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René Ten Bos tells on SPOT-Live why we play stage: 'On four legs we don't look it.'

'I recently spent a day working with municipal administrators. It was about bureaucracy. Well, if anything is about bureaucracy, it is the work of Samuel Beckett. So I also invited theatre people to illustrate what I was talking about with Becketian texts.' Philosopher René ten Bosch, currently Denker des Vaderlands, is one of the three curators of the revamped Congres Podiumkunsten, to be held in Leeuwarden on Tuesday 15 May under the name SPOT Live. Something he enjoys doing, he says: "I have always been very much in favour of using art. Not only in science, but also in what I do myself.'

Dangling breasts

This is also the reason why, in the preparation for the conference, he confronts visitors with some four not even too easy poems: 'I try to touch people in all kinds of ways. For me, poetry is not only a form of making music, but also a form of thinking. I think poets think very beautiful things.' As an example, he gives a poem by South African poet Wilma Stockenström that speaks of 'Clytemnestra with dangling breasts'.

'Those are very nice words from Wilma Stockenström. She once asked herself, what made man want to walk upright? Her answer, as ingenious as it is simple: the desire to play stage. A Clytemnestra with dangling breasts - such a thing just doesn't look right. There is no further good reason: the rest of the world crawls on four legs. So man, the poet concludes, is a fool because he has to play stage'.

Whole body

In his role as curator and Thinker of the Fatherland, René ten Bosch wants to take people into another way of thinking. 'I am a scientist myself and I argue that scientists should be informed much more by art. There are also all kinds of initiatives for that. Let me give you an example: artists often look at a body very differently from medics.'

'I am now involved in a project to get medics to look at bodies differently. That's quite something. Most medics, and anyway people in hospitals and laboratories, don't see a body at all. Those only see a particle, or they see an injury. They tend to reduce the body to something it is not. So they pay so much attention to what is broken that they hardly notice what is whole. Apart from that: in a laboratory, all you see is blood serum under a microscope.'

'Artists can change that outlook. They see different things. They are already working on that at Nijmegen UMC. You will start seeing such interventions of art in the scientific world more often.'


It applies not only to visual art, but also to dance and theatre, Ten Bos explains: 'I recently had to give a lecture on ethics in healthcare, where I talked particularly about gestures. I think gestures are a very important element of leadership. Through gestures, you embody what you are saying. I have written extensively about gestures, Gestures, in English.’

'Gestures are eminently a subject that lends itself to expression in the form of theatre and dance. Gestures exist in a figurative sense: giving someone confidence is a gesture. Apologising is a gesture. I define a gesture as a means without an end. That is also the classic definition of beauty. With gestures, you shouldn't have an end in mind. You merely pose as a medium. You can see this very well in tango. That is a dance in which gesture plays a very important role. So, at a lecture for healthcare professionals, I had everything I told illustrated by tango dancers. And not the least of them. These were two people who were world champions for years.'


These kinds of interventions and innovative presentations are necessary, according to the Thinker of the Fatherland: 'Science has withdrawn from society. All that now sits in fields they call campuses. Add to that the natural sciences are highly thematised. That has also blocked a rather more artistic consideration of the world. I know plenty of scientists who follow art closely, but the naturalness has long been gone.'

'It comes back because scientists themselves don't know it all anymore. The complexity sciences, which are characterised by a high degree of uncertainty, such as neurology, or climatology, automatically create a stronger need to also keep an ear to the ground in art.'


'People often think art is marginal or pushed aside. I want people to go home with confidence after my performance at SPOT Live. That they realise that arts matter in so many areas, and are also valued. I became aware of this again recently when I gave a lecture in Deventer. In the Bergkerk, there was an exhibition by Othilia Verdurmen on myths. I thought I knew all those stories, but nothing could be further from the truth. That is what art achieves: that you always find new ways of looking at age-old stories.

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SPOT-Live will take place on 15 May in Leeuwarden. Information.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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