Lecture For Every One

Beursschouwburg

3/05 – 19:00 EN
4/05 – 19:00 FR
11/05 – 19:00 NL
18/05 – 18:00 EN

On various locations in the city
3 > 25/05

Lecture For Every One is not a show. It is an intruder, a gift, a pleasant virus spreading through the complex fabric of the city. In this creation, Sarah Vanhee escapes from theatre and goes out into the world. Like a friendly stranger, the artist enters community gatherings – a board of directors, a court hearing, a neighbourhood association – to give a brief lecture… no fewer than forty times during the festival. She infiltrates as many different contexts as possible, always asking the same question: how, in which language, is it possible to address all citizens collectively and individually in our fragmented society? And can it be done other than through rules and laws, political messages, mass media or advertising? In truth, does a shared frame of reference exist today? Moving ambitiously and widely around the city, Lecture For Every One is an attempt to speak “freely”, in a gesture that combines the singular and the public.

Concept & text
Sarah Vanhee

In collaboration with
Juan Dominguez Rojo, Berno Odo Polzer & Kristien Van den Brande

Management host organisations & website
Kristien Van den Brande

Performance Dutch & English version
Sarah Vanhee

Performance French version
Mylène Lauzon

Production assistants
Bert De Geyter & Linda Sepp

Thanks to
Dirk Pauwels, Berthe Spoelstra, Kunstencentrum BUDA (Kortrijk)

Special thanks to
Everyone who helped us spread Lecture For Every One in Brussels

Presentation
Kunstenfestivaldesarts

Production
CAMPO (Ghent)

Co-production
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Frascati Producties (Amsterdam)

Supported by
STUK Kunstencentrum (Leuven)

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Lecture For Every One

At the time of writing I have not experienced - neither seen nor heard - Sarah Vanhee's Lecture For Every One. I haven't even read the text of the lecture. To this extent I am in the same situation as those who might invite Vanhee - or accede to her offer to invite herself - to their annual general meeting, their monthly sales conference, their weekly support group, or their once-in-a-lifetime investiture or wedding party or leaving do. As such, her performance comes onto the horizon as a sort of promise: but a promise of what? I imagine how it might be if Vanhee were to bring the lecture into the kind of environment I am familiar with, a university committee meeting, say, where - whatever else we might be to ourselves and to each other during the rest of our lives: thinkers, teachers, writers, activists, friends, or opponents - on these occasions we focus our otherwise chaotic and multiform selves into forms of distributed and coded rationality, with more-or-less identifiable interests and modes of bureaucratic capability. Who, or what, would Vanhee be in those circumstances? A stranger in the room? A representative of some other part of the institutional apparatus, proposing her strangeness as an item on our agenda? What would she say? How might she act? And how should we respond? Would we do what such gatherings are supposed to do: debate the issue - whatever the issue turns out to be - then make a note in the minutes and commit ourselves to a point of action? What sort of action - what sort of decision - might Vanhee's intervention call-on us to take, if any?

What I do know is that Vanhee has already been working in this territory of the carefully measured - but at the same time radically uncertain - promise of the human encounter. Her 2010 book The Miraculous Life of Claire C recounts a series of meetings with strangers, conducted through emails and on park benches in Amsterdam, with the intention of re-populating an unfinished novel with the 'real life' that the novel evokes. The book is self-consciously clever. It is also touching in what it says about the quality of accidental intimacy being part of the texture of life in all of our cities. Like much of Vanhee's work - for example, the ongoing project Untitled, which involves individual members of the public visiting another individual's home for a personal tour of the self-accumulated art that is kept there - the book speaks of the hopeful, but also uncertain ways that the fictions we carry around with us, and carry ourselves around in, are able to slip in and out of reality at any moment. As if, indeed, the promises we make to our imaginations might at any moment be called to account by the world those very promises are drawn from, with who-knows-what consequences.

My own first encounter with Vanhee's work was in the theatre, at a performance of Turning Turning (a choreography of thoughts) in 2011, where Vanhee and two fellow-performers presented a particular, virtuosic practice; a way of speech, to put it simply, which involved the performers speaking whatever came into their mind as quickly as they could, in turn, for a fixed period of time. It is a performance in which words and images - a countless number of both - swirl and refract randomly like oil splashed onto the pool of thought. It is a work that has the strange effect of seeming to promise us everything and anything, while leaving us with something else that is also more than that 'everything': the singularity, the fragility of the individual person, the bare actor, as it were, attempting to think, attempting to speak. If, however, Turning Turning was about a very particular provocation of attention, putting the activity of thinking itself into play and having it acted-out in public for spectatorial consumption, Lecture For Every One promises a different sort of relationship to thinking. Indeed, I imagine the Lecture more as a coaxing to action - or at least a call to activity - which it does by functioning as a sort of placeholder: for other people's thoughts, for other people's considerations, or just for other people's fifteen or twenty minutes of stopping-time, of rest from the machine, and of ethical recuperation. Something 'for' everyone, however we might take it. But then, what is at stake in that 'for'?

