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Miet Warlop’s performance “Mystery Magnet” at KIASMA 0

Rita Kaže-Zumberga specially for

“Mystery Magnet” – Performed by Miet Warlop & CAMPO
7 September, KIASMA, Helsinki, Finland

At first, the staging can seem playful – from the dark depths of the stage and into the light emerges a procession of figures... and then the actors and objects begin to move – headless women, huge panties, a poorly lit traffic jam, a trip to the moon and a black storm that whisks away everything in its path. The apparently unrelated figures, sculptures and people that are trapped in a living painting act like theatrical beings. Balloon animals and miniature cars remind one of an abandoned childhood, but then, this piece, created by Miet Warlop, becomes increasingly merciless. You'll see a human leg become deformed in a pair of black high-heeled shoes, transforming into the backside of a horse carrying a rider; you'll hear the steady and deep sound of a hailstorm of darts, clumsily falling to the ground; you'll see figures with gigantic wigs attack each other with staple guns and chainsaws as they vomit and spit out streams of paint. There's power in imagination!

Miet Warlop allows her strange beings to live alongside each other in a space in which the audience can freely move around. At the same time, your attention is drawn to the panoramic view on the theater's stage, where through the use of paint, balloons, darts and bright and colorful smoke, “Mystery Magnet” takes you on a trip down a path that is cobbled with rainbows, with sharks and explosions in the background, and towards a fun, slightly touching – and sometimes dark – world. This scene is worth a thousand words, and that's exactly what “Mystery Magnet” does – it doles out a thicket of numerous ideas.

Full version of performance Mystery Magnet you can watch here

Warlop's theatrical paintings reveal a powerful tendency towards the surreal, as well as a healthy dose of a comedy of silence. These changing scenes, sculptures and other figures often open themselves up on stage in infinite possibilities, and encourage unexpected revelations. Without any text, personalities or a narrative, the performance successfully exists, and it is part of the thing as a whole. In a literal sense, the stage is a piece of cloth on which bodies draw, explode, bleed and vomit colors in an alternatingly funny and violent production. “Pleasant cruelty” is how Warlop describes it herself. It's a way to challenge the essence of that which has been accepted; a confrontation of the hope that everything functions in just one, set way.

Miet Warlop (1978) is a Belgian artist who has turned towards the theatrical arts, and is now attracting a growing international interest in her works. After her harsh solo piece, “Big Heap/Mountain”, and the comedic and slapstick-styled “Springville”, both of which received a wide range of reviews, she is currently researching ways in which to combine the visual arts and the stage, but through her unique way of looking at the world. Her works have been nominated for theater awards (and some have even been received), which now gives her the opportunity to freely give herself over to her artistic work in Berlin, without fearing that the public will not know her or accept her.

Together with the CAMPO collective, Warlop has created a show made up of fragile illusions that consist of a symbiosis between fantasy and reality. “Mystery Magnet” is a territory in which frightening pleasantness, numb cruelty, shining promises and unstoppable destruction all share the same room. “If you look at theater and its tradition, I think this is the furthest away you can get. This has a lot to do with Miet Warlop, who is the actor-director. She comes from the arts academy here in Ghent, and her background is in visual art – there is no dramatic background in that sense.  Everything starts with images for Miet. But another starting point is, very often, slap-stick – which she is very interested in and it’s obviously theatrical. She works with images, yes, but moving images. And there’s a very clear dramaturgy and development of the production which is theatrical. Actually, I’m not sure that you could call this theatre, it’s more like performing art that brings a lot of things together,” says Kristof Bloom, the artistic director of the production house (CAMPO) that promotes Miet Warlop.

“It’s very different from a theatrical performance in that she brings these figures on stage and she uses her inspiration to bring them to life. She has the Fat Man, who is incredibly fat, the Hairy Ones – these people who wear huge wigs so that they are like walking hair – so everything is over the top and exaggerated. In its totality, this is how it is different – as a visual artist, she didn’t start with content. She was collecting images, creating sculptures, trying to bring movement; and only then did the content develop. Out of the three years she worked on this project, two were spent collecting and conceiving these images, and only in the last year did the ‘show’ element come in, the content. Miet Warlop tends to work with the idea of chaos, so how does the lack of speech contribute or deduct from the performance? There’s a gibberish talk in the show. But the chaos comes from the visuals, mainly. It’s like a museum nightmare, or a bad trip: it starts with a completely white space which suddenly gets covered in paint, materials and other elements. The lack of speech just contributes to that.”

CAMPO, one of the most visible contemporary theaters in Europe, functions in two ways: as a space where works can be presented, and as an art center that is interested in helping artists to develop. Young artists are chosen from various fields, and they are followed for two to three years, sometimes even the whole ten. “What we try to create at CAMPO is a slowing down of time, so that there’s space to make mistakes and to produce – but without a need for it to be successful,” says Kristof. „We have faith in Miet; 'Mystery Magnet' is a great show, but I think that with our flexible way of working here at CAMPO, she can go away and work on different things, and then come back – there is still time and space for her to work here.”

Miet Warlop removes the reigns from false images by hiding behind a humorous mood. She herself climbs to the stage and, together with six other actors, mixes-up various dramatic forms and visual arts in order to create a world with people who exist in fantasies. “Mystery Magnet” presents itself in a persecuted world in which humor is born from sadness, and magic arises from prose.