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The friendly voyeurism of Bert Hana

On a cold rainy afternoon, I cycle to the Brakke Grond to ask Bert Hana about his motivations, as befits a beer. First I visit the IDFA DocLab, where his VR installation 'I Am Not Home Video' state, which we have talked about before.

Bert Hana is perhaps every art critic's dream, because completely self-made, or self-taught if you will. Once rejected 3 times by a drama school, he now has a respectable CV of roles and performances. Via a lot of simple jobs, such as driver and cleaner, he found his way to the stage.

Are you more actor or more creator?

'"I was insecure for quite a long time about not doing drama school. You don't have a safe place to try things out, everything you make succeeds or fails in reality. The tipping point came through A review by the Cultural Press Agency about Daddy Day 'What Bert Hana can do you don't learn at any school, make art out of your own life.' Now I find it an advantage that I didn't do drama school, that allows me to keep doing very different things without having to uphold some kind of 'stature' of an education, it gives me freedom.

Spicy road

It was quite a tough road to travel but because of a few people I fell into place at crucial moments. Sanne Vogel (also self-taught) I have known since I was 16 from the Kunstbende and she introduced me to festival de Opkomst and casting agency Oimundo. I got to know programmer Simone Hogendijk because I volunteered to guard a tent at Oerol. She introduced me to theatre Kikker and the Over 't IJ festival. I am used to doing and arranging everything myself, including publicity and technology.

I don't like creators who sit angrily with their arms crossed because no audience is coming but do nothing themselves. That's why it clicked so well with the Fringe festival, you have to be entrepreneurial yourself. I see acting as applied work, which I enjoy doing. I can express the need to tell something myself in my autonomous work. I wouldn't want to make full-time either, I really need 'simmer time'. If all I did was make, I would start making really bad things.''


In terms of genres, Bert Hana is undoubtedly the nightmare of many a fund and publicity officer, he says himself, because he absolutely cannot be pigeonholed within any genre or pigeonhole. Nor does he like it when his carefully chosen flyer image is suddenly turned 180 degrees.

Answering machines

The winner of the 2009 Dioraphte Amsterdam Fringe Award (Daddy Day) stood in his own living room with slides, in the theatre, in a thrift shop and in cinemas with Google streetview images (#Alleman). Now he is at IDFA for the third time. In 'I Am Not Home Video', visitors can enter a virtual world and go back to the 1990s, when people still had and used answering machines.

For more than five years, Hana collected answering machine tapes in various languages, with the most personal or trivial messages. No shortage of erotic humour either, as evidenced by the man recording "What have YOU got a long beep Kees!". And even then, people were 'busy, busy, busy'.

With VR goggles and headphones on, I listen to all those wonderful messages people once left for each other, as my eyes wander past a primal living room from 2001 , House, garden and birthday shots from Hana's childhood and NOS messages from that era. The answering machine was more often confessor than neutral receiver, shoots through me, as I leave the cosy darkness again.

Who inspires you?

'I admire Wim T Schippers, for his versatility and individuality. I also find Fluxus and Performance-art inspiring. If I had, wanted, done an education now it would have been the Rietveld Academy I think.

Real people

Everyday things you can look at differently, that's what I want to achieve as a maker. As an actor, I try to recreate reality, to be a real person. That's why I get passionate about ' material from real people' I think. It gives me an insight into people, maybe it comes from wanting to have some kind of control?''

As I (Hannah Roelofs) have seen most of the performances and collaborated in some of them, I have become increasingly fascinated by the motivations of this somewhat elusive maker, who constantly pours fragments of an intimate and daily life over us without sparing himself and his family. This ambiguity of homage and violation of privacy in Hana's work is perhaps best explained through the performance 'Street Phantom' (2011).

'Streetphantast' is a narrative performance that Hana devoted entirely to the life of an unknown woman who must have lived on his street. After she is taken to a care home, her entire contents, including diaries, diaries and photographs are thrown in the bulk. She smokes, she makes love, she argues and she parties but there is no one to take care of these personal items until Bert Hana finds them. He makes it a loving reconstruction of a troubled and lonely life, with things that would otherwise have disappeared forever in landfill. At times, as a spectator, you feel extremely embarrassed because you become part of intimate details and squabbles that were not meant for you. On the other hand, it is also a warm ode to a woman's life in a big city, which we could all be or become.

Why do you collect photos and videos for your work as a creator?

'"The past gives so much insight into what to expect from the present. I am looking for The Manual of Life I think. Now I still think a silver cutlery is unimportant but there will surely come a day when I proudly put it in the cupboard. My parents now also do things my grandparents did.

Lucky moments

I cherish things that have passed, it gives me hope. You don't want some happy moments to disappear forever. Nostalgia is a very nice feeling and my performances are always mementos or monuments to someone or about a certain period of time. "'

What are you planning in the future?

'"For once, I would like to do something I can already do instead of always exploring a new form or medium. 'The Great Rollator Day' and 'The Figurant's Paradise' that I once organised were events. 'Rommelhemel' and 'Daddy Day' were location-based performances, 'Family Visit' and 'Street Phantom' were in the theatre. 'Homage beet' was a foray into music, 'Rebuild Fukushima' an installation. For '#Alleman', I used google streetview. With Virtual Reality, I have now gained experience for "I Am Not Home Video. Who knows, maybe I'll move on from that? For my contacts, it is also confusing because I am always somewhere else. I no longer see myself as a theatre maker now, but as a director. I have to constantly redefine who I am.''

 In your performances, you mix fact and fiction. Like for instance in 'Daddy Day' where you play a single father but end up telling the story of your deceased baby sister. How do you relate to concepts like truth and reality?

"Daddy Day" is the performance I cherish the most because I still stand behind it. It was nostalgic, confusingly real, intimate, laugh and cry. That is what I want to make even though I might not be able to play this show now that I have become a father myself.

Good story

I enjoy being at IDFA again this year. It is, of course, a documentary festival, so the starting point is truth. If I have to choose between the truth or a good story, I choose a good story. Fiction pur sang I find less interesting, I do find the best story for you, polish it up and put it in front of you. I don't want to do half a job. As a spectator, you have to be able to believe it is true. My mother was a pastor and preaching a sermon is also so much more than putting down the flat truth. It's about inspiring and confusing so that it brings into focus what you yourself think.''


Hannah Roelofs

Dramaturg, speech coach and student English teacher.View Author posts

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