in the Category: art

Caretaking tears down walls

Who knew being a performing arts programmer included the deconstruction of an institution and making sure the artist you booked gets a safe ride home? Meet Elisa Liepsch, who has started the process of tearing down the walls of Beursschouwburg in the best way possible.

Interview by Louise Souvagie
Photos by Nina Linggadjaja shot in Brussels

Say Yes To Performance.
All performances in Beursschouwburg in 2020 are free for members.

Thank you for having us, Elisa — and congratulations with your position as the new performing arts programmer at Beursschouwburg. You have been here since September. How did you experience your transition from Germany to Belgium’s capital? 

What’s interesting about Brussels is that I have the feeling that the arts community is permanently in transition because people are constantly arriving or moving. I worked in Frankfurt before and of course there were people with various backgrounds as well, but here I feel it’s even more diverse. People bring different working practices or different styles to the arts here and I find that very enriching. Of course, it still takes a long time to dig deeper in the city from my perspective, because at the moment I think I’m only scratching on the surface somehow.

You have a strong interest in the plurality of voices and decolonization. Could you elaborate on your take on the subject?

I think we need to deconstruct the institutions and everything that comes with it. By deconstruction I mean analyzing the structures of the institution and ‘ruin’ the place. There has to be a radical involvement of the people and voices which are not part of the institution so far. It has to eliminate the idea of the artistic director and I think institutions should become a collective experience. I think the cement of our societies is racism and the institutions play a big role in maintaining that. That’s why we need to work on that. Diversity and decolonization unfortunately very often have become marketing, which is problematic because it’s a very serious struggle.

Space plays a big role in my work because people are perceiving the Black Box or theatre space mainly as neutral, while it’s not neutral at all: it’s very violent. Certain bodies have always been expelled from these spaces. A Black Box was made for white people because a white body is very visible in front of black walls, whereas a black body disappears. The Black Box is not an empty space — it’s full of colonial history.

Decolonization doesn’t only mean to deconstruct or decolonize a certain canon in the theaters, but it mainly means a decolonization of the mind: unlearning what we’ve learned, questioning things and the way we do them, thinking about politics of invitation, care work with the artists… When you invite people of colour and Black people, they often face a lot of racism on their way to your institution — you are responsible for that.

I'm not interested in a product of art, I am interested in a process and a relationship with people. That’s my work

I am personally not interested in a product of art, I am interested in a process and a relationship with people. That’s my work. Decolonization also involves the idea that we are not all fighting the same struggle. In reference to Sara Ahmed, I would say solidarity means that we might have different struggles but we all live on common grounds. We have to share the space we have.

Isn’t there also a difficulty in the plurality of voices that we tend to focus on our differences? 

I think it’s important to acknowledge that we are different, but to find a way to include our differences in our fight for solidarity. This is also part of the analysis of deconstruction: to give a voice to people who have never been given a voice which includes speaking of certain identities which were not at the table before. The term ‘identity politics’ is very problematic because it has been introduced by what in Germany is called the ‘majority society’, ‘which has been pointing fingers at those with a migration background. No wonder people now speak about these differences because they have been imposed on them.

The avant-garde really is out on the streets, but it’s been neglected for a long time

My program is an offer to everyone. There is so much interesting art out there, especially from communities which have not been represented by white art institutions or on stages before. The avant-garde really is out on the streets, but it’s been neglected for a long time.

Is there anything in particular you’re really looking forward to this season?

I’m really happy about all the artists coming, but I think I’m especially looking forward to Selina Thompson at the end of March with her piece salt. because I think she’s an incredible writer and performer. She set up this solo show about her own ancestry, grief and everyday racism. Sometimes another actress plays her role, but here it will be her, so I’m very much looking forward to that.


To which extent are you breaking the fourth wall this season? You recently organized Rosana Cade’s Walking: Holding in which people of Brussels walked hand in hand with performers in the city. Are you aiming for more participation from the public?

Walking: Holding was a very close encounter. We worked together with 18 local performers and they had a workshop, a rehearsal, preparation talks and post-event talks.  It’s important for me not only to make a program but to initiate processes or conversations.

The last piece we will be presenting, Useless land by Carolina Mendonça and Catalina Insignares at the end of April, is a kind of sleepover, so we will put mattresses on the stage and we are building up a temporary community. The two of them are reading texts to us and the audience can listen or sleep, have tea together… all night long. It’s a kind of occupation of the stage.

Which places have had the biggest impact on you?

I’ve travelled the African continent, where I learned a lot. I was very impressed by India and Brazil too, so I feel very closely connected to the so-called South. I find it problematic how people from the South are kind of socialized by Western thought, but then it's very interesting because of course they have their local references and spiritual ones like in India, and all of this gets mixed up somehow. I think they are way ahead of us. We are very much in a bubble here. We should keep moving and question ourselves constantly. I’ve started a conversation and I'll carry on having it.

Say Yes To Performance
All performances in Beursschouwburg in 2020 are free for members.