Small Spaces - Low Energy

An idiosyncratic diary of the project of the Paul Deschanel Movement Research Group 1 Jun 2003English

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Contextual note
These notes were written during the research project ‘Small Spaces – Low Energy’ by the Paul Deschanel Movement Research Group in the BSBbis in Brussels in June 2003. The project was initiated by Alexander Baervoets and Heike Langsdorf, participants in the project were Shila Anaraki, Florence Augendre, Franky DC, Antoine Desvigne, O Brasileiro, Jeroen Peeters, Kaszia Rausz, Kurt Vandendriessche. More information and documentation on the project is to be found at

Altar. It all started off with a banana. Listed as a forbidden fruit by the cook, it happened to be a leftover at the very arrival in the space. Alexander exhibited the banana in the middle of the space on a square table. Later on, someone else added a second table on top, making the banana tower higher. Followed a garland of fake flowers and a goldish veil, making the construction look like an altar, and the banana as no less than a sacrifice.

Bach. Once a day before noon resounds Bach’s Kunst der Fuge out of Alexander’s tent. Only once a day, that suits for fostering this fugue of architecture, fragment and death. In a case in front of the tent, a guitar is waiting to be played, or more precisely: to be played Bach on, Suite IV for lute in E-flat. So far, the guitar was picked up mainly by neighbour Kurt, going through the whole camp fire repertory, starting with House of the Rising Sun, of course. Bach can wait, he’s patient.

Backwards. Every morning, Shila receives an sms from Big Brother, containing a task for the day. The first one came on Tuesday: ‘Take a cold shower and walk backwards.’ Wednesday: ‘Act as a person you don’t like’. The second one happens to be more difficult, so Shila decides to skip it and continues walking backwards. Her consideration to not listen to Big Brother: ‘That person I don’t like is me, so it doesn’t make any difference.’ As she discusses it, the perception of the environment is thoroughly different: instead of a world that keeps disappearing out of your visual horizon when you walk on, the surrounding emerges in smaller chunks, accompanied with a steady look on your pathway and the past.

Big Brother. No need for explanation. He pulls the strings. Insiders tipped Big Brother listens to the name ‘Heike’. Possibly there is some congruence with the other Heike, absent because currently harnessed whilst working for this other puppeteer, Jan F., known for riding bronze tortoises and measuring clouds.

Bush. Antoine lives in a bush, consisting of all the plants available in the building: several ficus benjamin and small palm trees form a hedge that marks his living area. After a few days, it is clear that it doesn’t simply concern a bush, but an ambulatory bush! The traces left behind so far, are a foldaway bed, a small wooden platform, and an armchair with extra pillow. Everyday, the bush is moving closer to the tent of O Brasileiro, along the axis parallel to the glass hothouses that accommodate the offices of BSBbis. Speaking about plants in this sweltering…

Dream. Although the atmosphere is hot and the beds are rather narrow, some participants have a profound sleep, which stimulates dreams. As this one from Florence: ‘I was part of a group, a bit like the situation we’re in, and staying in a building, something between a factory and an old theatre. The floor was covered with a thick layer of dust, about 30 cm. We were all cleaning up the dust with brooms, but at first didn’t realise that it would disperse in the whole space. After a while, it became so overwhelming a cloud, I couldn’t see or breath properly anymore and started screaming: je ne peux plus, je ne peux plus!’

Food. The catering is a low energy diet, based on particular combinations that deliver taste and nutrition-values, but no extra energy. Golden rule is not to combine carbohydrates and fat – indeed, sounds like Montignac. So-called ‘dry’ and ‘fat’ meals are therefore alternated. Nuts, dried and fresh fruits, as well as dark chocolate (above 75% of cacao) can be eaten in between, since they have a neutral glycenic index. The diet allows the participants to maintain the necessary energy to household their physics. The cook (with the help of Big Brother) made up a calendar, an explanation of the diet, and lists of things that are allowed or not, and in which combinations. She adds: ‘Enjoy your meals, and do not starve or try to eat little! The quantity is not relevant as long as you respect the golden rule! We promise, you will feel tired!’ Already after two ways, one observes that food is by far the most discussed topic, reaching from bad jokes to elaborate discussions about fructose.

