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An Unguarded Moment

The hidden life of things

By Luuk Verpalen


Four years ago, Henk Boerwinkel organized a guest appearance at EYE in Amsterdam to decorate an exhibition of the British animated film duo Quay. They had not forgotten the impression a performance of Henk and Ans Boerwinkel had made on them in London in the seventies. Boerwinkel repeated that show one more time in Meppel, but that was it. Boerwinkel (his wife died in 2012) is now no longer active as a puppeteer.

But like the Quay brothers, a lot of artists have not forgotten him. All of them call themselves indebted to his work, from Stuffed Puppet’s Neville Tranter to the Catalan grandmaster Jordi Bertran. Boerwinkel became eighty years last year. A good reason for festival Puppet International to put the world famous Meppel puppet master in the spotlight.

Last Thursday a special event took place under the title Masters @ Work. On the stage of Schouwburg Ogterop Jordi Bertran, Neville Tranter and Tristan Vogt (of the Nürnberger Thalias Kompagnons), they performed together with Boerwinkel. A day later, TAMTAM objektentheater paid tribute to him with the premiere of An Unguarded Moment.

TAMTAM has been making visual theater for almost forty years, in which the leading role is given to found objects. They get a second life from Gérard Schiphorst and Marije van der Sande, founders, makers and players. A whole new life, in which their former functions no longer matter. As a variation on the famous poet Martinus Nijhoff’s adage ‘just read, it does not say what it says’ you could say about their work: just look, you do not see what you see.

In the short performance Boerwinkel is honored by referring to his performance Levensbomen (Trees of life). The decor consists of gnarled tree trunks that are most like truncated willows. A kind of primeval forest where strange creatures have found shelter. Do I see a scissor there? Hey, that looks like a willow fish. And that strange bird, a combination of half a banana and a rake, could very well be related to the toucan.

An Unguarded Moment is primarily an exercise in looking. That banana is not a banana at all, but it is slightly crooked and yellow. Whatever. The hidden lives of things, that is what matters. Life in which, once brought to the surface, much more is possible than you had assumed so far. Life in which love can be practiced, creatures can look around curiously or frolic about nervously. And if you do not pay attention, the things change shape. And a piece of rope can suddenly become an old hippie.

Coincidentally, Henk Boerwinkel sat next to me during the premiere. He was visibly delighted with this beautiful homage to an old performance of him. Absolutely right. An Unguarded Moment is a moving small jewel of a show that changes your view on things.

Luuk Verpaalen