Thesis Ingrid Adriaans
Bachelor Fine Arts
Royal Academy of Art The Hague
Supervisor Onno Schilstra
Translation: Laurence Herfs
Thanks to Onno Schilstra for the inspiring guidance.
“ I see life as a corridor without a fixed starting point or destination. We tend to focus
on the destination all the time, overlooking all the spaces in between."
Do Ho Sun
“An empty plain of sloping water extends to the horizon. The thin cloth of the spinnaker just bulges up in the faint trade wind. Swaying hipwards, we glide over the gently undulating swell. We sail in an endless emptiness of sun, sea and white trade wind clouds. New Zealand already more than 1000 nautical miles behind us. The belt of depression at a safe distance. I'm going to sit on the cabin roof. The sun is not yet too bright and burns pleasantly on my white skin. I stare into the distance, mimicking back and forth. How would it be to see us from above now. A pinprick on an immense undulating plain. A bright dot creeping through the last vacuum of the modern world."
Between the years 1991 and 1996, my friend Marcel and I sailed across the largest interspace this earth offers us: her oceans. For us humans, the ocean is a space of transit, a transport route that leads from A to B, while for many fish and mammals it is their habitat, their home. When I think of the ocean, I think of the endless plains of water, a lonely sea turtle swirling around the boat like an autumn leaf, a plain littered with millions of baby jellyfish reaching to the horizon and glowing pink in the light of the setting sun, the gleam of a ship's lights in the night that passes in the distance. For weeks we would sometimes find ourselves on the road, or should I say sea, and so we were left utterly dependent on ourselves. There was no internet yet in those days, we picked up our mail at the consulate on the next island. When I speak of the gaps that have affected my life, this one is probably the most important. How very insignificant you are on that vast ocean as a tiny human being, left at the mercy of the elements on that little sailing ship making its way through infinite space.
In the spring of 2019, I presented my first solo performance. It was during a presentation in the third year of my studies at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. During that period, it became increasingly difficult for me to combine my work in healthcare with my studies at the art academy. I found myself stuck in between two worlds: art and care. Especially mentally, this became increasingly taxing. I had to switch again and again from a world where life, death and daily necessities of life were at stake, to a world in which the power of the imagination reigned. In my performance, I planned to take the combination of these two worlds as literally as possible by cycling through the academy on the bicycle with which I also visit my clients in the neighbourhood during my work. Not only would I cycle through the building; I would also be climbing and descending the stairs. Like an idiot I ended up cycling through the school, taking the bike on my neck, going up and down the stairs, until I had run totally out of breath. It turned out to be something of a slapstick performance that I managed to keep up for a pretty long time.
A few weeks later I did a performance at the Central Station and another one in the corridors of the academy. Slowly I began to discover that I prefer to do my work in the space between the spaces. The spaces we normally pass through thoughtlessly as we make our way from one destination to the next. In addition to the physical space, I also discovered a space of which I had previously been unaware. A world in between, a world between reality and another world. The world between life and death, the world between reality and fantasy, between everyday life and something outside it. In the end, this thesis has become a search for what exactly these in-between spaces mean to me and why this space, which is both physically and mentally so important to my performance art.
A note to reader:
I see writing this thesis as an ongoing process that is essential for the development of myself as an artist. The texts have been written in chronological order and have been adapted as little as possible during the process. I wanted to remain open-ended about the essence of my research for as long as possible. As such, up until the end, I focused as little as possible on the end result, so I would not miss unexpected side-roads that might appear on my path. This does mean that the pieces of the puzzle only come together in the last chapter, and even then, some questions remain unanswered.
- Adriaans, Ingrid. Vijf jaar zeilen in de schaduw van de maan. Rotterdam: Heijnen BV. 1999.
The two of us had to continue during the break. In the middle of the empty industrial space we were spinning around with our forearms locked at a distance of a meter. I watched the great mermaid on his bare belly rocking back and forth to the rhythm of our movements. We stood there while our groupmates were having lunch in the kitchen. How long we continued I don't know, time didn't seem to matter. We entered a kind of trance in which reality gradually faded away. Slowly I dared to look him in the eye. Who was he? So different from me, full of tattoos and 30 years younger. What did we have in common and why me? Without knowing how long we had been there, our groupmates trickled back into space. One of the supervisors eventually took us out of our concentration and told us we could stop. We didn't get time to eat.
This was my first real encounter with Oozy, an autistic hyperintelligent drag queen from the UK. Somehow there was a natural bond between us. At first glance there couldn't be a greater contrast, he was blond, gay and full of tattoos that he had applied himself and I was a grey woman of about sixty. Our lives had nothing in common, but apparently our souls did. We both participated in a two-week performance art workshop. Later in the week we worked together a lot. We supported each other and he challenged me to do things that were totally unusual for me. We created a fairytale world with our own rules and our own beauty. We created a space that didn't exist before, our own universe.
The whole experience with Oozy turned my artistic life upside down. Once back home in a boring suburb of Dordrecht, I felt totally displaced. Suddenly I also knew what performance art meant to me. From a deep concentration you step into another world. You create a space in between the usual spaces. For me, it's not acting but a very conscious presence in the moment. During my performances I create my personal space in between.
A few months later I attend a lecture in the Bijlmer in Amsterdam. The lecture is part of a symposium on performance art. Artists and researchers present their research programs. In front of me, a small woman sits on a darkened stage. Her English is hard to follow. She recounts that at the age of nine she saw a film on television at her uncle and aunt's house. This film inspired her to do this research almost thirty years later. It strikes me that research programmes are often based on very small personal experiences at a young age. She shows the film at the end of the lecture. The somewhat crackling images are from 1968. I see a man in a dark baroque apartment transforming himself into a woman and back again. The film is by the Italian film and theatre maker Carmelo Bene. He had a revolutionary approach to theatre and film for that time. An approach based on slowing down the tragic and his refusal to be part of history. Unfortunately, little has been written about him in English and most of the lyrics are in Italian. The film appeals to me because the drama of a person between two genders reminds me very much of my friend Oozy.
