It is for Mutek that Franck Vigroux and Kurt D’Haeseleer come to present their audio-visual performance Centaure. Depicting a future where technology merges into Mankind, Centaure is an organic performance where one can almost hear the pulses of a machine’s heart. We met them prior to the performance to discuss the themes around it.
As a half-man and half-animal being, the centaur represents nobility, strength and being untameable. What does the centaur represent to you and why have you named your performance after it?
Kurt: The centaur is a corporeal mutation. I worked a lot with manipulating images and the transformations of the body. A priori the centaur is a mythical creature, but in the piece, it represents a technological mutation of the body, which is linked to a kind of force. This force can be found in the music and images. Over the years I’ve developed a style and I realize that there are certain subjects that I always go to rework. It’s become a natural style and I don’t feel the need to explain everything that’s happening in the images. Technically speaking, I work a lot with banal images (shots of the street for example) that I transform into an expression of a sombre future, which is simultaneously contemporary.
Franck: This will be the fifth time we present at Mutek, and I think we’re coming to a final version. We’ve been working together for three years now and we’ve done a lot of shows. We’ve come to realize that when we start with a premise at the beginning of a project, things are constructed in an organic manner and it’s not necessary to theorize everything. When I write music, I have desires for formality, challenges I want to overcome, etc. The work is done starting with the sound, which is contrary to theoretical music, that I could write on paper and that could be interpreted; it’s totally concrete. With this project, the writing was done by two people, almost without theories or concepts even though we’re always vigilant that the dramaturgy remains essential.
Is it a narrative performance? If so, what’s the story it’s telling?
Franck: Yes of course, but it’s up to the individual to interpret it. It’s not a conceptual object, there’s an enormous amount of material, perspectives, rhythms; it’s a show with a lot of settings that are marked with important ruptures. And it’s in this sense that I find a kind of narration.
Kurt: There is a kind of narrative thread that is found in the images, that I would describe with words, but that’s not a story. I studied film, but what interests me today is the active material of the images, their immersive and sensorial power. However, my theoretical film school past remains a part of me and I think we can find a cinematographic aspect in what I do. I do nevertheless like working with abstractions and going into the image. I hate high definition images that become so clear they no longer appear natural. I have a tendency to go in the opposite direction, towards dirty and blurred images, and working with the actual material that is the image. We’re so used to realistic images that we want them to depict reality. I’m heavily influenced by the 1960’s experimental cinema, not in that I manipulate the reel itself, but I like to keep a part that is unexpected.
The idea of the hybrid being has a whole other aspect today with the rise of artificial organ transplants or organs that are of animal origin. What do you think will come to define the future human?
Kurt: If I could answer this question I would be very intelligent…
Franck: And I would be very pretentious! (Laughs) I know what it is to be human, I live it from morning to night, but I wouldn’t be able to define it further than that. It’s a very political question… It’s obviously the kind of question that we ask ourselves, but what we feel and our interpretation in general are based on what we create. That’s where the true answer lies. We can answer through a language that is our own; I wouldn’t describe myself as a philosopher or sociologist.
Kurt: What interests me in the question of the half-man, half-animal is this subconscious aspect — simultaneous instinct and reason. Obviously, we read many books on the subject, it’s a part of our creative process, but it’s because we choose to work with images and music that we don’t need to add words. I think that no one has a definitive answer when it comes to defining the human race, except maybe for scientists. I get the impression that the world around us is subtitled and constantly commented on. I think of museums where each work has an accompanying explanatory card. It’s important for me to come back to something else, a kind of freedom of interpretation. To look at or listen to something without someone telling us what we should be seeing forces people to reflect on things differently. I actually think that people are afraid of this. With Centaure, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish; it’s a performance that we can watch, listen to, physically live through without prejudices and without being judged, without having to know what it is or should be.
It seems you’re trying to provoke strong sensations people with Centaur. What pushes you to explore the obscure and to develop an aesthetic that’s almost horrific?
Franck: Absolutely, and I hope it really is strong! It’s a total experience. In fact, playing live helps us to also live these emotions in addition to sharing them and that’s what I love! I find it interesting to explore this darker side, firstly because it’s the side we show the least and secondly to show that it’s not something negative.
Kurt: I think this obscurity is an aspect of my personality, a kind of vision that I have within myself. I find in it a kind of sensibility that’s also destructive. Even if it’s dark or horrible, it’s a synonym to the great beauty.
You seem to denounce technology’s grip on mankind, yet your performance needs the use of new technology. Irony or paradox?
Franck: I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to denounce it. I use the tools I have and I also question myself as to what they are. What does interest me is our brains. We’re always looking to understand how they function. We understand very little about our emotions, about guilt, love, etc.
Kurt: Exactly, the goal of this performance is not to denounce, but to question technology. We live in it, it influences us. I wouldn’t say that there’s a propaganda-style message in this performance; it’s more about looking within the daily for things we hadn’t noticed before. I don’t think it’s contradictory to explore the relationship between humans and technology by using technology.
Your performance suggests a dystopian future. Do you still believe in a positive route concerning the development of machines and artificial intelligence?
Franck: I’ve worked a lot on the subject of controlled societies and I’ve also been inspired by Eugene Zamiatine’s book We. However, I don’t think Centaure is as dystopian as that — it’s much more organic. The performance’s presentation text has changed three times already, and there were themes that were more important in the beginning that have now practically disappeared. There isn’t really an explanation for Centaure, you just have to accept having to interpret it for yourself.
Kurt: Franck and I send each other many texts and ideas. We share common interests and tastes, and we create a mutual world this way. It’s something that develops throughout time. Ten years from now we can look back and say “ah! Now I understand why I did that”. What we’re doing now is too close to us to be able to see it in its entirety. If my process was only transcribing what I’ve read most recently, that wouldn’t be assimilation, it would be false in a way. I really like the works of a photographer who takes photos and waits twenty years before he develops them. That’s of course the other extreme. What’s important is building a creative environment. Instinct guides us towards someone or something that we can work on. This subconscious aspect brings us to the right choice; everything isn’t based on conscious decisions. The proof would be when we’re looking for a solution to a problem all day long and the answer comes to us in our dreams. We shouldn’t underestimate our emotional and intuitive intelligence.