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An 'infini' on his French is an infinity, and in the theatre world they used to call it the painted backdrops. Maker Jozef Wouters talks about the theatre of space, without actors, where different scenes and sets present the viewer with a variety of worlds. At the crossroads of architecture and the visual arts.
Please note: the conversation is in Dutch
About the original performance INFINI 1-16
In its form, INFINI 1-16 is absolutely without precedent: using only stage sets and no actors, it delivers a dramatic experience that will get imaginations running wild.
For over three hours, we travel from border checkpoints in Poland to underground tunnels in Palestine, from the coast of Lesbos sitting with the washed-up scraps of a tiny boat to an Arizona desert. We see the view of a city skyline from inside a video game, and hear a Skype conversation between two displaced people.
The term ‘stage sets’ evokes traditional spaces where the audience is not present at the moment. As preparation for INFINI 1-16, Jozef Wouters asked himself what the relevant spaces for a stage set are today. In an age when theatres and arts centres are scurrying to take down walls and other barriers and to take their work outdoors, Wouters turned the question around. If there is a space in the city where you can shut out the world and show something different, in silence, in the dark, with the space determining the sightlines from hall to stage – then that building must not be broken open, but actually embraced as a medium.
Wouters gathered a mixed group of builders, thinkers, former seamen and a retired landscape painter around him. Together they asked artists and writers about the landscape they would like to see depicted in the theatre today. This resulted in a series of infinis, contemporary interpretations of the painted backdrops of the past, which were mechanically raised and lowered to give depth to staged scenes. In INFINI 1-16 contemporary media have been added to these traditional backdrops in order to bring concrete, virtual and imaginary spaces into the theatre.
One core source of inspiration for INFINI 1-16 is the work of the eighteenth-century French scenographer Giovanni Niccolò Servandoni, who made ‘spectacles de machines’ in Paris, performances consisting solely of animated sets. In 1738, one of these spectacles was a copy of St Peter’s Basilica; Servandoni wanted people to be able to see this pinnacle of architecture even if they could not afford to travel to Rome.
The participating artists were given one restriction: they had to build a bridge between ‘the here’ and another place. They had to ponder the question of what sets the theatre needs in this age of hypermobility, migration and displacement. Their imaginative answers make INFINI 1-16 a well-considered reflection on the theatre, as well as an exploration of the act of looking itself, of the central perspective of the classical theatre in an age in which everyone is looking through a different lens. At the same time INFINI 1-16 is a model of collaboration, the cooperative spirit of a generation of theatre makers no longer living off their own egos but are elevating collaborative creation to a new credo. Instead of a single perspective, the result is a kaleidoscopic look at the world: a performance as a matchless gesture.
Jozef Wouters (1986) is a scenographer, theatre maker and visual artist. Wouters’s career in the performing arts has run from dance and theatre company fABULEUS via Scheld’Apen, d e t h e a t e r m a
k e r and a.pass, before setting up his own structure with Decoratelier for the production of his work. As a visual artist and scenographer he has worked with De Nwe Tijd, Thomas Bellinck and many others. His work is often related to a particular location, such as All problems can never be solved (2012), a project about the problem-solving power of architecture in a social-housing neighbourhood in Brussels, or Zoological Institute for Recently Extinct Species (2013), in which he converted a temporary wing of the Brussels Museum of Natural Sciences to express his views on the choices people make in dealing with our habitat. Along with Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods and dramaturge Jeroen Peeters, Wouters worked on the site-specific projects Atelier III and Projecting[Space[ in 2017. From 2017-2021 he is an autonomous artist in residence with Damaged Goods.
Podcast maker Stephan Sanders (Haarlem, 1961) is a Dutch writer, journalist, columnist and presenter. He studied Political Science at the University of Amsterdam, worked for a large period as editor of
de Groene Amsterdammer, and lectured at the UvA, the University of Minnesota (USA), the University of Iowa (USA) and the University of Groningen.
Sanders presented radio and television programmes for various broadcasters (VPRO, KRO, Human, NOS/NTR) including Het Blauwe Licht (with Anil Ramdas) and Met het Oog op Morgen. As a columnist he worked for publications such as Vrij Nederland, de Volkskrant, and Trouw. Some of his book titles are: Ai, Jamaica (stories), Buitenwacht (essays) and Iets meer dan een seizoen (memoires).