We need a collective space for reflection
In her series Dying Together, Lotte van den Berg focuses on the moment of collective death not only of people, but also of animals, plants or ideas. Dying Together/Futures, the third part that was originally scheduled to be performed at Kaaitheater on 18 and 19 September, is a work-in-progress that is based on current events: the corona crisis. Lotte van den Berg: ‘Reflecting on something when you are in the midst of it is very complicated but also necessary.’
Dying Together/Futures is the third part of your trilogy Dying Together, the first part of which was also performed at Kaaitheater. Can you tell us something about the idea behind the series?
This series is inspired by the question: can looking at the way in which we die together give us new insights into the way we live together? Living together and dying together are inherently connected. We think it is important to research the idea of dying together as a collective thought exercise, a collective practice. According to me, dying is not an individualistic moment. For the thought exercise, I use moments of collective death in which the emphasis is on groups of people who die or ecosystems that disappear. The current situation in which people from across the world are dying due to the same cause also became part of this thought experiment.
Every situation makes visible that collective death brings us together, and equalizes us in a certain way – we all die – but it also makes the differences between us painfully tangible. The ideas and values that we espouse with respect to our own death or the death of our loved ones differ from the ideas and values that we hold with respect to people who die on the other side of the world, or cows that are slaughtered to be eaten. Dealing with death says a lot about the relationships that we cultivate in life, the people and things with which we are connected or perhaps completely disconnected.
The current pandemic was the inspiration for the third part. Where did you get the idea to make a performance about this in the midst of the crisis? And is that possible, without any physical or historical distance from the crisis?
We were not actually planning to make a third part. We thought we had finished with the subject and wanted to go on tour with Dying Together/Earth. Until covid-19 overwhelmed us all, and then we wanted to explore whether our practice, our collective thought exercise, could also dovetail with the needs that had suddenly arisen. We experienced the lack as a need to be together, a need to reflect together in close proximity on what precisely is going on here. Not only with words but also, to the greatest extent possible, to research and sound out the situation physically with one another.
It is true that it is very complicated to look at something and reflect on it when you are stuck in the midst of it. We are mainly used to looking at situations that are over in a certain way. Which still have an impact today, but which also enable some form of hindsight. We do not yet have that distance from covid-19. We cannot claim to have a comprehensive overview or answers. But we do feel the need to find space to look at the situation together.
What can we expect from the performance?
The performance consists of three levels. We first ask the question of what it means to be in a space with one another. What does it mean to be together despite the lockdown and the strict rules around physical distance and to share space with mouth masks and social distancing? In other words, the performance is very much based in our own experiences of the past few months, but also of the evening itself.
We then look at current events and attempt to cast a spotlight on the impact of the human reaction to the virus. We have noticed that in many places, covid-19 is used by policymakers to push certain pre-existing agendas. Covid demands a lot of attention and thus also distracts attention, especially with respect to social justice, income inequality and self-determination. But climate change, which was very prominent before the lockdown, has now receded to the background. Are we looking at the right things? I think that is a very important question.
This second part is very changeable, both across time and due to the local differences between the places where we perform.
The final part is about how our perspective on the future changes and the ways in which our ideas or convictions are subject to change in this pandemic. On the one hand, we have noticed the hope that systemic change is possible, when we’re talking about capitalism or the ways that we deal with natural resources. At the same time, the future has become very uncertain. The ideas that we have or had about the future were already rather shaky due to increasing climate change, and they have now become even more ungraspable. In other words, in addition to new hope, something of the future has also died. It sometimes feels like a kind of futureless vacuum. The audience present on the evening itself always decides how the ideas about the future are used. We present various perspectives, but it is up to the group of people at each performance to decide on the content of those perspectives. We thus create a collective space for reflection.
In the Dying Together series, this space for reflection becomes concrete because the audience moves across the space. Is that possible given the current safety measures?
The first evening that we staged Dying Together/Futures, we discovered that there were too many people in the space. We describe situations and ask the members of the audience to depict people in the situation by standing or sitting in a certain place in the space. The relationships between the people from the situation become visible because the members of the audience stand closer together or further away. When a metre and a half is the closest that you can get to one another, you also have to be able to take distance. The capacity has now been reduces so we can make the relationships as palpable as possible.
Lotte van den Berg in conversation with Eva Decaesstecker (Kaaitheater, September 2020)