Departures and Arrivals

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FOCUS ARTISTS - Texts

Mediacracy - on michiel vandevelde
Rita Natálio

Michiel Vandevelde is a DNA Focus Artist based in Brussels. He graduated as a choreographer/dancer at P.A.R.T.S in 2012 and his new creation Antithesis premieres 19 and 20 March in the frame of the Impossible Futures festival and is co-produced by our partner VOORUIT.

Antithesis is a proposal that continues the critical practice of Michiel as an artist and researcher, after The Political Party, a project where the core of the work was to collectively create the common ground for a political party to come to existence. While Antithesis presents a powerful deconstruction of technological illiteracy in modern times (and its profound compromise with profit and blind economical growth), we behold our anguish with acceleration and fusional networks of transport and communication

 

 

Mediacracy
(after a Skype conversation with Michiel Vandevelde)


by Rita Natálio*

 

In Antithesis, the new performance of the Belgian choreographer Michiel Vandevelde, the tyranny of media and technocentric organisation of human relations comes to first row. As Michiel explains us on Skype, in the book of the Czech-Brazilian philosopher Vilém Flusser published in 1985 (“In the universe of technical images”), Flusser predicts two possible directions with the coming of the internet: one in which each individual can become a producer of images and a second where the right to produce images is reserved to few. As the second is probably the most exact description of today, Vandevelde is interested in proposing a performative opposition between the advent of technocracy and the construction of direct democracy, and also to open the space of discussion for our relationship with the internet. In the text he presents us on stage he says:


“When will it be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of‐light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organisations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least many problems for them as they may have solved?”


The structure of the work is divided in two parts, a first part where a technocratic vision is outlined by the interplay between ideology and technology and second part where direct democracy is presented as an alternative way.

When watching the video rehearsal of Antithesis, I made a parallel with Goodbye to language, the new 3D film by the French-Suisse director Jean-Luc Godard, which is among other things a critique of new forms of social communication, entangled in a circuit of quotations and references to historical films and essays. As difficult as it is to say what this film is about, what struck me most in this film were the images of smartphones popping up as shopwindows for the future and of dumb thumbs addressing the fragility of language and education with their frantic clicks. Even though technology is not necessarily central in the film, the parallel between Hitler and the invention of television in 1933 is certainly not naive.

In terms of language, as Godard’s style avoids determinism, ideas and quotations are purposely contradictory, critique allows humour and oppositions to enter the film, and disparate contents overlap. In Antithesis, the focus is more precise and tone is perhaps more pessimistic, while the resource of quotation — quotations of essays, pop choreographies, musical videos, etc — is the same. “In Antithesis I tried to be the maker of my own images by appropriating images that already exist. I tried to make it my own and then transform them. Godard also does this in the sense that he also appropriates certain footage and recreates its meaning”, Michiel tells us.


In fact, Antithesis is asking us: can we learn to master technological tools like internet? And is it possible to develop a digital activism? By using the space of theatre to discuss politics, Antithesis is literally using the stage to produce a political speech and the body of Michiel Vandevelde is the open surface where ideas and slogans are embodied. As part of the process of work, the principle was to write a piece from already-existing materials, “cannibalising” cultural imagery in order to build an alternative image of Western culture. Inspirations were taken from modernist Oswald de Andrade and his Cannibal Manifesto of 1928, whereby a composition is built where text and movement are put in friction.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Goodbye to language, the frictions in Antithesis are not necessarily opening totally new reasonings, and the possibility to joke with the contemporary is less appealing to Vandevelde than to Godard, where a character can interrupt the film several times to ask: “Mr, is it possible to produce a concept of Africa?
The language of Vandevelde is less of a goodbye to language, than an introduction to political activism through art and the proposal of an alternative poetical path to face technological illiteracy. Even though, once in a while a certain sentence of Godard's Éloge d'amour appears in the performance to reminds us than both Godard and Vandevelde are seeking for the same possibility to imagine a new world: "The image: the only thing capable of denying nothingness, is also the gaze of nothingness on us."