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From now on, mandatory for every theatre talk: a blank sheet of paper.

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If a Nobel Prize for brilliant innovative festival ideas is established, the first may be awarded to whoever came up with the solution to 'the festival conversation' yesterday. You know, that ever-necessary conversation with the important guest or guests. At a table. On chairs. On television, such a setting is already problematic, live in a theatre usually lethal. A currently still anonymous employee of debate centre De Balie, then the Holland Festival, showed yesterday how that problem can be solved in one go. With a big sheet of paper.

The solution was perhaps less brilliant at first than it ended up being. For the conversation with William Kentridge and rising star in visual arts Raquel van Haver, the team had in fact come up with all kinds of things to make it more fun. Projections that included live browsing in artworks, someone with a video camera, and of course discussion leader Yoeri Albrecht who again had a hefty stack of cards with questions ready. Which he thus, like earlier with those other associate artist of the Holland Festival Faustin Linyekula, could throw in the trash after only a few minutes. Those who interview race storytellers have to come with very heavy artillery to put a pin in it. And like Faustin Linyekula, William Kentridge is a great storyteller.

The terror of every artist

But so now that sheet of paper. thick two by four metres, stuck nice and wild with gaffer tape. The terror of every artist, a torture to look at, Raquel van Haver immediately stated. For Yoeri Albrecht, too, it was not entirely clear what to do with it, until William Kentridge actually grabbed a piece of charcoal at the very first question, stepped up to the sheet of paper and while drawing began to explain what he meant by that: 'thinking in charcoal'. Because that's what Albrecht wanted to know: how to think at a material. So you can only explain that by drawing with that material. Not that we in the audience understood it right away, but that was completely unnecessary.

The further hour and a half the two artists spent in front of the paper. Occasionally drawing, doodling, underlining something. There was movement, there was image, there was animated contact and there was a camerawoman making weird moves (second prize).

Art about descent

And so in the meantime, it was also about something. Not so much about the forgotten stories that were supposed to be the subject of the programme, but about artistry and descent. Raquel van Haver, recently honoured with a retrospective at Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum, talked about what happens to artists like her, with visibly different origins from Holland. They are actually always expected to make art about being different. White artists are never asked that question.

She revealed that at her exhibition, she got into a conversation with a New York gallery owner who asked her a question no one here in the Netherlands had yet asked her: 'Why do you make what you make?' A rather shocking revelation for anyone writing about art in this day and age, it seems to me.


Kentridge, meanwhile, explained that in South Africa, even long after the end of apartheid, there were still distinctions between white and black artists: white artists all worked abstractly, while black artists exclusively produced figurative work. Work, therefore, that was automatically considered inferior by the white art elite. So the fact that Kentridge eventually chose to work figuratively as well was a revolutionary act, with impressive consequences.

While scratching and gesticulating, both artists arrived at many fascinating thoughts, which can still be seen on the livestream of the meeting. In doing so, by the way, also note what they are trying to do secretly. Raquel van Haver at one point tries to draw a fish, Kentridge, while scratching, works towards a reclining character. Because we all want to see and recognise something. Without that sheet of paper, this evening would not have been so entertaining and insightful.

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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