A quick overview of Bureau d’Espoir projects:
In 2009 Elke Van Campenhout (me) was asked to develop a project in response to the international network-organization APAP’s search for a ‘performer for the 21st century’. At that point I interpreted this performer as a body that tries to escape its over-defined existence:
“what kind of a body is being produced after a century of modernist and postmodernist rethinking, through gender confusion, political recuperation, through all the attempts to objectify the body, alienate, reframe, rephrase and replace the body. What is happening in the 21st century as an answer to that? Can the resulting body still speak? Is it still able to act? What is the kind of action it is still capable of?”
‘The symptomatic body’ tried to map out the different responses performance culture, but also advertising and wellness culture formulated to this question. Throughout the four stages of the research we looked into possible ‘symptomatic bodies’ of our times, and tried to categorize them by analyzing the kind of actions they are still, or again, capable of. For example: the image of the body in loop, the falling body (9/11), the clowning body, the disintegrating body, etc… In the stages afterwards we went into practice and tried to develop techniques and workshops that would produce these bodies for the future. Symptomatic Bodies had stations in Brussels (Workspace Brussels), Berlin (Tanzfabrik), and Reims (PAF) and the final stage was developed in a residency in Pianofabriek, and shared/performed in Beursschouwburg.
In 2010 I then started working with Bureau d’Espoir as an artist, that could be invited into other people’s projects, announcing the bureau as such:
“’Bureau d’Espoir’ is a research into a contemporary understanding of hope as an artistic practice. One decade into the 21st century, hope seems to have re-entered the political and artistic agenda’s. As a way to handle ecological doom, global confusion and political terror, hope opens up different strategies to define relations, to rethink ethics and to come to another understanding of the role of the artist in society. Bureau d’Espoir redirects the question of the (im)possibility of hope as an artistic strategy. Is there something like a choreography of hope, rearranging the way we relate to our everyday worlds? Is there an artistic attitude that questions and realigns our relation to our environment and everything/everyone in it? Is there a shared social body that can produce hope as a social movement, as a constant flow of possibilities?”
Bureau d’Espoir developed at that point the Blind Practices: non-effective office practices for affective workers in public space. In the context of the Thematics project DIY of workspace Les Bains, we worked for 3 weeks in the open space of Micromarché (Brussels), disturbing and rewriting the regular worker’s practices.
(extensive interview on Bureau d’Espoir in the Bureau d’Espoir text category)). Later Bureau d’Espoir worked at the Changing Tents project in Kaaitheater, did 4 performance lectures at Theater a/d Werf, and opened up the Natural History Museum of Hope at the Belluard Festival in Fribourg (Switzerland).
Where this first DIY-project was still working on ‘tender’ practices, nudging against the limitations of functionality and being together, LaZone is a much more radical critique of the cosmopolitan uncritical practice logics that regulate the arts and residency politics in the West. In the working stages of LaZone we tried to create an in-between space that “falls out of our understanding of the different ‘regimes of the sensible/experientiable’ (Jacques Rancière) that define our daily life. In other words: since we live our lives successively within different zones of understanding, speaking and behaving, everything I can see and experience, I can say and express, I can feel and put into relation is dependent on the particular regulations of the zone I am moving in at that particular moment (the political zone, the personal, the juridical, the virtual etc…). But what if we try to break up these pre-formatted zones of the understandable? What if we try to redefine these behavioral eco-systems? What if we come to another sense of belonging, of generating meaning, of enquiring into the social body without a pre-ordained plan? What if our gestures, movements,attitudes and actions don’t necessarily fit the picture, but have to be (re)negotiated all the time?”
LaZone was an attempt to break down the ‘politeness’ of being together that regulate a lot of collaborative practices. By deliberately refusing hierarchy or a clear working plan, participants had to develop a strong desire for themselves to work, and a clear position towards the other as imposing his/her desire on the group. What became clear quite soon is the non-equality of the participants, on different levels, and the ideological, intellectual, artistic, religious and other differences that made it impossible to work ‘in peace’, or in perfect agreement. The only rule between LaZone was to take conflict seriously, and develop material out of these clashes of preconditioned (mis)understanding (both in movement material, concepts, mappings, debate, etc…).
In a next phase Elke Van Campenhout picked up the role of Various Artist Marcella.B, an ex-academic actionist visual artist, and they both got invited for a group exhibition of Various Artists in Sao Paulo, in ‘Le Château’ an exhibition and residency project, investing in making the link between global food production and the economy of the arts today. Marcella.B started working as a Hunger Artist and developed a series of performative dinners in the exhibition space. Elke Van Campenhout started writing together with her, and criticizing her work on the level of its over-emphasis on political efficacy and drama (the hunger artist), and took up the practice of the ‘anorexic worker’ as a counterpoint to the ‘old-fashioned’ emphasis on the authentic body of the hunger artist, and its existential perspective of a constantly looming mortality. The anorexic worker defined itself as the ‘new performance body’: inauthentic and hollow, no longer a marker of its unicity but rather of a gap in the system. Not stating the no, but a yes to a constant redistribution of values, of relations and engagement. (see text Food&Hunger).
Marcella.B and Elke Van Campenhout then got invited into the Entropic Institute of deufert&plischke (Tanzfabrik Berlin, may 2012), where they worked further on their shared convictions and oppositions, in a series of improvised lectures, and the set-up of an adventure game structure, aimed at turning spectators in respective Hunger Artistis or Anorexic Workers.
This work on a concrete economy brought me then to the preparation of a new phase in my research work with Bureau d’Espoir and the anorexic worker as important players: the Poverty Projects (2014) is again an analytic practice on the re-understanding of the economies we belong to, on the social bodies these economies produce, and on the machines that mold them. In the Poverty Projects the emphasis is again on the individual body only in as far is he/she is part of a larger whole of machines, objects and subjects, and on the relation between them all.
see: upcoming projects