A ritual journey into the unconscious
Sleeping is an elusive activity in which reason and reality are suspended. Can we take this associative flow of images that is set off in our subconsciousness as a source of wisdom? The extraordinary mime/performance duo Suzan Boogaerdt and Bianca van der Schoot believe it may very well be the key to realising a new, better world. Their work Fremdkörper can be experienced both as an installation and a theatre piece, and it is meant to serve as a transitional rite. They take the audience on a journey through the unconscious in search of a way out of the current pandemic reality in which we have lost contact with our bodies and our environment. The duo invites the audience into a sleeping area for a ceremony inspired by the ritual sleep temples of ancient Greek scholars. In the company of others, the journey leads visitors inward, into a dreamed reality.
Where does your consciousness reside? It may seem like a simple question, but the answer is not so evident. Because if it is in your head, where does it go when you sleep? These are questions that preoccupy the performance duo Boogaerdt/VanderSchoot, especially because of their interest in the transition zones where the conscious and unconscious intersect. They say: ‘If you become familiar with these unconscious transitions, you may be able to get a better grip on reality’.
The title Fremdkörper, which means ‘foreign body’ or ‘intruder’, here refers to the pivotal role the body plays in their work, as well as to the difficulty in coming to grips with its control. On top of this, the ‘intruder’ that is corona prompts us to strive towards communal healing. Now that it feels as if people only exist as heads on screens, they are looking for ways to re-establish a healthy and sane contact with themselves, their bodies and the world around them.
They discovered the ritual practices of ancient Greek philosophers and mystics like Parmenides and Pythagoras. Scholars would hold sleep gatherings in special temples with the aim of excavating important information from the unconscious, for example pertaining to health and healing. They made use of all sorts of rituals and objects of symbolic significance, such as animal skins. Boogaerdt and Van der Schoot suggest we rediscover this ancient Greek custom of temple sleep to reinvent society, as these philosophers and their sciences form the basis of modern Western society.
Part of a group
Boogaerdt and Van der Schoot say that in order to better care for the world, people need to become aware of the role they play as a part of this world. This, however, is not easy: ‘It takes a lot of empathy to feel at one with the world, especially now that it seems so fragmented’. They hope their work will make it possible to experience this unity so that people, who are self-isolating during this pandemic and sometimes only have contact with others through digital media, can once more feel as if part of something larger, a group. Breathing puppets will give visitors the feeling of being surrounded by people. But the idea is that this feeling of connection will emerge from within the body itself as well. By going on a journey of sorts as a group, each individual into their own unconscious, we discover people are not so different from each other after all.
Journey of discovery
It is typical for Boogaerdt and Van der Schoot to involve the audience in their work, whether actively or passively, as in Fremdkörper. The duo is always looking for ways to let people discover something for themselves. Rather than taking them by the hand, they offer a journey of discovery so people can find out for themselves where it is that human consciousness resides.
Installation and ceremony
The duo also gives the audience the freedom to choose and a sense of personal responsibility. This is why they present their work as both an installation and a ceremony. In this way, people can decide for themselves how long they wish to stay and what to focus their attention on specifically. The audience that chooses to participate in the ceremony has a bit more to hold onto, but here too the performers are not the ones offering an experience. It is the audience itself - under the performers’ guidance - which creates its own experience. That this should cause irritation with some members of the audience is no problem, because the true meaning of the work is found beyond this resistance.
Suzan Boogaerdt and Bianca van der Schoot have worked together since completing their studies at the mime department of Amsterdam’s Academy for Theatre and Dance in 1999. The duo makes expressive, physical, daring and visual theatrical installations that revolve around the struggles and challenges people face in today’s media-driven world. They look for ways theatre can be relevant in the 21st century and focus on developing new theatrical forms and idioms that give space and meaning to our post-humanity and the flexible, multiple identities emerging from it.
From 2011 on, Boogaerdt and Van der Schoot worked on the series Visual Statements. Drawing inspiration from the work of Guy Debord and his book La Société du spectacle, in this series they explore the so-called society of the spectacle. The dominant role visual culture plays has made us spectators to our own existence, in which representation seems more important than what is ‘real’. The series consists of five pieces: Bimbo, Small World, Spectaculaire Voorstelling, Hideous (wo)men (a collaboration with the director Susanne Kennedy) and The Immortals.
Collaboration with Susanne Kennedy
In 2016, they joined Theater Rotterdam’s core artistic team of makers. Since then, they have worked in Rotterdam and Berlin, where together with the director Susanne Kennedy they were co-creators at the Volksbühne. After Hideous (wo)men, the artistic dialogue with Susanne Kennedy was continued with ORFEO, a radical adaptation of Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo in collaboration with Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop at the Ruhrtriennale in 2015. Boogaerdt and Van der Schoot made three productions together with Susanne Kennedy for the Volksbühne in Berlin: Women in Trouble (2017), Coming Society (2019) and Ultraworld (2020)
In 2019, Boogaerdt and Van der Schoot began work on the new series Future Fossils. The series explores what it means to make art in the ‘non-human era’, an age in which humankind is no longer the measure of all things. The performance Headroom was the first part of the series, followed by Botanical Wasteland, a co-creation with Touki Delphine: a multi-form art project about digital creatures in a non-human age. This was followed by ANTIBODIES in 2020 and Fremdkörper in 2021.
- concept & direction
- Suzan Boogaerdt, Bianca van der Schoot
- Lotte Goos
- Remco de Jong, Florentijn Boddendijk
- Theun Mosk
- Klara Alexova, Niels Kuiters, Dennis Tiecken
- Karin van der Leeuw, Erik Bosman, Sara Hakkenberg
- Tamar Stalenhoef
- Lene Grooten, Marc Meijer
- Holland Festival, Theater Rotterdam
- This performance was made possible with support by