Where did SLeM come from? It was there all of a sudden in 2005, as if it was always there. Hardly anyone knows the history of trials and errors that preceded its existence. Research and attempts into what landscape-theater could be already began in 1996. According to SLeM, landscape-theater is a form of location theater in which the landscape is temporally influenced, transformed and can be provided with new significance. Landscape-theater operates on the periphery of daily reality. A landscape is created or transformed, and in order to shift perspectives, alienated and charged with theatrical and/or musical elements. The public can be spectator and participant simultaneously. This allows for the release of ‘social energy’ which can lead to surprising results.
Initially there was only an idea, simply because a landscape architect (Bruno Doedens, DS landschapsarchitecten) and a theater director (Frits Vogels, Griftheater) thought that collaboration might produce something. This was the conclusion, after a coincidental encounter at a lecture in the Theater Institute.
Yes, but what is coincidence?
Project Nr. 1 is 'Prachtgleis', the birth of a park in Berlin (design: DS landschapsarchitecten). We returned to the location of this future park regularly for seven years to record its transformation on film.
The chronic construction delays became the leitmotif of our first explorations.
The first years
In hindsight, we can call the period 1996 to 2003 the precursor to SLeM. Could the apparently incompatible experiences of time (landscape architecture’s ‘slow time’, theater’s ‘compressible time’ and film’s ‘manipulated time’) be brought closer together? The period before 2003 is characterized by a number of plans that were, to some extent, realized. We took part in various competitions: we proposed a steely landscape of falling lampposts for Ijburg in 1996, ‘Bosfabriek’, which did not go through. In 1998, the Kerkbrink in Hilversum, redesigned by DS, was once again in use. DS and Grif worked together using film, sculpture and moving lights for the opening of the square.
The first time Terschelling’s Oerol Festival appears in our existence is 1999: Grif created the theatrical landscape performance ‘Onttijd’.
In 2001, DS and Grif won a competition with idea to make the layout of a forest into a performance. ‘Bosoase’ was never realized.
Also in 2001, the brothers Doedens (Dominique en Bruno) enticed the whole village of Heeten to turn itself into a sea of sunflowers. Speaking of social energy!
In 2002, Bruno proposed telling stories of the sea in a theatrical manner to Oerol, but this project was never realized.
The pioneering years came to an end in 2003: the Potsdamerplatz park was finally completed. DS and Grif worked together one last time. A live performance and the first showing of the film about the transformation of the area concluded seven years of experimentation.
Oerol and More
Then Stichting Landschapstheater en Meer was established in 2003. Terschelling’s Oerol Festival was the ideal platform for landscape-theater, so too for SLeM. Bruno envisioned a large plan: a one-kilometer diameter circle with a theatrical performance. It was too expensive, too complicated, too late, no money. Exit ‘Kras in het bos’.
Bruno became impatient. Something had to happen. He had an idea, to place 7,500 four-meter high plastic pipes in the sand on the shoreline. The ‘Dansendwoud’ was made in four days with the help of the Oerol public: the reeds swayed in wind and sea and it was a resounding success (2005).
The overture for Oerol’s 25th anniversary had begun. Bruno presented an idea to dig 25 ‘growth rings’ into the beach, to create a 400-meter in diameter temporary landscape. The public were thrust into the position of performers, which made them simultaneously players and spectators. Photos of the project appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including National Geographic.
His appetite was whet. ‘Zomersprookjes’, seventy giant glass shells with tales from the sea by the same number of writers, poets and sound artists, followed in 2007. It created a new landscape every day, a landscape in which the listeners performed, whether they wanted to or not.
But SLeM is more than the Oerol Festival. In 2006, Bruno and Onno Brand, together with the local inhabitants, made a number of installations from thousands of wooden skewers during their journey through West Africa, the ‘Africado’ project.
In 2007, the Zomersprookjes not only visited Terschelling, they also toured along 13 seaside towns to Zeeland Flanders.
Bruno designed the 'LangsteLenteLicht' for the 150 year anniversary of the Overijssels Kanaal in 2008.
Steel followed glass in 2008 (at Oerol again). This time the public were asked in advance to provide sayings about that year’s theme: time. The selections made from the submissions were laser-cut into 300 steel silhouettes which were later relocated by the public on the beach walking backwards, with backs to the future.
“SLeM does it again! “was the headline in the Oerol newspaper in 2009. Almost 400 paintings moving in the wind on the beach: there’s a good reason they are called ‘Windnomaden’. The visual arts have followed literature. It is an improbably colorful landscape, preceded by an organization just as improbable: to contact 400 artists, deliver materials, collect the paintings and to finally place them on movable stands which need to be placed a meter into the ground.
It’s no wonder that this project was chosen to travel to New York to help celebrate the 400 year anniversary of relations between New York and the Netherlands. The Oerol and Parade festivals will add luster with an eight day party on Governors Island.
Naturally, SLeM has grown a great deal over the years, both artistically and organizationally. As initiators, we were all members of the foundation’s board. This was an untenable situation for subsidizers, which is why the board of trustees was established. In 2006, we had already decided that as SLeM’s planner Bruno should be its artistic leader. The consequence of this was that he was also financially responsible for the projects he initiated. With the exception of the subsidized project Jaaringen, all projects since 2007 have for the most part been cost-effective because of the sale of objects (the glass shells from Zomersprookjes, steel silhouettes from Opdrift and the Windnomaden paintings).
A steady, unselfish group around SLeM forms the SLeM team. They do this work because they believe in SLeM’s projects, certainly not for any financial rewards.
SLeM will be focusing less on Terschelling and Oerol in the future: there are big, international plans for the Windnomaden. Thanks to its growing reputation, SLeM now receives requests to add luster to landscapes. Sometimes old projects are requested when
possible, other times the request is to provide inspiration for new projects. These additional projects mean that Bruno no longer has to do it all himself. Other project managers can now initiate SLeM projects.
But the biggest ambition remains an artistic one:
The art is to reveal the essence of a landscape through art. By transforming it, by letting events take place that have either a lasting or temporary effect on it. SLeM has set itself the goal to make the ordinary extraordinary, to amaze and alienate. Landscape theater forces the visitor to experience the landscape with other ‘eyes’ and other ‘hands’. New mental landscapes. Spaces that are allied to memories, crop up through disorientation. The temporary landscape disappears, is cleared away, washed down, blown away. But memories know no time and they are stored in these landscapes. The fast time of theater becomes slow time. A newly dreamed landscape arises that can always be evoked. It has become a place instilled with memory. (Gert Hage in Temporary Landscapes, SLeM/Thieme, 2009).