‘Polar Night’ is a filmic performance where the enigmatic nature plays the leading role.
During the winter of 2014, five artists withdrew for a couple of weeks to Sørøya, an island situated at the same latitude as Alaska. They left the city, streets, traffic, shops, Internet and the rush behind for a dominant and harsh nature with rough, snowy mountains amidst a fierce ocean. In the weeks they spent on the island the sun didn’t reach the horizon once. That period where darkness reigns for more than two months, day and night, is called the ‘Polar Night’.
They left all clocks and other indications of time on the mainland, to ‘let go’ of time. Soon they would not be able to discern between night and day, or know how many days had passed.
The only thing they did know was that someone from the island would notify them when it was time to return home. When that day would arrive exactly was up to speculation.
‘Our time’ is addicted to time, and the continuous shortage of it. Time to lose, time to kill, time to catch up, and time to be worried. Time to boil an egg or catch a plane. But what ‘our time’ doesn’t know is stillness. We have to act, see, experience, perform and consume. We gain minutes via Minute Rice, the microwave, the Senseo and the electric kettle.
‘Polar Night’ wants to focus on our desire for places that lack an itch, or an impulse. Places where we can escape our rushed lives and find a certain calm. We associate this longing often with something exterior or exotic, like the great outdoors, watching TV or a deserted island.
‘Polar Night’ immerses the spectator in a sensory experience of a dark immeasurability, in a filmic performance where the enigmatic nature plays the leading role.
Interview by Geert Van der Speeten in De Standaard. (December 24th, 2015)
Norway, Point Zero.
[…] ‘Norway has it’, says theatre maker and scenarist Ine Van Baelen. ‘Places where you question rational perception. Impressive but inhospitable landscapes. Extremes of light and dark. Truly a country to withdraw to.’ And that’s what the five artists of Polar Night did. They ordered three weeks of food supplies, organized transport and – armed with cameras and audio equipment – had themselves dropped on Sørøya, an island far past the Arctic Circle. Here, the polar night erases the difference between day and night.
[…] The residence on Sørøya was set up as a research into our experience of time. Van Baelen: ‘We all have busy lives and we’re obsessed with time and efficiency. We long for quietude. But when the moment’s there, we do not succeed in slowing down. We were wondering: what if you could completely liberate yourself from time? No daylight, no clock, no reliable frame of reference.’
It’s been tried before through scientific experiments that locked guinea pigs in a cave. The outcome was the inner clock; in these conditions, we apparently switch automatically to a 24 – or 25 – hour pattern. Van Baelen: ‘We also encountered that. After just a few days, an intense mechanism became activated, a need for a daily routine. Of course boredom and the absolute idleness struck soon enough. But instead of letting go, our lives became more structured. Our obsession with time grew even stronger.’
Also the experience of nature was overwhelming on Sørøya. The five felt like they were slowly becoming part of the winter landscape. Van Baelen: ‘We couldn’t go far out, and certainly not on our own. You are not familiar with the weather, and it changes rapidly that far north. The experience was especially disorienting, as if your own perception is mocking you. The continuous dark forces you to focus. You see spots. In a snow white landscape without sun, and hence without shadow, you lose perception as well, you can no longer see depth. The structure of the landscape disappears and you end up with simplified images. Reality therefore has something of a fictitious landscape.’
The struggle with the elements resulted in Polar Night, a performance that will premiere aptly on the festival Wintervuur. It combines the overwhelming intensity of experiencing nature, with the grip we are trying to find during these disorienting observations. Van Baelen: ‘We reconstructed our experience from that desolate winter in the middle of the city. Can the copy evoke the same sensation as the original? The base for the work are our own photo – and film recordings, and we applied long exposure time to be able to record in the dark.’ […]
A performance by Liesbet Grupping, Stijn Grupping, Frederik Meulyzer, Ine Van Baelen and Lucas Van Haesbroeck.
With the voice of Claron McFadden.
Co-produced by Muziektheater Transparant and Wintervuur.
With the support of the Flemish Government, the City of Antwerp and the Province of Antwerp.