I myself have never really engaged the whole gender discussion. But now, having been so so directly confronted with someone's struggle and the exclusion that comes with it, I myself find I’m having doubts, and memories from my childhood that I had completely hidden away are surfacing. I started reading about identity and found out that my own identity wasn't as fixed as I had assumed. Identity is something that is constantly changing, including mine. According to the Belgian psychologist and writer Paul Verhaeghe, there is no essential identity, but our identity largely depends on our environment. He calls identity a collection of ideas written on our body by the outside world. It is a continuous process of coincidence and distance from the other. The mirror that the environment holds up to us determines who we are. Looking back on my experience with my friend Oozy, I can see this clearly. Our identities fused with each other during our performance. We took things from each other and let things go and so a different world came into being. This was a performance of only a few hours. You don’t change your identity in a few hours. And yet I know that after it happens, I won’t ever be the same as before.
After my experiences in the summer I find myself wanting to see Oozy's show in the UK. Before going there, I traveled to Birmingham to attend a performance art festival. In the city centre I find mostly shiny, megalomaniac shopping malls and construction pits between which shopping streets. Most of the festival's activities take place in the dreary industrial districts on the outskirts of the city. After 11 o'clock in the evening these neighbourhoods turn into deserted ghost streets where you wouldn’t want to be caught dead. With the help of the navigation of the phone I walk to the location where the show is supposed to be. Turns out it’s somewhere behind a shed in a tiny room. The performance is an enormous experience. A world I had never been a part of. The atmosphere in the packed auditorium is hilarious and reminds me of a cabaret performance in Berlin in the thirties. The show has a very political character and the approaching Brexit is an important theme. The next day I meet Oozy at a 'professionals day'. She wears a mini dress with huge platform soles. With her long fake nails I hear her tapping her phone. We agree to see each other again in December.
Once back home I think: what was this week about? Besides Oozy's show I had seen many other beautiful performances. But what stuck, what would I have wanted to do myself and what is closest to me? Actually I came to the conclusion that it wasn't the art but the space in between that had made the most impression. That city by night. The many walks through the desolate deserted streets. Closed sheds, lonely dark figures in dark corners, no one else to be seen, no traffic on the streets. I found myself in a vacuum of the city, as if I had walked into an unrealistic world without realizing it. That loneliness, that tension, that world only a few venture into. That emptiness that still offers all possibilities for fulfilment, in which nobody knows I am there and nobody tells me what to do. An unconditional freedom in the dead of night. That is where I seek my art, not in what we know, but in what we do not know, where we are free to see and feel what we see and feel. No bias, but a void, a space in between with endless possibilities.
In hindsight, these wanderings through nocturnal Birmingham recalled for me the sense of Dérive, a concept conceived in the middle of last century by the Frenchman Guy Debord.3 In the state of Dérive, you walk through the city in a playful way without a direct goal while in the meantime there is an awareness of the influence of the geographical environment on your behaviour and emotions. Debord called this psychogeography. In this sense, Dérive differs from a trip or a plain walk. Rather, one or more participants are guided by the character of the terrain and by what they encounter along the way. Coincidence is less important here than you might initially think, as cities already possess psychogeographical contours, fixed points and constant currents that, seen from the perspective of Dérive, discourage the participant from entering certain zones through the "back door". My nocturnal wanderings through the deserted streets of Birmingham felt like a performance, like a Dérive. There was an important difference with Debord's concept though, as for me the goal was to make my way back to my hotel. Still, the many construction pits I had to bypass forced me to walk, maze and reroute, and it was as such that I ended up in streets and neighborhoods that I would have never found myself wandering through otherwise. The contours of the city became my (somewhat forceful) guide, and I was keenly aware of the influence that the urban environment was having on my state of mind.
- Verhaeghe, Paul. Identiteit. 10th edition, Amsterdam: de Bezige Bij, 2012.
- Bishop, Clair. Artificial Hells. First edition. London: Verso, 2012.
- Debord, Guy. Theory of Dérive. les Lèvres Nues #9. 1956. Online. Internet. 10 november 2019. Available. https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/theory.html
- Bene, Carmelo. Hermitage 1968. Short Film. Online. Internet. 1the November 2019. Available https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGdfvPZ5ZSg
- Ginianni, Sara. Maquillage as Meditation. Dis-identity, ecstasy and the feminine in -Carmelo Bene’s performance philosophy. Lecture, Introduction Program. If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution, sunday 27th October 2019 .
- Project ID. Residency Program: Performance Site Den Haag 2019 . Thanks to Vest&Page (Verena Stenke and Andrea Pagnes). Marilyn Arsem, Jolanda Jansen.
- Oozing Gloop. The Gloopshow. Fierce festival Birmingham. October 2019.
- Fierce Festival. Birmingham. October 2019.
What is the space between life and death?
What is it like to sit in the waiting room, out of sight of what is going on in the world? Outside, where society crashes forward at breakneck speed.
What if you dropped out a long time ago, now bumbling and stumbling on to your final resting place?
What if the body politic decided you ought to remain in your residential home for as long as possible, regardless of whether you want to or not?
What if you don't have a family to run an errand for you?
Or if your children live on the other side of the world?
What if, after 60 years of sharing love and suffering, you suddenly find yourself on your own?
Does life still make sense then?
What if your cat dies and you're afraid you won't survive a new one? What if you get old when you don't feel like it at all?
What if you end up in the last space of life and hardly anyone sees you?
What if you become a burden to your children and you don't want to be, who will help you then?
