Urine, blood, semen, tears, sweat and the naked body: this is the magic laboratory theatre director and artist Jan Fabre explores, uses and confronts his public with.
“The body is like an incredible paint box, a laboratory, a battlefield. Everything that comes from it is very important” for Jan Fabre: blood, semen, urine, tears, sweat, bones and muscles, everything. The body and its biological components are both the object of analysis and the protagonists of Fabre's artworks. Ultimately, we all live in a body, be it a whole or a mutilated one. We wake up in it, we see it everyday and we know it more than anything else. Still, we tend to forget that it is an incredible biological laboratory, bustling with materials, liquids and processes. Such materials, liquids, and processes are, however, often kept hidden in the attempt to negate our fundamental dirtiness and smell. Fabre stated that “[t]his means that our society is still filled with great taboos. Menstrual blood was seen as evil by the Catholic church, but from a scientific point of view it’s very healthy – it’s a sign of vitality. That’s what drove me to my research. I’m trying to find out why blood is seen as something negative by the majority of people. As a young man, I was fascinated by my penis and sperm. Do you know what sperm looks like under a microscope? What incredible biological struggle is waged therein? It’s a whole new universe! I deal with these issues, because we are essentially beautiful animals. There is great knowledge to be found in our blood, skin, bones, sperm, and water. For me it’s all organic and very natural. But when people look at it from the outside, they think it’s dirty, provocative and weird”.
Jan Fabre, artist, theatre director, and actor, was born in 1958 in Antwerp, in Belgium. His fascination with the body is said to come from the Flemish culture, and, specifically from those artworks portraying stigmata, flagellations, and grotesque characters à la Bosch. Apparently, in his twenties he visited an exhibition of the Flemish masters in Bruges and remained physically shocked by the performative aspect contained in their paintings. He started experimenting with his own body and blood, cutting himself, using pain instead of paint. Both in theatre shows and in drawings Jan Fabre has tried to present the human body in its most extreme consequences. The body is brought to the fore in its most incredible features as well as in the most disgusting ones. It is a physical body, but also erotic, political, and even spiritual. It is a body that goes against any restriction of freedom. This is another reason why bodily fluids come into play in Fabre's practice: they are metamorphic, their shape changes constantly and provides the body with a new skin.
Actors, actresses, and dancers are prompted to use their bodies as a vehicle to express thoughts and feelings, to challenge the cultural determination society imposes on their bodies. They embody the tension between the static nature of the skeleton and the lively movements of muscles, tendons, flesh and secretions. Their skin is shield and filter at the same time. While blood is the ultimate element in Je suis sang, urine, sperm, and tears come to the fore in other pieces, such as The Crying Body. In the latter, nine actors dance, fight, laugh, cry, pee, while a woman in black collects their tears and sweat and urine in a bag. The body “cries” due to biological reactions such as in the act of urinating, making love, making an effort, peeling an onion, but also because of psychological inputs related to sadness, joy, and fear. Dirt, fluids, animality, nakedness – they all pertain to the (visceral) body and as such we should not be ashamed or offended when confronted with them.