The Tip of the Tongue
In the 19th century, it was very common to attend astronomy performances. In an age of immense scientific progress, the planetarium was a refuge for both fact and fiction. This mingling of the heavenly and earthly produced cosmological narratives that made sense of the position of humankind and technology in a rapidly evolving world.
Fast forward to 2018. Pieter De Buysser’s tale begins in Argentina while giving a lecture on the writer Letizia Álvarez de Toledo. When he meets the mysterious Grace and detective Raymond, things quickly get out of hand. First on an ocean barge that ends up facing a storm, and then in an 11-dimensional library comprising an infinite number of hexagonal galleries. High time to reinstate the astronomy performance!
Pieter De Buysser is currently reprising his live theatre performance and full-dome film for an entire season at Brussels Planetarium.
© Danny Willems
11 Dec 2018
11 Jan / Feb / Mar / Apr / May / June / July 2019
Planetarium Brussels, Brussels
22 & 23 Jan 2019
6, 7 & 8 May 2017
Planetarium Brussels, Kunstenfestivaldesarts
7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17 & 18 March 2018
18 & 19 April 2018
Planetarium Prague, copresented by Archa Theatre
25, 26 & 27 April
About The Tip of the Tongue
If you had visited Paris, Barcelona, London, New York or Berlin in 19th century modernity, it is quite probable that on an evening out you might have attended an astronomy performance. It was, increasingly, a time for mass involvement in science. Public demonstrations and lectures in academic venues and observatories, in public spaces, theatres and opera were widely available to urban publics. These events were often combining theatrical modalities with optical instruments, mechanical devices, moving transparent paintings and magic lantern slides. The shows mingled heavenly and earthly concerns, delivering cosmological narratives that also thematized the place of man, progress and technology in a rapidly evolving world. Witnesses frequently insisted on the sense of wonder, an intellectual and emotional state elicited by shows that turned scientific discoveries and technologies into spectacles. As with many other shows of the 19th and early 20th century such as wax museums, panoramas or international exhibitions, the distinction between sensational entertainment and scientific demonstration was often difficult to draw and prompted debates. The appeal of astronomical spectacles did not wane in the 20th century, they merely took new forms when the first dome-shaped projection planetariums began appearing in German cities in the 1920s. The new modern theatres of the stars were greeted with awe and reverence, and to this day they testify to the vivid public appetite for both myth (about age-old constellations) and progress. In these venues audiences engaged with science, technology and the world; modernity negotiated the contradictions of its own times.
The planetarium has been since the 19th century the ultimate spot where mankind maps his relation to the stars and the galaxies. The architecture of the planetarium is developed with a clear purpose: to give shel- ter to the cohabition of scientific facts and magic fables. The planetarium is one of the rare places where facts and fiction do not bite each other to death, but move forward. In a planetarium you look into an artificial sky, heaven on earth, the inside of a dome or a sphere, and that old theatrical disposition urges the visitor to retell and redetermine his position to the cosmos, which is outrageously real. The way we describe the constellation of the stars mirrors our material relations on earth. But it also works in reverse, that is the power of archaic myths and fables: by redrawing and retelling our cosmological relationships, we might become able also to rearrange our material conditions. Hence this fundamental cosmological speech exercise on “the tip of the tongue”.
“We have been asking the wrong question for too long. Where Kepler and co try to map the world, we need another kind of map. Apologies for my speech defect, you know very well which infinity has pierced my tongue.
