Interview in De Standaard

‘Norway, Point Zero.’


Interview by Geert Van der Speeten in De Standaard, 24 December 2015

[…] ‘Norway has it’, says theatre maker and scenarist Ine Van Baelen. ‘Places where you question rational perception. Impressive but inhospitable landscapes. Extremes of light and dark. Truly a country to withdraw to.’ And that’s what the five artists of Polar Night did. They ordered three weeks of food supplies, organized transport and – armed with cameras and audio equipment – had themselves dropped on Sørøya, an island far past the Arctic Circle. Here, the polar night erases the difference between day and night.

[…] The residence on Sørøya was set up as a research into our experience of time. Van Baelen: ‘We all have busy lives and we’re obsessed with time and efficiency. We long for quietude. But when the moment’s there, we do not succeed in slowing down. We were wondering: what if you could completely liberate yourself from time? No daylight, no clock, no reliable frame of reference.’

It’s been tried before through scientific experiments that locked guinea pigs in a cave. The outcome was the inner clock; in these conditions, we apparently switch automatically to a 24 – or 25 – hour pattern. Van Baelen: ‘We also encountered that. After just a few days, an intense mechanism became activated, a need for a daily routine. Of course boredom and the absolute idleness struck soon enough. But instead of letting go, our lives became more structured. Our obsession with time grew even stronger.’

Also the experience of nature was overwhelming on Sørøya. The five felt like they were slowly becoming part of the winter landscape. Van Baelen: ‘We couldn’t go far out, and certainly not on our own. You are not familiar with the weather, and it changes rapidly that far north. The experience was especially disorienting, as if your own perception is mocking you. The continuous dark forces you to focus. You see spots. In a snow white landscape without sun, and hence without shadow, you lose perception as well, you can no longer see depth. The structure of the landscape disappears and you end up with simplified images. Reality therefore has something of a fictitious landscape.’

The struggle with the elements resulted in Polar Night, a performance that will premiere aptly on the festival Wintervuur. It combines the overwhelming intensity of experiencing nature, with the grip we are trying to find during these disorienting observations. Van Baelen: ‘We reconstructed our experience from that desolate winter in the middle of the city. Can the copy evoke the same sensation as the original? The base for the work are our own photo – and film recordings, and we applied long exposure time to be able to record in the dark.’ […]

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