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stael-apples

Nicolas de Staël – Five Apples – 1952

I am now one month into detailed scripting of my upcoming performance “Tin Drum is Back”. As mentioned in my last post, the narrative arc seems to be about evolving archetypes and levels of maturity.

In 2015, I was struck by lightning, by the work of fashion designer Dries Van Nooten. I wrote extensively about that experience here. It was the start of a more intense journey to let myself get touched by beauty, and to start experimenting with the creative orientation myself (Art academy, etc.)

Two years later, this 2015 expo is still resonating with me, and every time I tell the story of that experience, I get emotional, emotional like in tears of happiness and beauty. Happiness and bliss like a warm jelly feeling down your spine. I started paying attention to this emotion, opening myself to it, and wondering and exploring how it cracked me open (and very closed at other moments…)

Obviously, first thing that goes through mind, is the famous Leonard Cohen song “Anthem”, with the famous phrase:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering 

There is a crack, a crack in everything 

That’s how the light gets in.

How the light gets in…. But I started wondering how the light gets OUT… Like my skin would be lattice. Like the skin of this musallah.

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King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC)
Riyadh / Saudi Arabia. Architect’s rendering of the musallah. 
Image Credit: Zaha Hadid Architects

What is needed for somebody to crack open like this? To get rid of all the ballast, and to stand in full onlyness ànd vulnerability ànd feeling happy with the way that is?

Another more recent moment when the lightning stroke was on a Saturday morning, where by full coincidence I hit the video of “Wild is the Wind” by David Bowie as part of the “David Bowie last 5 years” BBC documentary:

 

Wild is the Wind” is the first song of this amazing concert that is worth watching every of its 60 minutes. However, when he sings and smiles “you’re life itself” (at 2:40 and 4:10) that’s when shivers go down my spine and tears start rolling. Every time again.

Why is this? What is happening to me? Is Tin Drum about finally daring to stand in fire and vulnerability? Of letting my “onlyness” coming OUT through the crack(s)? Instead of hiding in a Hannibal-like shadow of complexity and impenetrability?

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Film posters and book covers of Günther Grass' The Tin Drum

Cracking open seems to be about daring to stand in the fire, allowing the truth to come in and out, and allowing to loose myself and letting myself getting overwhelmed. It is about letting go of my masks, my defences.

Khurshed Dehnugara recently (my highlights) wrote about being overwhelmed in “cracking open”:

Being overwhelmed is something we are fearful of and at the same time can be helpful as we transition from one age to the next.

If our defenses are always solid, never breached, then the possibility of anything novel emerging is reduced. It often takes a moment of being overwhelmed before that part of us that we are defending can be seen. In the moment of being hurt, overloaded, caught out, tripped up or humiliated – we get a chance in those moments to see and work with the part of ourselves we spend the rest of our time enclosing in a protective shell.

As we spend time at the edges of what we know and can cope with, the container is strengthened.  When we can’t cope, the cracks can allow us to integrate an experience that has been shielded for a lifetime; but refuses to go away or stop causing problems in the rest of our lives. 

During my sabbatical, I am indeed spending time at the edges of what I don’t know and what I don’t know to cope with. At the edges of my existing communities, at the edges of new – more artistic – communities.

Also, the painting lets me re-discover the true meaning of being in the flow. But I have to get more clarity. Tell the story with fewer words, less images, less brush strokes, less gimmicks. I am trying to say too much. I am still trying too much to impress, not express.

“The more easy gimmicks, the more solid the content needs to be”, says my paint-coach Ann.

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Extract of Petervan painting “The Containers” in process – Feb 2017

So many metaphors between paint and real life. The longing for clarity of touch, pitch, colours, harmonies, and chords. But for now, still too much noise, both physically and mentally.

The sweet spot is where the crack is

where frequencies and overtones create the mystic.

What are your cracks? When was the last time you built defences against standing in the fire? When was the last time you put up a wall and defences against it? When was the last time you allowed the crack to put a spell on you to get in touch with your true self?