When discussing some of the ideas behind Lecture For Every One, Vanhee talks about the ancient Greek concept of parrhesia, or 'free speech', in the sense of words spoken in public in a way that puts the speaker at risk, speech that takes on the fear of truth-telling - in relation to power, in relation to strangers - speech, we might say, that puts the truth itself at risk. It goes without saying, there is nothing simple - and nothing too direct either - about free speech conceived in this way. As Foucault remarked in his late lectures on parrhesia, what is at stake is not "the disclosure of a secret that has to be excavated from the depths of the soul", but rather "the relation of the self to the truth or to some rational principle". That indirection is only likely to be exacerbated when Vanhee translates her lecture, conceived largely for non-arts spaces, to the rather specific public space of the theatre, as she will be doing at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts this spring. Perhaps, though, the peculiar promise of Lecture For Every One has also to do with driving a line between a gesture conceived, on the one hand, very simply and directly indeed - "it should be possible", she tells me, "it's basically just a person who says some things, a person who speaks to other persons" - and, on the other hand, as something altogether difficult. As Vanhee herself points out, the very title of her lecture - leaving aside the self-evident element of hubristic ambition - is an equivocation: can a lecture for 'everyone' be at the same time a lecture for every 'one'? What kind of relationships, between individuals and the collective, between citizens and strangers, between natives and foreigners, between oneself and one's several other selves and all one's significant and insignificant others, would be at stake in that distinction?

Another writer who addressed, as she put it, "the difficulty of the difficulty" around the question of "how to represent the aporia between everyone and every 'one'", was the philosopher Gillian Rose. Rose's concerns - not unlike those of Vanhee, who spoke to me about Rousseau's social contract, or the challenge of engaging the 'rational egoist' identified by Hobbes, in the interests of the common good - are with the politics of citizenship, or as Rose refers to it, the questions of love and the state. What distinguishes Rose's thoughts is the way her critique of what she calls spurious universals - ethical, religious, and legal values that tend to be imposed and maintained through violence and exclusion - leads not to an outright rejection of such values, but rather to the ever-to-be-repeated, ever-to-be-renewed performance of an 'aporetic universalism', an indefatigable trying again - at love, at justice, at truth, at care - that takes place in the 'broken middle' of all of our equivocations. Rose's own examples refer to the likes of Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt; for Vanhee, too, Arendt's thoughts on the potentiality but also the fragility of the 'space of appearance' that comes into being wherever people "are together in the manner of speech and action", has been crucial to her work on the Lecture. It is the sort of thinking that seems to borrow something from a theatrical way of understanding the world. And the sort of considerations - practical considerations, we might say - that Rose discusses in relation to the performances that take place in the broken middle - philosophical, artistic, and political performances - have to do with dilemmas such as those of authors and actors: what it means, for instance, to speak with one's own voice, or to act or perform in one's own name, when one is heard by others as a stranger, or when one's own name is at the same time a sort of pseudonym. The work of love and the violence of the situation tend to go hand in hand.

