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It all started with Disneyworld. This 7 year-old Southern African child couldn’t believe her luck when she was given the chance to step behind a gaudy, painted wooden prop of her favourite fairytale character and insert her own face in place of the head of Cinderella. Camera flash. “Next!” calls the jaded photographer and Cinderella imposter number five hundred and two grins through the demarcated hole.

I still have that picture.

The Idols/Superstar/X-factor/So-you-think-you-can-dance culture of reality television has arguably challenged the bounds between performer and spectator more successfully than any theatrical or artistic experiment. The hallowed place of both the black box of cinema and theatre as well as the gallery’s white cube have been ousted by a suburban participation fixation from the couch: we make the media work for us as we project our own desire for mattering in a global haze of SMS voting, online poles and televised auditions. CCTV surveillance is not something sinister but rather comforting – apparently – and CNN has teamed up with Facebook for Obama’s inaugural speech under the tag line: ‘Make history with us’.

Modes of always looking and being looked at have been inscribed in a palimpsest of 20th Century critical thought – canonical perspectives including the likes of Michel Foucault, John Berger, Susan Sontag and Jean Baudrillard. An imposing framework for the Brakke Grond’s melee of installations and video sculptures by the Belgian theatre practitioner cum artist, Ief Spincemaille, who once again reconfigures the black box to place the spectator at the centre of a number of visual and spatial performances.

Spincemaille’s Atopos (2008) greets the visitor as they enter the ominously/obviously darkened room, and incorporates a small branch revolving in front of a light projected through water onto what becomes a waterscape screen. Place your finger in the water and you are immediately participating in the piece. Is the Great Bear a Lonely Bear (2006) bids the spectator/performer climb up a ladder into a one-man cinema created by Spincemaille and Klaas Verpoest. From here the protagonist sees him or herself being watched by a phantom spectator on ground level, thus encapsulating Spincemaille’s lengthy exhibition title, “Everything is art now, except you. You are only watching.” Unfortunately not all of the pieces were fully functional, including the artist’s more technically sophisticated, Watching Yourself Watching (2008) in which a mechanical screen and camera combination makes, what he calls, a ‘snap-movie’ of the viewer.

Brecht instructed actors to remember that the spectator was ‘sitting not only in your theatre but also in the world’ , heralding Brecht’s own radical breaking down of the theatre’s fourth wall, incorporating the viewer in events onstage. This obviously foundational notion to Spincemaille’s work is most successfully implemented in the exhibition’s concurrent workshops where the artist and Igor Dobricic will work with art, set-design and multi-media students from Belgian and Dutch institutions to create a performance with new video sculptures for the show’s finissage on the 25th of January. In the context of creative exchange and contestation this form of participation is hopefully less reminiscent of chipboard and acrylic paint in a line of grouchy Cinderella obsessed children; and reflects more constructively and uniquely on the current tension of worldly politics of participation.

The finissage of Ief Spincemaille’s Everything is art now, except you.
You are only watching.
will take place at The Brakke Grond on sunday january 25th at 16h00

Clare Butcher

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