In Fencing, Nikolina Komljenović (HR) and Bruno Pocheron (FR/D) reflect upon the systematic fencing-off of physical spaces in today’s world, for political and economical reasons, with a focus on the current situation in Europe. Such a deployment of barriers, justified as a response to ‘security risks’ associated to freedom of movement (as in the current refugee crisis) forms a quickly spreading grid network of physical and visible boundaries that hinder the movement of individuals, groups of people and herds of animals. Fences reshape rural and urban landscapes, change ecosystems, channel our movements and affect our behaviours. They parcel public and natural spaces into impermeable zones and participate in defining a standardized aesthetic of the dominant security-driven ideology. They are one of the obvious symptoms of the growth of a crisis-fuelled economy. They establish borders as architectural and material features rather than mere territorial agreements materialized on maps (the Mason and Dixon line was never implemented in real world, most of the borders colonial countries were drawing on maps were also not).
In Europe nowadays, thousands of kilometres of fences are redrawing and materializing borders that we thought fallen in desuetude. Fencing systems enhanced with razor-wires are a developing part of our environment. Similarities to historical precedents stay mostly unquestioned. Several countries violate their own laws concerning freedom of movement and create perennial states of emergency. As Naomi Klein clearly describes in her 2008 book ‘The shock doctrine’, states of emergency and situations of crisis always create a favourable context for ultra-liberal free-market economy.
We perceive that phenomenon (together with its cortège of prejudices, racism, intolerance and ignorance as well as its economical impact) as a coherent yet disquieting counterpoint to the feeling of virtual freedom provided by the World Wide Web. A freedom a-physical seems to supplant that of our physical selves and palliates a lack of liberty in the real world. Together, the semi-illusory freedom of virtual spaces and the growing restrictions put on physical freedom of movement reveal an organized and somewhat forced retreat from the real, from the here and now, from the physical.
As performance-makers we regard the here and now and the physical as our domains of research, our fields of action. As human beings and as artists, we feel entitled to engage in reflecting upon the fencing-off of the world. An artwork, when thoroughly researched and reaching a certain depth of abstraction beyond an aesthetic or narrative surface, can help building a cognitive and reflective approach to a geo-political situation. Stage works specifically are moments of unmediated present and unmediated presence, shared by performers and audience alike, in their minds and in their bodies. They generate moments of introspection in connection with the world. They are multi-dimensional events that form their own language within a real-time process. In Fencing, we claim the theatre as a manifold and borderless space of human communication. We combine our practices towards making a work that reaffirms the strength, the fluidity, the beauty and the liveliness of the human body over any kind of restraints, while addressing the contemporary phenomenon of closure of the physical spaces available to us.
We envision to develop this work for the stage without dogmatism or sensationalism, as an act unburdened by a clear or logical, symbolic or narrative meaning, as a process that operates both on and below the conscious level, through cognitive experiences physical, auditive and visual. We search for a level of co-existence between fences, bodies, light, sound, space and the audience that affects their respective potentials and transcends their presence and purpose. We aim to create a stage apparatus without subordination of any of the elements involved to the others. Through layering and juxtaposing all the elements at play, without any pre-conceived idea of a goal to be achieved, of a message to be transmitted, we attempt to form a complex and shifting performative space, that emerges in real time, and allows for different levels of perception.
Motivation for making a travelling radio by Canoe (2014, Pocheron):
7 years ago, well into my second decade of designing lights for contemporary dance and theater,
as I was constantly traveling by airplane and spending most of my time in the darkness of theaters, I quite impulsively bought second-hand a small boat, after finding an add in a newspaper. It is an all-waters foldable expedition canoe suitable for 2 persons plus gear, that can be assembled or dismantled in about 20 minutes and that fits in a huge backpack that I can carry alone. I got a grip on steering the boat in Berlin, by going on urban trips on the many channels, on the lakes and on the river Spree. In my second year of canoeing, I made a roughly 200 km trip from Berlin to Szczecin on the Oder over one week, camping along the way. Since then, I have as often as possible repeated the experience of long canoe trips on different rivers in Europe and island-hopping in the Adriatic sea, totally seduced by the physicality and the peacefulness of this mode of transportation, by the contact to nature it provides, by the possibility of seeing the transformation of landscapes, the unfolding of days in slow motion it gives, and most of all by the opportunity to meet people on premises one rarely encounters in daily life it offers.
Slowly came the conviction that it would be important to share with an audience the experience of these waterways, the understanding of the territories that lay by that canoe traveling gives, the meetings with people and their stories made along the way.
In the past years I’ve been nearly exclusively working on pieces designed as more or less self-contained art works, presented in theaters to a theater audience. That aspect of my work and the wish to balance it by some other activity started to create in me the desire to reconnect with a documentary approach to work, more open to the outside world, based on interviews and the collecting and organizing of individual points of view on reality. My experience of documentary-based work started in 2005 and developed in collaboration with Ben Anderson, Frédéric Gies, Manuel Pelmus and Isabelle Schad with the site-specific choreographic project Still Lives. Still Lives brought us to work (over a span of 5 years in about 15 cities in Europe with mixed groups of 15 to 50 local volunteers) on creating stage pieces based on interviews of local people about their perception and analysis of one single image. In the frame of this project we made over 2000 interviews in french, german, english, romanian, macedonian, dutch etc. Most of the time, I took care of them technically (the concentrated guy with the mike and the headphones) and very often I led the interviews together with one colleague/translator. Then I edited and subtitled the interviews we selected. Still now, I have the pitch and tone of astonishingly many of the voices I recorded present somewhere in my head, as well as sequences of words I just don’t seem to forget.
Quite paradoxically, when I started to travel by canoe for leisure and when I met local people along the way, I couldn’t help mentally recording what they told me, how they told it to me and I felt I was gathering a huge amount of information about the territories I was crossing that way. More than once I thought: well, pity I don’t have an audio recorder with me. The same happened in lonely situations in desert environments, when experiencing a thunderstorm on the water, a majestic tri-dimensional bird concert in the reed or an eery early start in the fog, when all noises seem out of place, or placed in a void.
This radio project is born from the experience of slow, man-powered traveling. It is inspired by the beauty, the complexity and the diversity of the human encounters made on and along the waterways, by the richness of the story-telling and the mass of informations that emerge from them. It is motivated by the natural, cultural and historical strength of the streams that delimitate regions and materialize borders. It is shaped accordingly to the unique perspective one has on their environment when traveling slowly and literally sitting on the water. It proposes to spread widely testimonies of the multifold microcosmic realities existing along the ever flowing streams that connect places, yet divide territories: the sinuous blue lines on the maps we recognize as rivers.