Headaches and Damaged Goods: Celestial Sorrow premieres at the Kaaistudios
BRUZZ, Michaël Bellon, 01.2018
During the years of the dictatorship in Indonesia, the authorities tried to ban people from grieving, but failed. At the Kaaistudios, Indonesian visual artist Jompet Kuswidanto and choreographer Meg Stuart do the opposite, creating a space in which to express our troubles.
For Meg Stuart, who operates out of Berlin and Brussels, 2017 was a good year. She returned briefly to her home country, the US, with An evening of solo works and toured with the successful performances Hunter, UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP and Shown and Told. She also welcomed scenographer and visual artist Jozef Wouters into the Damaged Goods fold, and collaborated with various artists on a number of other projects. The most recent of these is with the established Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto, who is coming to create an installation as part of Europalia Indonesia. Lighting designer Jan Maertens is also collaborating on the project, to which sound artist Mieko Suzuki and musician Ikbal Simamora Lubys add a new dimension. From this, Stuart is creating a performance together with performers Jule Flierl, Gaëtan Rusquet and Claire Vivianne Sobottke.
“I was approached by Arco Renz (choreographer, former PARTS student, and now creator of Europalia Indonesia’s stage programme, ed.) to create a production as part of Europalia,” Meg Stuart explains. “I had visited Jakarta with Maybe Forever in 2010 , but that was more or less it. I was given carte blanche, but while we were consulting on how I might create a connection with Indonesia through my work, Arco also introduced me to Jompet. He showed me his work and also arranged a meeting in Berlin. After that, I travelled around with Jan Maertens and Mieke Suzuki for two weeks in the Indonesian region where Jompet lives – Jogjakarta on the island of Java – and to Bali to begin work. Jompet and the musician Ikbal Simamora Lubys are brilliant artists and I am delighted to be working with them.”
So what common ground did you find?
MEG STUART: There was first talk of doing something with the ritual and traditional dance from his region of Indonesia, but I was primarily interested in what I could do with Jompet’s work. His work is extremely diverse, but his installations are often about memories, about ghosts, about the presence of unfinished business from the past, about traumatic experiences, which are also to do with Indonesia and the history of the dictatorship (general Suharto’s military regime from 1966 to 1998, ed.), whilst still maintaining a degree of distance from it. These themes were in line with a number of my interests and obsessions and so this became a true meeting of minds. As a result, the performance is not actually about Indonesia, although of course it contains vestiges of our experiences there: the field recordings we made, for example, or traces of the dance that we’d witnessed.
I also wanted to create a relationship between light and voice. To look at how you can use your voice to shed light on something and can make sound and light resonate together. And how you can use the physical aspect of vocal work in a space – vocal parts, imaginary language, sound poetry, mumbling and murmuring – as a starting point for movement and dance material. This all comes together in the installation that Jompet proposed and worked out in collaboration with Jan. It is a huge installation with a great many lights and other objects that we are still working on, and that will only fully come to fruition in Brussels. Thus Celestial Sorrow is a performative installation rather than a performance or an installation. You enter into a separate world and the Kaaistudios, which I know well, are the perfect place for this. It promises to be an intimate occasion.
Can you tell us something about the title Celestial Sorrow?
STUART: The ‘sorrow’ is to do with something that Jompet told us about the time of the dictatorship, namely that certain sorrowful songs were banned in that era. The country was supposedly prospering and, as a result, people were meant to feel good. That story made me muse on how sorrow, and that fact that you express it, could potentially be dangerous. Once you realise that you are missing something, and you embrace that loss and begin to reflect that you are not happy with the situation as it is, then you are not productive and the system in which you are functioning comes under pressure. Grieving is disruptive. Mourning cannot be slotted into a rigid timescale and so you fall outside the patterns of expectation. Therefore this performance is about how we do still try to digest, transform and pass on things that are unspeakable and unpalatable. Sorrow is our birthright. When we are born, the first thing we do is cry. And that continues to be a part of our life, in which things inevitably change and ultimately die. You cannot simply brush your cares aside. The title’s heavenly qualification ‘celestial’ serves to open up this question. Instead of talking about Indonesia, Europe or America, we want to install an infinite, eternal timespan. The title also needed to position a difficult subject within a poetic framework.