Videre: Theater, Body and Brain, Thought

Wiel Arets, An Alabaster Skin (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 1991), 21-27.

Our perception is subject to constant change. Not only visual perception but also how we perceive intellectually and how we accommodate this perception in our thinking. Biological engineering has been a major science since the mid-nineteenth century. Its technology has altered the way life is represented. In the twentieth century we have seen the total subordination of the human body to medical science. Leonardo explores the body in an abstract manner, indifferent to its organs. Artaud’s body, featured in the 'Theater of Cruelty', does not require organs. Jacques Lacan addresses the body’s absence. Within this context 'cut’ and ‘montage’ are regarded as ways of thinking in which the body is (re)presented: ‘to cut a fine figure’. Biological engineering enables us to change our bodies with artificial hearts, lungs and joints, but mental change has also become a reality in genetic manipulation. It is partly through these developments that electronics have influenced our perception; for example David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1978) and David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988). The influence on contemporary theater is undeniable.

This project addresses the challenge of treating the theater within the urban context of Delft as expressing our changing conditions of thought. In this respect the membrane of the city–not only the skin as a facade but as ground surface and as a cultural layer–is a key concept. The ideas of ‘current’ and of ‘evocative program’ also play major roles. ‘Current’ means not only the electrical currents present in the urban context and within each building but also patterns of communication: everything connected with circuits, routes, tracks, circulation and with the relationship between people, between man and machine, in which every hierarchy is obstructed. The project cuts into Delft’s skin, and the section may be regarded as an incision. The horizontal movements of the station, market and university towards the Delft Theater are of primary importance, as are the vertical lines of movement that cut through and skewer together the three layers of the design.

Those arriving at the theater by car, taxi or tram are led through an incision in the skin to an entrance below ground level. This is done on the one hand to create a pedestrian promenade on the ground floor and on the other as a practical answer to the question of where to locate traffic within the site. The building reacts to these two lines of movement. The pedestrian infiltrates the building from the square, from the city, and encounters visitors brought by vehicle in the entrance hall. A box office separates the entrance hall from the foyer like a large swing door. The visitor can deposit his or her coat (external skin) in the cloakroom tucked beneath the fly tower. The main auditorium is accessed via two ramps. Moving from the foyer’s transparent features, the visitor is confronted by a translucent skin and then enters the auditorium, which is completely closed off from natural light. This movement turns the visitor into a member of the theater audience. The room, filled with people drinking, smoking and telephoning is transformed into a theater of the city, and when the final curtain falls, the public departs through the various layers of skin out of the theater (after donning coats and entering cars) and away from the area of Delft colored by its insertion, to return to ordinary life. The uppermost level of the project is enfolded in a black screen of perforated synthetic rubber that can be read as a skin, from which the theater opens the city and through which the city is open to the theater. This hospitable skin expresses the osmosis of the city and theater.

The artists enter the building as do the ‘civilians’ along the 83 degree axis, a direction that brings them immediately within the building’s geometry, unlike th public, who follow a curved walkway. Once inside, the artists either make their way to a half sunken dressing room in the skin of the city to perform in the experimental theater on that level or ascend to the dressing room behind the main stage to play to the main auditorium. The artists exchange the code of their ‘public’ faces for that of the masks that make them actors and actresses. After the final applause, the artists shower and retire to the ‘recovery bar’ to regain, in a state of transition, their own identity: from dream to reality. The theater staff use the same entrance as the artists, taking the ramp to reach staff rooms overlooking the sculpture garden.

The equipment brought in through the skin’s opening is moved from theater to theater, from city to city. Public circulation of artists, staff, vehicular traffic and equipment is not anonymous; all form part of the life of the theater and city, life that takes place between dream and reality.

The three components comprising the project are placed in parallel and related by function to an idea of neutral components within the logical conditions of a theater: foyer, cloakroom, bar, etc. None of the parts function fully autonomously, nor are they completely dependent upon each other. Here components are placed in parallel horizontally and vertically, neutral and independent, as sections through lines of movement to affect transitory relationships and produce moments of spatial intensity and interaction. Within these moments the concept of voyeurism is revealed and interpreted, as videre through which one can read this project as the cinefaction of the theater.