Where does SLeM come from? In 2005 it suddenly manifests itself in an overwhelming way as if it has always been here. However, hardly anyone knows the history of trial and error that preceded its existence. Research and attempts to the meaning and identity of landscape-theater already started in 1996.
According to SLeM, landscape-theater is a form of site-specific theater, in which the landscape is temporally influenced, transformed and can provide a new meaning. Landscape-theater operates at the interface of everyday reality. For a production, a landscape is created or transformed and in favor of shifting perspectives the landscape is alienated and charged with theatrical and/or musical elements. The public can be spectator and participant at the same time. Through this merging, ‘social energy’ is released which can lead to surprising outcomes.
Initially there is only the understanding, simply because a landscape architect (Bruno Doedens, DS landschapsarchitecten) and a theater director (Frits Vogels, Griftheater) thought that collaboration might produce something. This was all the result of a coincidental meeting at a lecture in the Theater Institute. But what is coincidence?
Project No. 1 is 'Prachtgleis', the genesis of a park in Berlin (design: DS landschapsarchitecten). The video registration of the transformation of this future park required a regular travelling for 7 years to the specific site.
Due to the ever-delaying completion of the park, it formed the main theme of our first explorations.
The first years
In retrospective, we can call the period 1996 to 2003 the run-up to the existence of SLeM. Are the seemingly incompatible experiences of time (landscape architecture’s ‘long time’, theater’s ‘compressible time’ and film’s ‘manipulated time’) able to come closer together?
The period up to 2003 is characterized by a number of plans that have only partly been realized. We participate in several competitions: in 1996 we propose an iron landscape of falling lampposts at IJburg, ‘Bosfabriek’, which is never been realized. In 1998, the Kerkbrink in Hilversum, redesigned by DS, got back into use. At the opening DS and Grif are working together by using film, sculpture and moving lights.
In 1999, the Oerol Festival at Terschelling appears for the first time in the existence of SLeM: Grif creates the theatrical landscape performance ‘Ontijtijd’. In 2001, DS and Grif win a competition with the idea to theatrically perform the construction of a forest; ‘Bosoase’ which is never been realized.
Also in 2001: the brothers Doedens (Dominique en Bruno) tempt the inhabitants of Heeten to turn the whole village into a sea of Sunflowers. Social energy!
In 2002, Bruno proposes Oerol to tell stories in a theatrical way along the beach of the sea. This project is not approved.
The pioneering years ended in 2003: finally the Potsdamerplatz park is completed. DS and Grif are working together for one last time. A live performance and the premiere of the film about the transformation of the place concluded seven years of experimentation.
Oerol and More
And then in 2003 the foundation SLeM ‘Stichting Landschapstheater en Meer’ (Landscape Theater and More) is founded. Terschelling’s festival Oerol is an ideal platform for landscape-theater, and so for SLeM. Bruno envisions a impressive plan: a one-kilometer diameter circle with a theatrical interpretation. Too expensive too complicated, too late, no money. Exit!
Bruno is getting impatient. Something must happen. In 2005, he gets the idea to place 7500 four-meter high PVC pipes in the sand on the beach. The ‘Dansendwoud’ (dancing forest) is realized in four days with the help of the Oerol public: the swaying pipes move in the wind and sea. It is a tremendous success.
It is the prelude to the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Oerol. Bruno presents the idea to dig out 25 ‘annual rings’ on the beach, to create a temporary landscape, within the actual landscape, of 400 meters in diameter. The public becomes performer, so that they are player and spectator at the same time. Photos appear in many newspapers and periodicals to the National Geographic.
SLeM was hungering for more. In 2007 follows ‘Zomersprookjes’ (summer tales), seventy giant glass shells with tales from the sea of as many writers, poets and soundscape artists. Every day a new landscape in which the ignorant listeners were also performers.
However, SLeM is not solely Oerol. In 2006, Bruno and Onno Brand traveled through West-Africa and create, together with the inhabitants, installations of large numbers of wooden sticks, the ‘Afikado’ project. And in 2007, the Zomersprookjes traveled along 13 Dutch coastal towns. Bruno designs 2008 the 'LangsteLenteLicht' (longest light of spring) by and for the 150-year-old Overijssels Kanaal.
Oerol 2008, the public is requested by forehand, to derive a saying from the theme of that year: time. A selection of the entries is engraved in the 300 steel silhouettes that must be moved on the beach. Walking backwards, with the backs to the future. In 2009, the headline of the Oerol newspaper states “SLeM pulls it again!”. Nearly 400 paintings were moving in the breeze on the beach, ‘Windnomaden’. It is an incredibly colorful landscape, preceded by an organization just as improbable. No surprise that this project is chosen to travel to New York to celebrate the 400th anniversary of relation between New York and the Netherlands.