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Yesterday, there was a news item on Flemish Television on the upcoming opera performance of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”, that will be performed at the Brussels Federal Opera House De Munt / La Monnaie (31 Jan – 14 Feb 2017).

What touched me was that Madame Butterfly was played by a puppet, directed by three puppet players (visible in black). The effect is mystical. Check out the end of this video (comments in Dutch, but that should not spoil the experience).

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Opera Madame Butterfly - De Munt - As from 31 Jan 2017

It made me think about a passage in David Byrne’s wonderful book “How music works” (Amazon Affiliates link). I am reading it in the context of my performance for Petervan Productions.

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At a certain moment, David Byrne describes how his thinking about a show – a performance – was influenced by traditional Japanese theater forms such as Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku.

Example of Japanese Kabuki theatre

 

“The tour eventually took us to Japan, where I went to see their traditional theater forms: Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku. These were, compared to Western theater, highly stylized; presentational is the word that is sometimes used, as opposed to the pseudo-naturalistic theater we in the west are more used to.” 

“The character had in effect been so fragmented that the words they spoke didn’t come from close to or even behind that puppet. You had to reassemble the character in your head.

As in Japanese theater, the performers often wore masks and extreme makeup; their movements, too, were stylized and “unnatural.” It began to sink in that this kind of “presentational” theater had more in common with certain kinds of pop-music performance than traditional Western theater.”

“There was no attempt to formally separate the ritual and the show from the audience. I quickly absorbed that it was all right to make a show that didn’t pretend to be “natural.” To further complicate matters, I decided to make the show completely transparent. I would show how everything was done and how it had been put together.”

Check out the video footage of the resulting “Stop making sense” Tour. The show starts with a heavenly version of the song “Heaven” on an empty stage. At minute 2:30 you will see the first elements of the stage being rolled in.

The whole show is super enjoyable, and if you want to know what “playing tight” means, check this awesome version of “Breaking down the house”, which does exactly what you would expect.

 

Sometimes I think I have to stop trying to “make sense”. Better would be to “make meaning”.

All these reflections are related to my upcoming performance “Tin Drum is Back” (subtitle: “what is/what could be”): the performance design is evolving well, with detailed script being written as we speak.

Part of the story is looking back into ones youth (5-10 years old), look at what was forbidden then: for some people that is an area of talent they have neglected to develop. In my case, it was a tin drum I got when I was 6 years old, and the story of rhythms in my life and in my work. As the script develops, the narrative arc seems to be about evolving archetypes and levels of maturity.

Scripting is not “only” the storyline, but also the staging, transition, props, lighting, etc… And all visuals, sounds, and word are self-composed, self-created. Should be ready around March, although I may pick up some delay.

It starts feeling like theatre by an amateur 😉 So, performing “tight”, in some theatrical form, with costumes, masks, props, and stage being build-up as the show moves along, is certainly inspirational.

I see “Tin Drum…” as a teaser for a bigger story on multi-media corporate narratives, where – who knows – I create commissioned performances on less tangible topics (less tangible than “what problem are you trying to solve?”). I indeed think that a lot of the work I am preparing is steering away from the problem-solving orientation, and give more room to the creative orientation of “what do I want?”

What do you think? BS? Did I smoke too much ? 😉 Please don’t hesitate to share resources and serendipities that this post may generate.

More general Jan 2017 update here:  https://petervan.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/petervan-productions-jan-2017-update/

Rebelliously yours,

 

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I recently had some conversations with prospective clients on the need for alignment and coherence of physical and emotional space when trying to create great experiences. I started to call them “sacred spaces”.

As you know by now, I am not in the events business. I am in the business of creating high quality feedback loops to enable immersive learning expeditions and deep change. In essence, I want to resonate with my client’s guests at another (additional) level than the pure cognitive. I believe this ambition also requires its own awareness and vocabulary, but more about that in some later posts.

One aspect of that vocabulary is our expression of sacred spaces. What first comes to mind is a church, a cathedral, some religious building of some sort.