What if the healthcare industry doesn't have time for you and the waitlists are endless. What then?
Before I begin my day at work, I read through the reports about our clients on the web. I have been away for a day or 10, so there is a lot to catch up on. In the team report I read that Ger has passed away. I visited him in the nursing home before the start of my holiday and thought then that he actually seemed to be doing reasonably well. I feel surprised and a bit sad because it appears he was already buried and so I wasn’t able to say goodbye. The next day, at the end of my shift, I cycle along the cemetery. The flowers on the grave feel desolate. Bets’ stone has been removed. They lie in there together now, in that grave. After more than 60 years, these two lives that were so intertwined have come to an end.
Ger was married to Bets. Bets was a tonic. She hailed from a strictly reformed background and would always wear beautiful flower dresses in defiance of that tradition. Preferably ending far above the knee. Eventhough she was already in her eighties, they looked great on her. This was much to the annoyance of her family, who deemed this type of clothing wholly inappropriate. She talked all the time and had great stories about the old days. Her childhood on her father's farm. The wooden house on the Blaaksedijk that they had built themselves and where their son Barjo had grown up. Barjo was born with a mental handicap and lived in a home near Rotterdam. In the meantime he had also already reached his 60s.
Bets passed away suddenly last year after a short sickbed. This has been completely unexpectated because she was much younger than Ger. Suddenly he found himself alone with the cat without his sweet Bets. The apartment turned quiet. He didn't know how to turn on the TV and spent most of the day staring at the kitchen table. We visited him twice a day, helped with the washing and dressing. Made breakfast and had a cup of coffee with him. But it was never like it had been before. Never again the babbling Bets with her incredible stories. You could observe the deterioration setting in slowly. He wasn't wearing the fancy pants that Bets bought him anymore, but instead jogging pants, which admittedly were much easier. He was no longer hungry, ate poorly, didn't bother putting his denture in anymore. Behind the door in the bedroom hung Bets' old flower dresses. You must never touch them, you must never take them away.
Less and less remained. He lost weight, was hospitalized several times, but he would crawl back up again every time. Until he didn’t anymore. I was the last one to take care of him before he was taken to the nursing home. One last time I gently shaved his face. By now, I’d come to know every spot and bump that was embedded within the topography of his skin. I showered him, washed his hair, dried him with a thin towel. For the last time I felt his skinny knuckly body, the blue veins, the transparent skin. I put him in a pair of his fancy jeans. His padded slippers, which he always wore. He was weakened then and lay down on the bed. Despite his fragility he looked so proud, with his beautiful hairy head and his expensive shirt. I was there when he was wrapped in cotton blankets by the paramedics on the stretcher and was taken away from his beloved spot.
Later I visited him in the nursing home several times. In that bare room lay some of the things taken from the apartment that he and Bets had lived in during their last few years. On the table stood a picture of a smiling Bets. Yet it retained nothing of the cozy kitchen table where we had all hung on Bets’ lips over cups of coffee. Here, it was quiet. The staff was having lunch in the office, and a plate of food stood on the table. He had gained quite some weight and looked pretty good. His beautiful hair had been cut into a peasant haircut that would have made Bets turn in her grave. He did not have his dentures in and nibbled on the crispy fries with some difficulty. I stayed with him a while. He was quiet as always. After half an hour had passed we said our goodbye and I promised to be back soon.
Sources chapter: The apartment
- Pool, Aard. ed. Eerst buurten dan zorgen, Amsterdam: Boom Lemma Uitgevers, 2011.
- Meininger, Herman. Verhalen verbinden, oratie, Vrije universiteit 2007. Online. Internet. Available https://www.canonsociaalwerk.eu/1891_Heerenloo/Oratie%20Meininger%2022%20 05%202007.pdf
- Takita, Yojiro 2008, Departures, DVD, Quality Film Collection, 2008.
My experiences in elderly and palliative care as a homecare nurse at Buurtzorg Binnenmaas 2 in Maasdam, The Netherlands, 2014-present. Thanks to my dear colleagues
I attach my bike to the lamppost on the quay with a thick chain. A whole row of barges separates me from where I need to be. I am on my way to a client of ours who lives in an ark all the way down the line. He has a catheter in the abdominal wall that we take care of every day and he wears compression stockings that he cannot put on on his own. It's a foggy and drizzling winter day. I board the first ship and walk through the steel gangway to the other side. Without noticing it at first, the bunches of the next ship appear to have become detached. I just about manage to make the jump before the distance between the two ships becomes unbridgeable. Without an engine, I see the first ship behind me silently sliding into the fog. I walk along the open hatches to the other side. As I want to cross to the next ship, the same thing happens. Without being able to observe any human activity, the lines are detached and the two ships move away from each other. Again, I manage to jump into the gangway just in time. This dance repeats several times. I don't know how many jumps I make, but a strange logic arises in which I don't recognize myself at all. Meanwhile panic builds up in me and the suspicion grows that I won’t be reaching my goal like this. I try to keep a cool head and, as stoically as possible, I continue to make my way from one metal wall to the next. I clamber over the decks between the winches, bollards and lines as quick as I can. Some relief sets in when I see our client sitting at breakfast in front of the window of his ark. But then this ark too is about to lift off and, to my great horror, as I prepare to make my jump, I see how the houseboat tilts forward and the foredeck threatens to disappear under water. from the stern of the ark, which gradually comes up, two emergency first-aid helpers emerge, dressed in their showy suits. They are wrapping an elderly gentleman in blankets. In the face of the man with light grey hair I recognize the client towards whom I was heading.
