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The House of Our Fathers
installation 20m x 5m x 5m

After my father’s death, I subjected his house, which by his absence had become a different house, to a thorough investigation. He had designed it himself and I was born and raised there.
In the cellar, at the back of a rickety cupboard, was a glass preserving jar containing a human heart in formalin. No one had ever told me where this heart came from. On the top floor of the house was a glass bell-jar containing a 36 cm-long Egyptian animal mummy in the form of an inverted L. We took it to the local hospital, where my father had worked, and had X-rays taken of it. It turned out to be a young baboon. This is another object whose origins are unknown to me.

These two objects have a history of their own that remains unknown to us, and this enables stories to take shape. For this reason I have given them a central position in my ideas concerning ‘The House of Our Fathers’. These objects have literally been torn out of their own past. The heart may come from the East (at that time, around 1950, numerous organs and skeletons were brought from India to Western universities for the purposes of study), while the baboon mummy was probably robbed from a grave in Egypt and smuggled to Europe.

History is always written by individuals and is thus never an objective report. What meaning does an individual history have in the face of history in general? Are we capable of writing a meaningful history? What would these objects signify if they were given a different history? This is the essence of the house. It is a confrontation with a past that is always changeable. So what does memory actually mean? Contemporary art history is determined entirely by politics. The influence of the art market and shifts in the affluence of our society, combined with the influence of religions, are greater than ever. What does this house signify in this context?

I am building a house. A movable house. Every detail of the house is a non-functional work of art in its own right. A hospitable house. To which people are invited so they can signify something there.

The biggest difference between work in the theatre and in the plastic arts is the use of the observer’s time. In the theatre it is the maker that determines the time given to observe an image, whereas in a work of art it is the observer himself. I make use of the concept of the border image in my theatre work. This is an image which, as a result of my prolonging the normal duration of observation, has the time to penetrate the observer’s brain. It then makes history in the observer’s mind. It becomes a memory. At this point the distinction between a border image (in the theatre) and a visual work ceases to exist. If art does not penetrate the observer’s memory it does not exist.

In my work with Needcompany I am always experimenting with time. In the museum installations we put on performances lasting a whole day, and the observer decides for himself how long he wants to watch a particular action. The place (in this case a museum) and the action (theatre) are deconstructed by the subjectivity of the time involved in observing. So these deconstructions are the essential bridge between the two media I work in.

Jan Lauwers


Concept: Jan Lauwers and Needcompany | Performers: Grace Ellen Barkey, Anneke Bonnema, Hans Petter Dahl, Julien Faure, Yumiko Funaya, Benoît Gob, Maarten Seghers, Inge Van Bruystegem, Jan Lauwers, Elke Janssens a.o.

Production: Needcompany | With support of the Flemish Government.