A maze of reflections

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Aïda Gabriëls embraces contrasts. As a new Artist in Residence at KMSKA with her collective OESTER, she explores the tensions between the ephemerality of performance and the static nature of visual arts. This research created Passages, a multidisciplinary performance at KMSKA on 16.05.2024.

Hi Aïda! Could you tell me more about your work?

I have a company called OESTER with Tessa Vannieuwenhuyze. What we make is often labelled as opera and theatre. Music is indeed the base to start from. But, from there, we look for friction or encounters with other disciplines. Our work is very people-based. I think of what kind of character or persona I am interested in. That can be in music, fashion, visual arts... but also nothing stays the way it is. Again, it’s about persona. You’re Jeremy: yes, you’re a writer. But you’re also a friend, a lover, maybe a pottery maker. It’s all about complex identities.

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Could you elaborate on this transdisciplinary approach?

For me, opera is the most transdisciplinary platform: there is music, literature, performativity, theatricality, fashion, visual arts… It’s not putting things next to each other, it’s putting them all together, turning them into something new. It’s a genre that has a big future. I think people back then were more into boxes: you’re either in dance, theatre, or music. I feel like now people are less interested in that. The urge to label is less present than before, and I think that’s good. We dismantle the heritage in the sense that we cannot deny our past. We are built from our past, but we have to look at the future.

For me, opera is the most transdisciplinary platform

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Since we don’t have a classical theatre background, it was quite hard to find a way into the system. But that meant we were dealing with different audiences, which gave us more space. For me, we had a lot of opportunities to study the stage of a rock club, a performance space, or a museum in a freer way. We didn’t have to deal with the repertoire. I wanted to create something new, new things, new encounters. Now, we take a step out of the black box into the white cube, the museum.


And you present this multidisciplinary exercise as a platform to deconstruct ‘cultivated structures’…

It’s things we grew ourselves: theatre institutes, gender, class… We often start from recognisable setups and scenes and try to dismantle these structures. With the museum, we work on the idea of a singular perception. In a museum, we’re used to seeing notes and pamphlets next to a painting telling us what to feel and think. Another thing is how collections are curated. While in theatre we get presented with one reality, in museums the agency is with the audience. In such spaces, it’s considered completely normal to find your own way/parcours. Passages explores the potential of this and the friction it brings with performing arts.

What’s nice about KMSKA is that it’s not just paintings from one era. They put different works next to one another. Passages is a transient artwork on its own in between the collection of the museum… You have your own trajectory in the performance. You navigate a maze of reflections.

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How do you approach politics in performance?

We don’t reenact or enact a message. We act, and in friction with the audience, the message exists. I think that’s the essence of art. It’s easy to push people away by being too explicit. There’s nothing wrong with being political, but the stage needs to be more than that. The message needs to happen inside of people. If you tell people how to think, those who don’t agree with you won’t listen to you. You push the people you need to reach away, which I think is a pity. In that sense, our work is political but never explicit.

We don’t reenact or enact a message. We act, and in friction with the audience, the message exists

I don’t like this type of political art where you just give statements to the audience. I think we should open a reflection. I believe in internal catharsis. I want to make people reflect on things in the friction between themselves and our work.

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How do you embrace the spontaneity of such interactions and spaces?

In Passages, there will be guest artists. We cannot make a fixed show. We wanted to tour, but not every museum is the same. Rather than making a copy of every show, we embraced that every environment would be different. We re-interact and rethink our connections with the works present.

We added a layer of complexity by adding an unforeseen element. There is an urge to encounter the extremes. It’s super diverse: this time it will be with the young generation of the Dutch chamber choir, in Bruges it will be Liam Byrne on viola da gamba and drones, and in Copenhagen, it will be Casper Clausen, a pop singer. They each bring a different energy to those spaces. Along with the ever-changing audience. 

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<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @aidagabriels__<br/> PASSAGES : Aïda Gabriëls (KMSKA Laat) <br/> 16.05.2024 - KMSKA, Antwerp <br/> Go to KMSKA Laat and so many other events for free as a Different Class member </div></div>

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