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Using several stage sets but no actors, scenographer Jozef Wouters will explore the possibilities and limitations of a conventional theatre setting. He asked an eclectic group of creators – ranging from theatre makers and choreographers to writers and visual artists – what kinds of spaces audiences should be able to encounter in today’s theatre. In addition to painted backdrops (‘infinis’), contemporary media also help to conjure concrete, virtual and imaginary spaces in the theatre: the coast of Lesbos, negative space, a city skyline seen from inside a game, an endless forest of palm trees... INFINI 1-16 shows all of these spaces in sequence, with the theatrical machinery running at full speed and subverting our perspective over and over again. This show fires the collective imagination with spatial experimentation, radical illusion and boundless magic.
In its form, INFINI 1-16 is absolutely without precedent: using only stage sets and no actors, it delivers a dramatic experience that will get imaginations running wild.
For over three hours, we travel from border checkpoints in Poland to underground tunnels in Palestine, from the coast of Lesbos sitting with the washed-up scraps of a tiny boat to an Arizona desert. We see the view of a city skyline from inside a video game, and hear a Skype conversation between two displaced people.
The term ‘stage sets’ evokes traditional spaces where the audience is not present at the moment. As preparation for INFINI 1-16, Jozef Wouters asked himself what the relevant spaces for a stage set are today. In an age when theatres and arts centres are scurrying to take down walls and other barriers and to take their work outdoors, Wouters turned the question around. If there is a space in the city where you can shut out the world and show something different, in silence, in the dark, with the space determining the sightlines from hall to stage – then that building must not be broken open, but actually embraced as a medium.
Wouters gathered a mixed group of builders, thinkers, former seamen and a retired landscape painter around him. Together they asked artists and writers about the landscape they would like to see depicted in the theatre today. This resulted in a series of infinis, contemporary interpretations of the painted backdrops of the past, which were mechanically raised and lowered to give depth to staged scenes. In INFINI 1-16 contemporary media have been added to these traditional backdrops in order to bring concrete, virtual and imaginary spaces into the theatre.
One core source of inspiration for INFINI 1-16 is the work of the eighteenth-century French scenographer Giovanni Niccolò Servandoni, who made ‘spectacles de machines’ in Paris, performances consisting solely of animated sets. In 1738, one of these spectacles was a copy of St Peter’s Basilica; Servandoni wanted people to be able to see this pinnacle of architecture even if they could not afford to travel to Rome.
The participating artists were given one restriction: they had to build a bridge between ‘the here’ and another place. They had to ponder the question of what sets the theatre needs in this age of hypermobility, migration and displacement. Their imaginative answers make INFINI 1-16 a well-considered reflection on the theatre, as well as an exploration of the act of looking itself, of the central perspective of the classical theatre in an age in which everyone is looking through a different lens. At the same time INFINI 1-16 is a model of collaboration, the cooperative spirit of a generation of theatre makers no longer living off their own egos but are elevating collaborative creation to a new credo. Instead of a single perspective, the result is a kaleidoscopic look at the world: a performance as a matchless gesture.
Decoratelier is a constantly evolving long-term project by scenographer and artist Jozef Wouters. Located in a former factory in Molenbeek (Belgium), Decoratelier has functioned as an
artists’ workspace that is accessible for theatrical productions, interdisciplinary collaborations and social experimentation since 2016. The technical side of Decoratelier is directed by Menno Vandevelde.
‘Decoratelier is a place that houses the various forms of collaboration and labour that are peculiar to our work. Space is tried out, conversations take place in wood, iron and cardboard. It’s a permanent place for searching while building, for the continually changing spaces in which artists, thinkers and craftspeople can encounter each other.’ (Jozef Wouters)
In 2016, Decoratelier’s INFINI 1-15 was first shown in the main hall of the Brussels Royal Theatre, and in 2017 the production was selected for the Flemish Theatre Festival. Decoratelier helped to produce Underneath Which Rivers Flow (2019), in collaboration with Open Kunstenhuis Globe Aroma. Decoratelier worked with a group of newcomers to build this project, a secret garden full of wormholes leading to unimagined worlds, selected for Belgium’s Kunstenfestivaldesarts and TheaterFestival in 2019.
The Flemish newspaper De Standaard called the production ‘as of now, the best of Wouters’ deeply political, ecological and social engagement. His ability to transform spaces, and thereby the people who populate them, is exceptional.’ Later that year the Decoratelier production The Soft Layer had its premiere at the Dream City festival in Tunis.
Decoratelier maintains an enduring artistic collaboration with Jeroen Peeters, a dramaturge who was involved with creating both INFINI 1-15 and Underneath Which Rivers Flow, as well as other projects.
Since 2017 Decoratelier has been a structural element of the Damaged Goods company. As an autonomous artist in residence, Jozef Wouters has set up various projects there for five years, using Decoratelier as a home base.
Thomas Bellinck (1983) is a theatre maker, filmmaker and artist. He has created several documentary performances, often with various types of systemic violence as their subject, and has worked on a series of performances and installations about the ‘Western migration machine’.
I N F I N I #7: S I M P L E A S A B C #1 (10 min)
Benny Claessens (1981) is an actor and director. From 2010 to 2015 he was part of the Münchner Kammerspiele; earlier this year, his Am Königsweg, a prize-winner at the Berliner Festspiele, was performed in the Internationaal Theater Amsterdam.