An important source of inspiration for my research into gaps is grounded in Japanese culture. In the nineties, I spent seven months in Japan and afterwards studied the Japanese language for several years. What has always intrigued me is the ease with which it seems to me that people in Japan can switch from what we, with these Western-inflected eyes, may call reality towards another type of world, which we might call the realm of fantasy, spirituality, dreams or memory. Theirs seems to be a reality in which one can naturally flow from one mode into another via in-betweenness without being consciously aware of the move. I think this must stem from Japan’s oldest and primary relgion, Shintōism.
The Japanese girl Chihiro has moved to another city. She is making her way to her new home with her parent. Somewhat sulkingly, she gazes at the Japanese landscape passing by from the backseat of the car. As they approach their new home, Chihiro's father accidentally takes a wrong turn. They pass an old torii leaning against an old tree, small houses perched underneath. Chihiro's mother tells her that that is where the gods live. Chihiro's eyes grow big. Intrigued, she stares after the houses from the driving car. Chihiro's father excelerates the car until he seems to lose control. They tear through the forest and squeakingly come to a halt in front of a narrow dark tunnel, which seems to be part of a large gate. Mom and Dad carelessly enter the tunnel to take a look. Chihiro is skeptical and tries to stop them in vain. Frightened, she follows into the dark while clutching her mother's hand. The tunnel leads to an abandoned theme park. It seems that in the nineties a lot of these parks were built in Japan, which later went bankrupt and are now empty. Her parents set out to explore the park. They pass through an open field filled with dilapidated houses and cross a dry riverbed. To their surprise they find an open foodstall in the nearby village, while the place seems deserted. They start eating greedily from all the delicious stocks in the showcases in front of them. Chihiro refuses to join them and instead begins to carefully explore the area. She finds a large building that serves as a bathhouse. On the bridge in front of the bathhouse she runs into Haku, a young boy, who strongly advises her to leave immediately. Panicked, Chihiro runs back to her parents, who are still gorging on the food and, to her horror, have turned into pigs. Meanwhile the dry riverbed has suddenly filled with water. The road back has become cut off. Darkness settles in and Haku finds Chihiro sobbing at the riverbank. He helps her to survive in a world of wondrous creatures that come to bathe in the bathhouse run by an elderly woman named Yubāba.
This is the opening scene from Spirited Away, the famous animated film by the Japanese animator and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. The film is interspersed with phenomena and views deriving from the Shintō faith. Shintō is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people and their oldest belief system. There are hardly any scriptures, there is no founder, no dogmas and they know no afterlife. The faith assumes that the gods, creation and man originate from the same natural source. Everything forms a great whole and everything is connected with each other. Shintō is an animistic religion, with Japan being the only high-tech country in the world in which an animistic religion plays a vital role in daily life. That Chihiro and her parents enter into the realm of the extraordinary is indicated by the way in which they, at the start of their journey, pass an old torii leaning against a tree surrounded by cottage-like sanctuaries. A torii marks a holy place where the kami live. Kami is a concept not known in the West. It represents a vital energy. Kami manifests themselves within a wide variety of phenomena like the moon, the sun, rivers, mountains, fields, seas, rain and wind, as well as plants and animals, or great persons, heroes or leaders. It is said that there are more than eight million kami, but they may have stopped counting because there were just too many. The sacred place where the kami live, the jinja, has the potential to bring about changes in a person's life. To achieve these changes you must be sensitive to the presence of the kami and have a clear and cheerful conscience (kokoro). This emotional and mental state is not easy to achieve. Chihiro, who during her journey through the realm of Yubāba develops from a sulking girl into a wise teenager that does not shy away from risk and makes decisions of her own, clearly succeeds, while her parents, unscrupulous and unabashedly devouring the food of others, do not reach this stage. Kami can help you achieve this transformation. In order to do so, you must first leave the old state and enter a space in-between before being able to return as someone wholly reshapen. The Japanese title of the film explicitly refers to this space in-between. Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi means ‘Sen and Chihiro hidden by kami’. Kamikakushi refers to an incident in which someone inexplicably disappears for a while. If the person returns remembering that they have been away, they have been taken by the kami. After they return to their reality, Chihiro's parents don't remember a thing, while Chihiro remembers her journey through the kingdom of the kami very well.
At the end of the Second World War a strange incident took place in a mountainous outskirts of Japan. A young teacher took his class of children to the mountains for an outdoor lesson. They went mushroom picking. While they were scurrying around in the forest, an American bomber passed by high above them. The sun reflected on the shiny aluminum of the plane, giving a bright glare high in the blue sky. They watched the plane go, knowing that the bombs would probably not fall in this sparsely populated area. Once they had made their to the slopes of the mountain, one by one the children mysteriously lost their consciousness and remained still, breathing quietly, on the ground.Tthe panicked teacher ran to the village down in the valley. The village doctor grabbed his things and hurried back to the mountain slope with the teacher. In the meantime, some of the children seem to have recovered. Mushroom poisoning is the most obvious cause, but nothing indicates that to be the cse. The doctor speculates it might have been a form of group hypnosis. Gradually, all the children wake up and walk back to the villagein a swampy state. All except for one, a nine-year-old boy from Tokyo who has been staying in the village temporarily so as to escape the American bombardments. He remains unconscious and is transferred that same day to a military hospital near the capital.
It would eventually take three weeks before Nakata regained consciousness. He could not remember anything of his life before the incident took place. While he had always been a very inquisitive intelligent young boy, he was no longer able to read or write for the remainder of his life. Through a small grant from the government and with the help of his brothers, he managed to survive the rest of his life in a neighborhood near downtown Tokyo. He earned some extra cash by tracing missing cats. After the incident, he gained the ability of talking to cats, making it easy to return them to their owners. His shadow has also been cut in half and he is now able to communicate with the kami.
Nakata is one of the two main characters in the book Kafka on the Shore by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Nakata has always stayed with me as someone who lived in between worlds. After his coma, he returns to the tangible world, as it were, from the portal of death. But not quite. He has qualities that normal people don't have and seems to live between these two worlds.
