What a situation!

Greetings Odile!P1060670

What a situation! Picture us standing there on the roof of Parking 58, finding our way with a map of the park of Versailles in our hands. Picture this large surface of concrete through which we have to stretch a path. Headphones on our ears, booklet in our hands. While there is so much to see and hear up there, high in the sky. A bit complicated for common Handlers – pardon: Trainees – as you and me.

To get lost is fun. That we know. The Situationists knew that too. The Doctor told me about them. She explained me that in the fifties and sixties, they searched for more structured and less complicated ways to get lost in the city. To use a map of London in order to find your way through Paris, for example. The difference was that the Situationists had an eye for the city in which they got lost. To get lost was part of the discovery. The Doctor taught me all that. But there is not so much to discover on a parking lot when you only have eyes for the booklet in your hands and ears for the headphones on your head.

Very serious rules are then becoming a little game. A number. A track.

Brussels Tracks is the name of – take a deep breath – An experimental and performative audio guide for the city of Brussels. It is a project by David Helbich. In an interview he talks about his inspiration from the Situationists. Or from Star Trek. Holodeck, please, one of the tracks in his guide, is quite beautiful in all its simplicity. All you have to do is stand at the balustrade of the parking, think that you are on the Holodeck of Star Trek, and look out over the city of Brussels while listening to the sounds of the city of Nablus. You hear chants, the echo of the mountains, pure poetry.

These moments are rather rare in Brussels Tracks. You spend more time finding your way through instructions from the booklet, sounds from the headphones and the interface of the MP3-player. We spent quite some time at City2 because none of us knew how to change the volume. Sweeping to the left or to the right. Very simple, but you have to know.

Here is a list of things, Odile, to remember for our final presentation:

– keep things simple

– do not cut your work in tracks, but present them as much as possible as a whole

– limit instructions to clear and simple rules

– give rules before you start so you can forget them once you start working

– use media only when strictly needed

– search for user friendly tools

– think about your environment: keep it as large as possible

– focus you attention on your environment and not on the instructions

– make participants feel comfortable, protect them, don’t put them on display, but allow them to look with you

– leave room to explore without determining in advance what is important

Ah, where is Ant Hampton when you need him, Odile?

Goodbye Odile!





Your hand on my shoulder

My dear Odile, my other me,P1060653

Your hand on my shoulder made me slightly (un)easy. First it came as a shock: somebody touching me from behind. Even though I knew it was your hand – who else could it be? – it felt like an intrusion. But soon it became a feeling of comfort. The ease you get when you feel protected by someone who cares for you. Or is guided the word to use here? Because both of us were wearing headphones, listening to a voice that told us exactly what to do: step by step, hand by hand.

So there we were, standing and sitting in front of the large glass door of the Beursschouwburg, listening to that voice, looking at the world: performers, enjoying the performance. Step by step, hand by hand, we were becoming ‘Someone Else’. That is the name of the performance. Looking at the theatre of the street. Pointing at it. Reaching out for it. Trying to touch it, to grab it. We hardly got any further than our shoulders.

‘Someone Else’ is a performance by the artist named Ant Hampton. It is about borders. About being in- or outside. It is about the other. About becoming other, becoming different. It is about time. About how things change over time. About how things happen. And about how to let them happen.

We felt being looked at from the outside. There too: the same (un)ease as with your hand on my shoulder. We were exposed to the world but protected by a shield of glass and sound. We were performers, listening, watching, sitting, standing at a threshold. We were we and they were them. We were in and they were out. We were performer and they were audience. Or was it the other way around?

We adore this kind of vagueness. Don’t we, Odile? We love it to find ourselves, while becoming other. That is the core, the essence, the goal of our training. That is what we do as trainees: watching and waiting and moving where the wind blows. This performance is made for trainees like us.

Why can’t we also direct a performance like that? Wouldn’t that be an idea for our end presentation in June? All we have to do is make a script, find some actors to lend their voices for a soundtrack and look for an audience as performer. Why not? The problem is, of course, that we are still looking for our own instructions for our own training. We haven’t found the right manual yet. We are still in the process of writing our manual. While here it is ready and available in a nice little white book in a safe little black box with a tiny lock and a tiny key.

Dear Ant Hampton: how do we proceed? Can you learn us how to become real Handlers? To write our own manual? To work with our own hands, just like we did in your performance? Can you write a soundtrack for our lives? Show us the way to really step over the threshold, go to the other, open our mouths and talk to them? Because that is what we want to do. To become our own still life, our own performers. To find the stranger that is hidden inside ourselves. Please send us your advice at wijzijnhandelaars@hotmail.com.

For the record, Odile: we did make it to the outside. But always guided and protected by the voice, as a shield over our heads. We ended the performance on the stairs of the Beursschouwburg, a few steps away from the door where we’ve been sitting all that time. We looked at a couple that vaguely resembled ours at the other side of the street, in front of the Marriott Hotel. They were shaking hands, doing business, being Handlers while we were standing there and looking at them. We lowered our heads and looked at our feet. We watched the stairs under our feet. The very same stairs we used for the insert in the program booklet of the Beursschouwburg. We looked at the tags, left there by visitors, as inserts for the city. And then the voice asked us to turn our heads and look at the wall of the building. There we found a tag left by Ant Hampton: an insert for performers to come.

Would you like to be my Ant Hampton, Odile?P1060656

Goodbye Odile!



And then I was blonde

Greetings Odile!IMG_1773

And then I was blonde. Platinum blonde, Odile. It happened at Karaoke (Art) at good old Beursschouwburg. I put on my wig, bought a vintage pair of sunglasses, drank a few beers and threw myself in the game.

