LOOKING FOR THE POETIC POTENTIAL: an interview with Julian Hetzel (blog)

Interview by: Allison Van Spaendonk
Originally published in Dutch: http://springutrecht.nl/

Julian Hetzel is a performance maker, theatre maker and musician with a background in visual arts and communication. He has been in the Netherlands for almost four years and last year he was an artist in residence for the SPRING festival in Utrecht (2013). At the festival he was presenting a performance installation called Still (The economy of waiting) where he touched upon the paradox between waiting and labor. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him between the containers of his installation for a short interview.

I’ve read somewhere that you’re very interested in examining daily life phenomenon’s, I thought you could tell me a little about the inspiration for this installation?

This performance installation is about waiting, it’s not a big topic but I think it’s something we do very often in the daily life, while living in the city. Big parts of the urban space are designed as waiting areas. You’re queuing at the bus stop and at the metro: you’re constantly queuing. I’m interested in the elements of the daily life that have potential to be something else. I’m looking for the poetic potential, and that’s exactly what I tried to do for this installation.

So you say the piece is about waiting, I was wondering how you experience waiting, is it something you like doing?

 Waiting is an action, a very passive action that nobody really likes I think. I’m a terrible impatient person. I hate waiting. So when I’m waiting I get sensitive to things I would normally not recognize. Because when I’m on the track of doing what I’m doing, I’m often not aware of my surroundings and the things that happen around me in the moment. So this piece is not actually just about waiting, it’s about being in a specific mode of time. It’s about noticing everything around you, even though you’re waiting.

What can people expect when they walk into the container?

 The installation takes place in five different containers, each containing a different situation. People enter a parallel universe when they walk into the first container. The walls are really thin so the spectators are always aware of what is happening around them.
This installation is build like clockwork. A lot of things are happening parallel to each other but at the same time everything is connected. People go through a journey. They have to wait from time to time but there is also a lot of space for freedom of time consumption. Everyone can spend time in the five different rooms as long as they want. It depends on who you are and how you experience waiting. One by one people can go in. Every person will meet different people and walk into different situations. Every room is connected to the idea of waiting and labor.
It’s not a theatre piece; it’s a performance installation. It’s very visual, so every person that enters will have a different experience because they encounter different things. So even though I’m the maker of this project, and all of it is based on my vision and my ideas. There are rooms that I don’t control. Like the conversation, will people talk to each other or will they sit and wait? I have no control over the spectators and how they act in the different rooms. So even though I’m the maker, I can’t control what happens in the rooms.

I read that you actually hired museum guards and found people who are homeless to join in. I was wondering where you found the performers and what you asked them to do for this piece?

I work with different types of performers. So a few people are actually just doing what they usually do. I have actors, dancers and a musician. I also have two museum guards and two people from the street. The museum guards I hired and the two people from the street I found by going around on the street here in Utrecht and asked who was interested. I just invited them to join me and they did.

Why a museum guard and someone from the street?

I’m touching the paradox between waiting and labor and there are a lot of jobs out there that connect these two. There are a lot of jobs where people actually don’t do anything. The museum guards for example, they do nothing but have their presents in the room. They don’t produce anything. In terms of labor they are just there. This is the same for homeless people or people from the street. They earn money because they are there: they are present. So I’m actually shifting the context for these people. I bring these people from the street and from a museum and change their value. They often have to fight for visibility and now I’m giving it to them. I’m making them visible; I’m making people notice them.

On your website you state that your work often has a political dimension. I was wondering if this was also the case in this piece?

I’m rather questioning the context of labor. I think in today’s culture we learn that the concept of labor is the base of our identity. When you ask people to introduce themselves they’ll state their name and their profession. So what I think is interesting is that the concept of labor is actually dissolving, its transforming more into ‘occupation’. The concept of labor and occupation are meeting, it’s an exchange. You become your job. I question the border between where labor stops and life begins. Like for me as an artist I have to keep going and keep discovering. Sometimes I get paid and other times I do the exact same thing and don’t get paid. So when is it labor and when is it life?


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Allison, 21, BA of Arts and MA of Media Studies (Comparative Literature and Theatre Studies) at Leiden University.

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