The Rabbit And The Teasel

15/05 – 20:30
EN > NL / FR

The videos, drawings, and writings of Els Dietvorst explore anti-utopian themes such as social conflict and survival in the margins. A few years ago, this self-proclaimed ‘urban artist’ moved to the Irish village of Duncormick, where she has since lived and worked to the rhythm of the elements and the seasons. In 2014, at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Dietvorst presents a series of works on migration and altered living conditions. With Art-Coeur-Merci, the artist bids farewell to the city in which she lived and worked for years. This installation-performance describes the survival story of a young Cameroonian living as an outsider in Brussels. In the film The Rabbit and the Teasel, integrally shot in the Irish countryside, fiction and autobiographical elements are interwoven into a lyrical tale that drags the viewer into a world of beauty, death, and decay. Following its premiere at the Kaaitheater, the film can be seen at Argos, in parallel with an exhibition of new work. The performance, film, and exhibition together form a pathway between city and countryside, between centre and periphery.

A project by
Els Dietvorst

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Kaaitheater

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Kaaitheater

Tondo Films

Supported by
Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds

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Everyday life/survival

In 2010, documentary filmmaker and artist Els Dietvorst moved from Brussels to Duncormick, a village in the Irish countryside. Together with her partner Orla Barry, she built a new life. Since doing so, the artist gradually became intrigued by what was happening around her, and in 2012 picked up her camera once again. She follows her neighbours in their everyday lives/survival, and also brings her own experiences into the picture. This results in a series of probing video testimonies, which she bundles into the web documentary The Black Lamb. The unconventional lifestyle of her Irish co-rural-residents is at odds with the issues of the day. They testify to a life in the rhythm of the seasons, free of materiality.

In The Black Lamb, the short testimonies of TJ Butler – the youngest member of a third generation of cattle dealers – ultimately form the basis of a larger project: The Rabbit and the Teasel. In this feature-length film, Dietvorst transforms Butler’s story into a modern rural drama, in which the raw reality of a year full of rain drives the farmer to despair. Or, as Butler’s father puts it: “Even if farmers are as tough as nails, this season is soul destroying.” Whoever has experienced the consequences of a runaway climate first-hand can attest to this, because it turns the core of one’s existence on its head. It ruins the soul.

In this film, fiction and autobiographical elements weave themselves into a lyrical tale that drags the viewer into a universe of beauty, death, and decay. The Rabbit and the Teasel builds on many anti-utopian themes from Dietvorst’s earlier film work: socio-social conflict and the struggle that is life. Again, she starts with her fascination for outsiders, people whose lives have radically changed course and who end up in the margin.

The artist reflects on her own life, what it means for her to live/survive far from the comforts of the city. She wonders what happens to a person when they arrive back at the beginning of the food chain, and entices the viewer into a consumption-free society reliant on what the seasons deliver. She appeals to the collective memory of the local community. Her fellow villagers narrate, film, and act. Fiction and reality are interwoven into a modern fairy tale. The Rabbit and the Teasel zooms in on a dislocated environment. The effects of climate change are latent. Nature no longer knows how to behave. The implications are sobering.

As a filmmaker, Dietvorst honours the creeds of directors like Robert Bresson, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Werner Herzog. She is pre-eminently a filmmaker who positions herself between man and life as it is (Bresson), and equally, a filmmaker who makes no distinction between the life she leads and the film she makes, whose life is in the service of that film (Tarkovsky), and, just as much, she is a filmmaker who makes documentaries that in reality are ‘disguised’ fictional films (Herzog). For this ‘experiment on the outside’, as she calls it, Dietvorst steadily builds a relationship of trust with her protagonists, residents of the surrounding countryside. In The Rabbit and the Teasel, autobiographical elements mingle with events from the past, present, and future. In a timeless setting, a contemporary parable unfolds, as enchanting as it is confronting.

The film was almost entirely shot at Breen Farm in Lough, Duncormick. The house was built in 1832 by the Furlong family. Originally an agricultural farm, it was rebuilt as a dairy farm in 1968 by James Bridie Breen. Their son John manages Breen Farm today.

Eleven-year-old Caelan Hunt plays the role of TJ Butler. He lives with his mother Liz, his father and cattle dealer Bernard, and brother Éinri, in the neighbouring village of Gorteen (they live on the other side of Ireland in Sligo). He met Els and her team during the annual Tullamore fair, where some of his father’s cattle won the competition. He loves football and is an avid fan of Chelsea. He had never acted before.

Thirteen-year-old Sam Molyneux plays TJ Butler’s brother. Sam goes to school at St. Anne’s in Rathangan and is looking forward to going to secondary school. Sam loves to read and is very interested in the military history of World War II. Sam had also never acted before, and this film was a great experience.

As a young teenager, Seamus McCoy moved from Birmingham, England to Wexford, Ireland. He has been active in local amateur theatre for many years. Seamus was delighted when Els proposed he play the role of TJ Butler’s father in The Rabbit and the Teasel.

Alice McCoy was born and raised in Duncormick. She is Seamus’s wife in real life and also diligently fulfils this role in the film. Alice is a trained cook and here delivers her first acting performance.

Composer and musician Laura Hyland has followed Els’s film work since the origins of The Black Lamb in 2012. Several months ago, Els asked her to write a song for The Rabbit and the Teasel. Besides the film script, she refers to Woodie Guthrie’s Pastures of Plenty and to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Laura Hyland kept the American folk tradition in the back of her mind, but relied primarily on the sound of deprivation and nature that shimmers through her ‘particular’ Irish/British folk tradition. Each verse of the song was inspired by a video from The Black Lamb or by the film script, but Laura also gave the music a lyrical touch of innocence and magic; TJ Butler captured in a song.

The voice-over is performed by Liam Heffernan, known from Irish television series such as The Clash of the Ash (1987), Strength and Honour (2007), and Deich gCoisceim (2000).

After the premiere at the Kaaitheater, the film can be seen at Argos, where the exhibition One Was Killed For Beauty, The Other One Was Shot, The Two Others Died Naturally, with new work by Els Dietvorst, is on show.

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Els Dietvorst (b. 1964) studied at the Royal Academy Antwerp and graduated from Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design with a master’s degree in Fine Arts. Initially she expressed herself through sculpture and installation art, but gradually these mediums gave way to drawings, texts and above all video. The focus of her work is communication, inter-human relations and social conflict and anti-utopian themes like the human condition and the outsider. It often takes the form of long-term projects in which she works directly with her surroundings and those living there. Her projects The Return of the Swallows on the Anneessensplein in Brussels and Song for the Price of a Goat and her activities at the secure young offenders’ institution in Mol are good examples of this. Together with artist Orla Barry she set up her Firefly collective, a dynamic workplace for artists, of which she was the director for ten years. Her work has been shown at M HKA (Antwerp), Witte De With (Rotterdam), the Centre for Fine Arts (Brussels), Kunsthalle Exnergasse (Vienna), La source du lion (Casablanca), Gallery Danielle Arnaud (London) and Nicole Klagsbrun (New York). In 2009 she curated the Time Festival in Ghent with Dirk Braeckman. She is a visiting lecturer at IT Carlow-Wexford Campus, KUL (Leuven) and the KASK in Ghent. In 2010 she moved from Brussels to the coastal village of Ducormick in Ireland, where she has been working on a new long-term film project entitled The Black Lamb since 2012. In May 2014 she will be in Brussels for the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, showing a series of new work.

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