Confronted with the SARS-CoV-2 crisis, we had to cancel the 25th edition of the festival in May 2020. Still, you can read the introduction to the programme as we wrote it here under.
« I thought I was a ghost but I was. » In one of his writings, poet Tarek Lakhrissi gives visible words to a feeling of invisibility, in a society made of divisions and hierarchy. As all ghosts, his does not accept the condition as it is, but haunts the present, seeking revenge in a new visibility.
Lakhrissis’ ghost might guide us through this text, and throughout Kunstenfestivaldesartsas such, in the invited artists reaffirming the force of bodies and identities who are often invisibilized. During our travel we might meet Ivorian choreographer Nadia Beugré, who is present for the first time at the festival with a performance that investigates the gaze on the male body, pressed between the history of slavery and gender. Or Alice Ripoll, who is premiering a new choreography inspired by the act of cleaning, often accomplished by numerous invisible bodies living at the outskirts of Brazilian society. By shooting images in Guangzhou and Lagos, Wang Bing constructs a fresco revealing both the connections between China and West Africa, and hidden forms of labour in contemporary capitalism. In working with Australian actors with intellectual disabilities, Back to Back Theatre builds a strong performance, reclaiming a new language and visibility for voices that are too often not heard.
As ghosts do, artists often delve into the past to bring new information to light. Staging a recent internal F.B.I. transcript about a whistleblower, Tina Satter reconstructs the case, both through the words and the omission of the state police. Mark Teh reopens the Malaysian archives to collectively understand how history is writtenand told. Léa Drouet traces the life of her grandmother to interrogate political violence. And in his new work premiering at the festival, Jaha Koo investigates the turbulent past of South Korea by analyzing how Western theatre was imported and became the cultural norm.
Of course, theatre in itself can be defined as a history of ghosts, with characters trapped in their lines, and reappearing throughout different centuries. With Three Sisters, acclaimed director Susanne Kennedy creates a virtual world, without space or time, in which Masja, Olga and Irina are liberated from their finiteness. Joris Lacoste and Ictus present Suite N°4: starting by the voice of Sarah Bernhardt who is speaking to the phantom of Hamlet’s father, they fill the stage with music and recorded material from the present and the past. At his turn, Iranian director Ali Asghar Dashti, is using the theatre as a mise-en-abyme, passionately restaging events from his personal past.
Theatre is a haunted house. Yet it is also the place where we accompany characters to free themselves from the shadows of the past. With the Polish theatre production Pieces of a Woman, Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber create an impressive cinematic play about the possibility of emancipation in the aftermath of difficult events. With Frontera, Amanda Piña works with South-American and local Brussels’ communities, using choreography as an empowering tool.
Ghosts are frightening. Their presence alludes to the unknown and the suppressed. In the context of the festival, they remind us of the importance of the theatre as a place of discomfort and confrontation, and the human need to explore evil, darkness and revolt. This haunted energy will circulate in the powerful movements of Mal, the new performance by Marlene Monteiro Freitas, and in the rhythmic flows of Nacera Belaza. It’s lurking in the provoking images of Anne Imhof, giving shape to sensations of alienation and uprising that increasingly conditioned our societies in past year. It is in the heart of the new work of Romeo Castellucci, who is searching to escape from the banality of evil. It is in the storytelling of Sara Sejin Chang and in the dark rituals of the Haitian collective The Living and the Dead Ensemble, who combine poetry and cinematographic language to explore hidden narratives.
The political attention on the invisible also instructs some projects of the Free School, the platform for experimental knowledge at the core of the festival. With Asif // The River – resonating with the premier of Tafukt, the new solo of Radouan Mriziga – the Free School hosts a temporary Amazigh cultural centre, gathering forms of transmissions and reflections from Belgium-based artists relating to the indigenous nations of the Maghreb. With McDonald’s Radio University, Japanese artist Akira Takayama collaborates with Brussels’ citizens, whose knowledge is often not recognized. He is re-training them as professors in a diffuse school that is emerging for 10 days in different fast food shops in the city.
As spectral beings, ghosts have the ability to infiltrate and move beyond existing boundaries. With Lecture For Every One-20, Sarah Vanhee accompanies a group of teenagers in writing a text they desire to share in different guerilla settings. In holding banners with poetic quotes in public space, Cameroonian artist Guy Woueté occupies different symbolic venues in the city, inviting the audience and bypassers to reflect on the current conditions of labour. During the course of the festival, Rossella Biscotti will produce a performance taking place in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It is an invisible gesture and yet it will unmistakably take place, reminding us of the political border between the audible and the inaudible, between what we see, and what has been silenced.
This introduction has no title. Its absence reminds us of the impossibility of reducing artistic work to one topic. Or maybe it has a title, yet without a body: as a ghost circulating in the text, assuming different possible titles and bodies. In this sense, it bears resemblance to our festival that exists through different venues and partners; through the bodies of numerous artists and spectators. For three weeks, it will circulate in the city like a restless phantom. Through the memory of what you experience, it will maybe circulate further in the following months or years, in other geographies and cities, transporting the ghosts elsewhere.
This introduction started with the words of Tarek Lakhrissi. Together with Sorour Darabi, he is part of the creation Mowgli. In it, starting from references from the French rap duo PNL, the two artists create a space of poetry and revolt, at the margins of what is known. It’s a space where invisibilized identities reject a narrative of weakness to embrace a new force. The ghost is not simply invisible: it is its possibility of (re-)appearing, speaking out loud, infiltrating beyond its realm, of strongly questioning the past and collectively predicting the future. We might hear it affirming, now with pride: “I thought I was a ghost, but I was.”
The direction of the festival,
Sophie Alexandre, Daniel Blanga Gubbay, Dries Douibi