Exploding buckets and erupting volcanos, or ‘J’ai toujours voulu rencontrer un volcan’, by Gwendoline Robin
All of a sudden: a fire, and a gust of heat that makes you quickly step back. Or how Gwendoline Robin succeeds, seemingly out of nothing, in what she set out to do: to arrange an encounter with a volcano for you. J’ai toujours voulu rencontrer un volcan, is the title of her performance: I’ve always wanted to meet a volcano. The Belgian visual/performance artist premiered it during Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels), at a fitting location: the huge, empty customs depots of Tour & Taxis.
As you approach the area where you expect it is all going to happen, you notice a few things. Three buckets, a miniature fire truck, a heap of brown earth, several narrow glass tubes hanging in the air, and a giant aluminum foil blanket. More and more people arrive; everybody wondering where to stand, what to expect. At a certain moment, you notice a woman, in black clothes, walking around. She takes a large, circle-shaped piece of glass, and starts moving it around, as a hula hoop. You hear the sound it makes, rolling on that stone floor. And you notice the totally different sound it makes as it falls down, as a coin. She picks it up again. People have to step aside, as she’s moving about quickly. She drops it again, but this time it breaks in a thousand pieces.
A bit later, she’s bent over that pile of earth. What is she doing? And you move closer, curiously. But she waves, making it clear you better step back, and back, and back. And before you know it: BOOMM!! The pile has exploded, covering a large surface of the space with earth. For the audience it’s one of the subtle turning-points in this performance: at first you want to follow this woman, but then you realize that she can be dangerous too. So: what should I do? Give in to my curiosity or my fear?
And so, a series of experiments follows. And although the second part of the performance comprises the more spectacular events, I preferred the first part, during which Robins experiments with sound play a larger role. Such as the two glass tubes Robin is walking around with, at a certain point; first cautiously tapping one of them on the floor, then more fiercely, until, of course, part of it breaks off. Immediately the sound it makes changes. And then another part breaks off and the sound changes again, and again, thus continuing until nothing is left of the tube.
Later on, the performance loses this more poetic dimension, as it moves on to more daring experiments. Sure, there’s always a nice buildup of tension, and thus that question, as you’re watching: what is she up to? What is that white stuff she’s smearing on her ladder? What is that white sludge she’s dropping on that aluminum blanket? What is going to happen? But it becomes more of a science show then. Centered around her audacity. Such as the last part, when she puts on a costume (and earplugs) with fireworks attached to it, which she then sets afire.
But of course, that volcano, that sudden glow of fire, the sudden heat, just that moment, that was great.