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“City Hall is like a loop in a dream, you keep coming back but something has changed.”


Interview with Andrea Božić and Julia Willms about PoroCity

Performance maker Andrea Božić and visual artist Julia Willms are members of the interdisciplinary platform TILT. They came to  SPRING before with their installation The Cube (2016) and early in 2019 they presented a performance around the lunar eclipse (Orange Nights). This year Andrea and Julia will be at SPRING with their show PoroCity inside the Utrecht City Hall.

How do you feel about the (social) relevance of performing arts?

Andrea: Live performance can create space in which we can engage with the world in a different way: we can practice ways of attending, engaging and being in the world that are uncommon. That makes it into quite a powerful space and perhaps one of the last remaining places where something like that can be exercised.
Julia: Performance can propose radical gestures and setups, that are playful and creative with the spaces we inhabit. Ways of attending that would otherwise not be possible outside of the performance world.
Andrea: Performance can ‘undo’ a gaze that already knows what the world is. It can undo the idea that this world is given as such and the only possible reality. With the current political, social, economic and ecological meltdown – performance can be a space where we don’t know yet where we are, so something new can emerge. Maybe that’s for us the social relevance of it.

How did you start your platform TILT?

Andrea:  Julia comes from visual arts, Robert is a sound artist and I come from performing arts, but each of us has worked in-disciplinary within our own field and within our education. We initially started collaborated on my performances and continued collaborating on different projects for 15 years. We set TILT up as an in-disciplinary platform – not as a collective but a group of three individual artist who work together in various constellations – as an artistic statement, to practice horizontal connections between these disparate worlds and also to look for new ways of producing our work in collaboration with other partners.
Julia: A platform gives us the possibility to organise ourselves according to what the transdisciplinary nature of the work needs and to ask questions about how authorship is distributed within it. We are not a collective: we do not always use the same common signature. We are able to decide with every project how authorship is divided or shared. It gives us a horizontal organization and a flexible and free but ongoing and connected structure.
Andrea: A lot of our work is about developing new performative or installative formats that would allow for a shift of attention towards the world and the space we are in. Interdisciplinary structures started arising from those concerns and from the need to organise the relationship between the audience and the work, and between us, the work and the world differently.

How do you connect these different formats to the story you want to tell?

Andrea: Rather than tell stories – I would say we try to create conditions in which something unexpected can emerge. We look for a performative language that needs to be developed to create such conditions for each specific project.
Julia: We often layer several spaces, each with a distinct logic, on top of each other. Together they then create a third porous space between the two. The audience is invited to inhabit this new space for a while and after a while, it becomes ‘real’, ‘natural’ and ‘normal’, even more so or just as much as the one we arrived from.
Andrea: With the dream project we were originally not so interested in the dreams themselves.  But rather in what are the edges of a performance, where do we feel the stage ends and ’the world’ begins, what are the levels of staging in the world, what if there is no border between the art and the world? We were interested in this situation where one comes to a theatre, sits down to watch a performance and then goes back out through the door, leaves the ‘art’ behind and goes to the ‘real’ world outside. We were really interested in how we can create space in which this fictional border will be removed and this knowing where the stage begins and the world ends will be confused. So, we layered two spaces on top of each other: the dream world and the everyday world in which we perform. We map one into the other, they merge. Through the performance, you attend to both of these worlds at the same time. This re-organizes something in how we attend. The dream logic of the performance starts seeping into the everyday logic. And then, as you continue after the performance, we hope this logic stays with you for a few days or at least for a few hours inside the ‘real’ world. So, with the dreaming, we were not so interested in the way dreams are presented to us through psychoanalysis, but much more in what kind of a logic operates within the dream world and to enter it and move through the world in that logic.

What was the starting point of this performance?