In 2010, a Big Globe was pushed around the largest circle, 180 kilometers, within the borders of the province of Overijssel, the ‘O of Overrijssel’. In the two next years a theatrical experiment with the tides for the Caravan Festival Noord-Holland at the Hondbossche and Pettemer dam was performed, Zeezien (seasight) in 2011 and Monstergolf (monsterwave) in 2012. For the exhibition ‘Geheugenpaleis’ (memorypalace), National Archiefs of The Hague in 2013, SLeM developed a landscape of words out of the charter of the Pope (1179). In that same year, the ‘Oog van Ruigoord’ at the Harbour in Amsterdam is developed, as a metaphor for changing your perspective.
For Oerol 2013, ‘Pannenland’ was developed: 4000 French tiles in a rigid grid, making the dune forming processes experienceable. It is the first project in the light of ‘Cultural Landscape Development’. In 2014, SLeM presents the project Wadland at Oerol, in which the marsh formation processes were culturally expressed by willow structures in a ‘Mondrian Labyrinth’. As part of the Vadehavsfestival in Blavand, Denmark, the project ‘Woodland’ is built in 2014. A landscape consisting of 130 000 sticks on the beach, symbolizing the dance between nature and culture. In 2015, SLeM appears again at Oerol, ‘WadZwaaien’ (WadWaving) bringing the whole Waddensea from the Netherlands, via Germany to Denmark together.
During all these years SLeM obviously grew remarkably, both artistically as organizationally. As initiators, we were all members of the foundation’s board. However, this is an untenable situation for subsidizers. Thus, a supervisory board is elected. In 2006, we decide that as SLeM’s planner and leader Bruno should be the artistic director. With the consequence that he will ensure financing for the projects put forward by him. Apart from the subsidized project Jaaringen, he sees, from 2007 onwards the opportunity to let every project be mostly be self-sustaining through the sale of objects (the glass shells from Zomersprookjes, steel silhouettes from Opdrift and the Windnomaden paintings).
A steady altruistic group around SLeM forms the SLeM team. They do so because they believe in the projects of SLeM’s and certainly not out of material gain.
In the future, SLeM will be focusing less on Terschelling and Oerol. Thanks to its growing reputation, SLeM now receives requests to add luster to landscapes. Sometimes with old projects, as far as possible, other times the request is to provide inspiration for new projects. The extension of project types means that Bruno can’t and doesn’t have to lead projects solely. Other project managers can now also initiate SLeM projects.
The biggest ambition remains the artistic:
The art is to reveal the essence of a landscape. By transforming it, by letting events take place that affect the landscape, permanently or temporarily. SLeM has set itself the goal to make the ordinary extraordinary, to amaze and alienate. Landscape-theater triggers the visitor to experience the landscape with other ‘eyes’ and ‘hands’. Beacsue of this alienation, new mental landscapes arise, spaces that are bounded by memories. The temporary landscape disappears, is cleared away, washed down, blown away. But memories know no time, the landscape mountains memories. The short time of theater becomes long time. A newly dreamed landscape arises that can always be called up. It has become a place instilled with memory. (Gert Hage in Temporary Landscapes, SLeM/Thieme, 2009).
Cultural Landscape Development
‘Cultural Landscape Development’, an initiative by Joop Mulder (Oerol) and Bruno Doedens (SLeM) aspiring to stimulate a next step in the nature- and landscape development and aiming to bring landscape forming processes to the attention by working together with artists, scientists, students, inhabitants and visitors.
According to SLeM, Cultural Landscape Development is the logical step in dealing with the sea, landscape and nature, in which the Netherlands are progressive leaders for centuries. After showing the technical capability of building coastal defences, shaping new land, landscape, even nature, now a new cultural layer is added. A cultural layer that triggers the imagination and encourages participation, and by this providing the necessary ‘social embedding’. The active involvement of inhabitants creates the possibility to give new meaning to the landscape and thereby increasing social support. At the same time ecological values can be enlarged and safety objectives improved.
The first projects in the light of ‘Cultural Landscape Development’ are Pannenland in 2013 and Wadland in 2014. Both projects increase the understanding and beauty of the dynamic landscape forming processes of dune and marsh formation of the Wadden Sea and Terschelling, magnifying these processes by giving a cultural boost to the landscape. This creates inspiring landscapes.