Tableau Vivant 2019-2020

Wan-Lun Yu and Joeri Verbesselt, in collaboration with Mei-Ning Huang

After summer residencies in P.A.R.T.S. and GC Nohva (through VGC) in Brussels, we moved with the Tableau Vivant-project to Taiwan.In December 2019 we prepared for the presentation of this ongoing research and performance project about the depictions of the female figure and nature in Western Art History. The 50-minutes black box presentation of this solo performance took place on January 3 and 4, 2020, in Taipei for a selected audience. For this performance we decided to focus on the image of the mythological princess Andromeda as an entry point or meta-image to talk about Western Art History in general.

‘Tableaux vivants’ emerged in the 19th century in Europe when women started bringing to life traditional paintings or sculptures by way of imitation, first within intimate family circles and later on the theatre stage. In these ‘living paintings’, women experimented with different roles of female identity, from being a Venus to a warrior woman.

In this performance, we look back at the different female characters and mythological stories these women could have embodied. By stripping the different postures of the female figures in the artworks of their context and history, the performer confronts the spectator with how the beauty ideals of Western Art History influences everyday performance in our societies today.

Dictated by patriarchal societies overtly relying on a male gaze, these artworks tend to portray (naked) female bodies in the foreground and nature in the background. With this performance we bring Art History to life by redefining the performativity of the female body and nature in relation to the roles we are embodying in our present society.

In December 2019, the project found a residency in Walkingbook Library in Taipei as part of the STUPIN Artist Platform. For its two-weeks Open Studio exhibition Idleness, we focused on the mythological Greek goddess of Aphrodite and developed an installation titled foam, slaver, froth, sperm. On the opening night there were also two 10-minutes solo performances inside the installation.

For this installment we concentrated on paintings of Aphrodite and her Roman counterpart Venus. According to the Greek poet Hesiod, Aphrodite was born in the sea. Ambushing his titan-father Ouranos (the sky), who was descending to have sexual intercourse with his mother Gaia (the earth), Kronos (time) severed his father’ genitals and threw them behind him into the sea. As a result, concludes Hesiod, “white foam arose from the immortal flesh, and in it a girl grew.”

The figure of Aphrodite allowed us to trace the connections between Old paintings and the present through gender and the sea. Subverting the above-mentioned foregrounding-backgrounding logic we visited the sea north of Taipei in search of the foam that is lingering in the paintings’ backgrounds. With our carrier bags, we collected sea-objects that made us doubt whether they were born in the sea or produced by humans.

The results of this quest are clustered in an immersive installation consisting of two parts. Firstly, a sea-womb as an entangled archive of images from Art History and found sea-objects. And secondly, a testicle-tomb with a video containing living images or a body performance.

Finally, we took the project back to Belgium for a performance for the occasion of International Women’s Day in GC Nohva on March 6, 2020. We devised a 30-minutes version of a solo performance for which we focused more on exploring the interaction with the audience, as the performer would move among the audience eating and drinking in a reception setting. Throughout the space, several manipulated images with Old Paintings are dispersed to stimulate reflective resonances.

The development of this project was made possible thanks to the support of the Flemish Government (Kunstendecreet), the Taiwan National Culture and Arts Foundation and the Taiwan Ministry of Culture.

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Joeri Verbesselt (°1990) investigates how to connect ecological activism with future imagination. His work can result in various forms: writings, films and performances. Joeri published several essays and one short story. Currently, he is developing the film 'Motherships' and the performance project 'Tableau Vivant'. From November 2019 onwards, his research will be clustered in a PhD in the arts on Dystopian Optimism.
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