I'm not here says the void

Julian Hetzel

Leestijd 7 — 10 minuten

I’m not here says the void – Julian Hetzel

I’m not here, says the void by the German director Julian Hetzel plays with the Void in her late capitalistic, perverse form. The leading roles are for an IKEA sofa, grey plastic bags and overalls made of recycled fibres. The actors, Hetzel and Michele Rizzo, are empty shells waiting in vain for the divine breath that will save them from this deadly boredom.

‘I am not here, says the void’ is a dark visual poem about sculpting the emptiness. This performance installation has been developed out of a research on the concept of overlapping realities and the metaphysical opposition between appearance and essence. If one believes in change, one needs to believe in something that is not there, that is unknown. Reality is an invention of the observer.

(website Julian Hetzel)

The sentence ‘I am not here, says the Void‘ is logically impossible. It makes one think of a child that clasps its hands in front of its eyes and then says it is no longer there. An equally impossible statement. Both can be thought however and both are comical therefore. Apparently, we have at our disposal a word for something that is as radically unimaginable as our own death. The Void, Nothingness, it models the fringes of our imagination, much in the way we once imagined the world as a flat plane one could tumble off, into the Void. The Void is the kind of word we keep in store for all things words are otherwise missing.

That is why the Void inspires fear and awe. We think of it as a wild sea or a scorching desert. Blind forces of Nature we have no word against. In Dutch, one says they are ‘onwerkelijk’, literally ‘unworkable’ or ‘unworklike’: one can literally not ‘work’ with them. All metaphysics take root in this Void, represented as a Chaos, an ‘Ur-soup’. In the Bible, God, as the Word, makes distinctions in it. Day and night, humans and animals, man and woman, etc. Steady Values. They help us through the day. But then there is always the night, the fringes.

This word magic is not totally reliable either. Sometimes, words fail to give a name to what befalls to us. At moments like that, the Void, Chaos is yawning again. The paradox being that it is often more tempting than the verbiage that keeps us away from the abyss. Words smell of spongy tricks, of censoriousness that detracts us from whatever is truly real, shiny, promising. Samuel Beckett longed for nothing more than to tear to shreds the veil that language casts over reality. Only knowing too well how terrifying the World behind that veil of words can be.

The illusion that everything has found its place, and thus has become ‘realistic’ and ‘manageable’, is one of the remarkable traits of our highly technological civilization Everything has become a ‘story’. Through our stories we had the better of the ‘Unreal’ or the ‘Unnamable’. Except for this one fact: the Unreal, disguised as a bank crisis, hit hard in 2008. Since then, any Value or Story sounds hollow. Capitalism hollowed out Value, Word and Reality. Alas, what was left behind was not a glorious Void, a New Beginning but an overcrowded, filthy, sticky excess. A zombie reality. Disgusting junk. We don’t know how it got there, nor how we ever came to put faith in it. ‘La nausée’, 2015. Words fail here. In the best of cases, traces of this experience can be found in horror  films. What is there left to us then? Smash everything to atoms? Could that be the start of a new language, a new existence?

In any case, the Void –whether it be in its original version or its perverted present-day form- makes us feel uneasy. Except in the theater, that is. In the theater, we adore Emptiness as the ‘Empty Space’. It is the domesticated version of the original Void. In the theater, Emptiness almost as by itself becomes Promise. Our drama becomes graphical as by magic. ‘I’m not here, says the void’, a theater piece by the German director Julian Hetzel, toys with te Void in its late-capitalist, perverse figure. The main parts are reserved for an IKEA sofa, garbage bags in grey plastic and overalls made of recycled fibres. The actors, Hetzel and Michele Rizzo, are but the empty shells waiting in vain for a Divine Breath to save them from deadly boredom.

The first image of the piece is the promise of the empty space as such. A thick black curtain arouses the longing of the spectator for what is as yet still hidden. A metallic, deformed voice however spits out loudly, with abrupt stops after each word, the message. “This is not a curtain, this is a thick black cloth, 10 by 4.5.” It undermines the simple craving of the spectator. The image becomes ambiguous, because the sentence calls to mind the historical avant-garde that wanted to put an end to the backward ‘make believe’ of theater, to provoke something really new. The voice’s deformation on the other hand is a horror cliché, a stereotypical hint at a menacing force, the ‘Void’. In this way, three clichés seem to meet. They do not abolish each other, but stand next to one another in an uneasy equilibrium. What will it be?

A pack of grey plastic sheets  is lying on the front side of the stage. A man, Michele Rizzo, covered in an overall with a hood made of raw recycled tissue, crawls towards it. In great effort, he unfolds the pack and hides almost at once under it. Once he is out of sight, he makes the plastic undulate and quiver. It looks as an awkward representation of the Ur soup in disposable plastic. But it works still. Even if one never loses the –hidden- performer out of sight. The scene meets a dead end however as the man slowly drags the enormous sheet with him to disappear under the curtain. With a truly comical note however: suddenly, the legs of the performer pop up from under the curtain again as if he was wrestling so hard with the plastic that forgot about the ‘illusion’ he was to perform.

