Reality Bites 5: the buren collective celebrates clichés

© joeri thiry stuk 1

Reality slips away from us and then comes back and bites us. Artists respond to it with their imagination. In their performance "Blue Skies Forever", the buren collective pulls you into a strange dream that makes you question where reality ends and illusion begins.

In her video installation "Ever Is Over All", Pipilotti Rist, wearing a sky-blue dress, smashed in the windows of cars parked in the street with a hammer. A few years later, in the video for "Hold Up", Beyoncé blatantly drew inspiration from it for her statement about female empowerment. Those two visions of women's resistance inspired the most recent show by the Belgian collective Buren, which is made up of Melissa Mabesoone and Oshin Albrecht. “Our roots are more in the world of art. When we started working in theatres, we were fascinated by the power we had over the audience's gaze. And those two videos raise questions about the gaze,” says Mabesoone.

The performance "Blue Skies Forever" centres on the confrontation between two cohabiting characters from the Swiss artist's work. There is Dorothy, a reference to the character from "The Wizard of Oz", and a woman police officer. “They are archetypal figures. The policewoman represents the idea of control, the guardian of what is permitted and what is not. Dorothy is connected to the world of the imagination, which enables you to escape from reality. They are both products of a system that they did not choose. When it comes to characters, we follow our own rules, we create the context in which they develop. It's a bit like a game that we play in front of the audience.”

Dead playmate
It's a game that plays with the rules for the representation of women and with all the clichés which that can entail, because, for an artist a cliché is an invaluable tool for raising questions. “What is interesting about clichés is that they allow us to play with the audience's expectations and the meaning that we give to images. Over the past few years, even in my personal life, I have had to learn not to be afraid of clichés, because they give us the freedom to explore new avenues.”

In buren's world, anything can happen in a Dadaist game of domination and seduction in which the two performers switch between dialogue, song, and dance. The lighting design, sets, and costumes constantly switch between absurd and unexpected situations. “It's like a dream in which you are confronted with your own desires. Reality is never far away because each person is invited to ask where reality ends and the dream begins. Those boundaries are movable.”

In the show, reality, or rather our society's perception of it, is never far away. The set, which includes a puzzle of images taken from the covers of magazines, film, advertising, and the history of art displays contradictory representations of what defines a woman. “Reality was very important when we were developing the show, in the enquiry into the murder of the Playmate Dorothy Stratten, the interviews with woman police officers, and in a more general sense, every situation throughout history that has made it impossible for women to be the masters of their own lives. All that played a part in the creation of this show, though it is not made explicit,” explains Oshin Albrecht.

BUREN: BLUE SKIES FOREVER 15/10, 20.30, Kaaitheater, www.kaaitheater.be

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