Since 2012 the Vooruit Arts Center in Ghent specifically resides performers who engage with the public space of the city of Ghent. They are referred to as “de stadsresidenten” (the city residents). The artists/performers Simon Allemeersch, Elly Van Eeghem, Maria Lucia Cruz Correia, Ewout D’Hoore, Michiel Vandevelde, Peter Aers and the collective Bougie all play with concepts such as ‘engagement’, ‘urban life’, ‘public space’ and ‘action and activism’ in their artistic works. Most of them locate their art practices in a specific neighborhood of Ghent for a longer period of time. During their residency, they have contact with local inhabitants. Together with them, the city residents collect the complex history of the neighborhood by means of different local anecdotes, conflicts, stories,... which results in performances, exhibitions and open installations.
These performers in public space differ from those in the sixties and seventies who were merely activists reversing the opposition of active and passive spectatorship outside the institutional systems. They worked upon the intersection of theater, politics and everyday life; “the radicalism of Paris, Dada and Happenings, (…) politicized street theater both during and after May ’68” (Bishop, 2012, 102). The current notion of ‘action’ and ‘activism’ gets another dimension. The city residents of Vooruit are not mere activists, but diplomats. (Stalpaert after Latour 2014). This eco-artist-as-diplomat “creates a pragmatic situation that invites people to think hard about what concerns them, in close interconnection with the environmental community they dwell in.” (Byttebier and Stalpaert, 2014, 81) These artists take time to connect with a specific environment, resulting in long-durational performances seeking to interact with local residents and hence creating a new temporal and spatial dimensions with the environment of public space.
This research projects investigates the artistic projects of three of the city residents of Vooruit, namely of the performers Simon Allemeersch, Elly Van Eeghem, Maria Lucia Cruz Correia. They deal with the environment in a diplomatic, ethico-ecological way, embedded in the ethical turn in performance studies. This ethico-ecological approach investigates the interaction between the inhabitants and their environment. Moreover, this new aesthetic also incorporates a new ecological perspective, moving beyond the narrow anthropocentric perspective. Not only humans, but also animals, plants and object are concerned in a specific environmental context. This research project connects with the ecological writings of philosophers Félix Guattari, Bruno Latour, Timothy Morton, Jane Bennet and Isabelle Stengers. The newly developed field of performance philosophy allows for thinking through philosophical notions of ecology in performance analysis.