The Walden Collective make the invisible visible
During Beyond the Black Box, you will catch them dashing from one installation to the next: sawing wood, poking the fire, melting ice, dousing the sauna. The members of The Walden Collective are building an ecosystem in and around De Brakke Grond. With no fewer than four installations: IJS, OLIE, WARMTE and HITTE from their ENERGIE series, The Walden Collective show that everything is connected to everything else – including the onlooker.
Biologist/musician Thijs van Vuure, sculptor/philosopher Jente Hoogeveen, dramaturge/philosopher Thomas Lamers and scenographer/actor René van Bakel make up The Walden Collective, combining forces in a trans-disciplinary mission. They make work that emanates from a shared vision of man and nature. Thomas: “Nature is not something you can go and look at on a Sunday afternoon. Even if you’re sitting in a brightly lit room in an office building, you’re in nature.” Thijs: “Actually, we argue for the abolition of the term ‘nature’.”
Making sure it doesn’t become an ‘object’
“We are really good at ‘objectification’,” Thijs says. “Creating distance between ourselves and an object; between ourselves and nature, or between the chicken filet in the supermarket and the actual chicken. By making nature the Other, you can express an opinion on it without this impacting on you.” The Walden Collective try to blur this boundary between man and nature. An involved attitude is essential at this time of climate crisis. Thomas shares a quote by David Attenborough: “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they haven’t experienced.”
The Walden Collective’s installations make up an ecology; make viewers aware of sometimes invisible connections – even allowing them to experience these physically. “All the works transform autonomously,” Thijs says. “In the beginning they are different from what they are at the end – by definition. They are all temporal works.” In OLIE, ice, earth and oil coalesce in a glass tray to create a slow-moving sculpture. In IJS, the viewers’ warm hands transform a large block of ice into 85 litres of meltwater. This water is then evaporated by The Walden Collective in the sauna which is open to the audience and which forms the HITTE installation. In this way, one installation disappears into another.
We’re going to burn lots and lots of wood – for nothing. As a visualisation of what we do all the time in our everyday lives. For example, all these canalside houses with no double glazing – just because they’re listed buildings. Because we’ve come to accept this as normal, we don’t necessarily ask any questions about this.
We’re going to burn lots and lots of wood – for nothing
The most striking work is WARMTE. The Walden Collective are constructing a large altar on Nesplein square to praise the ‘God of Heat Loss’; including burning fire and heated radiator/altar pews. René: “We’re going to burn lots and lots of wood – for nothing. As a visualisation of what we do all the time in our everyday lives. For example, all these canalside houses with no double glazing – just because they’re listed buildings. Because we’ve come to accept this as normal, we don’t necessarily ask any questions about this.”
With WARMTE, The Walden Collective seek to send as much heat up into the atmosphere as possible in the shortest possible time. René: “When zoom in on something and make it very visible, people do then start to ask questions.” At the WARMTE altar, The Walden Collective are organising ‘services’, preaching the gospel of warmth, and also inviting poets, musicians, journalists and philosophers to give a sermon. As within the collective, various perspectives are brought together here.
Blossom can only happen thanks to decay
“We have a strong tendency to only look at the front of the system – but we are interested in the whole thing. Blossom can only happen thanks to decay. This is what makes for a healthy ecosystem.” Nevertheless, we organise our society with a more or less constant focus on blossoming – in other words, an unhealthy ecosystem. Thomas: “On New Year’s Eve, we set off fireworks all over the place, but the next morning more than half of the debris has already been cleared up by invisible workers. We don’t want to see the decay side.”
Don’t forget yourself! You are here; you have agency, and you need to deal with this consciously if you want to lead a responsible life.
It is a conscious decision to place their installations in the public space. Thomas: “In the black box, every effort is made to allow the audience to forget themselves. But we are saying: ‘Don’t forget yourself! You are here; you have agency, and you need to deal with this consciously if you want to lead a responsible life’.” As with the climate crisis, with The Walden Collective the audience are part of the ecology. René: “Our work is a point of entry to starting a discussion, with the aim of getting closer to people. We try not to see the audience as ‘the other’.” Jente: “So we never disappear behind the scenes. We are actually very approachable.” The Walden Collective will be constantly working during Beyond the Black Box, and are always open to a conversation.
We need ‘cathedral thinking’
At the same time, the work on the ENERGIE series could form the springboard for a new project. Thomas: “You cultivate the new crop in the remains of the old crop. That’s what we do too.” During Beyond the Black Box, The Walden Collective will investigate ‘cathedral thinking.’ Thomas: “What does it mean to work on a project that will not be finished in your lifetime? We believe this is an attitude that is sorely needed in the current climate debate.”
The Walden Collective’s installations are good ‘conversation starters’, René thinks. Thomas adds: “We don’t need to use rhetorical tricks to get our audience talking; they already are.” Perhaps also because the installations are such great spaces for conversation. This is important to The Walden Collective, Thijs says: “I personally have the feeling that we always try to make good spaces, places it feels good to be: like an ice altar, nice warm benches in the winter…” Jente adds: “Or with a beer in the sauna.”
Past the point of no return
As the installations transform over time, so it seems do the viewers sometimes as well. René: “I really think that we can change people: give them a new vision of something! I’m really convinced of this. Even if this only happens with three out of ninety people, it would make me really happy!” Thomas interrupts: “We got two confirmed vegetarians after our production in an abattoir!” The Walden Collective give a collective cheer.
Thomas: “It’s not that we’re bringing new information. We are doing research, we read the same newspapers, but sometimes we help people past the point of no return.” As the wood burns, the ice melts and the water evaporates, something also starts to move inside the viewer. Which point of no return will s/he find at Beyond the Black Box? I’ve already turned my heating down by a couple of degrees.
Words: Lies Mensink
Images: Collectief Walden / Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk
The Walden Collective at Beyond the Black Box
Would you like to experience the The Walden Collective ecology for yourself? Then come along to Beyond the Black Box. On 31 January, the Walden Collective will kick off with Miet Warlop in the Prologue, followed by the performance OLIE. The other works from the ecology can be seen and experienced from 5 through 8 February.
To see The Walden Collective’s work, you need a day ticket. Check out the full programme and buy your day tickets here.