Fog Catchers | by Riikka Thitz

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Fog catchers | by Riikka Thitz

Riikka Thitz, visit in Noord Brabant 2023
visit in Noord Brabant 2023, photo by Riikka Thitz

Dates:
January
2024

By Riikka Thitz

Curatorial visit

Introduction

Riikka Thitz is a Helsinki-based curator of contemporary performance and visual arts, whose practice is informed by dramaturgical tools and especially by the concept of landscape dramaturgy. In late 2023, Riikka was invited by the SEA Foundation for a curator visit to Noord Brabant. In this text she looks back to how she experienced a particular landscape of the region and how it links to her practice. 

Fog catchers  

On a crisp November day Riet and I drive from Dongen towards Zundert to meet artists Emmie Liebregts and Fenna Koot in the nearby Van Gogh Residence. The larger cities of the surrounding province are separated by a one-day march distance of approximately 35 kilometres. These longer intervals are divided by a steady rhythm of villages, farms and fields and accentuated by the strict geometric lines of canals and roads. It is a composition of a landscape originally shaped by the limits of the pre-industrial era of human movement and re-defined by the growing industrial needs of material extraction and transportation. It is also one of the wettest micro-climates in The Netherlands, Riet informs me, adding, “This kind of wet soil is good for growing carrots.” 

The closer we get to our destination, the thicker the air and the landscape seems to be of water in its gaseous and solid forms. Gentle clouds of fog begin to drape the surroundings. The consolidating droplets hover thicker and thicker above the ground while the soil refuses to let the water permeate, leaving the fields full of stubborn puddles. The low-lying cloud softens the outlines of the well-organised landscape. Suddenly, the immense blades of the wind turbines disappear out of sight.  

***

I feel that by travelling in the Netherlands, I’ve arrived at the roots of my practice informed by the concept of landscape dramaturgy. The word “landscape” derives from the old Frisian language meaning “shovelled land”, landschop. Researcher Ana Vujanović has described landscape dramaturgy as a metaphor with a strong epistemological basis: it aims to rethink the gaze and the human actorship in the world. The traditional Western thought refers to the surface of the Earth as something meant for the humans to inhabit and exploit. Vujanovic proposes a notion of landscape as the morphology of the Earth’s surface, entirely undefined by human needs and purposes. 

Landscape dramaturgy typically features multiple viewpoints, challenging the one-point perspective by proposing shared viewpoints, a “space after perspective”. Vujanović describes this modality as a common affective space, spending time with. It is an invitation to observe something that does not require attention. Vujanović sees landscape dramaturgical artworks – optically, politically, and philosophically – as structures that stretch into time and space, aiming to create a landscape that exists in itself, without human knowledge or naming. This kind of unstructured work is a space of perception, sense, and sensation that the audience wanders through as one of its components.

This state of fragmented awareness also creates holistic spaces of sensing: as writer and curator André Lepecki writes, perspective not only reduces the three-dimensionality of a space but also the bodily nature of perception. Besides the lack of fixed points of attention, all elements of the given spatio-temporal situation (human, material, more-than-human) are equally important in landscape dramaturgical thinking. 

Dramaturg Marianne Van Kerkhoven presented the idea of minor and major dramaturgy: the former consisting of the events taking place on the theatre stage and the latter as the dramaturgy of the universe that includes the sky and its stars. In his text The Rock, the Butterfly, the Moon and the Cloud artist, writer Augusto Corrieri expands Kerkhoven’s idea and proposes that if we were to direct our attention from the “stage time” over to the incomprehensibly large spatio-temporal structures and durations, the human activities would form a new, more realistic relation to the surrounding world. This way the dramaturgy of the theatre would be based on “[…] cosmic interrelations, featuring subatomic matter and non-matter, as well as entities, scales, and temporalities that escape human understanding altogether.”

Landscape dramaturgy broadens the scope beyond politically motivated, clock-based measures of time and space. Instead, it can investigate dramaturgical structures that follow natural measurement of time, cycle or process based on the sun, moon, tide, wind, geological time or phenomena that Timothy Morton calls “hyperobjects” such as plastic – 

Corrieri would probably refer to the latter as “impossible dramaturgies”.  

***

Fog is a suspension of droplets of water in the air, a cloud hanging close to the Earth’s surface. It is a state of many in-betweens: it is water condensed but is yet to coalesce into rain droplets. While shifting the human perception by reducing the contrast to the surroundings by damping acoustics and impairing visibility, the molecules still manage to escape the touch, creating an unstable sensorial environment. However, following a dance with humidity and temperature, the blanket of fog can form at an instant, just to evaporate in the next. 

As we reach De Moeren we also seem to reach a sort of a heart of dewiness. The day’s texture, a damp, muddy soil, and opaque, moist air, envelops us among its soft folds. I feel my feet sinking and sliding as I walk towards the barn. I’m told that this is where Vincent Van Gogh wandered and painted, but today I’m able to sense rather than see the famous landscape.

 Riikka Thitz website

Sources

Corrieri, Augusto 2017. The Rock, the Butterfly, the Moon and the Cloud. Notes on a Dramaturgy in an Ecological Age. In The Practice of Dramaturgy: Working on Actions in Performance. Eds. Konstantina Georgelou, Efrosini Protopapa & Danae Theodoridou. Amsterdam: Valiz.

Lepecki, André 2006. Exhausting dance: performance and the politics of movement. New York: Routledge. 

Morton, Timothy 2013. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Stilgoe, John R. 2015. What Is Landscape? Cambridge: MIT Press. 

Vujanović, Ana 2018. Landscape dramaturgy: “Space after perspective”. In Thinking Alongside. Ed. Ingri Midgard Fiksdal. Oslo: The Oslo National Academy of the Arts.

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