I N F I N I #15 (2 min)
Wim Cuyvers (1958) is a speleologist, architect and forest ranger. Since 2005 he has devoted his energies to Montavoix, his ‘domain’ in the Jura Mountains in France, a refuge for people in need, where the focus is wholly on undermining social relationships in the public space.
I N F I N I #8 (20 min)
Begüm Erciyas (1982) is a choreographer and dancer, and a member of the international artists’ platform Sweet and Tender. In her performances she uses the power of the voice, and the act of speaking. Her Voicing Pieces was selected by the Flemish Theatre Festival as one of its outstanding works in 2018.
I N F I N I #10 (7 min)
Bryana Fritz (1989) is a choreographer, dancer and writer. In Indispensible Blue (offline) she examines the poetic dimension of usership, in duet with the Mac OS X operating system. For Submission Submission (2019) she put herself in an amateur hagiographer’s shoes to paint a picture of the subversive strategies used by female saints in the Middle Ages. Since 2016 she has worked with Henry Andersen on Slow Reading Club, a semi-fictional reading group that creates opportunities for group reading using choreography.
I N F I N I #16 (ca. 10 min)
Rimah Jabr (1980) is a playwright, theatre maker and writer who lives and works in Nablus and Brussels. Since graduating in 2002 from An-Aaiah University she has been writing and directing plays, and has published poems and short stories in both English and Arabic.
I N F I N I #5 (9 min)
Chris Keulemans (1960) is a writer, moderator, docent and cultural organiser who lives in Amsterdam. As a travelling writer, he is fascinated by post-crisis art: how artists reinvent the city after it has been struck by a war or other disaster.
I N F I N I #2 (5 min)
Jisun Kim (1985) is a theatre maker and artist. Her work focuses on the no-man’s-land (physical or imagined) created between laws, norms and national boundaries and between the real and virtual domains.
I N F I N I #11 (5 min)
Sis Matthé (1980) writes, translates and makes music as art of the duo Stacks. He has published poems in freespace Nieuwzuid and Poëziekrant and was one of the 21 dichters voor de 21ste eeuw (’21 poets for the 21st century’, published by Uitgeverij P). His debut volume Persoonlijk geraakt was published by ‘het balanseer’ press in 2019.
I N F I N I #6 (17 min)
Anna Rispoli (1974) is a theatre maker and artist. In 2000 she was one of the founders of the Italian artists’ collective ZimmerFrei. She explores the conceptual and aesthetic opportunities between public and private spaces.
I N F I N I #9: I N T E R V A L LO (12 min)
Rodrigo Sobarzo de Larraechea (1982) studied choreography and other subjects at the Amsterdam dance academy SNDO and in 2013-14 at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht. In his work, the Chilean choreographer, dancer and performer strives to generate visual introspection with his audiences.
I N F I N I #14: N E † (7 min)
Michiel Soete (1986) is a theatre maker, actor, performer, lighting designer, scenographer and musician. In the last few years he has worked on a wide range of projects. His Park Katrol (Kopergietery), a theatrical ‘build-it-yourself installation’ for families, was part of the 2019 Fort Ruigenhoek programme at Tweetakt.
I N F I N I #3: S E L D O M R E A L (12 min)
Michiel Vandevelde (1990) works as a choreographer, dancer, publisher and curator. Political and artistic activism is the thread connecting his artistic work, which consists of acts in the public space, performances and building a variety of structures. From 2017-2021 he is artist-in-residence in the Kaai Theatre in Brussels.
I N F I N I #4: A N N E X (8 min)
Rebekka de Wit (1985) is a writer and theatre maker. Her most recent book, Afhankelijkheidsverklaring, was published in 2019 by Uitgeverij Atlas Contact. Since 2014 she has been a guest instructor at the Hogeschool in Antwerp. Since 2017, she has shared the artistic directorship of De Nwe Tijd with Freek Vielen and Suzanne Grotenhuis.
I N F I N I #13: U N T I L W E F I N D A T R A G E D Y T H A T I S B I G E N O U G H T O F I T U S A L L (10 min)
Arkadi Zaides (1979) is a choreographer, dancer and curator. He addresses social and political issues and their physical effects on the human body in his work, which has won several awards including the Emile Zola Prize for Performing Arts in 2013.
I N F I N I #1 (13 min)
Jozef Wouters (1986) is a scenographer, theatre maker and visual artist. Wouters’s career in the performing arts has run from dance and theatre company fABULEUS via Scheld’Apen, d e t h e a t e r m a k e r and a.pass, before setting up his own structure with Decoratelier for the production of his work. As a visual artist and scenographer he has worked with De Nwe Tijd, Thomas Bellinck and many others. His work is often related to a particular location, such as All problems can never be solved (2012), a project about the problem-solving power of architecture in a social-housing neighbourhood in Brussels, or Zoological Institute for Recently Extinct Species (2013), in which he converted a temporary wing of the Brussels Museum of Natural Sciences to express his views on the choices people make in dealing with our habitat. Along with Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods and dramaturge Jeroen Peeters, Wouters worked on the site-specific projects Atelier III and Projecting[Space[ in 2017. From 2017-2021 he is an autonomous artist in residence with Damaged Goods.
I N F I N I #12 (5 min)
- artistic direction
- Jozef Wouters
- Jeroen Peeters
- technical direction
- Menno Vandevelde
- Thomas Bellinck,
Rebekka de Wit,