Machines and meals
Through an entrance that looks like a huge plastic yellow shed stuck onto a factory building, I enter Werkwarenhuis. The space is buzzing: people having drinks, students walking around, music and projections. Until 2014 this site has been a fodder factory for decades. But going from fodder to food, nowadays the space is a creative spot with a culinary restaurant. The details of the industrial history are still everywhere. While the space is decorated with chandeliers, a bar and warm coloured glass lights, the video reflects the outside on the inside. Flashing images of the architecture of the building illuminate the restaurant walls. Steel columns are surrounded by big white minimalist picnic tables. On the walls details from the factory remain, such as heating pipes, power tubes and a rolling service door. A big neon letter ‘W’ adds a crisp modern edge to the rawness of the factory atmosphere. Up high there are cloths where even more videos are projected upon. This situation provides aesthetic layers, because the chandeliers cast shadows on the projected images of the outside space on the factory doors and tubes.
The Fremdkörper project is having its third season, again performed by students of the fourth year and recent graduates from the Fontys Dance Academy, circus artists from the Academy for Circus and Performance Art (ACaPA), dj’s from the Rockacademy and visual art students from Art, Communication and Design (ArtCoDe). It is an interdisciplinary collaboration where students get the chance to work with international professionals. The night is named after a German word meaning foreign body. This foreign body can be seen as any object originating outside the body of an organism. It is a solid body foreign to an organism, which has entered externally into the tissues or hollow organs of the human or an animal body. In machinery, it can mean any unwanted intruding object. Metaphorically, it can be regarded as somebody who is seen by the group as disturbing or who sees himself as disturbing. In other words, an outsider. But also things like inappropriate expressions in an otherwise uniform work, can be seen as disruptive, and thus called Fremdkörper.
Strange creatures at my dinner table
During this edition in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the performative club event has the addition of a meal. While people are having a three course dinner, they will be ‘disturbed’ by ‘outsiders’. Seated at the dinner tables, already before even having ordered dinner, we can see some performers walking timidly between us. These performers are each dressed in a single colour; a sailor boy in pure blue, girls in frill dress with curly long hair, one in piggy pink and another girl in baby blue. Wigs in the same colour as their costume, faces painted white with harsh features drawn in black, paired with faux eyelashes. They seem to be escaped from a manga story. It reminds me of Cosplay, the subculture where people wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character, especially off-stage. Seemingly aimless they pause here and there, tilting their head with a sad or shy expression. At first, I am looking for meaning, trying to understand what it means that I am watching these characters. They keep on walking around as if they are curious but afraid of real interaction.
Is this the real life?
Two girls in tight shiny silver jumpsuits enter the room, wearing also a short white jacket that make their shoulders look broad and angular. Their hair has a wet look effect. In long silver boots with heels, they walk shyly at first, but when the music turns louder, they both start to swing with their hips on the beat. With a neutral look on their faces they look at the seated people as they move in a repetitive robotic sway. On the walls there is a projection like in the film The Matrix: lots of computer data moves along the screen. I feel I no longer have to try to look for meaning; this is more about atmosphere than about conveying a story or message. Then there is a video with a monologue by actor Jur van de Lecq, a grey-haired man wearing a flamboyant fluffy pink jacket. He tells about himself looking for extremities at an older age. He found himself in a state of confusion, as if somebody else entered into his body. As an elderly man he ended up at a techno party. And he loved it. Interestingly, I am seated at the table where this actor is eating in real life. So I see the man watching the representation of himself on screen. He laughs. I ask myself if his image in the video is intruding the experience, or if the man of flesh and blood is being the outsider right now.
Gestures of a bright future
Between the performances there are long breaks. I drink and dine. Some time later on enters a performer with a motor helmet, sunglasses and black clothing. The black shirt reads a text in white letters: ‘The future looked bright’. The performer puts on a glittered black jacket and goes to the dance floor with open hands and arms arching slowly to the front. Sometimes during the slow arm movements, the hands make detailed gestures, such as a middle finger or a peace sign. Then the helmet is removed, to show a blond wig. Later even the wig and the sunglasses are removed and we see that the performer is female. She has dark, very short hair. We can now see the human being behind the mask. The future looked bright, but she has seen the future and does not need sunglasses anymore. The short performance mesmerizes me, but as soon as I realize that, it is over and I turn again to my plate.