But I have my accessory with me: this, ladies and gentlemen, is my machina caelestis. An instrument created in collaboration with engineers, scientists, designers, and artists. It was constructed using well-known techniques, except these were applied in another manner. It did not delete or exclude existing knowledge, did not engage those old-fashioned tabula rasa practices; existing knowledge is included, integrated into a larger whole. Nothing is deleted. With this, ladies and gentlemen, I’m now going to make contact with Raymond and Grace, who at this moment are to be found on the tip of my tongue. You remember that they told me I should bear witness to their mission. Well, for you, ladies and gentlemen, courtesy of the Planetarium, OCAD, the Security Service, the Centre for Nuclear Control, Frontex, Europol, and the Illegal Immigration Service, I’m going to make a connection straightaway. Raymond, Grace, we are ready. No more fumbling around with revolutions in the streets and squares. As Einstein said: “An idea cannot be really good if its implementation does not seem totally impossible at first. Or, as an old European once said: “Every great historical event began as a utopia and ended as a reality.” And so we are going to make live contact with Raymond and Grace. It’s a question of taking a moment to adjust the gamma rays to achieve the right proportion of neutrinos and cosmic background radiation. It’ll be fine. They are on the tip of my tongue. The multiverse is in everything and everything is in the multiverse; thus, the tip of my tongue is in the multiverse, but the entire multiverse is also in the tip of my tongue. That has significant consequences. Hence this fundamental cosmological speech exercise. Yes, just say hello, it’s up to you two... No one promised that this would be easy. To take distance from the old ways of thinking, to seek access to a new depiction of the world. In earlier times, when they spoke of a historic paradigm shift: the worldview tilts. But there can be no more talk of it, even today. Because here and now, the old-fashioned worldview is pulverised.
And so we are going over to our live coverage... If all goes well... Hello Grace, hello Raymond, we’re ready, all set up in the planetarium. Do you hear me? We must overcome some fundamental perception difficulties. Grace? Raymond? It’s up to you now... A bit of patience... There are deer in a forest in Germany that, after so many generations, still cannot cross the border between East and West Germany, for fear of the shock. The connection will soon be established. This machnia caelestis protects me from the pressure of the Earth, the ambiguity, the falsity, the double bottom. At the place of the truth, nothing can be uttered. The totem calls on us to go to the truth, but the taboo forbids us to enter it. Still, there’s the pronouncement and the idea that the truth does not exist in contradiction with itself. The verdict: the truth does not exist, based on an absolute truth claim that it defeats itself. Our chance, the chance of the truth, lies precisely in the uncertainty. Hello Grace? Hello Raymond? It worked during the rehearsals. It has to do with the magnetic field constant – believe me, it works. It’s ultimately as simple and incomprehensible as the growing of trees. But it ought to work here at some point... Raymond? Grace? You have to turn your camera outwards. Yes, I have an image. But I don’t know what I’m seeing. Are you there?”
The performance was initiated in dialogue with a research network that goes under the name of PARS (Performing Astronomy Research Society). This initiative brings together an international, interdisciplinary group of researchers from the human, social, and exact sciences as well as artists, visual technicians and planetarium professionals to investigate the history, present state and future of popular astronomical spectacle. Combining academic research with artistic and professional mediation, PARS is dedicated to the investigation of a locus where spatial and visual cultures of modernity were (and continue to be) elaborated and experienced at the intersection of science, technology and spectacle. ‘We look into the performance, the material and technological characteristics of astronomical shows, their social and cultural contexts but also their perception and experience by different audiences. We explore the ways in which the shared experience of astronomical spectacles contributed to foster new senses of the collective and of the world in the quintessential cities of modernity and beyond.’
Text, direction and performance: Pieter De Buysser
Full dome video: Elias Heuninck
Scenography: Herman Sorgeloos
Scientific advice: Kurt Vanhoutte (University Antwerp)
Dramaturgy: Esther Severi
Sound: Yoerik Roevens
Translation English: Jodie Hruby
Translation French: Anne Vanderschueren
Translation German: Uwe Dethier
Translation Czech: Jana Pellarová
Subtitles: Marie Trincaretto
Assistance subtitles/video: Jonas Beerts
Coproduction: Kunstenfestivaldesarts Brussels (B), Kaaitheater Brussels (B), Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin (DE), Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers Paris (FR), Archa Theatre Prague (CZ)
With the support of: the Flemish Government, The Flemish Community in Brussels, PARS (Performing Astronomy Research Society, F), the French Ministry for Culture and Communication and Flanders Literature
Thanks to: Laboratorium & Herculeslab of KASK / School of Arts of University College Ghent (B), Sophie D'Hoore and Sarah Vanagt
Performance available in English, Dutch or French,
Subtitles available in Dutch, French, English, German or Czech