About the idea of reflection

How you look at a body changes according to its context, so that you as a viewer can attribute numerable, completely different ideas to it. However, that viewed body remains the same , regardless of the context in which it is located.

For example, when I see a body in my shower at home, or I see that same body at a different time somewhere in a theatrical space, I will look at that body differently. I know the same body in various guises, with different expressions, energies. My memory of that body within different contexts allows me to attribute a more layered idea to it. Furthermore, looking at the same body in the same space will evoke different ideas in fellow viewers. In other words, the viewing experience is always subjective.

A body in an image expresses something different than what the idea about that body tells us.

If you want to see a body in an image, it is best to do so when that body is not wearing a shell. That makes sense. The ballast of looking at the body is then at its smallest. That is why my work often includes undressed bodies. In concrete terms, the focus will be more on the body in a bare space; without music, without a costume, without movement. You can then look at a body and not at a character or role. A study of the body in visual art is often easier for me to work with, and is more objective, because the body is stripped of ballast such as costume and narrative - which can affect our perception of the time and space surrounding it. Visual art is a very adequate way for me to study the body in itself; how it stands, sits, or lies. You might say that the naked body in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, or the Baroque era was also overloaded with symbolism, iconography and meaning. But those are ideas we know now, and perhaps ones that we have projected onto these times ourselves. The body in the history of the arts is there, and it can only be viewed. The bodies do not think back when viewed. Studying that ballast-less body yields more for my work, and creates an interesting field of tension when I transmit that way of looking into a theatrical space. Because when a body has to perform in theatrical space, it instantly becomes a thinking body. The living, thinking, performative body is not only viewed: the body itself also looks (back towards the viewer.) Being without clothes, being alone or being watched - willfully or not - can lead to different behaviours: feelings of humiliation, discomfort and embarrassment, or contrastingly, of pleasure, and even narcissistic behavior. They all indicate the core of our being: the desire to be seen, that forms the basis of the desire to be able to look, look at, or look back for yourself.

Image from the presentation moment at the end of the BARRY masterclass 2019, at Zuidpool Antwerp. Pic by Joery Erna.

Seeing someone else unclothed holds up a mirror to ourselves. Looking at an undressed body can calm or cause panic, arouse curiosity, or evoke guilt, desire and envy; often it is a mixture of all these emotions and consequences. Every viewer feels that friction inside. We identify ourselves with the viewed body while looking and spontaneously assign our feelings to that body. This happens even without the body being viewed having to do any action. The viewer starts to relate his inner world to the body he is viewing. A body that looks back - when viewed in a receptive way - creates empathy in the viewer.

I speak of the performers' bodies in my work as transparent, transmitting bodies. My performers must only act concretely and relate themselves receptively within the context that I provide them. If the performer allows himself to be consciously viewed in this, the spectator experiences himself (at the same time and space experience provided by me). The viewer recognizes himself in the body he is viewing. At that moment of recognition, the performer's body becomes transparent. The transparent transmitting body reflects, through its performance qualities, the idea projected by the viewer. When the spectator is looking receptively, empathy arises, one of the most beautiful, human, connecting qualities. The arts make those connections tangible for me.


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© 2020 — Karel Tuytschaever