The Ties That Bind
An endless cycle of giving birth, nursing and feeding the children, plowing the land, praying… That was life for many of our grandmothers, toiling as invisible labourers until their bodies were worn out. To liberate them from this burden, Belgian writer and performer Sarah Vanhee summons the spirits of her maternal ancestors for a final encounter: an intimate conversation that’s both necessary and celebratory.
Ghosts appear where there is suffering that needs to be heard and named. Alone on a stage inhabited by voices, Vanhee is joined by spectral apparitions, shadow images, and the words of children, imagined in collaboration with puppeteer Toztli Abril de Dios and sound artist Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti. Linking the female body, the domestic world, and her ancestral land, the play is an ode to matriarchal relationships. Mémé—which sounds like m’aimer (“to love me”) when spoken aloud—also gently encourages us to rediscover our capacity to care for others as for ourselves.
Produced by CAMPO
Conceived, written and performed by Sarah Vanhee
Objects and Set Design Toztli Abril de Dios
Sound Design Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti
Outside Eye Christine de Smedt
Technique Babette Poncelet + Geeraard Respeel
On screen Leander Polzer Vanhee
With the collaboration of Family Vanhee-Deseure
Co-produced by Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels) + Kaaitheater (Brussels) + Wiener Festwochen (Vienna) + BUDA (Kortrijk) + HAU (Berlin) + De Grote Post (Oostende) + Théâtre de la Bastille (Paris) + Festival d’Automne à Paris + Perpodium with the support of the taxshelter of the Belgian Federal Government via uFund
Residencies KWP Kunstenwerkplaats (Bruxelles Brussels), Kaaitheater (Brussels) + BUDA (Kortrijk)
Dedicated to Denise Desaever + Margaretha Ghyselen
Presented in association with Centre du Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui
Premiered at Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels, on May 12, 2022
Written by Myriam Stéphanie Perraton-Lambert
Translated by David Dalgleish
About the artist
Sarah Vanhee (Brussels)
Each project undertaken by Sarah Vanhee generates disruptive spaces that upset the established order, expand the horizons of artistic disciplines, and enable improbable encounters. She is an artist of relationships in all senses, always focusing attention on that which history does not show us and on voices that have not been heard.
In 2018, as part of her doctorate work at the Antwerp School of Arts, she created bodies of knowledge: public, mobile, pop-up-style classes that highlight diversified and under-exposed knowledge, turning learning into an act of development accessible to everyone. In Lecture for Every One (2013-2020), she infiltrated various situations, such as official gatherings, company meetings, choirs, and sports training sessions, to proclaim a hybrid manifesto—part political, part poetic—advocating for inclusiveness.
On stage, she fabricates alternate realities, as in the case of Mémé and also Oblivion, a stunning, essential work presented at FTA in 2018. Over the course of 2.5 hours, she revealed physical and digital trash that she had collected and carefully stored for a year, one item at a time. The acting out of this slow, contemplative ritual reminded the audience of the unbreakable link that connects us with the traces of what we leave behind: the fragments of our lives, desires, thoughts, choices, and relationships. Mémé takes up the thread of this intimate scenario. Along with co-editing Untranslatables, a remarkable collection of (im)possible words, Vanhee has authored many works, including The Miraculous Life of Claire C and TT. She is an associate artist for the CAMPO production company in Gand.
« En redonnant une valeur à ce qui n’en a plus, du moins à nos yeux, l’artiste belge provoque une prise de conscience de l’impact de notre empreinte sur la planète, une sensibilisation encore plus grande que toutes les campagnes écologistes et autres appels au respect de l’environnement. »
Samuel Pradier, JEU, 2018-05-27, about Oblivion
« L’artiste donne de la visibilité à ce qu’on s’efforce de rendre rapidement invisible. Et pour un instant, elle redonne du poids aux produits et conséquences de nos actes, peu importe leur forme. Ce qu’il faut de doigté pour loger tout cela dans les petits intervalles contenus entre quelques déchets. »
Chloé Gagné-Dion, Le Devoir, 2018-05-27, about Oblivion