“Push up daisies (ou) manger les pissenlits par la racine?”

17, 18, 19, 20/05 – 20:30
21/05 – 18:00

After her high-profile SMATCH in 2009, Dominique Roodthooft presents the second part of a trilogy created to counter forms of despair flourishing in a large number of contemporary discourses. We are living in a time when the death of mankind is continually being expressed, planned for even. For SMATCH[2], Roodthooft sets out to go gardening in search of signs of life. Making grass grow so as not to lose the dead or the living. Stirring up the earth, aerating it, making space for dormant seeds and roaming plants. Or how to learn to put down roots when we are told we are losing everything. In this multimedia show combining the anecdotal with the philosophical, the poetic with the political, you could come across an earthworm hatchery, a donkey that encourages the emergence of memory and even children singing in dying languages (Walloon, for example). The director has invited a team of thinkers, academics and artists to find themselves in a “back kitchen laundry”: a place of work where nothing is lost, a place of making where you conserve, wash, recycle and transform. Another place for experimenting on possibilities.

Dominique Roodthooft

By & with
Didier de Neck, Lotte Heijtenis, Dominique Roodthooft, Mieke Verdin & Gordon Wilson (acting); Stefaan Smagghe (violin, violin “sabot” & “basse-aux-pieds”); Vinciane Despret (dramaturgy); Thomas Smetryns (music composition); Sarah Vanagt (film), Maxime Coton (sounds on film); Joël Bosmans, Pierre Kissling & Raoul Lhermitte (sound, light, video, stage machinery, stage manager); Simon Stenmans, Thomas Djekic & Anaëlle Marisa (children); Claudine Maus, Valérie Perrin, Marie Lovenberg & Cécile Sacré (assistance scenography); Patrick Corillon, Pieter De Buysser & Jean-Bastien Tinant (assistance dramaturgy); Françoise Sougné & Chloé Thôme (administration, management & production)

Thanks to
asbl Ferme de Francheumont, Bruits & Worms

Thanks to the thinkers, artists, scientists who inspired us all along
this work, such as
John Berger, Samuel Butler, Gilles Clément, Vinciane Despret, Midas Dekkers, Masanobu Fukuoka, Françis Hallé, Donna Haraway, Robert Harisson, Bill Viola, Richard Rorty, Opal Whiteley, etc.

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre Les Tanneurs

le CORRIDOR (Liège)

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre de la Place (Liège), RegioTheatre O RegioDanse, Théâtre Les Tanneurs (Brussels), KVS (Brussels)

With the help of
Ministere de la Communauté française Wallonie-Bruxelles – Service du Théâtre, Région Wallonne

Supported by
Ville de Liege, Hippodrome de Douai

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Dominique Roodthooft’s back kitchen

Rather than exploring the major theories, Dominique Roodthooft is trying to understand what is going on in our world and the role we can play in it based on specific questions and human experiences. This is what she is doing in the “series” SMATCH 1-2-3, the second episode of which can be seen at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts. SMATCH is a contraction of “smash” and “match”. Two words that are a paradox in themselves.

In SMATCH[1], our attention was attracted by an odd map in a travel guide to Flemish towns. The upper half, Flanders, was nicely divided into multi-coloured provinces while the lower half, Wallonia, was a drab pale blue all over and featured just three place names – Hornu, Charleroi and Eupen – and the mention of “East Germany”. It was as if this part of the country practically did not exist. The subject of SMATCH[1] was how expectations influence reality. “If we ask a different question about the world, we might get a different answer,” was Dominique Roodthooft’s conclusion. She went on to develop this idea in an even more unusual way: she wondered how animals saw the world. And wondered about the way specialists were attempting to understand them: based on what intuition, what question, to discover what? The cold, utilitarian stare of the food processing industry and that of many scientists have often denied the animal world. This is how it became possible to mistreat animals.