No Food. From the beginning on, Kurt decided not to take part in the low energy diet whatsoever. He isn’t eating at all, just drinking water with lemon, tea, milk, sometimes a beer. The first days and nights, pain strokes kept him regularly from his activities, later on the feeling of hunger faded away. Luckily there is fructose to cope with shaking muscles.

O Brasileiro. The anonymous participant. Lives in a beige tent in a corner and observes the environment with a small camera sticking out. Seen the prosthetic eye towering above the living area, one might suspect he has something to do with Big Brother. Few times he leaves his tent for supplying, dressed in jeans, jeans jacket, white sneakers, sun glasses and a black bonnet, displaying the letter ‘’.

Orange. Every now and then, oranges are expelled from O Brasileiro’s tent: emptied, the peel is meticulously sewn with black yarn. On the menu, oranges are always available as fresh fruits with a neutral glycenic index. Also the colour is present. The one and only view we have of the outside city is the facade in front, which is… orange. In the living area itself, one can spot the colour as well; apart from a small sponge rugby ball and the empty oranges in O Brasileiro’s yard, the colour orange occurs with increasing concentration around Franky’s cottage. The walls of his building are covered with orange blankets, and moreover, he is wandering about in an orange overall. The colour is as silent as visible.

Outside. What is happening in Brussels this week is kind of an enigma. Still, the isolation from the outside world isn’t absolute at all. Communication happens through several media and contacts, listed alphabetically: cell phones, internet, newspaper (De Morgen), radio (both Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Dardenne in the final of Roland Garros), shows happening downstairs (this week: Salon Magnétique with Els Dietvorst and an opera by De Kift), the staff of BSBbis, windows looking out on the street.

Overview. In Essai d’intoxication volontaire de Peter Sloterdijk (1996), one reads: ‘Tu demandes quand les vues larges ont rendu heureux ou promis le bonheur? La réponse est évidente: elles l’ont promis à l’époque de cette théorie des dieux que nous connaissons sous le pseudonyme de philosophie. La théorie était une affaire splendide lorsqu’existait la distance qui rend toute chose belle. Lorsqu’on se trouve sur l’Olympe, on est jovial spontanément, n’est-ce pas? La théorie et la circonspection: voilà ce qui rend heureux. Il me semble qu’aujourd’hui, n’importe quel vacancier connaît mieux tout cela que ces messieurs, les agrégés des idées mortes. La théorie moderne signifie en effet le travail du concept, tandis que la théorie antique signifie la vision, c’est-à-dire les vacances du concept. Grand panorama, libre vol des âmes, le monde tout entier comme un petit bonjour sur une carte postale. Le ciel au-dessus des Sporades, l’archipel des choses se détachant sur un horizon brillant. La pensée s’y ajoute, et l’on commence à s’étonner de pouvoir tout trouver si grand, si joliment achevé, sans que nous y ayons contribué. L’âme s’étend, elle devient tout l’oeil et contemplation du monde, “demeure donc, tu es si beau”. Ce sont tels moments, je n’en démords pas, que vivait jadis la théorie heureuse, qui était une sorte de détente en profondeur de l’intellect.’

Practice.“What is a Caucus-race?” said Alice; not that she much wanted to know, bit the Dodo had paused as if it thought that somebody ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything. “Why,’ said the Dodo, “the best way to explain it is to do it.” (…) First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (“the exact shape doesn’t matter,” it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no “One, two, three, and away!”, but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an our or so, and where quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out “The race is over!”, and they all crowded around it, panting, and asking “But who has won?” (Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865)

Project.Why does the project result in isolation? Each project is above all the declaration of another, new future that is supposed to come about once the project has been executed. But in order to induce such a new future one first has to take a period of leave or abscence for oneself, with which the project has transferred its agent into a parallel state of heterogeneous time? This other time-frame, in turn, is undocked from time as experienced by society: it is de-synchronized. (…) Whether a project ends in success or failure plays no role whatsoever. In both cases what is felt to be distressing is the loss of this existence in parallel time, the abandonment of a life beyond the general run of things. (…)
It is precisely this time gap, the precious opportunity to take a look at the present from the future, that makes the life lived in the project so enticing to its author and, inversely, that makes tha project’s execution ultimately so upsetting. Hence, in the eyes of any author of a project, the mostagreeableprojects are those which, from their very inception, are conceived never to be completed, since these are the ones that are most likely to maintain the gap between the future and the present for an unspecified length of time. (…)
Each art project may presuppose the foromulation of a specific aim and a strategy designed to achieve this aim, but thus target is mostly formulated is such a way that we are denied the criteria which would allow us to ascertain whether the project’s aim has or has not been achieved (…) Our attention is thereby shifted away from the production of a work (including a work of art) onto life in the art project; life that is not primarily a productive process, that is not tailored to developing a product, that is not ‘result-oriented’. In these terms, art is no longer understood as the production of works of art; but as documentation of life-in-the-project, regardless of the outcomethe life in question has or is supposed to have had
.’ (Boris Groys, The Loneliness of the Project, 2002)