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Sagrada Familia – Barcelona – 31 Oct 2014

In the best cases, the moment you come in, you are struck by a lightning of beauty, awe, stillness, and grandeur. The entry into the space feels almost ceremonial. You cross the entry, the line between outside and inside. The experience of the space sends vibrations down your spine. You feel suddenly whole and small at the same time.

This whole- and small-ness creates some kind of safety; some form of familiarity that this space is the right space, that this space is right. Just right for what it was designed for.

I think in similar terms about the spaces for our experiences.

Our spaces must be safe spaces. Closed as with an entry door. The entry into the space is a ritual moment. The coming out as well. It must be a physical experience: guests have to walk through the “arc of change”. They must do this in a “communion” style, as a collective, creating a visceral experience of the collectivism in their change process.

The space is about “roundness”, round as in circle, but also round as in generative, coming back to the starting point with new insights.

The space becomes a pulsing “egg”, a “womb” that will be our “nest” for a couple of days. It has of course to do a lot with right spaces for humans, and Jean Nouvel’s views (video here) on architecture. The video is also called “Reflections”, just like the latest from Brian Eno, one ambient song of 54 minutes (interview here)

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“Combining big bold shapes with intricacy and delicacy. The ability to be bold and delicate at the same time. The relation between time and light. The sphere above, the cupola. A spiritual space.”

I love the idea of the cupola. In my opinion, the closed space described above needs a roof – like a cupola – with some lattice membrane. But at the same time, the space needs to be “porous”, with light (the crack) coming in through the lattice, and light (enlightenment) coming out to inspire others. Or even better, some form of post-enlightenment as in Danny Hillis’ entanglement.

And light itself can also be the “roof” and the trees of the space forest. Check out this wonderful video of Fujimoto’s light forest:

light-forest

 

I shared the video with my good friend Marti Spiegelman, who replied:

Thanks for the link – this is extraordinary. It reminds me that sometimes the light itself is the sacred space – I’m thinking of the light beam on the floor, when one of the walkers stands in the light – and sometimes the light creates the boundaries, or defines the edges, of the space – as in a forest when there is a small round clearing, it’s traditionally considered to be a ‘power spot’’ [another name for sacred space] where you can call in greater powers of nature and the universe to create change.”

I was looking for some good description of sacred and sacredness. I think I found it in an article about a fashion book by Belgian fashion designer Ann Demeulemeester.

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“It looks and feels almost sacred, with pages so thin the images can be seen on both sides of each sheet; it’s a truly delicate beauty. For this reason, every single page is printed only on one side, creating a uniquely singular reading experience. The size and weight of the book gently contrasts with the fragility and smoothness of the paper, while the almost total white of the inside is in opposition with the blackness of the sides and the linen cover. Text is kept to the essentials, limited to an introduction by Patti Smith (Demeulemeester’s longtime muse) and a short final dedication by the designer herself. The book was designed by Victor Robyn, a Belgian graphic designer who has been in charge of realizing Demeulemeester’s graphics for years—from show invitations to printed fabrics. The art direction is curated by Victor Robyn, Demeulemeester herself and Patrick Robin, her life and business partner.”

Happenstance that I visited this week Casa Argentaurum, an art gallery in Ghent run by Caroline De Wolf, who kindly opened her space for me. It was one of the last days of the exposition about Ann Demeulemeester’s jewellery.

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Necklace – Ann Demeulemeester – Casa Argentaurum

At the end of our conversation, Caroline gave me a copy of the catalogue of the 2010 exposition “Things, Thoughts, and Territorities”.

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The book has some great design drawings by Andrea Branzi, and also a wonderful testimony of the artists’s love relation with Belgium (mostly Flanders btw). Somewhere half way, there is this superb quote:

“Architecture is not the art of building, it is a very complex discipline,

interpreting history, technology and the changes in society.”

It could have been the tag-line for Petervan Productions, as I see myself as the architect who conceives, gives birth to the vision together with the client, and then pulls together and orchestrates the resources, experts, and artists to create a unique experience in search for the secrets of life.

