II, the project Kris Verdonck created in the studios of Kaaitheater during the 2005 edition of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, was a collection of five pictures. Three of these – BOX, PATENT HUMAN ENERGY and RAIN– were not unlike installations: a situation one could look at, an environment one could walk around in and explore. In the other two – MAN and DUET – the spectators were shown “a development”: they were seated in front of, or around, the action and watched from a distance, like an audience does in a theatre performance.
The challenge of the new project END lies primarily in Kris Verdonck’s decision to work in a large theatre space: spectators are seated in rows and look straight ahead at “something” being played out on stage. Within a single dramatic situation, a number of very diverse figures are shown on that stage: people, or objects, or a combination of both. With END, Kris Verdonck is walking the fine line between installation and theatre performance, exploring the space in which visual art and theatre coincide and where both, individually, realise both their own essence and their paradoxical relation, their “being opposite”.
The difference between visual art and theatre has everything to do with Time. Does plastic art equal Space? Does theatre equal Time? When, as in END, the spectators are, from a spatial point of view, brought into a theatre code, only a specific management of Time on stage can prevent the performance from becoming entirely a theatre performance.
Installation equals state of being. Theatre equals development, chronology, sequence of events. To a greater or lesser extent, each sequence of events inevitably leads to a form of narrative. The spectator has, after all, been trained to do his/her own work, i.e., to look for connections between the events, to interpret each sign presented on stage.
END features ten Figures performing the possible final stage of a human community. The starting point of END are the pictures we have all seen before, pictures which the media project daily onto our retinas: melting glaciers, burning forests, flooded cities, animal species threatened with extinction, the horrors of famine and war.... The Figures – both machines and people as well as a combination of both – all move in the same direction, from one side of the stage to the other. Are they fleeing something? But if so, what? They disappear in order to reappear, repeating their circular course over and over again.
The Figure leading this merry-go-round, who literally forces this (stage) world to move/revolve, is Stakhanov. This character refers to the miner and model worker Alexei Stakhanov who, in the Soviet Union of the second half of the thirties, was held up to his comrades as a model worker: in one day, he single handedly mined 120 tons of coal instead of the 7 tons prescribed per miner. His feat, which many years later was revealed to be a fraud, led to a production increase in the mines. Like Atlas, the Stakhanov on stage heaves the whole world, sets the mechanism in motion and keeps going round and round. He is cause and consequence of the disaster which is taking place / has taken place / shall take place. Like a basso continuo, he accompanies the entire performance.
A second basso continuo is formed by the Messenger’s ongoing storytelling, the Figure who keeps up an uninterrupted speech in a glass cage on stage. The Messenger reports on the uncanny and/or catastrophic events, grouped in clusters, which have taken place / are taking place / shall take place in the world. He is both witness and prophet, the survivor who comes to bear witness, the blind seer, the storyteller, the historical doomsayer or the scholarly foreteller, the instrument of tradition who saves mankind from oblivion. The Messenger’s textual materials were gathered from the work of, among others, Alexander Kluge, Curzio Malaparte, W.G. Sebald, Lord Byron, and in particular from reports found on the Internet.
Two non-human Figures, two non-natural phenomena determine to a large extent the general theatrical context, the situation of the action:
- black snow falls almost uninterruptedly. This phenomenon refers, on the one hand, to various forms of pollution and, on the other, to the nuclear fallout of Hiroshima, to all harmful materials which fall from the sky...
- a moving fire repeatedly makes its way across the stage. Because of the ongoing circular movement, it is unclear whether it is the fire which follows the other Figures, or whether they follow the fire.
Six other Figures also evolve in the landscape depicted by Stakhanov, the Messenger, the black snow and the moving fire:
- a woman (the mother?, the spouse?...) drags a much too heavy body bag, which she, no matter what, wants to / has to carry somewhere. But where?
- at times an unfastened engine appears on stage, an industrial witness, erring through the landscape but at the same time part of that landscape: not a symbol but a character made very real, material, ‘tangible’ by the noise and smoke it emits. –
- in the meantime – hanging in the air – the Birdman attempts to complete his course. He is the frightened, fleeing businessman who, in a suit and tie and with his briefcase under his arm, is trying to escape from the disaster. Utterly confused, not grasping that yesterday’s ordered world no longer exists, he hopes to save what can still be saved: his own skin and his shares.
- at times a Chorus of Simulacra moves through this landscape. It wants to warn us about something that might have happened long ago but its words are lost in digital deformations and distortions.
- cut loose form everything, the hybrid Musil-woman errs through the chaos. A mutant, she is no longer in possession of her senses, no longer capable of recognising the world. She tries to adapt herself, but transforms herself in a desperate-hopeless manner.
- and finally there is the Ludd, who literally falls out of the sky. Ned Ludd was an English weaver who in 1779 was the first to destroy a loom. His act of aggression against the industrial enemy generated many followers: the Luddites, or Ludds, grew in the 19th century into a social protest movement within the working class. The Ludd in END also wants to personally take on his technological and other enemies. He is the doer, the saviour, the naive Don Quixote, but also the brave fireman of 9/11. He is the only Figure to go against the flow of the circular movement. Each time he is beaten back, but each time he starts out again...
The Figures are positioned in the moving landscape by means of interactive media and Anouck Declercq’s video projections, filled in with a soundscape by Stefaan Quix and a lightscape by Luc Schaltin.
Text: Marianne Van Kerkhoven