Een introductie bij WOMEN & CHILDREN FIRST 2020

“I'm in the middle of a moment in my life where I really need to draw boundaries in how much I do as not to go into that burnout space. And I think that's interesting. And I would also like to bring it into what I'm writing that I want to, like, follow this program but it’s such a densely packed program as well... But as a person who has limits, you know… to the extent that I can participate or that I can go to a show that starts at 10:00 and goes on till 11h:00... And I think maybe that then could be my entry into this, not to hide this but to make this very visible how this works. That [just because] you [are] a person who's writing about accessibility doesn't mean that you then make invisible your own needs of accessibility.”

Anaïs van Ertvelde, historian and WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST 2020 “outside eye”

The above was part of a conversation between myself, Kopano Maroga (programmer and dramaturg at Vooruit), Marieke De Munck (chief curator of WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST 2020) and Anaïs van Ertvelde in anticipation of the second edition of WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST. Anaïs was to be the artist-as-witness of the festival and deliver a written, critical reflection of her experiences, thoughts and feelings in relation to the festival. In the half an hour that we spoke a theme that came up again and again was that of boundaries: setting boundaries to protect one’s energy, to preserve one’s body, to acknowledge one’s limitations and one’s right to be able to choose how far they will go into an experience. The act of boundary setting has been appearing more and more often in popular conversations about mental health awareness and accessibility. 

“Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.”

However, what doesn’t come up so often is what creates the circumstances where boundaries are needed. What doesn’t come up are the implicit, invisible and often quietly violent boundaries that exist in society. Boundaries that make the everyday experiences of people with accessibility needs that are different to traditionally able-bodied and neurotypical people invisible. This edition of WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST endeavoured to continue the project of making the invisible visible. And, as with any endeavour, there were failures and there were successes. Lessons were learnt as we made tentative steps towards the continual impossibility of being together. 

Alongside the very visible and traditional public performances and presentations of the festival there were less visible interventions taking place with much longer standing implications: 

“We're having a public part of WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST but we’re also having, like, a more non-public [for example]..the workshop with Ilan Manouach... where we've invited a group, now consisting of 10 or 11 visually impaired and blind people that are interested in working with their voice... Ilan is gonna work with them...and they are really going to investigate what it means for... if you don't have your visual abilities, what it means to work with music. So how you can make, like, an alternative musical notation, if you cannot read ...classic notation.” “It started for Ilan as a project for visually impaired people, but it could also be for, you know, people that just don't read music, but are still musical. So it's going to be a three day workshop during  WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST where people are going to enter the building, which is already interesting because we're also going to…. put a line on the floor for people to just be able to feel when they enter the building of Vooruit to just go to the Ticketbalie… So it's good that we have a concrete workshop. So we will be sure that there will be people here that will use it and we can also ask them a bit, like, “How does it feel for you?”, “Is this an idea because we'd really like to make this permanent in the future”.”

Tine Theunissen, audience development and public outreacher Vooruit

Some of the most important things we can take with us from this festival are the echoes it leaves behind. In the building of Vooruit, in the people that experienced the shows and the workshops. And, if there is any hope for an accessible future for the arts in Vooruit, in Ghent and in Belgium more broadly, it is in translating these echoes and reverberations into structural changes in our institutions and in our society that takes responsibility for the boundaries we have made, who those boundaries have historically kept out and how to respect the boundaries we as individuals have decided to make to protect ourselves as we discover little by little, with rigorous gentleness, how to truly show up and care for one another.


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