The audience reading the book in small groups at a table. Picture by Cem Altınöz

house by Rosa Vrij, in coexistence with Death Drive by borus.fuckyea – as seen on 8 April 2023 at TENT Rotterdam

Lees het Nederlandse origineel van deze recensie hier

Before visiting this performance, we talked to the artists about their hopes and fears regarding the audience. Read the whole interview here. Soon we will also publish a post-discussion on this website, so stay tuned.

Today is a quiet day at the gallery. Spring’s first sunbeams shine through the skylights, making the white rooms feel even brighter. While the pavements of Witte de With street fill up with café guests, some audience members wander into the stately building where Melly and TENT reside. Going solo or forming small ensembles, they stroll along the displayed artworks. The many texts hanging on the walls receive significantly less attention than the “real” art, especially from those who are not alone. Holding a loosely rolled up leaflet in their hands, they cast a quick glance at the words and then move on.

A larger ensemble decides to do things completely differently. After a somewhat awkward gathering at the foyer, they collectively head to a darkened corner at the back of the building. The space is blocked off by a heavy curtain, black and yellow stripes on the floor and no-entrance signs on all doors and curtain gaps. Some lingering visitors are sent out of the room. This space is ours now. Here we will spend the next hour and a half to read a text very carefully. VERY carefully.

Arriving in the now

The company splits into three groups of four, each taking up their own table in a corner of the L-shaped room. There’s a giant drawing plastered to the walls, floor and ceiling in one corner of the space that receives a few glances, but we’re clearly here for the booklets and papers lying on the tables.

First we do a meditation exercise to arrive in the now. People sit quietly in their chairs with their eyes closed, listening to their own and the others’ breathing. The silence is broken after a few minutes by the hum of a ventilation system and murmurs in the other rooms, but it’s OK, we can let it be. While this audience spends a good 15 minutes trying to visualize their individual limbs in the space, the curtain is pushed aside a few times by a hand holding a crumpled leaflet, followed by a puzzled face. These peepers are clearly in a different concentration than us and get out very quickly once they realise.

The L-shaped room, with borus.fuckyeas illustration in one corner. Picture by Cem Altınöz

Cosy and calm

When we are done meditating, it’s time to examine the papers on the tables. There is a book consisting of several parts, all made in different formats. Among others, a thin photography book, a letter in an envelope, a little fold-out booklet and single A4’s are being held together by a seemingly fragile construction made out of paper. The groups follow instructions from game cards and set timers to methodically go through the different parts of the book. One by one, we read the texts out loud to each other. The booklets, cards and sheets are picked up and shown very carefully to tablemates, until the whole group has been able to take in the contents.

Sometimes the words spark a short conversation about what we just read. People sitting at my table try to analyse what exactly happens in the story and to explain it to the others, switching between two languages, or they start to associate freely about their own interiors and their favourite home design shows on tv. Most of the time we don’t manage to finish a chapter before the timer goes off, but it’s all OK.

Even though the atmosphere is cosy and calm, I hear a lot of laughter and jokes around me, as to not make things too intimate. There are different levels of devotion to be seen at the different tables. In the right corner near the curtain, I see mostly women sitting slightly tilted in their chairs, with one hand in front of their shoulders, neck or chin. On the left of the room, next to the large illustration on the wall, the visitors instead lean more towards each other. After a few assignments, the timers synchronise less and less.

Unbothered reading

We don’t fully lose all contact with the outside. Through gaps and half-tinted glass, I can see other groups of visitors still wandering around the stark white rooms and glancing at texts, while in this space, people interact with the papers with increasing intensity. After the slightly dry rounds of reading aloud, tablemates start to play the characters of the story, write their own texts, or put away papers in their bags to take home, because they feel nice. By now, we are quite unbothered by the timers, and keep writing, reading and talking after they have gone off.

At the beginning, people were talking softly as to not bother the other groups, but after a few timers the sound has increased in volume and reverberates through all corners of the space. It is OK, we can just let it be, but a woman wearing a beret from the other room clearly thinks otherwise. She pulls aside the curtain quite abruptly to ask the group at the nearest table what on earth they are doing and how long it’s going to take. The people at the table are not impressed and continue their assignments unbothered. During the last exercise, they even start to read aloud their surprisingly intimate writings, this time to the entire audience.

Leaving the bubble

After everything has been studied and discussed, we do a meditation exercise once again, before we leave the bubble. Some people immediately put on their coats and leave the room, but most keep hanging around. They flip through the booklets once again, or they try to carefully put everything back into place. Some also take their time to inspect the huge illustration in the corner, but they keep an appropriate distance, like the papers from the tables are suddenly on the walls. New visitors entering the room are immediately drawn to the picture, and walk straight past the tables to stand and sit around in it, to snap some pictures. We can let it all be.

This audience receives three stars out of five.