In SMATCH[2], she takes a look at “nature” — which, like “Belgium” is a very loaded notion and therefore difficult to tackle — in an attempt to understand something of the world’s problems. The starting point for her reflection this time was a documentary about trees. For the first fifty minutes of the film, we were plunged into the wonders of nature and then for the last three minutes we watched the slaughter of century-old trees in the depths of the forest, committed by pitiless bulldozers and chain saws. It is shocking of course. “We’d have to have a heart of stone not to condemn that. Except,” comments Dominique Roodthooft, “it doesn’t change the fact this happens one iota. Worse still, it’s an ultra simplistic idea and the whole world will immediately agree that it’s awful.” There is an error of taste. And things suddenly become very simple, guilt-ridden and moralising. Right away, there is good and bad. This is how the binary and reassuring thought appears. There is also the use of the “spectacular effect of beautiful shock images” technique to win people over. It makes the problem more aesthetic and therefore all things considered perhaps makes it more inoffensive. The denunciatory message is therefore going to yield the opposite effect: people will either be immobile in their powerlessness or take refuge in militant new age wellbeing. It is true that many of us have lost contact with nature and global warming has begun. But how can we turn back the clock? What other solution can I adopt? How can we tackle the problem other than in a binary way (resignation or innocence)? This is how Roodthooft wants to approach it: “It seems preferable to us to move away from this path. We could try staying close to the problem, staying with the trouble, as the American philosopher Donna Haraway puts it. For example we could ask ourselves how many trees were felled to make this film and what the authors’ viewpoint signifies. Without forgetting the fact that no one faced with a film like this really does anything to put an end to the problem, so we remain firmly in the hand of God. And this precisely is the difficulty. The issue is conveyed in such violent images that the problem becomes totally overwhelming. Real solutions, though, are not overwhelming. They come from small, concrete and often local actions. The more they are within our capabilities, the better their chances of success.”“But,” she continues, “to achieve this goal, we have to go beyond our certainties. Question them time and again. So that no answer can be given that will make people feel at ease for longer.” (This is the way Vinciane Despret and Isabelle Stengers have conveyed Haraway’s concept in their latest book Les faiseuses d’histoires) We have to move away from binary thinking of good and evil to open ourselves up to the many possibilities still available. Otherwise, we fall into the trap of oversimplification. Take the example of arguments about safeguarding biodiversity, for example. Some ecologists defend this protectionist reflex based on abstract thinking, from a simplistic ideal. You have to be able to think about this need to keep everything. Let us take the reasoning to its conclusion: we do not want an idiot to suggest we keep the AIDS virus, for example… If we want to keep something, then we should really concern ourselves with it: both by having extensive theoretical knowledge and extensive experience in the field. Perhaps this is one of man’s big problems in his relationship with nature. As Robert Harrison stresses, because we have linguistic skills we can imagine something without having the actual object in front of us. The forest can disappear in practical terms, but the word “forest” calls up what we have in our dreams and stories. And that is almost enough. We no longer need the experience of the forest. And in the process, we become impoverished of part of ourselves. Yes, this is perhaps what happens with beings that you lose (not just human beings). When an animal or plant species dies out, it is the point of view the being has of the world that we are losing. And if the world is formed from the sum of all the viewpoints of all the beings comprising it, then losing a being is losing a way of experiencing the world, and therefore impoverishes it.

As with SMATCH[1] the set is once again a place of work. While the device of SMATCH[1] was clearly a laboratory, Dominique Roodthooft now opts for the sign of a farmer’s back kitchen. It is the place where nothing gets lost, where nature’s products are preserved, recycled and transformed. People have prepared and conserved food in it, washed children who were born in it as well as the sheets on their beds; the elderly still worked there before dying. Everything in it is marked by the passage of life, while the world of traditional agricultural communities described by John Berger is dying out. However, Dominique Roodthooft is bringing them back. She cites Robert Harrison: “The person who lives in the country is someone who knows that if you turn over a rock, there is a hidden world of earth, roots, insects and worms underneath. The city-dweller does not have this knowledge or tries to forget, because his city is built of stones which have already been extracted from the earth, cleaned and cut to measure. The countryside, in other words, is a place where the stones still have two sides.” Dominique Roodthooft speaks in favour of us opening ourselves up to all aspects of life that ignore the binary or abstract vision of the world. “We have to dare to envisage the mysterious and the irrational. If I am searching for signs of life, I certainly can’t forget death. Even dead people can teach us things. They continue to change. For example, they go back into the cycle of nature and thus allow new life to be established. If I want to venture into what it means to be human, then I certainly can’t forget to take other forms of life into account. If I want to find intelligence, I have to start from my own ignorance. If my understanding of the world is based primarily on thought, I have to see that I don’t lose sight of my senses and my feelings. When I am looking for strength, I have to find it in fragility. It’s the only way to learn to compose with the uncertainties and paradoxes in life.”

It seems a huge task, an immense area of research, which Dominique Roodthooft wants to open up here. She is not alone. As with SMATCH[1], she has gathered round her a large group of partners: actors, musicians, video-makers, technicians, field experts and thinkers are working together to develop the performance. Dominique Roodthooft is continuing her collaboration with the philosopher Vinciane Despret, whose thinking on the animal runs throughout SMATCH[1]. And then she has turned to the writings and ideas of David Abram, Robert Harrison, Donna Haraway, Francis Hallé, Gilles Clément and Pieter De Buysser. When this conversation took place, the project was still being developed, but with humanity and strength, all these ingredients will be brewing in Dominique Roodthooft’s back kitchen until May: you can count on her for that.

Dominique Roodthooft in her back kitchen, based on an interview with Pieter T’Jonck in late March 2011

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Dominique Roodthooft works as a theatre director and actress. She won First Prize in Dramatic Art at the Royal Conservatory of Liège in 1993. Roodthooft has taken part in various artistic projects and has explored various creative fields in the performing arts: directing, acting, designing and creating travelling representations or performances for children. In 1994 Roodthooft founded the company Grand-Guignol – which in 2004 became Le Corridor – and with which she has achieved numerous collective projects. Dominique Roodthooft has also worked with companies such as Arsenic, Transquinquennal and Dito’Dito. She has directed L’Opéra bègue (2004) and Du pain pour les écureuils (2006) based on a text by Pieter De Buysser, and was to be seen in Wajdi Mouawad’s Incendies (2008), in a staging by David Strosberg, and in Le Diable abandonné (2007-2009), an epic poem in three scenes by Patrick Corillon. In recent years Dominique Roodthooft has been at work on the SMATCH trilogy, the first part of which premièred at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in 2009.

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