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Rusty Nails

Poetic tribute to the discarded object.

Staples dance the tango on an iron plate. A saw appears, the teeth sharp and rusty. Turn the saw over, let a boat sail over it and the saw teeth represent the waves. We throw away an old newspaper with ease, we make a wad of it. But unfold the newspaper again and smooth out the paper. Twist the tip with dexterous fingers to form a head with a face. For forty years, TAMTAM from Deventer has been making ‘object theatre’, as the artistic duo Gérard Schiphorst and Marije van der Sande call it.

Theater is the art of metamorphosis, of transformation. Of course this happens in the ‘official theatre’, but in object theatre – as this movement is called – this is the case to an extreme extent. Actually, the artistic credo seems simple: take an object, manipulate it in such a way that it becomes alive, ensouled, and that makes it theatre. With the jubilee performance Rusty Nails & Other Heroes in the Deventer city theatre TAMTAM presents an artistically important performance in the Netherlands, derived from their repertoire. The theatre duo has toured worldwide. Rightly so.

Schiphorst and Van der Sande themselves are on stage live, in unobtrusive black, virtually invisible. To the left is a table, their drawing board, so to speak. On it lie countless objects, found objects and basically everything that people do not find valuable. Their work is a tribute to found objects, a tribute to the beauty of everything that is thrown away carelessly. They play with it. A camera projects the objects, animated by four hands, onto a large canvas. There it becomes the purest form of theatre. A newspaper, a tool, rubber work gloves, a boxing glove, pieces of iron wire: everything transforms into theatre actors who stimulate our imagination.

The opening image is telling. A variety of loose objects lie on the table, it resembles the high tide line on the beach. The round camera eye slides over a frayed fishing net, indeed nails too, a piece of cardboard. And from that a story emerges. A piece of wreckage has two holes that suddenly look like eyes, and the object becomes a monster. The animation performance is artistically supervised by landscape artist Jeroen van Westen (he is the so-called ‘third eye’) and has advice from Henk Boerwinkel, one of the most important puppeteers of the 1970s in the Netherlands.

The great thing about Rusty Nails & Other Heroes is giving a second life to preferably discarded objects. With musical accompaniment by Schiphorst himself, both parts of the performance, which are a beautiful extension of each other, are given a nice suspense. Take, for example, a long cloth, and twist certain folds into it and the dress becomes a dancer, a light-footed ballerina. The performance is pure poetry. The intriguing thing is that we see both the makers and the result, the making-of. So your gaze goes from the animation table to the screen and back again. Even the shards of a gramophone record can come to life, showing the love between Romeo and Juliet.

A performance like this teaches you to look again at all the objects that we see around us every day, but which we do not pay attention to. Normally at least. TAMTAM not only makes the objects like new, also our eyes. They see everything as an early fantasy.


Kester Freriks 21 November 2019

Kester Freriks