Again, the creaking vocoder voice loudly bursts out now: “Motherfucker, fathersucker, who do you think you are anyway?” Hetzel now pops up, in the same outfit as  Rizzo, and pushes away the curtain. Is the show on now? The image we see is a brightly lit white sofa. Rizzo took place in it, looking bored. Next to him, on the sofa, a plastic sheet, propped up to vaguely resemble a human figure covered in plastic. For some time nothing happens, until Rizzo, by sheer annoyance probably, sticks his nose into the thing next to him. It almost at once crumbles to nothing, but then he picks it up, crawls under it and for one moment seems to coincide with the plastic, as if he took on a new shape. So what? He gets up, wanders around, and sinks back in the sofa. Still, nothing happens or changes. “Who do you think you are anyway?” Finally, Rizzo tumbles backwards over the back of the sofa, taking the plastic sheet with him.

Hetzel now crops up again. To no avail however. Not only does he look like the spitting image of Rizzo, once he switched on a midi-installation on the back wall of the stage, he plumps down in the sofa in exactly the same position as Rizzo’s before. He takes on an air of studious indifference. The only difference being the lights flickering on the midi installation from now on. They vaguely resemble a streaming light ad. Irritating peeps and bleeps – very much like signals from outer space in sci-fi films – resound. Suddenly however, Rizzo pops up from behind the sofa again. He rolls over the back of the bench, seemingly without taking notice of the other. How could he, considering that he stubbornly keeps hanging sideways over the back of the sofa.

It takes ages before Rizzo produces the grey sheet of plastic again. He drapes it over the seat. Just when it slowly hovers down, Hetzel tilts sideways in the sofa. Rizzo sticks the plastic against Hetzel’s body, as if he made a raw sculpture after a living model or just simply a cast of a corpse. I almost at once thought of the casts of victims of the volcano outburst in Pompeii. The image anyhow feels totally unreal: the formless plastic takes the upper hand from the living human body. It looks as a sloppy approximation of what that body actually was. Almost as vague as the figure Rizzo was sniffing at before. Rizzo scrutinizes the result of his intervention for a moment from a distance, and then sits down next to it, looking as bored as ever. Or as bored as Hetzel, who peels away the plastic, crumples it up and shoves it under the sofa.

So what did we get until now? Not that much! Rizzo scrutinizing an empty plastic shell, the proceeding to a ‘life like’ sculpture in the same plastic, and finally two men sitting alongside each other who look exactly the same. No one got any better from this. Whatever they were looking for, in or under the plastic, obviously wasn’t there. The only visible result of all that happened before is a simple duplication: one bored male became two bored, almost identical males, sitting in a banal sofa. Without beeps and bleeps from now on.

What to do now? They pick a little on the sofa. Soon it gives at the seems of the covers. In cool rage, purposefully but placidly, they start to tear down the sofa. Until the last spring and plank. As if they wanted to know what was hidden underneath the gaudy surface of the thing. Nothing, it appears, except for a bunch of garbage. But once they are aware of that, it seems as if they can’t stop anymore. It is their revenge on this token image of an aimless existence. It is hilarious. Or a relief.

Once the sofa is torn completely in shreds, nothing is left to do. Rizzo disappears under the floor cloth. Hetzel attaches three huge rags of plastic to hooks in the ceiling, and then goes the same way. All that is left are the poor remnants of a once attractive IKEA sofa and three crumpled body bags in grey plastic, spinning around aimlessly. Might be tragic, might be ridiculous. The soaring electronic doom score helps out: tragic it will be…

That is when more grey plastic rags, scorched and frayed at their edges hover in the stage. Nameless monsters (actually: balloons filled with helium, covered by grey plastic rags, driven by a few ventilators). They gruesomely invade the space of the audience, which, by now, is completely part of the happening because they are lit as brightly as the stage itself. But then these things float away again, pack up and drift off. A ballet of dead, nameless objects. A silly theater trick too, a poor, deadly resemblance of the Dream of the Great Void.

Nevertheless, it is an incredibly gripping image, at least considering the blind destruction of the sofa. That sofa, we know it, and we know it is of no use to us anymore. Those hovering chimera, we know nothing about them, except as… phantasms in cheap plastic. Playmobil for adults. The Big Void, the Great Liberation, they are not there, as yet.


Leestijd 7 — 10 minuten




Pieter T’Jonck

Pieter T’Jonck is architect en kunstcriticus. Hij schrijft over podiumkunsten, architectuur en beeldende kunst. In 2012 cureerde hij de tentoonstelling Superbodies in Hasselt. Daarnaast leidt hij zijn eigen architectenbureau T’Jonck-Nilis. Hij richtte recensieplatform Pzazz op.


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