Falling man: meet artist Kasper Vandenberghe

© Kris Dewitte

In Calculated Risk, artist Kasper Vandenberghe falls from a height of 4.22 meters onto a concrete floor. During the Working Title Festival, you can watch and listen not only to the spectacle itself, but also to the story and the research behind this ritual.

Kasper Vandenberghe has a background with the theatre companies Het Zuidelijk Toneel and Ontroerend Goed, and Troubleyn, Jan Fabre’s performing arts company where he still teaches. Two years ago, he collaborated with business manager Wouter Vermeylen and dramatist Matthias Velle to establish MOVEDBYMATTER. Last year, they presented Panic Fear of Standing Still at the Theater Aan Zee theatre festival and will stage it again during the Gentse Feesten this year. Calculated Risk, which was initially supposed to be a simple solo, became a complex triptych: The Ritual, The Installation, and The Story.

“I wanted to jump off buildings,” explains Kasper Vandenberghe. “I wanted to take risks, but without having to be in pain. For the performance artists of the 1970s and ’80s – Marina Abramovic, Chris Burden, Jan Fabre – it was real action, but also real pain. So I started thinking about how I could fall but without actually hurting myself. In the beginning, in my naïve phase, I made a suit of bubble wrap with a costumier, but I discovered that one metre was already too far to fall because my lungs would start hurting.”

Collapsed lungs

Vandenberghe started looking for specialists. “A stuntwoman told me that nobody in stunts ever falls on concrete and that rather than wearing protection, they would just fall on a mattress,” he says. “Nonetheless, I found a project developer and started researching the right materials for the suit. The company that collaborated on making the suit made me sign a contract that they are not responsible for any accidents that may occur. It was also very difficult to find somebody to insure this project. A traumatologist told me that the chances of having a collapsed lung would be much too high if I fell forwards, so I had to turn the whole thing around to fall backwards. I am afraid of heights, so I also had to consult a hypnotherapist. A circus artist taught me how to fall from five metres high, but ultimately we decided that I would fall from precisely 4.22 metres.

As you can tell, it was a challenging project in various ways. In the whole detailed search, it immediately became apparent that the dreams you have as an artist are either literally smashed to pieces or objectified by specialists that you never would have expected to be involved in a project like this.”In the end, all that research resulted in a three-part project. “The Story is an important part, in which I tell the story of the project in a 45-minute lecture with papers in my hands,” Vandenberghe says. “I not only discuss the technical but also the metaphorical and personal aspects. I also talk about something that happened in my life that caused a terrible crisis. My intention is to say something beautiful about the power of vulnerability. We often fool ourselves into thinking that we are very courageous when actually that might not really be the case.”

It is also important to remember that a calculated risk is still a risk, Vandenberghe tells us. “The modern man who conquered his freedom wants to jump, but without God it is very difficult to determine your own coordinates.”“In addition to The Story there is also The Installation, a kind of workshop that presents all the material from the research process, as well as an eight-minute short film,” Vandenberghe continues. “The third part is called The Ritual. The Belgian author and poet Peter Verhelst wrote a text especially and it consists of fourteen stations. It is a kind of mantra with a lot of repetition that I need to accompany me while I climb the stairs and then, around midnight, to fall into the night.”

  • Kasper Vandenberghe: Calculated Risk, 29/06 The Installation: 16 > 22.00 & The Story: 18.00, Kaaistudios & The Ritual: 0.00, KANAL-Centre Pompidou

Working Title Festival, 28 & 29/06, various venues

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