Murakami regards his writing process as a conscious dream: "I can deliberately dream while I'm still awake. I can continue yesterday's dream today, something you wouldn't normally be able to do in everyday life. It's also a way to descend deep into my own consciousness. So although I see it as dreamy, it's not a fantasy." In his books he crosses the line between the conscious and the subconscious. Actually, the boundary blurs and it is no longer quite clear where exactly you find yourself. This too can be traced back to the Shintō notion that everything forms a whole and everything is connected. We cannot see things separately, not even the conscious and subconscious. Since Aristotle we have learned to classify things into categories. In this way we think we understand the world. But if things can not be seen separately from each other, that does not give a realistic view of reality. By pigeonholing things we think to create certainty, but I think that certainty is not there. In the end it is the uncertainty we have to learn to deal with.
According to Murakami, we live between consciousness and subconsciousness. The journey that the other protagonist, fifteen-year-old Kafka, makes is a physical one. In the book he travels from Tokyo to Shikoku in the south, to the library and to the dense forest. The physical journey is a metaphor for the exploration of the self. The writer compares the self with an inner labyrinth, which corresponds to the labyrinth that lies outside us. This inner and external labyrinth are closely connected and occasionally coincide. A few years ago I wrote an essay in which I described a walk through the old centre of the Chinese city of Guangzhou, formerly Canton. I recognize there that the inner and outer world cannot be seen separately from each other, but the boundaries slowly fade away and merge into a wholeness.
"I enter a world that is no longer there, a world of shuffling old lives, of dark corners, of myths and religion. In the subdued, scarcely lit houses I see groups of women, I hear the chattering mahjong stones moving quickly back and forth. I feel the apprehensive glances that follow me. I am entering a world that I don't belong to. A world of stories and strange creatures in cages. I see teeming snakes and wriggling frogs. A woman in cloth slippers strings a pair of living frogs on a stem. I see streets full of dried flowers and herbs. I see dark niches with glowing incense. In the midst of the bustle a girl with thick braids sits writing at an old table. I can't take my eyes off her. I bend in her direction, that writing, those ancient icons. What does that say? She doesn't look up. That image of the girl writing in the middle of the frenzy of the narrow streets of old Canton. It has stayed with me. I have always known how important it was to me. For years I studied the Chinese signs. So many times I wondered what this girl meant to me and somehow, this week, suddenly I knew. Suddenly it was clear as day. That girl, who herself has by now become a young woman and is probably somewhere up high in a skyscraper right now, that girl is me. And the writing, those signs, that's what I want to tell you. That's what my language is. It is a language that I understand, but that you can't read. When I descend into the caverns of old Canton, I descend into my own thoughts, into my own fantasy and imagination. Everything I need as an artist is there. There lies my holy grail".
This little piece of text has become the primary source for my search into gaps-in-between. Why do I prefer to make my art in spaces that remain open? Why don't I want it to be a beginning or an end, but a circular process? Is it because everything is connected? Because it is one big whole, which we have no control over? Is it one big space and is there no space between spaces, but have we just artificially created these separations so we can better grasp a sense of the world? To demarcate everything and think that we know how it is? The world is not located at the end but in the in-between. In the end, our inner world and the outside world form one whole. You cannot separate the physical from the spiritual. Whether I walk through the alleys of Guangzhou or the deserted streets of nocturnal Birmingham, I am actually just walking through my own thoughts, through my inner world. Which is inseparable from what is going on outside.
It's a beautiful winter's day. Behind our house a new nature reserve has recently been created. In the Netherlands there is no original nature anymore, all nature has been created. The polder behind the dike has been transformed into an area for waterbirds and hikers. The land is partly underwater and in between and over it a maze of paths has been created. The path I take runs between the meadows and is lined with a wide border of wild flowers. Because it is still not really cold some of the flowers are still blooming. I can look far between the ponds over the polder to the horizon that is hidden behind the dike near the river. After a while tiny birds start to appear. They form a swarm and land in front of me between the tall flowers. When I approach them, they fly up, swarm around my head, skimming the fields and striking down again a few meters in front of me. I walk on steadily and again they fly up. They are like butterflies really, they way they tumble through the air. This ritual repeats itself several times. It seems as if they want to tell me something, as if they want to show me the way. But to where? I think of the Japanese who believe everything can be a kami. Even these little birds. What do they want to tell me? To show me the way through the network of paths in the polder? Or is it another world they are guiding me towards? My inner world? Do they plunge into my thoughts to tell me who I really am and what I am doing here on this earth?
Miyazaki, Hayao. Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi). animation film 2001. Studio Ghibli Japan. DVD. Cinema de Luxe
- Murakami, Haruki. Kafka op het strand. 27ste edition. Dutch translation. Amsterdam: Atlas Contact, 2006.
- Boyd, James W. Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki's Anime Film "Spirited Away". Journal of Religion & Film volume 8 article 4. 2004, Colorado State University, USA
- Ugoretz, Kaitlyn M. Drawing on Shintō?: Interpretations of the Religious and Spiritual in Miyazaki’s Anime 2018. Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies University of California. Santa Barbara . USA. Online. Internet. Available https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331310408_Drawing_on_Shinto_Interpretations_of_ the_Religious_and_Spiritual_in_Miyazaki's_Anime
- Updike, John. Subconscious Tunnels, Haruki Murakamiʼs dreamlike new novel. New York Times 2005. USA. Online. Internet. Available https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/01/24/subconscious-tunnels
- D., John. Online. Internet article. Available https://www.greenshinto.com/wp/2014/12/11/miyazakis-shinto-themes/
- Meads, Joy. Steppenwolf. Online. Internet article, Available https://www.steppenwolf.org/articles/into-the-labyrinth-the-dream-logic-of-kafka-on-the-shore/
- Bockting, Berend Jan, Tijdreizen in je achtertuin, Volkskrant Article. 2019.