Puzzle. In the corner next to the ramp, one sees a pile of cardboard boxes containing puzzles. With the help of many hands, Shila is making the one jigsaw puzzle after the other during the whole day. Will you frame them afterwards? Is puzzling about a process or a product? Apparently, this sort of questions is not done. The only reflexive thoughts about the act of puzzling that escaped Shila’s mouth so far, are ‘My life is a puzzle,’ and ‘Sometimes it is good to take a bit of distance, the overview helps to continue.’

Rules. There are none; a minimal frame is set though. Theme is ‘Small spaces – Low energy’. During six days (2-7 June 2003), nine artists invade the space of the BSBbis in Brussels, to build their own space to live and work in during that week. Whatever kind of material can be brought or used to create this environment; mattresses and pillows are provided. Everybody has one (1) plug at his/her disposal in his/her individual space (no connectors allowed), which can be used for whatever goal (pc’s, radios, cameras, light devices and so on can be brought and installed). Meals based on a low energy diet are served at regular times. Everyone is supposed to stay in the building throughout the whole week. Everyone can decide about his/her own activities, whatever background he/she has. Discussions about the essence of the meeting during the process should be avoided, the central interest is to act; time for discussion is foreseen afterwards. The meeting will be archived in different ways (website, writings, filming, artefacts,...); all sorts of input are greeted. Nobody will be leading the process. Nobody will be working towards a product. On Saturday evening from 8.30 p.m. till 9.30 p.m. some people from the outside world will come in and spend some time in our environment with the participants. Sunday morning, all traces of the meeting will be erased. Everyone is free to quit the meeting at any point, but without starting discussions about it in order to not disturb the rest of the group and without the possibility of returning.

Shelter.In all our theatrical explorations of the city, perhaps it is no surprise that time after time we mark some part of the stage as private space, as home. (…) In each case these structures cluster around an item or two of furniture – a bed perhaps, or a table and a chairs – the structural tokens of interior space. Beyond these crude houses or homes there is always an ambiguous zone – a zone that comprises two separate but interlocked ‘outsides’ – the real outside of the theatre with its piles of scaffolding, costumes and props and its brick walls, and the fictional outside of the protagonists world – a city implied and fragmented, which swirls around the private space, threatening always to intrude upon it. (…) Even allowing for such privacy, these crude homes offer little in the way of final or solid projection from the city beyond. When they are not being dismantled, they are massively permeable (…) Who wrote this: “Each window a stage in the great drama of the city…”? Were they thinking of the walk from my house to the shops where each living room I pass is bathed in TV-light which flickers and changes in rhythm to the changing of shots – the strange and synchronised dance of light on walls linking disparate houses, disparate lives?’ (Tim Etchells, Eight fragments on Theatre and the City, 1995)

Temptations. After three days of headaches, trying out all possible remedies, such as aspirins and strong coffee, Alexander decided that the diet does no good to him. The last solution is a greasy temptation: French fries with mayonnaise, a meatball (carbohydrates AND fat!) and a large goblet of Coca-Cola (sugar!). The advanced pretext to break the rules of the research project: medical reasons. Eating French fries for medical reasons? Come on! In today’s newspaper I read a cartoon of Casper and Hobbes, the two of them calling an information line to find out the difference between a hot dog, a frankfurter sausage and a meatball. They got no answer and conclude in an angry tone that the info line doesn’t have a grounding in medical matters at all! You can’t trust anybody these days!

Words (unfinished entries). Allowance. Architecture. Communication. Expenditure. Fragile. Intranet. Keep silence. Mobile. Network. Outside world. Post-it. Readymade. Red whig. Situation. Tea-room. Trapeze.