Queering is an antidote to habituation

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Late spring on the campus of KASK & Conservatorium. The fig tree on the right side is growing its fruits, the grass is discoloured from the past days of hard sun, the windows are open, and, in the endless hallway, voices reverberate as strongly as ever. For Madonna Lenaert, it’s not really the last time roaming these grounds, but as a recent KASK drama graduate, the walk through campus does feel rather emblematic. We were guided by the 24-year-old upcoming theatre maker, activist and member of the Magdalena Collectief, and with us, they reflected on their education, their art and their future while watching the world around them. 

Hi Madonna, how would you introduce yourself?

I'm Madonna and I’m 24 years old. I use they/them pronouns and am a non-binary femme trans person and artist from Ghent. I’m part of the feminist drama collective Magdalena Collectief. I also host the podcast Flikker Op with Joppe De Campeneere, which centres around queerness and lifestyle.

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You just finished your drama studies at KASK. What do you think has changed the most in the past five years? 

Because of KASK, I do suffer a bit from déformation professionelle. Watching theatre, series or movies has become such a different experience. I find it harder to disconnect from myself as a spectator, the possibility of complete immersion has disappeared a bit. I catch myself thinking of things like: what do I think of this as an actor, how would I handle it as a dramaturg, what directorial cues would I give? With every series I see now, I just see a set. 

There has been a big shift in my body awareness, as a queer person I’ve always been conscious about my body, but I've really felt in the last five years how big a difference, for example, a certain type of walk can make. That kind of statement makes my friends think I’m floaty and esoteric, I think [Laughs]. But for real, one time I walked with the premise of ‘how straight people would walk the streets,’: as if nothing was wrong and there was time for everything, less fearful, more playful. For just a moment, my whole world changed when I appropriated this way of walking. I became calm, I could see everything, I could look at things, and my thoughts adjusted to the pace of my walking. By manifesting peace and safety in such playful ways, I allow my mind that peace too. Fake it till you make it.

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In what ways can we manifest peace and safety within KASK and make our education more inclusive? 

I think the main way is by making sure that the people who get paid are not always white, male and cis. Inclusiveness is not just a mindset, it's also a real investment you have to make. Also, with cutbacks in education, we must not buy into the rhetoric that politicians are stupid, or don't know what they are doing, because they are not stupid: they are unkind and actively rotting our social tissue. Affordable and inclusive education does not fit into the realm of their political project, and anything that is about critical thinking and mind expansion is pushed aside through underfunding. It also pits the entire school and board against each other: who should be fired? What program should be dropped? We should not fight against each other but against the decisions of the government. We have to think cross-sectorally, as our welfare sector is also feeling the burn and facing the same challenges. We have to fight with them too. It is not merely important that education gets their pennies: everyone should get their pennies.

We must not buy into the rhetoric that politicians are stupid, or don't know what they are doing, because they are not stupid

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Can you tell me something about your collective Magdalena Collectief and your graduation theatre piece, DO YOU LOVE HER? 

I had the privilege of graduating with a blissful group of theatre makers and actors with whom I now form the Magdalena Collectief. We are a young drama collective composed of four KASK students, and we focus on creating an intersectional feminist practice. Our last play, DO YOU LOVE HER?, was our master's thesis. For a whole year, we researched the implications of desire, longing and belonging, how those things take shape in a society and what they look like. In this piece, we decontextualized things from our world here on earth by putting them into a fantasy world. Weird little beings re-enact things we see as conventional, such as heteronormative quarrels or sex scenes in traditional porn. The concept of ‘queering’ things is something we like to work on with our collective. Taking something out of context can be so valuable: too often in our world, we think we know what something looks like, but we really don’t. All that imagery is influenced by preconceived ideas, and you can often only really understand those when you put them in a different context, challenging your habituation. Queering is an antidote to habituation. I think this penchant for queering things does bind us as creators and artists, as Magdalena Collectief.

The concept of ‘queering’ things is something we like to work on with our collective

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You call yourselves an intersectional feminist collective. How do you define that?

Those terms are of course aspirational. Intersectional feminism is not something you will ever fully ‘be,’ but calling yourself that as a collective also helps you act on those values. To start with, intersectionality is the idea that your identity is not one-sided but a compilation of different intersections. It is a theory from a more juridical context that was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw. She writes that you can also be discriminated against on a specific intersection, such as being Black and being a woman, and that that is a specific discrimination, not just being discriminated against as a woman and as a Black person, but as a Black woman. For example, I am not non-binary and also white, but my whiteness is connected to my non-binarity, I, like everyone, should be seen as an intersection of identity. All your identity markers are lumped together and cannot be seen separately. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For our collective, this is a basic principle of seeing identity as an artist as a broad thing. We strive to work by our feminist ideals. We put care first, caring for each other's bodies and each other's minds. Everything is negotiable and it is not because we divide responsibilities that there are domains you cannot or should not say anything about. Art and making art should never be more important than mental or physical health. Those are all quick buzzwords, and it takes effort to continue to convey those values broadly.

Intersectionality is the idea that your identity is not one-sided but a compilation of different intersections

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Your podcast Flicker On is a delightful ode to life and joy as queer people. How did it come about? 

Joppe and I wanted to start a podcast after we did a really cosy Instagram live. Then we looked online for equipment, which turns out to be very expensive, so we just ordered the cheapest microphone. When we did those first takes, we were very serious in the beginning, letting each other finish very nicely and asking serious questions. But that was so boring. It was not interesting to listen to nor to do it. We then changed directions. We looked, to quote myself a bit earlier in the interview, for things closer to ourselves. We then poured a glass of wine and had fun. We discovered that that is also our way of talking about more serious things. We can make a joke about femmephobia because we both experience it, but then two minutes later we have a real conversation about that: how do we move through the queer community as femme persons? But it's also often just fun facts and anecdotes, a little ode to queer joy and queer simplicity.

What's on your artistic bucket list? 

I would say to make a porn film. I would love to work with a porn company, or be an acting coach on porn sets! If any of you reading this are part of a porn company, hit me up! 

What kind of porn film would you like to make? What's the premise? 

No plot, just vibes! I like that most in porn, seeing porn stars just chatting with each other. Again, looking for something closer to ourselves. Don't pretend that's your stepfather, because it's not. You're just two people with a profession. I love it when you can see those actors for how they really are. But don't know why they would need an acting coach then, actually [Laughs]. Maybe I should rethink my idea.

<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @madonna.lenaert <br/>Different Class and KASK & Conservatorium are teaming up for a series of artist portraits, featuring some of the interesting alumni and student profiles. The school is organising their GRADUATION festival until 02/07/2023. <br/> schoolofartsgent.be</div></div>

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