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No words, no story. Just puppets and props. BetweenTwoHands makes theatre per square centimeter. With a huge fake tongue and a walking intestine.

Published 4 Apr 2016 at 14:57 by Liedewij Loorbach

Puppets, the length of pencils, hang helplessly from strings attached to a Plexiglas ceiling. A tongue made of a foamy material, the length of an arm, rests on a chair. “We spent two hours yesterday figuring out how we could let the intestine and puppet meet, in a way that would be beautiful,” says Erin Tjin A Ton. We spoke to the makers of Duodenum during their very last preparations ahead of their performance.

Artists Tjin A Ton and Gosia Kaczmarek, together BetweenTwoHands, have spent the past year working on their new performance, Duodenum. There’s no words, no story in the performance. They make art using movement, atmospheres and visuals. For forty minutes, the audience sits around a thigh high cabinet within which magnificent miniatures appear. Eureka, a puppet made of a plastic head and a few sticks, is just as big as Kaczmarek and is stuck to her. Eureka is the one that plays out experiments with the puppets that hang helplessly. The subject of the performance is malleability, experiment and the way people and objects influence one another. Kaczmarek: “the audience is actually watching an experiment in a lab”. Research that can swing in all directions and doesn’t have a clear outcome in mind.

Tjin a Ton and Kaczamarek are both graduates from the Rietveld Academy. “The biggest difference between what we do now and visual arts is the passing of time,” Tjin A Ton tells me in their studio in the ACTA building, a creative hub in Amsterdam Nieuw-West. “The visuals can’t be only sweet, or one single atmosphere; the visuals have to clash and cause friction, and with the occasional joke.” The two work with a director, Anna Verduin, to get the tension and theatrical timing right. ‘She’s got her hand full with us as puppeteers, because we’re not actors,’ says Tjin A Ton. “If she says: ‘make the puppet angry’, we don’t always know what to do. Our role on the stage is more like a technician.”

BetweenTWoHands

A few years ago, Kaczmarek started to get bored with stagnant images. She craved more interaction with her audiences, so she started making installations. Tjin A Ton made her first performance (with Verduin) in 2013, and asked Kaczmarek to join her in a new project in 2014. That project became The Journal, which can be seen during Pop Arts as double bill with Duodenum. It’s a performance about loneliness, it lasts 20 minutes and takes place on a stage of 30x40cm. ‘The entire set fits in two boxes, which makes it easy to take it with us, in the train or on the plane. Neither of us has a driver’s license, so that’s really convenient,’ says Kaczmarek. They’ve performed at a whole range of festivals, traveling as far as Norway. “Everyone recognises loneliness – five-year-olds do and so do elderly audiences,” Tjin A Ton tells me.

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Erin Tjin A Ton (left) and Gosia Kaczmarek in their studio in the ACTA-building in Amsterdam

Duodenum is quite a bit longer, 40 minutes. “I loathe performances that take longer than they need. That make you think, afterward, ‘that could’ve been 15 minutes shorter!’,” Tjin A Ton laughs. “We’re really strict about that, constantly asking ourselves: is this scene really necessary? I think our strength lies in that you constantly see something new.”

It’s only a month before their premiere and they’re still painting appendages. Anatomy books lay open throughout the studio. Tjin A Ton is painting a close-up of colonic flora, detailed muscle tissue is up next. They’re also working on sound. “One of the two sound guys said to us recently: ‘your performances are so tactile, your objects should make sound, too’,” says Tjin A Ton. A number of objects are getting their own sound effects now. The rest is lighting. Magical atmosphere guaranteed.

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Members can attend the double bill Duodenum & The Journal by BetweenTwoHands on 21 April in Ostade Amsterdam. The performance will take place as part of Pop Arts. See which other Pop Arts performances are featured in our programme here.

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