Meg Stuart
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Jozef Wouters/Decoratelier
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De Morgen, ‘These are good times in which to need each other' - Frederik Willem Daem (27.01.17)
Meg Stuart and Jozef Wouters dream of new art spaces - Charlotte De Somviele (30/03/2017)
Interview de Maïa Bouteillet pour le Festival d’Automne à Paris (05.2017) [ French ]
PUBLICO, It is still raining on Francisco Camacho - Inês Nadais (16.06.17)
TANZ, „Projecting [Space[“ in der Zentralwerkstatt der Zeche Lohberg in Dinslaken - Nicole Strecker (20.06.17) [ German ]
Jozef Wouters: selected not once, not twice, but three times for het ‘TheaterFestival’ - Evelyne Coussens (04.09.17)

Jozef Wouters: selected not once, not twice, but three times for het ‘TheaterFestival’

Evelyne Coussens, De Morgen, 04.09.2017

The young scenographer Jozef Wouters has been selected not once, but three times for the Theaterfestival, at which key pieces from the past season are performed at multiple locations around Brussels. “I create better work when I keep my ego under control”, he asserts.

The description ‘scenographer’ is somewhat narrow for the man whose pieces INFINI 1-15, alleen and Niets were all selected for ‘het TheaterFestival’. Jozef Wouters (b. 1986) does more than simply create sets. He responds to site-specific questions. For example, Wouters felt that the small patch of grass within deSingel was crying out for a football stadium (Stadium/Stadion, 2011) and that Brussels’ Museum of Natural Sciences was simply begging for an extra wing devoted to ecology (Zoological Institute for Recently Extinct Species, 2013).

Wouters: “I love the idea that the space has a will of its own. Not so very long ago, I found myself in Tunis, in a palace where three elderly craftsmen each had a studio that gave out onto a shared inner courtyard. The fourth studio was unoccupied. (smiles) I hope I don’t sound too esoteric when I say that I felt the space was asking me a question. I’ll be going there in a fortnight to see what craft I can develop alongside that of the carpenter, the potter and the shoemaker.”

In this sense, all of Wouters’ designs forge a dialogue with the space or a negotiation with the users of that space. In 2012, for example, he worked for six months in one of the council flats in Brussels’ Modelwijk. Not everyone was wildly enthusiastic about his plans for an installation on the central square.

This conflict led to a new project, in which residents’ complaints were expressed in an exhibition (All problems can never be solved, 2012). Wouters: “As a scenographer, you have the chance to experiment with the public space, a concept that is heavily under fire today. I therefore try to design spaces in such a way that they are both specific and open, like the Viennese coffee houses: a defined architecture that nevertheless offers freedom, if only because the waiters will let you sit there all day, nursing a single coffee and lost in thought.”

Freedom thanks to transience

The fact that Wouters’ name is less widely known is also partly down to his dialogic way of working. Under the banner ‘Decoratelier’ he gathers a network of associates around him. Wouters: “In both my practice and that of many of my colleagues, the concept of authorship is changing. Makers who build up their body of work individually are becoming increasingly rare. Indeed, my name sometimes doesn’t come through strongly in the creations that I build, but this is not really about modesty. I have simply discovered that I make better work when I keep my ego under control, just like a caving enthusiast needs to get rid of any excess weight.” (laughs)

At the same time, scenography’s transience forces you into humility, which is the antithesis to the ‘eternal value’ of its brother, architecture. For Wouters, ephemerality is an asset – the conversation between the space, its users and the scenographer must be ongoing. Wouters: “During the preparations for INFINI 1-15, I took lessons with Thierry Bosquet, a retired scenographer who spent his entire career at La Monnaie opera house. When I asked him if any of his sets are still in existence, he shrugged. ‘Scenography is all about accepting that things are transient’, he said. Thanks to this transience, scenography has the potential to be more than architecture. During a set’s construction, everything can still change.”

Moreover, Wouters’ Decoratelier (which as well as being a group of people is also a place in Molenbeek under the auspices of Damaged Goods) is situated in a neighbourhood in flux. Wouters: “We work in an old factory that in two years’ time will become part crèche, part park. Here, in between the band saws and welding machines, there’s no difference between working with your head and working with your hands. I need that.”

Lack of engagement from the houses

Wouters also invites colleagues to join him in his Decoratelier, often freelancers with no affiliation to a house. Wouters: “More and more artists are eking out an existence by moving from once residency to another. This is partly through choice, and partly due to a lack of engagement from the houses. The aim of the Decoratelier is to be a place for these makers. At times, the energy that is concentrated here would be enough to start up a small theatre!” (laughs)

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