Slowly the city rises and descends. Like a sleeping body, half in and half out of the water. Twice a day, along the position of the moon. Like a defeated animal, this beautiful city succumbs under the weight of time. Mass tourism, climate change. Through the streets flow people, like corpuscles through the bloodstream. They clot along the walls and clog the vessels. Boats sail back and forth through the canals. Souls to be found all over. The one square even more beautiful than the next. Churches everywhere. We light candles. We stay still, we move on. We meet and we say goodbye again. The palazzo, the old hall with huge chandeliers. We dance, we caress, we feel, we smell, we taste, we breathe each other's breath. Slowly we merge into one organism. In the middle, Marianna dances. Like a fleeting angel she sways between us. She forms the beating heart. Her movements. I watch her movements. So supple, so natural. She’s the real thing, nothing played or made up about her, her being wholly breathing movement, her thoughts, her body, the way her arms swing through space. Everything is right. On the outside as well as on the inside. We continue. One moment more intense than the next, but never silence, never rest. Continuous movement. Life never halts. Every move brings a different feeling. Your emotions adapt to the movement and vice versa. You don't determine what it is that you do, it is the connection between body and mind. Your body is not yours. Everything is controlled via your spirit. You don't think, things just happen naturally. Your body moves by itself. The body tells you what to do.
You're so beautiful
Your sculpted body
You fill the whole room
You don't have to do much purely to walk
If you come in you fill up the whole palazzo
You always know where you want to go
And never with an ego, never
What you're doing is so beautiful
I'll keep looking
There's the two of us, one with eyes closed, one with eyes open. We're in the middle of the space. The others have also paired up. I've closed my eyes. I stand up straight and keep my body relaxed. As she moves around me I feel the warmth of her body. She inhales, her breath gently blowing by my ears, by my chest and in my neck. She touches me. It is so intimate and fragile. Slowly she grabs my arms and starts to move my body. Like a puppet. I follow her feelings. It's very thoughtful. I notice when she doubts. Slowly we dance through space. I follow unconditionally, a few steps in one direction, a few steps in the other. We halt, she forms my hands into a bowl shape, as if I were carrying a precious object in my hands. All around me I hear the shuffling of the others. Some are moving to get things from the dressing room. She too leaves me a moment. I keep my eyes closed. It feels nice, familiar. When she returns, she carefully places a bundle of hair in my hands. It’s soft and warm, very personal. I know this means a lot to her. I know it took her years to collect it. It's a farewell ritual. After a while I am allowed to open my eyes again. I can see emotion in her face. And now, the roles are reversed. I smell, I breathe, I feel, I lead. Carefully I touch her. It's less emotional for me. I often touch death, and I often think about my funeral. Wat would it be like? What music do I want? What kind of final resting place do I want? Death is part of life and inevitable. Every day I see people looking death in the eye. I see the resignation, I see the struggle. I see the acceptance of the end. I stay at a distance, but I stay close. I help where necessary, but I realise that I am just one link in the chain. And now I may do it myself, my own funeral ritual. It doesn't feel strange, like I've done it before. I get a roll of jute rope and some paper. I let her sit down and wrap the rope around her. Every few inches I tie a piece of paper to the rope. This creates a chain with white flakes of paper. It reminds me of birds. Little birds flying with me. They swarm around me. That's how I want to be buried. Surrounded by a swarm of small birds that frolic around me like butterflies and guide me to another life.
We are divided into groups of five. In turns we have to "do nothing" for ten minutes. The others observe and write down the associations they get when watching the one who does "nothing". With all the keywords we collect we then do a performance. I stand still for ten minutes and stare at a spot on the wall. Another is spinning circles with his index finger on the floor. Another one lies comfortably on the floor. After an hour we have a series of keywords from which we make a text that is the starting point of our performance. From our associations emerges a text about the holocaust. This is mainly because of me. One of the other participants is German and during the exercise, she associated me with a concentration camp. I don't really see that connection, but you never know what you conjure up in people. That's a good lesson. I've never felt the need to do a performance naked. I feel that there should contextually be a good reason to do so. But this time I felt that urgency. It turned out afterwards that for me, doing a nude performance isn’t so hard, since you don't see it yourself. Some students and teachers feel that performing naked has become outdated. We did all that in the seventies and eighties, so now it's no longer necessary. It won’t add anything new. And that's strange in a country like the Netherlands, where we were once known for our free morals. What's more, the museums are full of paintings and sculptures, especially of naked women. So now it wouldn't be relevant anymore? I don't see that. A vulnerable person is naked, has no protection and apparently that is what I felt in that moment. With healthy nerves we approach the floor. The German vocalizes the text with strong emotion. She tells the story of her grandfather, who was a Nazi. She speaks directly to me. Very threatening actually. I take a step back. I feel a hostile atmosphere. I keep standing up straight and sense that I can handle her. She's much more vulnerable than I am. It’s her and her past. Not mine. I don't have a Nazi grandfather. My mother's stepfather was shot by the Germans on the day of the liberation. She's getting closer. It's a very intense moment. She feels I'm stronger and won't let her intimidate me. And then she spits at me. She spits on my naked body. This is my first time naked on the floor and here she is, spitting on me. I don't blame her, but this is too far. I turn away and slowly remove myself from her. I don't look back. It doesn't bother me much, but I don't want to react.
(This incident took place during a performance workshop Dissenting Bodies Marking Time, a project of the Venice International Performance Art Week. A fierce discussion ensued during the follow-up discussion. It is understandable that this happens in the heat of battle. Although I didn't see it as a personal attack, it didn't feel right. Andrea, one of the escorts disapproved, he himself called it an assault, unless it had been agreed beforehand and it wasn't now. Most of the group agreed. A few people thought it should be possible and were very firm about it.)
