Text by Stef Van Bellingen
Chantal Yzermans incorporates The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Géricault, a dark yet key work from the early 19th century, into a video installation and performance in situ. The two dimensional nature of painting implied that Géricault had to synthesise the catastrophic string of events of the nautical disaster into a unique and suggestive moment. To visualise reality, a painter can only exploit a fragment of a whole sequence of activities.
As a choreographer, Yzermans unfolds this historical narrative according to the four dimensions that are characteristic of the medium of dance and performance. To do this, she opts for a solo in which the sequence of movements is determined by the poses of the castaways in this iconic painting. The existential dispair, moreover, culminates in the radical design of her performance space. This is reduced to a narrow, sloping platform with a specific angle : Thirty Three Degrees.
The catastrophic colonial expedition to Senegal and Géricault’s representation of it had far-reaching political implications. Obviously, the castaways were the playthings of the destructive forces of nature at sea, but even more markedly, they had become victims of the disastrous policy of their rulers. The rudderless raft became the equivalent of the French government’s administrative incompetence. Chantal Yzermans expresses this conflict around power and submission in the diagonal orientation of the stage. It recalls the theory of slanted order ( l’oblique) developed in the 1960s by Claude Parent and Paul Virilio. By introducing slanted axes in architecture and urbanisation, they reacted against the the tyranny of spatial organisation imposed by the ruling power. We thus encounter a similar conceptualisation of power structures in Thirty Three Degrees in the design of the stage. Because of the slope, the body is continually subject to gravity and is constantly set in motion. The diagonal axis, however, disrupts balance more than it provides stability. In this way, the dancer is in permanent state of resistance-remaining passive is not an option here. Yzermans regards her work as a procession carried out by a solitary person. gradually, she propels herself through transforming poses from the bottom of the platform to its uppermost edge. At the same time, several cameras record her progress. Frontal, lateral and zenital camera angels create a parallel to the compositional complexity of the original painting. With close-ups, Yzermans refers to Géricault’s preparatory oil sketches, which he used to zoom in on details. Yet, however closely you examine the painting, nowhere will you detect the presence of a female form. Thus, Yzermans involuntarily inhabits the skin of a male protagonist during her performance. Yves De Mey's soundscape pierces this masculine universe jus as subtly. Among other things, he draws inspiration from Gluck’s opera Iphiginea, the main actor in a tragic, family drama, in which the misery begins with the Trojan War and fate is sealed by a shipwreck.
This performance is a deliberate physical struggle and the figures’ original poses evolve into expressive distortions. Because of the play of forces on the slanted altar, a perfect imitation of the poses in the painting is not feasible. Within the aesthetic model of neoclassicism, Géricault’s representation of bodies as seen as inelegant-according to the norm of the ideal, there was only room for elevated beauty in the formal language of the time. This robust accentuation of physicality was not alien to Géricault’s sources of artistic inspiration, such as Michelangelo or Rubens, and it was accompanied by the striking deployment of light and shadow. With a clever variation on this chiaroscuro, Yzermans arrives at the same dramatisation of her performance. The surface upon which she moves is made in such a way that every bodily contact leaves behind a shadow, however briefly. Physical existence thus slides into immaterial inscription. The appearance and disappearance, presence and absence of the body give rhythm to the whole, until the contours finally merge with the fading light.
Concept Video /Performance Chantal Yzermans
Sounddesign Video Yves De Mey
Sounddesign Live Performance Yannick Franck
Design Platform Samyra Moumouh
Cinematography Guido Verelst/ Joris Ceupens
Production Radical Low
Thirty Three Degrees is commissioned by curators Jan Fabre/Joanna De Vos for Het Vlot Oostende/Mu.Zee
The video installation is permanently to be seen at the exposition 'The Raft. Art is (not) lonely', curated by Jan Fabre/Joanna De Vos.
January 6, 2018 the 6 hour performance based on the video installation Thirty Three Degrees will be presented De Grote Post -Oostende, in the context of the expostion 'The Raft. Art is (not) lonely'
a Radical Low production 2017