Sophie Dupont – Watching the Night
Curated by Therese Maria Gram.
The night is a frame with both beginning and end, but it is never quite the same – the length changes from day to day, some nights are darker than others, it is initiated and finished through a fluid motion of light and darkness. The night is characterized both by an absence and a presence. Many of these characteristics apply to the performance practice of Sophie Dupont and especially to the first enactment of the performance Watching the Night at Munkeruphus.
Dupont’s piece took the form of a slow transformation begun by Dupont, as she quite literally dug her own grave during the daytime hours leading towards the nightly activity. Dupont had been researching the burial rituals of disparate cultures for a longer period of time and hereby mapped out several understandings of life and death. Her inscription of these in her piece maintained its focus on the transformative and thus avoided plunging into morbidity or melancholy – it was seen as a process. Just as the precise demarcation of the night is a human construct, it can simultaneously be seen as a constant movement from day, night, light, darkness and all the nuances in between along with all the processes that are deeply ingrained in these changes.
As day became night Dupont took up her place lying in the newly dug grave, but she did not do so with passivity in mind, rather she remained awake and watched the night until dawn. Dupont thereby transitioned herself from the exhausting, physical activity to the, through her gaze, observant and contemplative. In this way she mirrored many of the basic elements of everyday life, but also a move through the lived life. She simultaneously turned many of the associations of “the night” on its head by actively participating therein. Dupont sought to underline the importance of experience, which becomes apparent through observation and partaking in the world as new experiences slowly change us and our perceptions.
The soil in Dupont’s grave stood as a final element of her performance with an imprint, her ”remains” so to speak. This, as well as the durational nature of her performances, is a recurring theme in much of Dupont’s practice. The imprint of her body, later made permanent through a cast, in the soil inscribed itself in a tradition of artists through history, but even more so it served as a visualization of the transformation in the performance. The piece was an action and the object stood, not as an artwork, but rather as a witness of the experiences and processes that went into Watching the Night.
Watching the Night could be experienced from the time Dupont began digging her grave in the garden of Munkeruphus until the next morning.
Tekst by Mikkel Rørbo.
Video by Christine Løkkebø.
The Mind Watching The Night
Watching The Night. 12-13 July 2015. Munkeruphus. DK
The sun shines in between the clouds that are hanging in an unstructured pattern above. It’s 2 pm at Munkeruphus – an exhibition space North of Copenhagen placed in beautiful surroundings next to the Sea. I’m going to dig a hole in the ground. I know it has to be around 190 x 70 cm and 100 cm deep. I will stay in it for the night watching the night go by – no sleeping.
I am digging my own grave.
Starting to dig, the top soil is a little harder and there are roots, not many and I can cut them with the shovel. People come and talk. This is the performance – this is the work – my work to dig my own grave. Unlike many of my other works I can actually talk during this action. We talk, talk about the actually digging – very easy subject; how is it to dig into your soil… I imagine the soil being a metaphor for life. Sometimes the path in life is like sand, each day is one sod after another easy without much resistance only one day this stops and roots start to appear some small some large almost impossible to cut. The strange thing is at least in life that the more you then use your will and power to cut the less it works and the roots are growing harder and harder only one day when you give in, the resistance stops.
Back to the digging. We talk and the conversation starts to move in all directions about death. About different rituals around the world. How the Pharaohs were buried – the mummies and the way they embalmed the body, since it was their belief that in order for the soul to continue to live beyond this life the body had to stay intact. So they opened up the body and took almost every part out to give each part a certain kind of varnish. Then they poured the varnish into the body and when this was dry they put the removed parts back in and rolled fabric around the corpse. The other extreme is sky burial; this is a ritual that has great religious meaning. Tibetans are encouraged to witness this ritual, to confront death openly and to feel the impermanence of life. They believe that the corpse is nothing more than an empty vessel. It is a funeral practice in which a human corpse is placed on a mountaintop to decompose while exposing it to the elements or to be eaten by scavenging animals, especially birds of prey.
Back to my digging – why is this interesting – to touch death? To me it is because I think the way we look and treat death is a reflection of the way we look and treat life. In the culture I grow up in death is a huge taboo. Death is filled with fear and anxiety and I think this is reflected in life. Never before has so many people been depressed, stressed and filled with fear. Loneliness is a huge problem despite all the virtual communication and dating sites. We are afraid of life, of the pure fact that life is life – life is not perfect, life is not a dream and more than anything life is very short. Time flies by so quickly – but we worry so much about life not being perfect and spend tremendous time – not least money on all of what is not working that we totally forget to live and enjoy whatever there is and accept it: As It Is.
