“There is a place around the corner, where your dead friends live.”
(from Dead Friends, Blixa Bargeld)
IN VOID is a retrospective in which new and existing installations engage in a dialogue with one another. In a theatrical setting these works are brought to life: autonomously functioning, they inhabit the theatre as a reflection on the end of humankind.
In that sense the installations of IN VOID function as Brechtian ghosts of the future: they embody the seeds of future disasters, which traces are already outlined now. Certain works refer explicitly to the pollution of our planet, war and hypercapitalism. Others perform autonomously and explore the redundancy of human beings.
In its entirety IN VOID is an uncanny experiment: can we create a performance without human presence? Perhaps a theater, for which this presence is a condition sine qua non, is thé place to consider human absence? What does a world without people look like?
IN VOID consist of: DANCER #2, DANCER #3, MONSTER, MOUSE, PELLET, BOGUS II, BRASS, DRONE.
"Perhaps the objects around us derive their immobility only from our certainty that they are what they are and not anything else; they gain their immobility from the inflexibility of the thinking with which we respond to them."
In Kris Verdonck’s work, objects and machines are just as performative as human dancers and actors. In IN VOID this equal ranking of human and object goes so far that man disappears from the equation. Objects, machines and projected images populate the theatre in a reflection on the end of mankind. A critical view of the relationship between man and technology is a constant in Verdonck’s oeuvre. IN VOID is not his first project without human performers. Installations and installation circuits such as DANCER #1-3 and ACTOR #1 explore the performativity of objects and the possibility of a theatre with no live actors.
In IN VOID he goes even further: the machines themselves take the leading role. Man has made himself superfluous by his urge for growth, progress, knowledge and control, and the resulting inventions and technologies. Now, when we are celebrating the ascertainment of the Anthropocene, and our legacy has become lodged deep in the surface of the earth, there appear to be many realistic routes to the sudden end of humanity. In an interview with Alexander Kluge, Heiner Müller once said: “But the thing that occupies that place may constantly change. It need not be a human being, but may also be a computer or a vegetable substance, or anything else.
According to some philosophers (Kojève, Agamben, Fukuyama, Baudrillard et al.), we are already in a sort of post-history of satiation, stagnation, resignation and slow extinction. This post-historical condition has led to two related feelings. On the one hand a profound impotence: an experience of the incapacity to make any changes to the course (or standstill) of history. This impotence is contiguous with a second sensation: a fatalism that is almost a yearning for the Apocalypse. This sense of the end of time is characteristic of a period that is creaking and looks like cracking up as it changes into the next phase. Benjamin’s Angel of History can likewise only look on while the ruins pile up as the end draws him ever closer. Thinking beyond the existence of man is a difficult occupation and one that goes against our nature; it is a virtually impossible, yet, in the given circumstances, nevertheless realistic mental exercise. There is in any case one image that is illustrative of the void that is left after the devastation: a robot which, after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, was sent into the desolation to pray for the victims.
The theatre, as a place of human presence and charisma, is perhaps the perfect place to reflect on human absence. All that remains in IN VOID are machines, objects, projected images, sound, light and – not without importance – the building. These ‘things’ occupy the theatre building and perform autonomously. The machines and objects play the leading part, while a supporting role – as visitors – has been kept for the people. Yet a comparison with a museum would not be correct, since it is definitely ‘theatre’. IN VOID consists of a number of existing installations plus some new ones for which a whole range of stage and multimedia techniques and robotics from previous work can be used again, and if necessary has been further developed to perform permanently for a whole ‘working day’. Together, these various installations form a theatrical environment from which the human performer has disappeared, a haunted house where the objects come to life.
Ghosts and performing objects
In Western society, objects are becoming increasingly alive. We still hold onto the division between living people and dead objects, while the hybrids lie in our pockets and bags. For this reason, living objects are often experienced as uncanny (unheimlich). In 1970, Masahiro Mori, the Japanese professor of robotics, came up with the notion of ‘Uncanny Valley’ to relate the empathy we have with objects to their resemblance to man: the more like humans they are, the more empathy we feel with them. There is a critical point, however, at which we ‘fall’ into Uncanny Valley: the familiar dead object becomes too real or ‘alive’ and it becomes literally unheimlich (homeless). It can no longer be put into existing categories and ends up in the grey area of living things.
