Beauty was here long before we were and will be long after.
(Robert Bringhurst and Ian Zwicky, Learning how to die)
Throughout history humankind hasn’t changed fundamentally, it’s the landscape that is changing. One generation influences its environment and then it is up to the next generation to undergo the consequences of these changes, for better or worse. And so on.
(Jean Paul Van Bendegem)
Yesterday determines today, irrevocably. The decisions and choices of yesterday determine our actions of today and tomorrow. Heiner Müller used to call this ‘ghosts from the future’: an intangible knot between what was and what will be.
The past century has had a comprehensive impact on the landscape. There no longer something in this world that is not subjected to human (technological) manipulation. This influence appears to be detrimental to life on earth as we know it. What is then the place of the human in a world in which ecological catastrophe and technology are fundamentally challenging this position?
The work of Kris Verdonck examines time and again the relation between the human and technology. In this performance, he focusses on the ecological impact of that relation. SOMETHING (out of nothing) explores the physical and mental state of being in the face of an impendent extinction. Plants and animals already find themselves in the sixth mass extinction and for the human animal, the end is becoming an increasingly tangible reality. The combination of a merciless desire for profit and growth with technological developments, has reduced the human to a disposable object. Making the landscape in which we live inhabitable is the next step. What remains after social, economic and ecological elimination? The dancers and machines wandering around in SOMETHING, are oftentimes not more than silhouettes, shadows, living sculptures. They are the ghosts that are the consequence of the destructive dynamics between humanity and the landscape. This landscape is no longer natural: it consists of organically growing and shrinking inflatable sculptures, automated and indifferent to human presence. The performers (Sophia Dinkel, Ula Sickle, Mark Lorimer and Edward Lloyd) move like spectres in an environment that is increasingly ‘haunted’ by technologies and catastrophes. They are looking for a possibility to escape from the cycle of cause and effect, and are at the same time crushed by it.
The choreography is inspired by two types of ghosts stemming from the field of ecology. A species is considered to be ‘ecologically extinct’ when its impact on the environment has become so minimal that its role in the ecological chain is played out. For its environment, it is no longer of any importance whether this species continues to exist or not. It are animals and plants that have lost their function. An ‘ecological anachronism’ is a second situation, in which plants or trees still produce fruit that is no longer eaten. The animal species with which they have grown to collaborate to disseminate their seeds, are no longer there. The loss of biodiversity caused by human agency has led specialists to speak of empty forests and empty savannas. The figures in SOMETHING (out of nothing) find themselves in the same paradoxical state of being eliminated yet still active. They are literally Unheimlich: without a house, out of place, out of time.
Going on after the end
SOMETHING (out of nothing) consists of three parts. Each part is accompanied by a voice over (Tawny Andersen). Descriptions of destruction, of landscapes after the human, stories of attempts to make amends to the catastrophe, a poem: the voice speaks from a haunted position as well. A noise soundscape (by cello player Leila Bourdreuil and an automated drum) adds to the tension between presence and absence, and together with the voice over and the inflatables, gives shape to the landscape and time after the human.
What does it mean to live after the end, like a ghost that is alienated from its environment? The figures on stage vainly look for meaning in a world beyond a human scale, without a point of reference. After denial and resistance there is – as in a mourning process – acceptance. Even although it no longer matters, they do something for the act of doing it. Beyond all drama, beyond any development, in the margins, a jump, sliding around a bit, making an insignificant gesture, in attempt to chase the ghosts: that is probably what Beckett meant when he wrote: Where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. (Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable)