Street Theatre: A Temporary Suspension of Life

When I met my friend Zelis Niegaard first time at a summer party and she told me that she earned her living by being an organizer of an international street theatre festival, I only had a faint idea, what street theatre was. I visualized something similar to the street acts I have seen on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, LA and the street performers in Covent Garden, London. I was yet to learn that street theatre is a performing art which is richer in its form and content and has a very different purpose and outlook than the tourist traps, that I thought it were. Last March, Zelis offered me to become her PR Consultant for the festival she was organizing in 2017. As a curious culture lover, I could not let this opportunity pass.

What is street theatre exactly? Some sources indicate that street theatre originates from India and some point to Southern Europe. Regardless of the historical roots, today’s street theatre art has these things in common: The audience comes unprepared to the performances, which take place outdoors in social spaces in urban settings. There are almost no props involved in these short performances of 30-40 minutes of duration; there is no stage and hence no hierarchical demarcation between the audience and the artists. The audience is people from all walks of life, who happen to be in the radius of the performance. The shows are free, no tickets required. There can be audience involvement, making the shows very dynamic and impromptu. The performances can be from a palette of different genres such as street parades, new circus, acrobatics, dance, live music, physical theatre, human specific shows and more.

Rue des Dames by Cie Passante (France)

In its very essence, street theatre is about taking ownership of the public space to give cultural and political messages to the people. The performances create a sense of belonging and community for the people of the urban area. It helps build a common reality, where people from all ages, social and economic classes are equal. In that sense, it is a very democratic form of art. The spontaneous nature of this art makes it the perfect ingredient to create a temporary suspension of all duties in the urban life: A time-out.

Les Tonys by La Compagnie de Albedo (France)

At a more abstract and symbolic level, street theatre is an instrument of social change. It is a platform where everybody has the opportunity to participate in a performance and influence its course. As opposed to established theatres where only those who can afford the ticket can become culturally “enriched”, street theatre gives everybody the opportunity to get a cultural experience and to get involved in the acts.

Nois Um by Cia dela Praka (Brazil)

I am glad to have been introduced to this niche art through my work at Denmark’s International Street Theatre Festival, which has enriched my life this summer with more than 10 different performances in each of the 12 host cities, interacting with international artists, volunteers and local politicians.

Video: Fiers a Cheval by Compagnie de Quidam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Treat for the Eye: Iznik Tiles

If you have ever been tourist in Istanbul, you have surely visited the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), which is an iconic building from the Ottoman era and famous for its impressive interior ornamented with turquoise Iznik tiles. Iznik tiles were used to beautify many Ottoman buildings, for instance the Harem in Topkapi Palace. With their bold colours and strong lines, Iznik tiles and pottery were produced chiefly between the 15th and 17th centuries and have been collectable almost since the day they were first produced.

Iznik tiles were made in the Ottoman town of Iznik, previously known as Nicaea, which lies some ninety kilometres southeast of Istanbul, and was the site of the pottery kilns of the Ottoman Empire. I have visited Iznik several times, as it is very close to my father’s birth town. It is a charming rural town situated by the Iznik Lake surrounded by olive trees as far as the eye can see.  The ruins of the ancient kilns can be experienced there. It is also an important landmark in Turkish as well as Christian history, as it hosts one of the earliest Christian churches, where the first Christian Council (Ecumenical Council) took place in 325 AD.

The colors of the Iznik tiles resemble those of semi-precious stones, such as the dark blue of lapis lazuli, the blue of turquoise, the red from corals and the green of emerald. The figures on the tiles and utensils reflect allegorical and symbolic characteristics and the flora and fauna of the region. Floral patterns of carnations, tulips, roses and hyacinths blend beautifully with the surrounding architecture.

If you are passionate about beautiful cultural art, you will love Iznik tiles. Even if you are not planning a trip to Istanbul in the nearest future, you can enjoy some impressive pieces of Iznik ware at museums worldwide, for instance in London (British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum), in Paris (Louvre) or even in my home town Copenhagen (Davids Samling). If you are in Istanbul, I will recommend to visit the Cinili Kösk in Topkapi Palace, Sadberk Hanim Museum and the Mosque of Rustem Pasha.

If you want to explore this art further and get more detailed information about the methods and styles, I will recommend a couple of books with lovely visuals and detailed information. They will look good on your coffee table, too.

Iznik: The Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics, by Walter B. Denny

Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, by Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby

Louise Bourgeois

It is the fourth time I have seen the same art exhibition in a month. Is it becoming an obsession? Maybe! Having seen Structures of Existence: The Cells at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, I feel deeply touched by the bleak and brilliant art and person of Louise Bourgeois.

The Cells is a series of spatial sculptures, which represent the artist’s emotions that stem from her childhood traumas. Each cell represents a memory or a psychic injury.

Each time I have seen The Cells, new symbolic details were revealed to my eyes and hidden layers of meaning emerged from the deep. Bourgeois’ symbolism is subtle and straightforward at the same time. At a first glance, the cells seem complex in their inner meanings, but the more you get to know Louise Bourgeois as a person, understand her earlier life and the related fears and anxieties, the easier to decipher.

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Though she encourages the audience to look at the objects and create own meanings, not merely look for cues in her life. Of the four times I visited the exhibition, twice I was there with friends or family. Not surprisingly, each of us found different meanings in the same objects or installations. What seemed horrifying to me evoked positive feelings in my friend. For instance, the giant spider, which is perceived as a repulsive and perhaps dangerous animal also signifies a mother’s protectiveness.

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One of the cells that has made a strong impression on me is the one named “Red Room (Child)”. The deep red color creates a strong sense of drama and passion. It can also signify a tragic or painful event with involvement of blood. This cell is like a theatrical stage. It is up to the audience to make up the story. The red wax sculpture of small infant hands being held by adult hands from the wrist is striking. There is affection, protectiveness, but also softness and despair. Perhaps the adult is trying to help the child, but his or her hands are cut off, so are the infant’s hands. There is hope and hopelessness. Connectedness and separation. The spools of red thread lead me to think of patience and discipline. Or perhaps the opportunity to influence the rest of your life by weaving the unused thread as you please. There are many objects made of glass, which can mean fragility and vulnerability.

The ambiguity and symbolic abundance of Louise Bourgeois’ work is overwhelming. It is so rich in meaning, that the works unfold continuously at every glance. The exhibition The Cells at Louisiana is definitely worth  a visit. But if you intend to get a deeper understanding of Louis Bourgeois’ fantastic universe, you may need more than one visit.