Because we as guests are seated and we are being served, the distinction between audience and performers is crystal clear: we sit, they move. From every table the dance floor is visible, so there is no need to walk myself. Dressed in pink leotards, tights, leg warmers and white heels, two girls walk across the room, one holding a sign that reads “It’s my hot body! I wear what I want!”. When you look up between the meals, you may be met by the gaze of a manga sailor or the girl in the baby blue frill dress. The ‘cosplayers’ are moving around, sometimes in a puppet like manner imitating an audience member; seeking eye contact with the seated audience all the time. It is a come and go of different theatrical characters. When one of the short performances is over, you might catch a glimpse of a gorilla in a dress and a unicorn sweeping the floor clear of rose petals. The whole evening there is music and video projection. Always there is a performer somewhere in the space, albeit unobtrusive. Sometimes they sit on the balustrade, with dangling feet. Other times, they are walking in the back or lingering at the bar. The projections continue to show elements of the factory, the architecture or machines, making a connection with the world outside. But here, inside, I have the feeling time is stretching. Anything could happen here. This confused mixture makes it difficult for me to focus.
For the students it must be very valuable to test the ground exploring space, timing and ways to relate to the audience, but for me the experience feels dry, whereas the performances itself are vivid. Making the evening paradoxically sluggish to me. I have been sitting at a table for more than five hours; every half hour or so I watch a performance that takes a few minutes. Some performances really stayed with me afterwards, though. The three girls return with a new protest sign: ‘women have souls too’. One girl holds a melon in her hand to show, the other one some roses and a ball of wool. One of them starts shouting commands like ‘baby!’, ‘cat!’, ‘ on top!’ or ‘Lewinsky!’. The three women strike a pose accordingly to the word that is called. Grotesque postures, often reminiscent of sexual positions. Then we see a projection of half a fruit (grapefruit or melon) and fingers that caress the centre of the fruit. Two of the performers walk towards the audience with half a grapefruit and melon and mimic the movement from the video, while looking an audience member in the eye. A beat is pulsating. She stares at me unashamedly, while fingering a grapefruit, and I have the feeling everyone is watching our interaction. Am I being part of the performance now?
Burning activism and burning questions
After this scene they start moving more vigorously, as if they are giving an aerobics lesson. They shout phrases like “can you feel it burn?!” “doesn’t that feel góód?!”. The women continue in white underwear; one of them pours milk into a bowl. Sitting like a cat, she moves her head towards the bowl, drinks from it and then the milk drips off her chin. The second woman puts roses in her underpants. The third one smears a red substance over her underwear and smudges it out over her mouth. Somebody behind me in the audience asks her neighbour: “what is she doing, is that raspberry sauce or what?”. The three women end with a sign they hold up: “Can’t believe I still have to protest for this shit”. It is clear their protest is about female sexuality. Superficially we are okay with female sexuality in Western society. It is fine when a woman is the object of desire. But the pleasure of a woman is an uncomfortable sight. This hit me especially because one of the dancers looked at me audaciously to make a stand. Here the strength of the reason for doing something comes to the fore. What do tonight’s performers, these makers, want to transmit with their work? How can a creature that is regarded as a Fremdkörper communicate and in what way will the spectator understand the message?
The feminine factory
Somehow this evening has similarities with a Roman banquet: a big dinner at large tables with entertainment designed to delight both the eye and the ear. With the difference that this event does not seem to be organised to demonstrate wealth and status. Here, the entertainment is not only pleasant. The performances in between are like extra courses for the mind. What strikes me this evening, is that there are a lot of female dancers and just one male dancer. Maybe because of this fact, I start to relate a lot to the image of women. In Roman times too, most of the entertainment was brought by women. As most of the event, the last performance of the night is danced by women only. They wear different black clothes with glitters and neon, dancing in a clubby way, with a lot of group hugging involved. They dance on their own, enjoying the music and the movements. A few times they dance a choreography simultaneously. It shows a lot of love for dance and the social strength of it. The climax comes with snippets of coloured paper falling from the ceiling. Everyone in the room is invited to come to the floor as the DJ will play into the night. Foreign bodies coming together, feeling the music, the movements, the energy. A dinner rolled into a world of fantasy and wrapped up with a vibe of togetherness. The medium may be the message; dance can just be enjoyable!
Fremdkörper, an event by Fontys Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, visited on 14 April 2017, Werkwarenhuis, ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
Text by Lotte Wijers.