Desert islands are places of infinite possibilities. In a refined way the French director Philippe Quesne takes his audience along in an aeroplane and crashes it on a desert island. Quesne is known for his visual and slightly absurdistic performances in which he minutely studies humans and their peculiar behaviour. In this wordless performance he investigates people’s utopian thinking, taking inspiration from numerous myths and stories, from Homer’s Odyssey and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to classic and modern epic films. Do we sit and watch while the catastrophe unfolds? Is it too late? Or will we be inspired to imagine a better world?
In Crash Park – la vie d’une île, the director, artist and production designer Philippe Quesne designs a seemingly idyllic island complete with palm trees and an unusual animal population. This peaceful
environment is soon turned upside down by the arrival of a number of survivors of a plane crash. When these emerge from the wreckage, they are faced with the bizarre bestiary of the deserted island. Does the island stand for the end of the world, a disaster area where everything falls apart, or is it a new beginning, a place that offers infinite possibilities? This situation has been a source of inspiration for writer and artists for centuries, Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe being the most famous example of the genre. With Crash Park, Philippe Quesne has created his own variation on the ‘robinsonade’.
As a child Quesne collected insects that he studied in a terrarium; at some level this is what he continues to do in his work. As a theatre maker he designs extraordinary theatrical ecosystems, then places his characters inside them and sees what happens in these closed-off environments. In La Mélancolie des Dragons (2008), for example, a long-haired group of rockers is stranded in the snow in an old hatchback. There, on a diet of beer and crisps, they bring their dream to life: their own version of a theme park as a critique on consumer society. In Swamp Club, which Quesne staged to celebrate ten years of his Studio Vivarium in 2013, the vivarium is literally present on the stage as a life-sized glass building – a beleaguered arts centre in the middle of the swamp. This centre must organise its defence with the help of a huge mole that the artists encounter in a cave. In a production from 2016, La nuit des taupes (‘The night of the moles’) the arts centre, threatened with closure, has gone underground in a space that is a combination of a prehistoric settlement, Plato’s cave and a nuclear shelter. Since then, La nuit des taupes has resulted in a number of spin-offs including a cave serving as a festival centre at Kunstenfestivaldesarts and a parade of moles through different cities. Quesne uses his theatre productions as a kind of artistic refuge where dreams stimulate us to reflect on what our own world should look like – be it in the swamp, the cave or, as in Crash Park, on the island.
Crash Park starts as a parody of the classic disaster movie. Plane passengers eat, sleep and read to pass the time, unaware of the impending danger. While one reads Bruno Latour’s political essay Where to land?, another tries find a comfortable sleeping position for his lanky body in a cramped seat. Quesne’s universe is full of hilarious yet meaningful details. Then the music swells and the plane crashes. The survivors reach the island, where they are greeted by a couple of moles, as almost all of Quesne's productions contain references to earlier works. In Crash Park Quesne asks what comes after catastrophe, the end of organised and accepted reason. With his unbridled imagination and fantasy Quesne conjures up a new world where you can shelter under each other’s banana leaf and collectively transform a dangerous octopus into tapas.
Philippe Quesne (1970) attended art school in Paris before working as a production designer in the theatre and opera for ten years. In 2003 he founded Vivarium Studio, a laboratory for theatrical
innovation where actors, visual artists and musicians come together. Here he creates productions that truly form their own biotope, allowing him to dissect the human microcosm, often with a gently ironic touch.
After La Démangeaison des ailes (2003) Quesne created works including Des expériences (2004), D’après nature (2006), L’Effet de Serge (2007) – winning him an Obie Award at the Under the Radar Festival in New York - La Mélancolie des dragons (2008), Big Bang (2010) and Swamp Club (2013). That same year Philippe Quesne also made Anamorphosis together with four Japanese actresses at the Komaba Agora Theater in Tokyo. Next Day was a production he made with a group of children in 2014 at the CAMPO arts centre in Ghent. Quesne has exhibited his installations at various expositions and also designs performances and interventions for public spaces. Since 2014, Philippe Quesne has been co-director of the Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers, Centre Dramatique National. In 2016 he created Caspar Western Friedrich at the Münchner Kammerspiele and was guest of honour at the Brussels Kunstenfestivaldesarts with La Nuit de taupes (Welcome to Caveland!). In 2018 he directed his first opera, Usher, which premiered at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, for which he also created the stage design. This year Quesne is also responsible for the artistic direction of the 2019 Prague Quadriennale. This performance of Crash Park, La vie d’une île marks Quesne’s debut at the Holland Festival.
- conception, direction and set design
- Philippe Quesne
- Isabelle Angotti, Jean-Charles Dumay, Léo Gobin, Yuika Hokama, Sébastien Jacobs, Thomas Suire, Thérèse Songue, Gaëtan Vourc'h
- François-Xavier Rouyer
- animals costumes
- Corine Petitpierre
- original soundtrack
- Pierre Desprats
- musical excerpts
- Shea & Jasha Klebe, Pan Sonic, Frank Martin, Riz Ortolani, Claude Debussy, Daniel Johnston, Chopin, Delinquent Habit, Frank Sinatra
- Thomas Laigle, Michaël Nodin
- Samuel Gutman
- stage manager
- Marc Chevillon
- César Vayssié
- stage technician
- Joachim Fosset
- assisting camera
- Małgorzata Rabczuk
- Pauline Jakobiak
- film extras
- Rodolphe Auté, Marc Chevillon, Yvan Clédat, Cyril Gomez-Mathieu, Erwan Ha Kyoon Larcher, Pauline Jakobiak, Thomas Laigle, Nicole Mersey, Mickaël Nodin, Sandra Orain, Perle Palombe, Martine Servain, Emilien Tessier, Carole Zacharewicz
- dramaturgic collaboration
- Camille Louis
- set and props
- Ateliers Nanterre-Amandiers (Élodie Dauguet, Marie Maresca, Yvan Assael, Jérôme Chrétien)
- with support from
- the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès program “New Settings”
- Théâtre National de Bretagne (Rennes), HAU (Berlin), Munchner Kammerspiele (Munich), Onassis Cultural Centre (Athènes)