> afwezigheid

absence > afwezigheid [English/Dutch]

The state of being away from a place or a person; the non-existence or lack of something. The word absence is derived from the late Middle English, the Old French and the Latin word absentia. The absence of something can also make something present. It can evoke the imagination of the audience by allowing them to actively reconstruct what is missing in the performance.

In his essay “Aesthetics of Absence,” Heiner Goebbels discusses the relation between absence and performing Arts. Absence can be seen as the disappearance of the performer from the centre of attention and more specifically, as a separation of the actors’ voices from their bodies. It can also be seen as an abandonment of dramatic expression, which means that the drama does not happen on stage. The ‘drama’ could take place amidst the audience or in their minds.

For example, in Pan Pan’s production of Samuel Beckett’s All that fall
, there are no actors on stage.  The audience can only hear their voices, as if the audience experiences the inside of the characters’ minds or the other way around.

There is a separation between the actors’ voices and their bodies, and this leaves out a central focus. The absence of on-stage actors gives the audience space for imagination as the play focuses on the perception of sound. They can only visually perceive the reaction of other spectators and in this way, the actors’ absence creates a different theatrical atmosphere.

A presence noted by its absence is, paradoxically, ever present. Likewise, an absence noted by its presence is ever absent.

The absence of particular elements in performance art requires a different role of the spectator: a more active one, in my opinion. By this I mean that the spectators’ sense of discovery is important for the understanding of a performance.

Author and translator: Muriel Ramuz