It worked. As soon as I entered the room I was announced. The American guy with the moustache called me a mystery guest. Don’t we like that, Odile? Isn’t this what we do as trainees? Becoming mysterious inserts? Becoming other? And isn’t this what karaoke is all about? To insert yourself into the line of songs? To become your favourite artist by interpreting his favourite song? To become other?

Oh yes, it worked, Odile. Everybody saw me, but many didn’t recognize me. I spoke English, because that is what artists do in Brussels. And when I sang, I put some phrases from other songs between the lines, like inserts. That is what we do as trainees at Beursschouwburg.

I used some lines from this crazy Flemish band, Kenji Minogue. I discovered them on You Tube, the other day, and I adore them. They also like wigs and sun glasses. And nobody, not even native Flemish speakers, seems to understand their dialect. Tbehin ziejre te koelnjaja. Means something like it’s getting chilly out here.

I had such fun, Odile. But you couldn’t notice. Because I was so cool. I had allure. Unlike the others in the house, I behaved very serious. People were queuing to sing. And there was punch with lots of vodka that made people drunk. And so nobody noticed the (Art) part of the karaoke anymore. (Art) never felt so good. It never was so vague, never so alive. It inserted itself so well into the joy of the evening.

That is what you get when you put it between brackets. It’s like with the (on)tjes. How do I translate that? (Un)dies? We call it the affirmative negation. You put (un) before any word and it becomes weaker and stronger at the same time. (Un)easy: the unease becomes part of the easiness, or vice versa. By putting the (art) between brackets it becomes more and less art. Less: it disappears in the singing of the karaoke. More: it became more intense because of the singing that made people part of the work. Anybody can sing, Odile. Anybody can be an artist.

Did you also notice that the form of my wig resembles the form of brackets? It makes me vague and more present at the same time.

You like it when I (dis)appear, Odile?

Goodbye Odile!



The other day I was a bee

Greetings Odile!10838235_354717801400101_7868697716197575030_o

The other day I was a bee. I zoomed from table to table, collecting quotes at a SOTA meeting. SOTA? That is short for State Of The Arts. Why I was there? Because I’m a Handler, Odile. As soon as I found the invite, I put on my most colourful dress, lent some of my honey’s perfume, put some flowers in my hair and said: Here I come!

There were so many people, Odile. You first had to go through the already very crowded children’s corner before accessing the real conference. Our boss, from the theatre with the name I cannot pronounce in English, was there. Artists Eleanor Bauer and Kate Mcintosh and Adva Zakai were there. And many more artists and organisers and thinkers were there, to discuss the state of the arts and spend an outrageously sunny Sunday afternoon inside the Munt.

Everybody speaks English there, Odile. I felt so important, flying from table to table. Even if I actually didn’t say a word. I’m not an artist after all. I don’t even work in the arts. I am but a trainee.

I was so impressed. Not only by the words. But also by the ideas. They come from books we should absolutely read like De Actuele Landschapstekening van het Kunstenpunt or De Waarde Van Cultuur or Anderhalf Jaar Later: De Aannames Van Halbe Zijlstra or Publieke Middelen Voor De Kunstensector or some books that have not even been published yet. Many of these books are written by people who were actually there, like Petra Vanbrabant and Robrecht Vanderbeeken and Rudi Laermans and Marianne Versteegh. They lectured in between the discussions and they do that very well. Eloquently, I should say. I learned that yesterday. No hesitations in their speeches, in contrast to the stammering discussions of the artists.

Why was it in English? That is a good question, Odile. Here is something we can learn for the Handlers. Because, even when most people in the room speak Dutch in everyday life, sometimes with a French or a German accent, it seemed so evident that we all used English to express ourselves. You know that English is known as nobody’s language and therefore can be used by anybody? I heard that in a lecture – in English – by another Flemish philosopher in a Brussels cinema around the corner of the Munt, just one week earlier. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to continue the remainder of our traineeship in English? To do it in nobody’s language in order to reach everybody? To (un)speak?

That is what artists do in Brussels. They meet, discuss, make plans, and they do it in English. They talk about diversity. About society. About money. About equal pay. About private and public. About the grip of the industry on the arts. About different economies and different art forms. About artists and institutions. About labs. And about language. This, in a nutshell, is the what, the how and the why of SOTA: to meet and discuss and make recommendations for policy makers to change something to the precarious situation of many artists.

I don’t think the people gathered here would call themselves Handlers, like we do. They don’t like the word entrepreneur either. Too much linked to the idea of a creative industry where art has to be managed to be successful. They don’t even necessarily like success: failure is good too. They find that interesting. Wouldn’t that be something we should explain to our mentors for the final evaluation of our traineeship?

What I found really interesting was the idea of a fair trade label for artists. Don’t you like that, Odile? Like with the chocolate and the coffee we usually buy at our favourite Wereldwinkel from farmers in Africa or South-America with fair wages. Or unlike the cheap clothes we don’t buy at H&M, fruits of child labour in Asian sweatshops. To be honest: I don’t think we will get a fair trade label for the work we do and the few free tickets we get in return. But we are trainees after all. And we also want to make the world a better place, with or without equal pay. We want to change it for equal pay. Just like all the unpaid volunteers who made this day possible.

Oh yes, Odile. The day ended with the song we heard on the stairs of the theatre with the name I cannot pronounce in English. Remember? The Alex Song? On Tina, Alex and Lisa? That was the end of my day as a bee.

So, how do you find my English, Odile? You think I would be a good artist?

Goodbye Odile!