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Meg Stuart and Jozef Wouters dream of new art spaces - Charlotte De Somviele (30/03/2017)

Meg Stuart and Jozef Wouters dream of new art spaces

'We need structures in wood and straw'

Excerpts from a conversation with Meg Stuart and Jozef Wouters, by Charlotte De Somviele, 30/03/2017

Scenographer Jozef Wouters has opened a new studio in the heart of Molenbeek, which has room for artists and residents as well as artisans. Choreographer Meg Stuart and her dancers are the first to occupy the space as part of Performatik. The results can be seen in Atelier III.

Liverpoolstraat 24, Molenbeek. It must be one of the only places in the Heyvaert district of Brussels that isn’t a car dealership. In an old factory building sandwiched between the many garages, Jozef Wouters has found a new base for ‘his’ Decoratelier. For the next two years, the visual artist will make sets here for Thomas Bellinck, amongst others, but also wants to provide a place for other artists and local initiatives. The traces are already visible as you enter the vast space. A parachute lies abandoned on the wooden seating, racks of brightly coloured costumes are strewn around, the sound of singing filters down from above while technicians saw wood amidst clouds of dust. This slightly eccentric chaos belongs to choreographer Meg Stuart who, together with her dancers, has been using the building for the past two weeks. This evening, in collaboration with Wouters and dramaturge Jeroen Peeters, she presents Atelier III: a preliminary study of their new show Projecting [Space[ for the Ruhrtriennale.

Meeting space

‘In Atelier III we don’t feel the need or the pressure to show a finished performance. We want to share the material and the questions that arose during the creative process in a laid-back manner,’ says Stuart. ‘That creates a whole other range of possibilities. Both Jozef and I are interested in how one can choreograph the gaze of the audience. Atelier III is a fluid meeting space in which various practices are intertwined and the classic conventions of the theatre, where events happen one at a time and people only look at things in isolation, are challenged.’ Stuart previously explored this transdisciplinary approach in the magical Sketches/Notebook.

‘This space will shape the artists who work here and vice versa,’ Wouters continues. ‘Things that are taken for granted in the theatre are questioned anew here: do we need a special floor and theatre curtains? How do we guide people through the space? How can we make an old building such as this more energy efficient? Many contemporary artists are searching for temporary workplaces. Meg and I did not so much want to turn away from the theatre, but we were looking for a specific type of location: a place where we could work for several months and where the scenography and dance could develop in tandem. In the theatre, such a rehearsal schedule is impossible. Structures in stone are necessary, but we also need those in wood and straw.’

Pop-up studio

‘We are kitting out the Decoratelier so that it can be moved to another location in a couple of years. There’s a great beauty in having to constantly adapt to a building, a neighbourhood and the entire surrounding economy. Awareness of the context in which you work does not, in this case, depend on how many residents will attend the premiere. You can participate in the social eco-system in various ways: last week, the local children came to play here with the dancers. And we add a different energy to a place that primarily functions as a commercial transit zone. People can freely experiment in these pop-up studios and I’m working on the assumption that more and more of them will emerge. The major institutions will have to follow suit.’

Company thinking

Wouters’s generation, who are used to small budgets and project work, are not the only ones interested in this kind of flexibility. ‘Continuity is important, but I don’t want to become an institute,’ says Stuart. ‘I would never want to walk into a studio where my dancers already know what I expect from them. I feel good in the theatre, but I have a growing interest in working outside the known infrastructures and in questioning my routines.’ It is precisely one of the reasons why Stuart invited Wouters to become an independent artist in residence at her company Damaged Goods. The classic company-thinking, built around one artist, seems to have waned. ‘It is no coincidence that Meg’s company does not have its own building,’ says Wouters. ‘It’s a dynamic web of relationships. I’m not invited to simply create a stage design for a show: we are building a collective vision. I become a better scenographer by spending time in the studio with Meg. She teaches me that a proposal may fail, as might the improvisations of the dancers.’

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