They last five, ten, twenty minutes. They take place under beech trees, among pines, by the pond, among the bushes and in the middle of a beautiful meadow clearing. And they are magnificent. Brief Encounters are temporary event sculptures, sometimes hard-hitting, always short-lived. In 2019 Lustwarande is organizing this programme for the third time.
Tanja Ritterbex (NL)
Gosie Vervloessem (BE)
Phoebe Collings-James & Last Yearz Interesting Negro – Sound as Weapon, Sounds 4 Survival (2019)
Phoebe Collings-James and Jamila Johnson-Small, who works under the name of Last Yearz Interesting Negro, are connected not only by their friendship but also by their physical approach to their work. Last Yearz Interesting Negro has a background in dance, and Collings-James trained as a visual artist. While Last Yearz Interesting Negro combines dance and choreography with video, sound and sculpture, Collings-James works with poetry and music in addition to sculpture, video art and painting. For both of them, their multidisciplinary practice is a way to investigate themes that are linked to their experiences as black women belonging to a minority, themes such as representation, visibility, oppression, violence, fear and alienation.
The dominance of the capitalist white patriarchy continues to affect the whole of society. For this reason, says Collings-James, much of her work is about violence – how it is experienced and why. She draws inspiration from her personal history and experience as a British woman with a Jamaican background, but her works refer to a universal feeling of being seen as ‘the other’, being marginalized or erased from official accounts of history and not recognizing yourself in the profusion of images with which we are bombarded on a daily basis. With her choreographies, Last Yearz Interesting Negro wants to take the feelings she experiences on a daily basis and convey them to her audience. She is aware of the histories of oppression and exploitation that her body represents, and she reflects the alienating gazes that are focused on her, as a form of resistance against the violent political and social reality of our world.
For Brief Encounters Collings-James and Last Yearz Interesting Negro will present the performance Sound as Weapon, Sounds 4 Survival, which can be described as a symbiotic relationship between dance, music and sculpture. In addition to Collings-James and Last Yearz Interesting Negro, three other female dancers will participate, Frederica Agbah, Ain Bailey and Ama Bentsi-Enchill. This performance of entwined bodies and cut-up R&B and dub loops is about creating what the artists refer to as psycho-emotional landscapes, in which space is made to get to know one another and themselves better and to find ways to keep on growing in spite of an often hostile environment.
Sound as Weapon, Sounds 4 Survival has been performed twice before, but the artists have made an adapted version for this first edition in the public space.
Tanja Ritterbex – How to make schawarma at home (2019)
Outrageous is probably the word most commonly used to describe Lady Gaga. The Dutch artist Tanja Ritterbex (b. 1985) has been called the Lady Gaga of art. Glamorous in their appearance, exuberant in their work and almost the same age. But there is another similarity: both are extremely aware of the huge influence that the Internet has on young people in particular, and they play with this in their professional practice. Lady Gaga is a superstar in the spotlights, carefully designing her own image, while Ritterbex examines the boundless fascination of online culture with a healthy dose of humour and self-reflection. The subject of her colourful and expressive paintings and video art is often Ritterbex’s own body and life, with work that makes us think about who we are and what it means to make oneself vulnerable.
As a reaction to the fad of photographs of beautifully presented plates of hip food on Instagram, Ritterbex painted her own simple meals every day for a year and posted them online. And in her Everyday Selfie Project (2015–16), the Limburg winner of the 2016 Koninklijke Prijs voor de Vrije Schilderkunst (Royal Award for Modern Painting) took a selfie every day for a year. She posted these on Facebook, generating a flood of comments and likes. The selfies and the reactions became the basis of the series of self-portraits that she painted exactly one year later.
In her recent solo exhibition at the Nest art space in The Hague, Ritterbex investigated, in sixty video works, the role of a character that has become an essential part of the modern social-media era: the influencer. During a residency in Curaçao, she made a vlogger-type video every day for three months, in which all the YouTube clichés, ranging from fashion-guru advice, beauty instructions and self-tanning tutorials to online dating and spiritual self-help, were magnified to hilarious proportions. She then made paintings based on each of the videos, in her characteristic quirky style with bold brushstrokes and lots of shades of candy pink.
For Brief Encounters Ritterbex will be holding a monologue, in which, sitting on a toilet, she allows the viewer to share in her doubts and indecision in this modern world with its endless choices.
Gosie Vervloessem – Horror Garden (2019)
For Brief Encounters the Belgian artist Gosie Vervloessem (b. 1973, Brussels) has deliberately chosen a spot by a fallen tree. The subject of her performance: the trail of destruction left by an insect barely five millimetres long. The European spruce bark beetle is a dark-brown hairy beetle that moves through woodland like a silent killer, proving fatal for spruces in particular. Healthy trees can repel insects by producing resin. However, last year’s dry summer left many spruces weakened, so the insects were able to drill their way through the bark to the inside of the trees and lay their eggs. The larvae that emerge eat their way through the trees in a very distinctive pattern, which makes it look as if sentences are carved into the trunk. This behaviour has earned the destructive beetle the wonderful Dutch name of the ‘letterzetter’, the typographer.
This presentation is closely related to the practice of Vervloessem, who, in readings, performances, recipes and installations, observes natural phenomena in order to understand, interpret and categorize them. Vervloessem is fascinated by our desire for control and systems of order. Can everything be classified? How should we relate to a world that is chaotic and elusive and seems to have a will of its own? This is also the context within which her interest in invasive plant species, into which she has conducted extensive research, should be seen. Exotics have been introduced by humans into areas where they do not naturally grow. This began in the colonial era. Alien species adapt to their new environment and have a strong survival mechanism.
Vervloessem’s project Horror Garden is a response to this situation. She presents plants as autonomous, independently thinking organisms that liberate themselves from human exploitation and subjugation and then scare them to death. She has taken inspiration from horror films, in which plants sometimes go on the attack. At De Oude Warande she is installing a wall with a display of exhibits from Horror Garden, combined with material about the spruce bark beetle. The public can sit on wooden chairs while Vervloessem elaborates about humankind having to bow to nature, which in turn has to bow to an insect, the toughest of all living creatures, which since its existence on earth began, around 400 million years ago, has constantly adapted to changes and so far proved ineradicable.