In this artistic research project funded by the School of Arts in Ghent, Mats Van Herreweghe and Geert Belpaeme examine how meaning emerges out of a play with form and abstraction. Towards a New Materialism is focused on theatre but has its origins in a much broader philosophical-societal examination of truth, language and culture, inspired primarily by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Towards a New Materialism starts from the distinction between ‘matter’ and ‘materiality’. Matter is the purely physical element (objects and energies), materiality also encompasses the associations of meaning attached to an element. A simple example is the difference between Sex and Gender. Sex indicates the purely physical thing, gender takes into account the behavioral and identity aspects that are connected to sexuality.
The new materiality that Van Herreweghe and Belpaeme are advocating, is a new way of dealing with language and signification that tries to go back to the meaningless experience of material reality and embraces that creative and essentially human moment when an object, a human being, a feeling becomes a concept in our mind.
This materialism opposes forms of language (as we predominantly know them in our culture) that are restrictive and impose a fixed identity. Our culture invokes a frame of concepts, a wonderous structure build over many centuries, arisen out of the imagination and fantasy of man and his basic urge to order experiences. But a society becomes narrow-minded when it starts treating that framework of ideas and concepts as truth and it slavishly accepts and follows the consequences this “truth” imposes, without ever returning to that moment of creative passion to create meaning ourselves. In the new materiality that Belpaeme and Van Herreweghe propose, language does not have to be based on rules and concepts and meaning does not have to be fixed to be able to communicate and build a culture.
In a theatrical context, a place that really lends itself to start signification from scratch and to provoke imagination out of a play with abstract form, Van Herreweghe and Belpaeme examine how this kind of language could look like. They are looking for universal principles, moments in the abstract play when recognition occurs, and the spectator, in a natural reflex, starts building a story.