Historically speaking, new technologies have invariably led to fear and amazement, such as the superstitious linkage of the first telephones to the presence of ghosts – ‘the voice on the telephone line’. New technologies often also create a new sort of presence in objects; one only has to think of the strange realisation, as a result of the advertising they present to you, that Facebook and Amazon know you very well. In the theatre, ghosts on stage have a material origin in the tradition of la servante, or the ‘ghost light’. A single lamp on a standard in the middle of the stage that remains alight all night so that nocturnal workers can find their way in the auditorium or on stage. In this way, all theatres have or acquire their own ghost. IN VOID can be viewed in the same way: when the last human leaves the stage, all that remains is the things and a ghostlike presence.
The ‘ghostlike’ theatrical installations in IN VOID could be described as variations on absence. Some works refer explicitly to such human causes as pollution, war and hyper-capitalism. Others are more autonomous and in this way reflect the possibility and feasibility of man’s superfluity. Qualities and skills which we like to call typically human – presence, dance, music – turn out to be by no means the exclusive domain of man and machines can actually carry on without us. Nature, of which man is also a part, and in which he has recently become the greatest driving force, dies or is technically reproduced. The various installations are what Brecht called ‘ghosts from the future’: the germs of what will later have catastrophic consequences, of which there are already clear signs. This ensemble of theatrical installations does not tell a story of a poetic and gradual decline, but is one of crude, aggressive devastation. The various works show a violence which in our society lies in war, economic exploitation, speed, over-stimulation and ecological disasters.
"Aggression and beauty assuredly form the grand paradox that runs through IN VOID.(…) In IN VOID, any hope of harmony between humans and machines is dashed: the more present the objects are, the more transparent the human beings become. The greater their freedom of movement, the more immobile you become. (…) That is to say, he [mankind] has allowed his hunger for control and power through technology to get so extremely out of hand that he has set in motion both his own downfall and that of the world. This doomed vision is at the heart of IN VOID, for which Verdonck has transformed the Kaaistudio’s into a futuristic haunted house, entirely populated by peculiar objects that move independently, with no technician behind the scenes pulling their strings."
Charlotte De Somviele in De Standaard
"The works of art that function fully autonomously in the circuit that Verdonck developed in the Kaaitheater’s studios in Brussels generate an exceptional intensity. In every corner – even those where there is nothing to see – you sense the atmosphere thanks to the sounds that resound throughout the building. They even make off with each other. It may for instance be that the giggling toy dogs in MONSTER suddenly react to the amplified sound of a mousetrap as it snaps shut, even though there are two or three floors between the two installations. IN VOID ultimately relies on the strength of each individual ‘performative’ work of art. To give two examples, the three suspended sousaphones radiate a quiet melancholy and a new object, a sort of flowerlike vulva that rolls itself out and back again, nicely summarises the rhythm of an eternal life."
"ln our Western society we still oppose living beings, and in particular living man against dead objects. Moving, and thus animated objects are often experienced as ominous. (...) Mankind was the creator of these things, the creator of the technology. He manipulated them, kept them in hand. Now these very things are the living beings who control the world, who manipulate the new world without humans, the resulting void."
Tuur Devens in the World of the Puppet Play
Concept & direction: Kris Verdonck
Dramaturgy: Kristof Van Baarle, Marianne Van Kerkhoven
Technical coordination: Jan Van Gijsel, Colin Legras
Technical design: An Breugelmans, Eefje Wijnings, Hans Van Wambeke
Technique: Steven Blum, Sylvain Spinoit, Raphaël Rubbens, Marc Depauw
Construction: Vincent Malstaf, Herman Venderickx, Marc Depauw, Sylvain Spinoit, Atelier 26, Steven Blum, Damien Gernay
Sound: Elise Boënnec
Musician (Tuba): Stijn Aertgeerts
Camera and editing: Vincent Pinckaers
Image processing: Massimiliano Simbula
Software & Electronics: Felix Luque, Julien Maire
Sound design: Thomas Turine
Light design: Jan van Gijsel, Luc Schaltin, Kris Verdonck
Production: A Two Dogs Company, Margarita production voor stilllab vzw
Coproduction: Kaaitheater (BE), Festival de Keuze (NL), Theater der Welt 2010 (DE), Transdigital (Interreg), Kunstencentrum Vooruit (BE), Productiehuis Rotterdam / Rotterdamse Schouwburg (NL), KunstenFestivaldesArts (BE), Buda Kunstencentrum (BE), Le Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg (LU), NXTSTP (with the support of the European Community), Le manège.mons/CECN (BE), Transdigital/TechnocITé (BE), MAC Créteil (FR), Le Manège - Maubeuge (FR), Lille3000 (FR), Festival La Bâtie (CH)
In collaboration with: Schauspiel Essen (DE), Le manège.mons (BE), Technocité (BE) in the frame of Transdigital