But “you can’t find secrets without looking or them” (quote by Peter Thiel in his book “From Zero to One”), so I am looking for your views on what you would expect from a sacred space.

I am looking for architects, space- and stage-designers to be part of our collective of leaders, visionaries, artists, craftsmen, designers and producers.

If you are interested to be part of that calling and dialogue, you can just leave a comment on this post.

Rebelliously yours,

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Petervan Photoshop collage as part of study on Peter Doig
Theme: Culture and Nature – Dec 2016

 

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Pre-Study Peter Doig - Sketch Dec 2016

 

Happy New Year to you, your friends and your family! Hope you are doing well.

As you know, I left Innotribe/SWIFT in Nov 2016 for a long term sabbatical to create my own thing under the Petervan Productions umbrella. My ambition is to architect and create high quality feedback loops to enable immersive learning experiences and deep change.

A quick update:

  • Artschool continued till the holiday break, starting again next week. We try to get under the skin of artists, and then paint an image in their style. Currently looking into Peter Doig.
  • Nov/Dec 2016 was a period of getting to grips with some tools for my performance: music, image, video composition tools
  • The performance “Tin Drum Is Back” is targeted for end March
  • The retreat event for Sep
  • The content festival for Nov
  • A lot of reading and a lot of posts in the queue

 

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“Concrete Cabin” by Peter Doig - 1992

During Jan-March 2017, the plan is to work on:

  • Detailed scripting of the performance
  • Build and expand the collective of leaders, visionaries, artists, craftsmen, designers and producers

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Extract project plan performance per week.

I am very focused (yes, working on a 8+ hour daily schedule and a project plan). I am about one week late compared to initial plans. Being focused also means saying “no”. As you may have noticed, I have drastically dimmed my social media activities, and kindly reject any requests for consultancy, speaking engagements, etc.

I have 1-2 leads that want to work with me as their architect for immersive learning experience events. But I am not in active prospection mode.

Every request for collaboration is assessed against the objectives and priorities for 2017: the art, the performance, the retreat, the festival, and to see how far I can get with all that in one year’s time.

If there is something worth reporting, next update is for Feb 2017. Looking forward to hearing from your latest adventures as well.

Rebelliously yours,

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Artschool 2016. Study on Magnus Plessen. 
1) V4 of painting based on collage 2), 3) and 4) some details. 
Expect to finish next week. Acryl on cotton canvas 80x80cm, brush, spatula, kleenex. 
With thanks to my coach Ann Grillet

 

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As many of you know, since begin November I am trying to create my own thing called “Petervan Productions”.

The scaffolding is already in the works for many years, and I am still hesitating whether I will once publish the 100+ page reflections on the intentions of all this, what I think this enables, and then working down the tactics such as outcomes and deliverables.

Besides the artwork and the research bit of my activities, I spent quite some time in re-thinking what “events” could be like. And thinking of my customers as “guest”, not consumers. What I am trying to offer is a one-stop-shop for unique immersive learning expeditions in emotionally and physically right spaces for humans.

So anything that gets me back to my architectural roots of “right” spaces for human beings makes me a bit poetic. In this case this very nice article in Aeon about the French architect Jean Nouvel, all about light, geometry and symbolism to re-imagine culture.

The core of the article is a very nice video. As usual, I made the transcript of the video, and added some poetic highlights and typographic reflections by myself. I have stopped adding comments and trying to explain. My guests are smart enough to make up their own minds. Explaining would be an insult.

jean-nouvel1

 

Each project is an adventure, a passion

The biggest temptation

Is to jump into it

There are solutions that come to you

There are images that spontaneously appear

My method is rather to hold back as long as possible

To really imagine it spatially

So, to be sure that I have something to say

These moments where you understand somebody cared about something

That’s when you feel

 like “oh yes,

this is a human thing,

not some robot that

put something together”

Simply living there is a cultural act

Combine big bold shapes with intricacy and delicacy

The ability to be bold and delicate at the same time

jean-nouvel2

The relation between time and light

The sphere above,

the cupola

As spiritual space

“Perhaps we have to keep dust”

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Create a space, no inside, no outside…

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“We have principles, and these principles we have to nurture.

