A hero of our time
We greet each other with some embarrassment for the first time, by the door. I walk a bit looking all around.
There's a sign on the wall of the living room: “I don’t want to live anymore”, every word takes up a space of it and is written in pen and capital letters on a piece of paper. But at a certain point there’s only the word “want” on the wall, while the rest of them draws a diagram on the floor. You move through these words while measuring your movements in this confined space and making rustles with your clothes. You’re not familiar either with this place that’s been designed by Lingeri between the 1930s and the 1940s to accommodate artists.
There’s a book on your bed that tells me something on the too deep search on human suffering: “Underground, or a Hero of Our Time” by Vladimir Makanin.
JS: Which are the desires of “a hero of our time”, according to Jan Deboom? ☺
JD: Euh... Someone who is getting involved in catastrophic projects. I mean: a hero should be able to walk backwards, be proud of losing a job, fame, money. Not that I support suffering, not at all, but I do want to believe in building and rebuilding your own life, again and again. Everyone should be able to be one time rich, another time poor, one time having a safe shelter, another time being homeless. Despite our heritage we should somehow have the possibility to create our own reality—within the reality of the world—, having different standards, different goals, different feeling.
"As a performer you learn to give and show it all. As a creator you are showing even more"...
JS: Your work here is always done in an enclosed environment, in a way. The place you’re in has boundaries, the Island itself has boundaries that force you to stay there, the hours of the day are boundaries too. How important is the contact with a place like Comacina Island for a dancer and performer? Does sleeping out help you?
JD: This place forces me to think about the constrictions and situations we get ourselves in. There is a lot of emptiness here and I don't have any distraction or entertainment with me. The first thing I did when coming here was to understand, feel, analyze and write about the limits/restrictions in order also to use and play with them. I remember being furious when arriving here, because 'the artist' is exhibited for the tourists who are visiting us like monkeys put on display in a cage. But I got also interesting material out of this experience, as I learned new ways to portrait emptiness and boredom, that I think are central points in our lives.
JS: We are at the core of society, and we often think that society is the core. With reference to a place not well defined, be it abstract or real, we could say that you work on the notion of distance and isolation of the individual in relation to society, but you try to focus on the bright side. You also try to show how it’s possible to move the core of ourselves from a common point to a personal one.
Your characters are not on the run, they’re looking for their own core. Against which forces do they come up?
JD: As you might have guessed by now, failure has a prominent place in my work and life. My characters fail at the simplest things. Or better: they are always questioning their roles and refusing to act in the way that is expected of them. They fail because they don't want to make any compromise. The undermining of authority makes them suffer perpetual exile, having marginal lives, … But in all their stupidity and simplicity, they are also brilliant.
"A hero should be able to walk backwards, be proud of losing a job, fame, money. "
"Failure has a prominent place in my work and life. My characters fail at the simplest things... They fail because they don't want to make any compromise."
JS: From the 1970s onwards, performance has left technicalities in the past and has welcomed improvisation and gestures of everyday life. Illusion made way for human, emotional and hard truth. This gave many dancers time to join to the world of contemporary dance even later in life, compared with the ordinary artistic journey of a ballet dancer, for example. It was the same with you; which awareness lead you to the decision to be who you are today?
JD: Unhappiness, suppression and despair. And the ambition to change this.
JS: You’ve been working as a member of a dance company, now you are the only performing subject. Do you think it’s more effective in reducing distance between you and the audience?
JD: It is a next step. Which means that I'm letting the public take a step closer to me. As a performer you learn to give and show it all. As a creator you are showing even more: your problems, your intelligence and your stupidity, your doubts and potentials.
"There is a lot of emptiness here and I don't have any distraction or entertainment with me. The first thing I did when coming here was to understand, feel, analyze and write about the limits/restrictions in order also to use and play with them."
JS: I know you also compose your songs. What kind of sound is more suited to tell about your art, an internal or outside sound?
JD: I love sound. I use it very intuitively, as a tool for communication. I allow myself to get lost in it so I don't remember or know anymore what is inside, what is outside.