The room is cold and not big. The walls are white, through the cracks between the centuries- old roof beams the winter cold flows in. In front of me, a small stove is glowing. The gleam spreads an orange-coloured light. In the middle is a shot that divides the room into two parts. The other half is still empty. I have to fill the whole room on my own. I'm naked and all I have is a piece of soap. I feel vulnerable. It's about people being alone. Who don’t have a network. Unable to organize care for themselves. Like having soap, but no water. There are so many elderly people who live alone and are lonely. Who don't have enough help. Not able or willing to meet the basic need to wash yourself. Something as simple as that in a rich country like the Netherlands. And it only gets worse, as more and more people become elderly, with not enough people to help them. I can feel the space I'm taking up. It's no ordinary space. It's something else. It's a dimension you don't encounter in ordinary life. I can hear people coming in. They sit down on the bench. It's like going back to your childhood, all on intuition. Nothing's planned. It's a void. A void where you don't think about what you're doing, but you're aware of everything around you. All my senses are open. I hear the feet shuffle. I hear the cameras clicking. That void is the freedom to no longer think about what you're doing, but just let it happen.
I'm going to see Tess. She's in one of the rooms next to me. She's completely overflowing with food. It smells sour and reeks horribly. I'm walking barefoot through the spaghetti. Slowly I start washing her with my soap. Tess, she's such a beautiful person. So vulnerable too. We wipe each other down with tissues. It's very intimate. Tess with her big heavy body and me over thirty years older and 50 kilos lighter. On the Inside, iit feels good. It's not just about what you do on, it has to be right on the inside. I already know Tess from a workshop in The Hague. We can sense each other well. We both work in elder care, which creates a strong bond.
As I read this, the question arises, why am I doing this? Why do I want this? I don't actually know. But the people you meet are so beautiful. The diversity, from all over the world, from all kinds of sexual orientations, from all kinds of cultures and colours, a niche world called performance art. An in-between world. It's just a small club and only for a limited audience. In our rationalistic Mondrian-loving country, that’s not often understood. Everything has to be explained and analyzed. It doesn't have to be like that in here. But what is it? Are they rituals? Are we looking for rituals for the future? Is this just for ourselves? You don't have to explain in here. Here, intuition is key. Here your body tells you what to do. Here your body follows your emotions and your emotions follow your body. The smallest change affects your inner landscape. Through that landscape your own path meanders.
Sources: The palazzo
• Oida, Yoshi, ed. The Invisible Actor. London: Methuan, 1997.
• CO-CREATION LIFE FACTORY Dissenting Bodies Marking Time, a project of the Venice International Performance Art Week January 2020. Thanks to Vest&Page ( Verena Stenke and Andrea Pagnes), Marianna Andrigo and Aldo Alliprandi, Guillermo Gómez-Peña
THE EMPTY SPACE
In the previous chapters I explored various 'gaps' that are important for me and for my development as an artist. As I have already indicated in the reading guide, I have been quite intuitive so far. Writing is very natural for me and I have let the words do the work. This was a conscious choice, I am not distracted by thinking about the end result, but can move freely during my search. In this chapter I look for the mutual connections between these different 'spaces' and the relationship with performance art.
Until 1966 the English artist Stuart Brisley, one of the pioneers in performance art, had mainly focused on making objects in the form of sculptures. By that time he had reached a point in his career where he felt he wanted to take things a step further. The material had, as it were, already drawn its own conclusions. It had done its job. His most important artistic expression became performance art. His new material became the process itself. He no longer had to make an object. That was a great relief for him. Performance art also gave him the opportunity to enter into a direct relationship with the audience. Previously the public only saw the work of the artist, the product. But in a performance you see the product and the production at the same time. He had now freed himself from the object and with it all the hassle it entailed. He regained, as it were, access to his own art, independent of art critics, gallery owners and dealers.
I feel this liberation from the object in the same way. A certain distance emerges for me when the sculpture, drawing, or painting is finished. You place it in a space and that's it. It feels impersonal. It’s different with performance art. You create the work in the moment while you’re in direct contact with the audience. The work lives on in the thoughts of the spectators and in the stories they’ll recount afterwards.
In the summer of 2019 I attended a performance workshop in The Hague. During the final presentation I worked together with my friend Oozy, a drag queen from the UK. In chapter one I wrote the following about this:
Suddenly I also knew what performance art meant to me. From a deep concentration you step into another world. You create a space between the usual spaces, for me it's not acting but a very conscious presence in the moment. During my performances I create my personal space in between........We took things from each other and let things go and so a different world came into being.
Only after I had written this passage I started investigating this in-between space. What kind of space is that and how does it relate to the viewer?
During my research I came across two giants from the theatre world that are interesting to me: the English theatre maker Peter Brook and the Japanese actor and director Yoshi Oida.
Peter Brook writes about empty space in his book The Empty Space. According to Brook, you create an empty space on stage. To him, empty space is not a means but an end. He sees two movements: one outward and one inward. You show an image to the outside world, but there is also an inward movement. A movement that creates an inner space. He calls this inner space the empty space. This empty space makes it possible to penetrate to the inner space of the viewer. This way you affect the spectator. According to Brook, this inner emptiness is necessary to touch the audience. The Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic describes something similar with regard to performance art. She speaks of creating a charismatic space.
"Slow down with your body and mind. You have to create your own charismatic space. Empty yourself. Be able to be in a present time. Put your mind in here and now and there will be a direct energy between the public and the performer."
According to Japanese actor Yoshi Oida, the audience is looking for something outside the reality of everyday life. He consider it the performer's task to bring the audience into another time and space. Like the driver of a car, transporting the spectators to an extraordinary place. To achieve this, the actor has to become invisible as it were. He creates a 'nothing'. This nothingness is for him the freedom to no longer think about your preoccupations and determinations. The performance just happens. The highest level achievable is the level of babyhood: nothing is planned or consciously constructed, the thoughts and feelings that arise are vivid and clear.
