With as subtitle Bodies of Water, Astrida Neimanis's text Hydrofeminism describes the impossibility for a body to be autonomous. «We are bodies of water» she writes: there is one water that passes from one body to another, from one species to the other. We breathe water that has been expelled by others. We sweat, we drink again, in a constant circulation between bodies. This fact alone challenges the very possibility for us of saying «I». What if the pandemic today is not only an unexpected contamination, but also something that makes visible what was already there? We have been, in a state of permanent contamination, as bodies of water, always circulating in other organisms. Therefore emphasizes this edition of Kunstenfestivaldesarts, in mourning for all that we have lost, and in the desire to overcome this moment, contamination not only as an emergency situation to be fought, but also as a constitutive element of our being in the world.
The city as a non-homogeneous space, is at the core of this edition, with works commissioned to artists who live herein, or who look at it from afar. Chassol creates his new album starting from the linguistic contaminations and sonic polyphonies at the heart of Brussels. Mariano Pensotti portrays the city through the life of six spectators in the city and the influence that a theatre piece has on them. Lina Lapelyte collaborates with local choirs on a project, presented by a swimming pool, and reflecting on the importance of leisure spaces in Brussels. In his exhibition Hamza Halloubi focuses on the multiplicity of gazes that travel from body to body. They mirror the city at the confluence of different stories, bodies and waters.
The landscape of the city inspires, influences, and almost contaminates artistic creations this year. Walid Raad conceives an exhibition starting from the garden of the Maison des Arts in Schaerbeek; in Josaphat Park, Sarah Vanhee installs an open-air public school; Akira Takayama activates a temporary university within fast-foods in the city. It is a city of gardens, parks and spaces that remained open in the months in which the theaters and museums were closed, and that now circulate in the expanded network of this edition.
Circulation cannot always be presented as a horizontal exchange: on the contrary it has often been inscribed within asymmetrical relations of power, cultural imposition or violent appropriation. Amanda Piña highlights this side of contamination, impressively retracing the role of choreography in the colonization of South America; Jaha Koo presents the influence of Western culture in his relationship with South Korea. Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai presents a project of expanded cinema in the former church of Brigittines.The Living and the Dead Ensemble travel through poetry into the past and present of Haiti and its relation with the West, and Nadia Beugré refers to the legacy of colonization in the look on the black body. The theatre becomes a lens on history and its layers.
The theater is also the place where a body on stage loses its autonomy to be contaminated by other identities, and to become a hybrid space in front of the viewer. Okwui Okpokwasili gives life, through a single interpreter, to the relationship between two friends in the Bronx of the 80s. The writer Edouard Louis is on stage to be rehabilitated by himself as a teenager, directed by Milo Rau. Nacera Belaza conceives of choreography as a wave of energy that travels from body to body. Marcus Lindeen stages stories of cohabitation of multiple identities within the same body: the actors, guided by the sound, embody lifes that refuse to decline into the singular.
Sound has the power to travel and contaminate the space with something that was not there before. Japanese artist Araki Masamitsu accompanies the viewer in a sonic performance capable of transforming the space on the streets of Tokyo; Joris Lacoste and ICTUS create a theater without bodies, giving shape to an archive of voices; Adeline Rosenstein conceives a radio investigation project, which takes place on stage as well as from home, in continuity of these last months in which many were forced to share experiences at a distance.
In a desire for sharing, the festival this year envisioned different parts that can be experienced without being physically in Brussels. The entire program of theoretical meetings - from Sadiya Hartman to Rolando Vasquez - takes place this year online. And a virtual online theatre allows everyone to follow a selection of five shows - from Léa Drouet to Edouard Louis and Milo Rau - broadcast live from Brussels. Distance is not just a fracture, but a place to inhabit, to co-inhabit.
Distance is also a place inhabited by dance. With Space, American choreographer Faye Driscoll makes choreography an investigation of space and proximity. With Outrar, Lia Rodrigues reflects on choreography as something that can travel from body to body. Inside a reconstructed garden Ayaka Nakama presents a choreography in which she dances within the memories of the spectators. Dance does not belong to anyone, but, like water, it circulates between bodies.
During the festival in May Brussels based artist Pélagie Gbaguidi transforms a former hair salon at Saint Catherine square into a barter zone in which to exchange objects and stories we no longer need. Zone de Troc weaves a space of care, in which to materialise again an interdependence of lives. After months of necessary isolation it reminds us collectively of the vital practice of mutual contamination and mutual care. We exist beyond an impossible autonomy; or maybe simply as bodies of water.
Daniel Blanga Gubbay, Dries Douibi, March 2021