interview Boogaerdt/Vandersloot

‘We propose to reconsider the way
in which our civilisation once emerged’.

by Evelien Lindeboom

Fremdkörper by performance duo Suzan Boogaerdt and Bianca van der Schoot can be visited during the Holland Festival in two ways: as a theatre piece and as an installation. With their work, they offer the audience the opportunity to take an inward journey: ‘It takes a lot of imagination at this moment to recognise we are all part of the same thing’. 

What inspired you to make Fremdkörper?
‘Already during the first lockdown, I (Bianca) found myself turning my attention inward quite a bit. I know not everyone had the opportunity to do the same, but for me it was a time of rest and reflection. I also had these vivid dreams, which made me take a course in dreaming. Among other things, it went into lucid dreaming, a form of dreaming in which you are aware of yourself as the dreamer of your dream.

These are things we explore more often: the question of where, exactly, someone’s consciousness resides. But also, for example, what the difference is between me and the version of me that you see on your screen. We are interested in these transitional zones where dream and reality overlap, as well as the question of where the control of our body and our thoughts resides. If you become familiar with these transitional zones, you can gain a better understanding of the nature of reality.

From here, we came upon a sleep temple ritual of the ancient Greeks. Even before Plato’s time, in that of Parmenides and Pythagoras about five hundred years B.C., it was a common practice for philosophers to plumb their subconscious for wisdom while they slept under the guidance of priests. The visions they dug up were seen as the foundation of their society. You could say that the foundations of all science in Western civilization originate there: in the underworld of the collective unconscious’. 

And how did you integrate these ideas?
‘We made a dormitory, inspired by these sleep temples of the ancient Greeks. It has thirty beds with breathing puppets that resemble sleeping people. It really feels like finding yourself in a shelter or field hospital. The sleepers are all different, each one is surrounded with personal belongings, and each bed has a guide. During the ceremonies, visitors sit in a kind of biotope by a bed. The sleepers share their dream visions with the audience’. 

What does the title Fremdkörper mean?
‘The word ties in with our work. It means ‘intruder’ or ‘foreign entity’. We started out as mime players, and we are always exploring corporality and the control and consciousness of the body. But the virus could be seen as an intruder as well, of our body and our society’. 

Why are there only white men lying on the beds?
‘We thought it was a good way to, as it were, say goodbye to the power of white men, to part with the patriarchy. The men access a place with different laws, where images speak, where the subconscious is contacted through intuition: the nightly territory which in our society is more often seen as the domain of women. 

We propose to re-examine the way in which our civilisation once emerged. By re-using these ancient rituals for creating a new form of existence in which we put the earth at the centre once again. In this way, the dying process of the patriarchy forms an opening, a kind of gateway to other dimensions and new life forms. We use this process to gain information for all humanity in a far larger system. You can hear these men as if they are talking in their sleep, or as if they are transmitting information from a different reality to ours’. 

Where do their words come from? These are probably not your typical white male truisms. 
‘No, correct. The texts are about all kinds of things that might help humankind create a different, more beneficial reality. For example, some of the texts come from hypnotherapy sessions that are shared online in which people speak from a different, more expansive consciousness. They view the earth with a fresh set of eyes and, for example, conclude that humans are insufficiently using their potential. That we are insufficiently aware of the greater whole. That everything is interconnected. But there are also lighter, poetic observations, like that humans can follow the example of dolphins. 

The interconnection of humans throughout the world is of course rather evident at the moment due to corona: everyone can infect other people, but it also reflects the connection of humans with the planet, the interconnection of the system as a whole. The pandemic is a direct consequence of how we have treated the earth. We cannot see the earth as separate from how we are ourselves. We are a part of nature and need to actively protect it’. 

Unlike your previous work, Fremdkörper is quite subdued.
‘We are constantly making conceptual choices in our work and then sticking with those for quite some time. Consequently, audiences might after a while think: “Alright, I get it already...” But only then does it get really interesting. Previously, we made a series of statements that were quite explicit. For example, the piece Bimbo was about the pornification of the female body. The audience was given the choice to keep looking at a screen or to turn around and see where the piece on the screen was really taking place live. 

We always invite people to do some soul searching, for example about how they deal with a situation. We are doing that again now, just in a more subdued way with proposals rather than statements. Now, this conceptual choice is directed inward more. The mood is more meditative. In this case, we invite the audience to slow down and take pause’. 

The sleepers and their guides are puppets. You often work with masks and now puppets. Why is that? 
‘By having an actor or performer wear a mask or by replacing them with a puppet, this person becomes a kind of projection screen. The audience is not distracted by good or bad acting, for example, or by the actor’s identity. We find we relate differently ourselves to, say, a tree than to a human being. A puppet is more likely to make you look inside yourself’. 

Is that the point, to look inside yourself?
‘Yes. The sleepers in Fremdkörper are in a transitional zone between conscious and unconscious that is a bit like meditation. In Zen meditation, essentially, the transition from life to death is practiced. It is a state of being called ‘bardo’, which comes from Tibetan Buddhism. By confronting the audience with these breathing bodies in an altered state, we invite people to look inside themselves as well. This is not something you can just ask of someone. You cannot push silence on people. Most people never learned the skills for this, so it is quite possible our work meets with some resistance. On Oerol, we made the piece Spectaculaire voorstelling (‘Spectacular Performance’). For a whole hour, the audience could see how a set of bleachers was built up - the exact same bleachers they were sitting in. This made lots of people very angry. But this is never our intention. We seek out this resistance in order to discover a different territory beyond this resistance, not to make people angry. We find this process, the space in between one feeling and the other, more interesting than just to present a final stage. Because this is where life takes place’. 

What is it that happens then, beyond this resistance?
‘Beyond this resistance, an experience gets more depth. We do understand this resistance. It is similar to the resistance to the isolation that corona brings. You want to feel part of a whole, especially now. While, if you yield to the seclusion and go beyond this resistance, there is tenderness. And it is this that connects us with others. The only way out is in - it is by looking inside yourself that you see everyone is the same. This realisation is what the world needs so much right now. But it takes a lot of imagination at this moment to recognise we are all part of the same thing. So we try to provide vehicles for this. We always try to find a balance between submersing people in a total experience and having them figure things out for themselves. When people sit beside one of those beds and are left to themselves, they will see other people sitting beside other beds just like them. A bit like during a lesson in yoga or meditation, when you can feel connected with all those other people going on an inward journey as well’. 

The audience can visit Fremdkörper not just as a theatre piece, but also as an installation. Why is that? 
‘In this way, we create two different ways in which you can experience the work. In the theatre, the audience shares a collective experience with others. The focus is highly directed, because everyone is directing their attention more or less on the same thing simultaneously. With an installation, people choose for themselves what they focus their attention on and for how long, just like when they visit a museum. Visitors are more or less thrown back on themselves. As a result, there is more space and freedom to make personal connections. By the way, it is entirely possible to visit Fremdkörper in both forms of presentation. We will make sure the experiences are quite distinct’. 

Fremdkörper, 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13 June - Het HEM

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