According to Brook, a musician works with material that nears the invisible as much as physically possible for us human beings. Only a naked actor can resemble a pure instrument like the violin, and even then, only if their physicality meets hyper-classic normative standards.
The space described by these three artists closely relates to my own experiences. You enter another world. A world outside reality. An empty world, where everything is open. It's not so much about what you do, but how you do it. It's the space itself that matters. Afterwards, I often notice from the reactions of the spectators that they experienced something similar. I created another world that touched them. This is when I know my performance has been a success. It’s when I have successfully entered the inner space of the spectator.
But how does this empty space relate to the other spaces I have described in the above: the space between life and death, the deserted streets of Birmingham at night, the bathhouse in Spirited Away that strips away all prejudices and preconceptions, and Nakata who lives halfway into the realm of the dead, between the conscious and the unconscious. What does all that have to do with it?
Peter Brook calls the empty space a zone that isn't filled with concepts and images. A space without preconceptions and expectations. In an interview in de Volkskrant he describes it as follows:
“I can just take an empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks through an empty space while someone else is looking at him and that's all there really is to it. Well-done performing art is like life itself, but with all of the limpy bits cut out. Something like that has to be done very slowly, you have to learn to leave out all the superfluous, you don't start in an empty space, you end there.
If I see life itself as a performance. You end up in an empty space. Slowly life is stripped of all superfluity. It is only the core that remains, which is empty and full of uncertainty but also open to the unexpected. Maybe that's what I'm looking for. For spaces where nothing is certain. This is also how I see the last months of Ger's life without his Bets in the empty apartment. Life had been dismantled and what remained was only the uncertainty about what was to come.
In the first year of my studies I gave a presentation about the South African filmmaker and artist William Kentridge. He calls uncertainty one of the most essential categories in life. When someone is sure of himself, you can already hear it in his voice. He speaks louder, more authoritarian and is prepared to defend that certainty. There is despair in this certainty. Political and philosophical uncertainty, uncertainty of images, these affects are much closer to the ways of the world than certainty is. Things that are initially very clear can take on a totally different meaning in a different context. For him, working without a storyboard or script when making his animated films symbolizes how the worlds works and how we can come to understand that. This is also how I see my art. The uncertainty of performance art, of working in the moment itself, symbolizes life itself. If it is uncertainty that lies at the heart of my art, then the connection to my nocturnal walks through Birmingham becomes pretty obvious.
That city by night. The many walks through the desolate deserted streets. Closed sheds, lonely dark figures in dark corners, no one else to be seen, no traffic on the streets. I found myself in a vacuum of the city, as if I had walked into a fantastical world without realizing it. That loneliness, that tension, that world into which only a few venture. That emptiness, which still offers all possibilities for fulfilment, where nobody knows I am there and nobody tells me what to do. An unconditional freedom in the dead of night. That is where I seek my art, not in what we know, but in what we do not know, where we are free to see and feel what we see and feel. No bias, but a void, a space in between with endless possibilities.
I find it remarkable that I wrote this before studying the books by Peter Brook and Yoshi Oida. Some passages say almost literally what they say about the empty space in the theatre.
Empty space also plays a prominent role in Murakami’s books. Nakata, one of the main characters in the book Kafka on the Shore, represents that empty space himself. Because of what he experienced in his youth (the incident in the mountains after which he was in a coma for a few weeks), he lives, as it were, between life and death. He is that emptiness. His life has been dismantled. He has half a shadow, can't read, can't write, can't remember anything and has no prejudices. He is uninhibited like a baby. He can only find his way in his own neighborhood in Tokyo, but as soon as he steps outside he gets lost. On the other hand, he partly lives in another world. He can talk to cats and communicate with kami. He is, as it were, the means of transport from one world to another. Murakami often uses an empty space to bridge the transition between the realistic and the unrealistic. In Kafka on the Shore Nakata, among others, represents this empty space. In his book The Wind Up Bird Chronicles, it is an empty pit through which the transition takes place. Murakami’s themes often revolve around transition between the conscious and the unconscious. I myself do not seek out the unconscious during my performances. On the contrary, I am much more aware of what is happening around me. All senses are open and that brings me to another dimension. By being very consciously present in space and in the here and now I can detach myself from reality, from prejudice, bias and from the result. I have to consciously rid myself of all superfluous things in order to enter that emptiness.
Can I now conclude that what I call an in-between space is actually an empty space? According to Oida, the nothingness of empty space is a means of transport that takes the spectators to an extraordinary place. A place they cannot reach in the reality of everyday life. The in-between space as a means of transport to take you from one place to another. Whether it is the empty space of Peter Brook, the bathhouse in Spirited Away, the deserted streets of Birmingham, the emptiness that arises as life approaches its end or the charismatic space that Abramovic creates in her performances, it takes us to another world. An open but uncertain world.
Sources: The Empty Space
- Brook, Peter. De lege ruimte. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij International Theatre & Film Books, 2007.
- Oida, Yoshi, ed. The Invisible Actor. London: Methuan, 1997.
- Kentridge, William. How we make Sense of the World, Lousiana Channel 2014. Online. Internet. Available https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G11wOmxoJ6U
- Abramovic, Marina. The Artist is Present. Dogwoof DVD. 2012
Embrechts, Annette. Bijna 93, maar onvermoeibaar: de negen hoogtepunten van theaterregisseur Peter Brook. Volkskrant article. 14th March 2018
- Battcock, Gregory, ed. The Art of Performance, A Critical Anthology. First edition. New York: E.P. Dutton Inc., 1984: ix-xi