We nurture them.

We deepen them.

And with them,

we invent…

something else”

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Project X building, lower Manhattan at 33 Thomas Street, NYC

This week, The Intercept ran a fascinating article– well, quite disturbing actually – describing the possible surveillance roles of building Project-X, an AT&T owned property in the middle of Manhattan, sitting on top of some major telephone and communication switches (and apparently many other buildings like this in the USA and most probably elsewhere).

It even becomes super scary if you read the article with the backdrop of the first names and background of some of the people appointed in the last couple of days in the Trump administration.

The building was designed by the architectural firm John Carl Warnecke & Associates, whose grand vision was to create a communication nerve center like a “20th century fortress, with spears and arrows replaced by protons and neutrons laying quiet siege to an army of machines within.”

Some of Warnecke’s original architectural drawings for 33 Thomas Street are labeled “Project X.” It was alternatively referred to as the Broadway Building. His plans describe the structure as “a skyscraper to be inhabited by machines” and say that it was “designed to house long lines telephone equipment and to protect it and its operating personnel in the event of atomic attack.”

I spotted the article just two days after I saw a short 7-minute documentary (hence Doc7) on Belgian television about artist Renato Nicolodi

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Renato Nicolodi – a young artist from Flanders – makes architectural models of buildings that are not intended to be built.

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Pulpitum II by Renato Nicolodi, 2012

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Long Island Building NYC, by John Carl Warnecke & Associates

That made me think about my time as student in Architecture in Ghent, were we were allowed – or should I say incentivised? – to design buildings that never had to be built (at least in the first two years of the study). Full creativity nirvana, quoi.

The work of Nicolodi resonated with me for another reason. They are actually mausoleums that have a place in the memories of his grandfather, who spent the Second World War in various prisoner of war camps, which he meticulously describes in the conversations Renato argued with him. The recordings of those calls still are daily source of inspiration for Renato.

It woke up old memories from my youth when – at the age of 6 or 10 – I was visiting my grandmother, who lived in a place called Ledegem, a little village 17km east of Ieper, a town that will be remembered forever for the first time use of poison gas in World War One.

It makes me wonder about the working and selectiveness of my memory. Since I started my sabbatical begin Nov 2016, I feel restless.

Being disconnected from work – “the job” – gives me plenty of space for reflection, experimentation, silence, being alone – I love the sound of silence of the morning-house before the rest of the family has woken up.

But this stillness also seems to bring back many old memories, going way back to my childhood, things that I never thought about anymore in the last 50 years. On the other hand, it seems my short-term memory is getting very selective – almost ignoring mode. Up to a point that my lovely wife sometimes wonders if I should not go and see a doctor, but I think I am doing fine.

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Ledegem WWI cemetery today in 2016

At the end of my grandmother’s garden was a cemetery holding 85 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. I remember playing on the walls and the crucifix of the cemetery. In my memory, the place was much bigger than in this recent picture. I also remember some of the bunkers that you still find here and there scattered throughout the landscape in this region. I remember playing in one at the seaside before they were closed off for general public. I remember the smell of wet sand.

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German WW1 Command Bunker, Ypres Salient

The memory also put me in contact with another aspect of my onlyness (I am currently reading the draft manuscript of Nilofer Merchant’s next book), where I am coming from. My father is from a family of 7 kids, that all needed to be to taken care of by my grandmother all alone, as her husband died in a tragic car accident (he was on a bike) just before the start of the second world war. So, it was surviving on a shoestring.

Deep in my (un)consciousness, there is the fear for this shoestring poverty. That we’ll have to hide again in the coldness and humidity of bunkers in the polders. A dystopian threat of dark secrecy, manipulation, corruption and a fundamental loss of trust.

That is what bunkers and secret buildings do to me. Even if they are just architectural models that are not intended to be build.

The new models don’t seem to be intended for humans, they are intended to host machines. How can we reclaim back our humanity?

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