Calling upon the patron saint of insomniacs: Vincent Dunoyer & Berlinde De Bruyckere

'Onze Lieve Vrouw Van Vaak' (Vincent Dunoyer & Berlinde De Bruyckere; Kaaitheater, Brussels)

Performance art. Two words I’ve been struggling with last week, as I was watching several performances during Performatik, the Brussels performance art biennial. Performance art: any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer’s body, or presence in a medium, and a relationship between performer and audience, according to Wikipedia. What does a performance need for it to be a good performance? When are you allowed to think: it should have been more. Are the words performance art an excuse for an artist to get away with anything? When can I say: he was just lazy? Questions that popped up again as I was watching the performance everyone wanted a ticket for: Vincent Dunoyer‘s Onze Lieve Vrouw Van Vaak/Notre Dame Du Sommeil, a collaboration with Berlinde De Bruyckere, the acclaimed visual artist representing Belgium at this year’s Venice Biennial.

French dancer/choreographer Vincent Dunoyer and Belgian visual artist Berlinde De Bruyckere met last year, for The wound, an exhibition of hers in Istanbul. Dunoyer did a performance entitled Loan, for which he ”lent” his body to the exhibition. He performed twice every day at Arter, hoping to create ”an intense dialogue between the inertia of the sculpture and the movement of his own body”.

Onze Lieve Vrouw Van Vaak/Notre Dame Du Sommeil, their second collaboration, for Kaaitheater’s Performatik, was inspired by the fact that the small Kaaistudio’s were built on a site where in the early 17th a chapel in honour of the patron saint of insomniacs was to be found. It was a performance nobody seemed to want to miss, with all the fuss surrounding Kreupelhout/Cripplewood, De Bruyckere’s participation at the Venice Biennial; an exhibition to be curated by South-African writer JM Coetzee and SMAK Ghent curator Philippe Van Cauteren.

Upon entering the faintly lighted room, one could see a grey rack and a big black table, with several casts in wax from body parts from De Bruyckere’s atelier. Looking up, you could see another rack, on a mezzanine. Also in the room: a big pile of blankets, a music stand, and Dunoyer, standing next to the table. Everybody else was standing too, not exactly knowing where to wait, and what to expect.

As somebody shut the door, a cellist entered and started to play fragments from Sept Papillons by Kaija Saariaho. Dunoyer started slowly to walk around the table, looking intently at his hand on that table. A little later he walked towards the pile of blankets, and slowly began to fold one of them, and put it down on the floor, somewhere in the room. He then took another blanket, and another one. The people in the room clearly hesitated: were they to sit down on those blankets? Finally everybody did. Dunoyer laid his body down on the floor, slowly moved it around a bit, stood up again, returned to the table, and left the room. The cellist too. All the while images of a naked body had been shown on the wall, as well.

As anyone who has ever been near the sculptures of Berlinde De Bruyckere will know: they are extremely powerful. It has to be really difficult for an artist to find the right ”answer” to them. And it’s not that I wanted something spectacular or extraordinary, but from an experienced choreographer such as Vincent Dunoyer, I had expected more than just this.

You’ll find a clip with Dunoyer talking about this performance here, and a clip of Dunoyer performing at De Bruyckere’s exhibition in Istanbul here.

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