Andrea: Our interests kind of continue over a longer period of time, there is no strict starting point. We were interested in creating porous spaces, what happens when you apply organic logic to black boxes and white cubes. In our installation The Cube, we were interested in the rectangular boxes we live in and present art in and we worked with dream logic to re-organise the cube through a visual experience of space. Then we started playing with this performative set up where you walk down a street or are at home in your own apartment but you imagine a different world into the one you see. You call it something else, or you describe it as something else. As if there is another world present but it’s not completely visible and not so different from yours.
Julia: It’s also like looking at something, such as a tree in the street, beyond what is obviously visible to the naked eye. So, there is the upper part of the tree, which looks like a separate object but how far does the tree continue underground into the invisible? How deep are the roots, how are the roots entangled with other roots, how does that create a deep and large strangely entangled underground organism – which very much defines what we see ‘upstairs’?
Andrea: For this performance, we did research into dreaming, for which, as part of it, we invited Mala Kline to work with us. Mala is a Sapphire dream technique practitioner, a dream technique which has its roots in ancient Sephardic Kabbalah tradition. We worked with our night time dreams, but according to this teaching, we dream all the time – we produce images all the time, only we don’t pay attention to them. Working in these sessions, we noticed that dreams have a very cinematic and immersive quality when they are told not as a story but as an image that one sees in that moment. We started mapping them into the space and realised there was something interesting in this gap because the dreams have a certain logic in themselves, which one cannot simply invent. It comes from another place. So, we developed something we call “dream collecting and mapping sessions”. We first ask people to tell us a dream – they usually first tell it as a very short anecdote: “Then this happened and this happened.” We then ask a lot of questions: “Can you describe the space you’re in? How does something feel? Who are you with?”
Julia: The more questions we ask, the more details emerge. As a listener, you start imagining the dream nearly as yours. Then in the third phase we ask them to re-tell the dream again but to now map it into the space of the building as though it takes place here and now.
Andrea: For the performance we wove the various dreams into one another and into the architectural space. We started doing research into various buildings in Amsterdam, looking at buildings as organisms themselves.
Julia: Buildings are projections of specific mind sets and have emerged from a zeitgeist of the time they were imagined and built in. A building which was built in the 50s comes from a very different political and ideological mindset than a building built today. But also, the use of the buildings changes over time, parts are destroyed, re-built, transformed, edited, merged into a current state.
Andrea: We chose the Orphanage House, designed by Aldo van Eyck, as our first location. It’s a very interesting architectural concept: a series of modular spaces, the inside and outside spaces are equally important, none of the spaces are the same, there are no closed cubes. It is kind of a labyrinth. We created a parcour through the building – through its history and through its current usage – the office spaces of the BPD, their art collection. The two layers – the dreams and the building – reveal and speak to each other.

Why have you chosen City Hall Utrecht as building?

Andrea: This space is quite new – only five years old – and feels like a future projection of the now. There is the concept of transparency between the levels and the outside, of commoning, of shared and flexible spaces, to accompany the ideas of new ways of working and transiting. It is situated in an intersection of transport and a shopping centre, a no space, everybody is a passer by, everybody is going somewhere, no one is here. Everything is constantly in movement. It is a perfect place for PoroCity.
Julia: The building is very spectacular, but at the same time it has calmness to it. People are moving around and talking but it’s very quiet in the space. When you travel up on the escalator you pass through a series of different viewpoints and perspectives, but you’re at the same time always looking back at where you came from. Everything looks the same but is changing all the time – your perspective within the building is constantly shifting. It feels like a strange vast landscape – you never know if you were there already or not.
Andrea: It is like a loop in a dream, you keep coming back but something has changed. We perform outside of its office hours so the building will be completely empty. That is always a very special experience. The space is left behind by people who work there but the traces of their activities are present.

How is the installation Through the Looking Glasses connected to the performance?

Andrea: They are two individual works but together they create a constellation and a larger work. Through the Looking Glasses is a project which we originally developed as part of the Mars Landing, a project we made in 2010. We then reworked it into an installation for this project. You put on a pair of non-see through white glasses on which we project coloured light and headphones with noise sound. You don’t hear any recognizable sound or see any recognizable shapes. You no longer look at something but you feel like you are in the space of the colour.
Julia: The installation is based on the Ganzfeld effect – the result of the brain amplifying neural noise in order to look for the missing visual signals. It is similar to dream production because of the brain’s state of sensory deprivation during sleep – you don’t actually see anything but an image is produced. Ganzfeld is also used to train astronauts for their travels to outer space. The installation and the PoroCity journey speak to each other. For the performance, it is important that both are experienced.

You can catch PoroCity on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 May at Stadsschouwburg Utrecht, in the Douwe Egbertszaal.


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