Tales of a City
What form of storytelling allows and makes space for interaction and exchange between the story and the listeners?
As both a costume-maker and artist, my work over the last years has largely consisted in research an intersection of city development and storytelling. Within this research, I have written several short tales or stories, in which I narrate issues within cities (such as the right to adequate housing, the functions of public spaces, …) in the form of fable-like stories. I am interested in narratives that don't align with hegemonic narratives on why cities are shaped as they are, and in how to write and visualise and exchange these parallel stories. This is important for communication about processes that for example make housing unaffordable, and to then eventually organise against these.
The storytelling strand of the research is shaped by working in the theatre context; communication with an audience through signs, such as colours, types of clothes, materials and references, is a central aspect of the storytelling. Stories can be shared in differing forms, such as in written language or in physical representations like costumes, masks, and other body extensions or puppetry. The language of materials and objects joins with the written language, as in my stories I use image-based language shaping the figures I make.
Within the broad term ‘city development’ I want to delineate the aspects on which I orientate my research. Geographically, it is limited to cities within western Europe – such as UK, BE or DE, where I have lived – and more specifically Antwerp. Temporally, the research is anchored in the now, spilling backwards about a decade. ‘Development’ outlines the structure, organisation and construction of cities and thereby of people living in it; especially in relation to financial capitalism and the issues arising from city planning based on market principles. The emphasis on financial capitalism is founded on the latter’s role in for example the housing crisis. What ties these strands of research together lies partially in my personal interest, and partially in that I think this intersection to be useful for communication.
Growing up I lived in about six different cities across Germany, France and the UK. The repeating reorientation in each place surely caused my present focus on stories of places, as these help to resituate yourself in a new place. Further, I have lived and moved in enough of a position of privilege to be able to seek out stories in a new place instead of administration documents. This search for stories, myths and fables of life in the cities is relevant in that it makes more graspable and emotionally accessible, what is abstract and too universal to directly link to personal life.
In this ADMA year, I focused on one method of telling a story; the form of puppetry, or rather of the written story with physical, materialised and animated illustration. Thus, below is shown one story, the one of the bird and its nest, in two forms and stages.
Metal feathers left a trace of rusty dust, as the bird bustled around their new nest on a cosy corner between the park and the ring road. Just as the construction from wood and fruitboxes was finished, evening fell and the bird cuddled deep into the nest to escape the sounds of the road. Early in the morning, the bin truck came, like every Wednesday. The bin men, not recognising the bird’s home, got confused by the their invitation for a tea, and they threw the bird’s nest into the trash car’s big smelly belly.
June 2021, Antwerpen-Noord
In a vast city landscape, on the pavement of a rather narrow street residential 19th century apartment buildings, some in need of repairs, the day was coming to an end. People were hurrying home, others walking slowly, tired from the day, towards home, probably. Metal feathers left a trace of rusty dust, as the bird bustled around their new nest on a cosy corner between the park and the ring road. Just as the construction was finished, evening fell and the bird cuddled deep into the nest to escape the sounds of the city. When the cold of the night began to dense up around the upcoming sun, misty clouds and exhaust accumulated in the sky, the early people came out of doorways with sleepy eyes. With its familiar deep humming of the motor, the ziiischhh of the breaks, the bin car advanced down the street, stop and go, the workers on the back. They were clasping casually onto the handle, jumping off to grab the mountains of cardboard, of heavy smelly plastic bags. Then they heaved these one by one into the large dark mouth of the truck, backs cracking, breath frozen in the morning air, and clouds of cigarette smoke alongside. When they approached the bird’s nest, the bird welcomed them, and pulled out four cups of tea, the teapot already warmed up and poured a cup for the three of them. After their usual talk, the workers got up again, - thanks for the tea, see you next week! - and the nest, disassembled, disappeared into the truck’s belly.
June 2023, Dingen die niet verkopen and Morpho, Antwerp
I am a costume maker and artist based in Antwerp, having lived before in the UK, France and Germany. In 2021 I finished my studies at KASKA with a master in theatre costume, and have since then worked in several theatre projects as costume maker. Parallelly, I have continued my research within a residency in Netherlands and the ADMA program at Sint Lucas Antwerp.
People talk to one another through words, but then there are also songs that are sung, and dances that are danced, fires that are fed and constructions that are torn down, masks that portray the inside, images that cling to you and never leave, and without all of those languages we all could never hope to understand the other.