Vanhee takes up the thread of love and violence when we meet to talk. "For me", she says, "this problem of the stranger is very important; the stranger, not as something that should be repelled or embraced, but as something that fundamentally changes us, something viral that cannot but transform you. It has something almost brutal, and I like this brutality." When discussing her own role in the Lecture, as an actor, a persona; as another sort of aporetic performance, a way of registering - alongside the simple 'possibility' referred to earlier of a person speaking to other people - she also speaks about the accompanying degrees of 'impossibility' inherent in the project. She is there, she suggests, in the places she is invited into, as "the clown, the stupid one, maybe a 'nobody' or an 'everybody', as one element of this 'being amongst'. It's a tricky role, because I cannot speak about 'we' at that moment; there is no 'we' I can speak of. And at the same time I cannot speak about 'you' either, because there is no 'you' that I know. Consequently, I can only speak of myself. But I cannot speak of myself as an example." If not an example, I suggest to her, then perhaps in her role - as an intruder, a guest, a messenger, a parasite, an analyst, or a visiting functionary from some other worldly reality that by its very existence draws attention to the contingent structures and boundaries of the situation into which she arrives - she also brings a potentiality to the situation that was always already there. A sort of elasticity: not quite in the sense of a situation expanding of its own accord, priding itself on its capacity to accommodate - and it may be tame and incorporate - the foreign element, the stranger, but rather the lecturer herself, as part of the situation, for as long as she is there, bringing that elasticity herself, and then... taking it away. An elasticity of the imagination, let's call it, which takes perhaps its most telling risk - to recall the earlier topic of parrhesia - when it takes on the banality, the everydayness, the ubiquity of fear. "A great deal of our imagination", Vanhee says to me, "is being filled with fear. Fear asks so much of the imagination. How, then, to address the imagination in another way than by filling it with fear? I think about the society we live in as a fiction we decide to believe in. One of the questions I put to myself in this project is what kind of other fiction would I find interesting to believe in? What other images come with that? What other languages come with that?"

So much promise, so much that could be promised, and imagined. But promising can also be a sort of trap. As Vanhee herself allows: "It is not the lecture for everyone; it is just a lecture, for every one." It makes a difference. "I think, anyway, that it will not be enough", she says, "because when I say 'lecture for every one' to you, you have a dream about it. I do too. But this can never be that. It's not a dream speech, it's actually quite unspectacular." I say to her that I was imagining it might be unspectacular. Something, in the absence of the event, is taking shape. We return to the question of the performance as a placeholder: for the imagination of the stranger element, for something yet unspoken, unthought-of, undone; for something yet to come into appearance, if only some fleeting contribution to the struggles of the broken middle and the work of love. "It probably has a lot to do with love", Vanhee says, "where love is keeping that space open for whatever comes in, even if you never know what it will be. The perverse thing is, of course, that people don't 'give' me that space; basically, I take it. I put them in the situation of having given me that space, so there is something very forceful about it. I don't know if it will stay this way but in the text, as it is now, I also say 'thank you for giving me the time to speak in the coming fifteen minutes'. But they didn't decide to give me that. There's something violent in it."

Professor Joe Kelleher, March 2013
Head of Department: Drama, Theatre and Performance University of Roehampton

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Sarah Vanhee ’s (b. 1980) artistic practice is linked to performance, visual art and literature. It uses different formats and is often (re)created in situ. It has been presented in various venues such as De Appel arts centre in Amsterdam, iDans in Istanbul, the Centre Pompidou in Metz, the Impulstanz festival in Vienna, the Artefact festival/STUK in Leuven and Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. She has published two books with Onomatopee in Eindhoven, has been artist-in-residence at Frascati Productions in Amsterdam and is currently in residence at CAMPO in Ghent. In 2008 she was a resident at Cittadellarte/Fondazione Pistolleto in Biella. She also coaches, teaches and writes interviews and texts. Her work has been nominated for the Ton Lutz prize 2007 (honourable mention), the Prix Jardin d’Europe (2010) and recently the VSCD Mime award in 2012. In 2007 she graduated from the Amsterdam School of the Arts with the performance 4000 trees, a red dress and an apple (possible story) . At Frascati Productions she created the dance duet How they disappeared (2008), the performance installation WeUsAll (2009) and The Great Public Sale of Unrealized but Brilliant Ideas (2009), a public auction project that has since been re-produced by several venues. At CAMPO she wrote and performed the lecture performance Me and My Stranger (2009). In 2009, in collaboration with Elisa Marchesini, Christoph Schwarz and Yolande de los Bueis, she published the art book Untranslatables – a guide to translingual dialogue , published by Onomatopee, in which 33 untranslatable words from different cultures are described. The C-Project , published in 2010 by Frascati Productions, employed fiction and performance for meetings in real and virtual public spaces that resulted in a novel, The Miraculous Life of Claire C (2010, Frascati Productions, De Appel arts centre, Onomatopee), and a series of public interviews, A rendez-vous with Claire C . In 2011 she created the piece Turning Turning (a choreography of thoughts) (Frascati Productions and CAMPO) in collaboration with two performers and a number of scholars from the fields of philosophy, neurolinguistics, psychoanalysis, mathematics and performance theory. In 2012 she embarked on Untitled , a project consisting of a series of individual visits to private houses where people talk about the art works they have at home. Untitled takes place in different cities in collaboration with local art venues and citizens. The first edition took place at Artefact festival/STUK in Leuven.

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