at the same time. And, as if tectonic plates are interacting, the spectator sees mountains and valleys created before his eyes, only to dissolve in the next instant. A living landscape, geology in a time-lapse. 

 

Just as in MASS I, it could be the ‘situation’ of the dawn of time, although there is no divine creator in the vicinity. This matter moves autonomously, determines its own energy. We are witness to geological and physical processes in which, both by coincidence and without interruption, organic changes take place. It could also be the end; a landscape without human presence, which goes its own way. The end of mankind is not the end of the world.

 

MASS II was a part of Conversations (at the end of the world). The grey landscape is the environment in which the characters find themselves. This environment is so all-qualifying that it could be called the main character. It is an entity that does not tolerate anything next to it. The movement of the landscape controls the rhythm and imagines the approaching catastrophe. The people in this landscape have no other choice but to take this into account and eventually go along with it. A solitary beauty is left with new rules, beyond human ones. Time and language are no more. MASS II is a continuous transition from creation to disappearance and once again to creation, an endless, unpredictable metamorphosis from chaos to order and back.

 

Throughout history humanity has always had an impact on his environment. And with a delayed effect, this changed landscape has in its turn impacted on the human who has to adapt to it, from sheer necessity, sometimes full of self-pity. We build a dam, we build cities on the newly created land, the dam collapses after a time and we drown, full of disbelief. Should there already be a “narrative” to be found in human history, then it is probably that of a changing landscape. The “tipping-points” in the climate warming are not there to be felt immediately. However, the insurmountable consequences of a geologic era that we now have to name after ourselves will affect all of humanity. In the anthropocene nature reveals itself as a catastrophe, writes the philosopher Timothy Morton. The consequences of the anthropocene might not be predictable at this moment in time but we will have to adapt whatever the case. Full of disbelief, we will have to suffer the consequences of our self-created ecologic disaster.

 


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