I dig and the hole has become deeper – my technique has improved. I’m almost throwing the shovel into the soil, fill it and pull and throw the soil on the side in a big pile. Strangely I feel good about this work. I don’t feel depressed or dark but much more like it is a cleansing. People tell me stories from their experience and thoughts about death and the rituals around death. With one person I talk about sadness, like sadness in our part of the world has become formalized. We have to cry (but not too much) – crying is a good and expected thing to do, it shows you have emotions and that the person meant something to you, but don’t loose control then no one knows how to act. In other parts of the world they celebrate, they have a big party and they drink and dance or they even have fights – symbolizing the battle between life and death -even people get hurt during these acts. I think it’s so true we have so many conventions on how the inner world looks on the outside and we are not trained in the openness and flexibility if it looks different than what we are used to. I lost my mother when I was 21 years old, the minute I lost her the world changed, I became another person – a person that had witnessed death as a fact of life. My mother was gone never to return. Never would we talk again, laugh again – nothing would never be again. I experienced a strong insecureness around me. People didn’t know how to treat me, everything became awkward and probably also caused to me being in deep sorrow and oversensitive. Only one person – a girl who joined the same dance class as me said: ‘I’m very sorry to hear you lost your mother – I don’t
know what to say’ And this was the best anyone had said to me for a long time – just recognizing my loss. I wished for a ritual. Something that showed I was in grief –to provide some kind of refuge. I felt like I had a broken leg, only no one could see it. I felt so broken but my pain was invisible.
In the culture I’m a part of no one speaks about death. Death is a taboo. It’s very strange as death is almost the only thing we know for sure will happen one day and yet we try to ignore it. In Mexico death is celebrated and is part of every day life. They even have one day a year to celebrate all who died. In many ways I noticed more freedom in the people’s approach to life and dealing with being a human being. Not taking themselves so seriously. I’m sure there are not as many anti-depression pills handed over the counter there as we have here in the western civilized modern world. We are in many ways disconnected from nature both around and within ourselves. We live too fast, too unhealthy, too out of touch.
Back to the digging. The clock is almost 4 pm and the hole is ready for the night – perfectly shaped – Tailor made as a friend of mine from Mexico wrote. I think a lot about letting go; for something new to grow you have to let go. You have to make space – maybe this is the most important of it all: the letting go, the emptiness. We are so busy filling our life – maybe we have to start feeling and accepting the emptiness of being, of pure existence – we don’t need to mask it in all the different ways we do; all the time listening to music, watching TV, have our tablets running to get the stimulation from the outside world so we feel good and beautiful and part of the in crowd or whatever it is we are doing when we tell the world about our breakfast and so on and so forth…
It’s 10.30 pm and I descend into my grave. The soil is cold and moist from the newly rain. It has rained a lot but tonight it’s dry. I look up into the sky – it’s still light. I feel calm, calmer than ever. People are looking at me. But I watch the night, I hear the sound of the wind in the trees, I smell the earth. I fill more secure than ever. My head and heart being in level, being grounded -literally grounded, looking to the sky. Relaxing into the earth and I have this image of the world being round and here I am lying down in it. I hear the sentence from the bible: ‘You have come from dust, to dust you shall return, from dust you shall rise again.’
The night goes by, the people disappear. I’m alone, alone in the nature. I think ‘Come What May’ It okay whatever come –just be it – thoughts, animals, people, rain …… My senses are very vivid, especially my ears and all of a sudden there is a sound, I do get scared for a while not being able to identify what it is and I keep thinking Come what may, come what may… until I find out that the sound is the huge trees around me being blown in the wind. The feeling of being scared make me think of how often we do get scared just because we don’t know – don’t know the situation, the culture, don’t know the other person – and faster than a blink we condemn the situation and the person and get scared and closed off. I think the greatest gift for mankind is love; love is the only real remedy that can cure this fear, hate, jealousy and anger. But we don’t know to love; we learn to fight and to complain.
It’s getting lighter, the ground is cold, colder than cold. In ways I wish for the night never to stop – it feels so real and clear to lie here between heaven and earth. The two ways for the human being: vertical and horizontal. It’s like the crucifix- as humans we need to connect with the world around us – the horizontal. But also and very important we need to connect with the vertical. With ourselves – our consciousness and moral…
It’s morning – I hear cars, I hear birds. They sing – welcoming the new day, a new life, a new beginning – the rain starts –it’s time to rise from my grave. I had a minute of dozing away, no real sleeping, but I feel refreshed in a strange way, relieved.