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07.04.2014 REPORTAGE

The Sisters: Coco & Coca Pepper Foto: Diana Lindhardt.

Sisters Academy: Putting my body to the idea

What happens when a performance group takes over the leadership of an entire school? How will it manifest itself and most important of all, how does it actually feel? To investigate further, I let myself enrol at Sisters Academy for a couple of days to experience and feel the experiment on my own body. This is my personal journey into and through Sisters Academy and the idea of a more sensuous society.

AF Matilde Jensen

The first encounter
It is early - way too early. The sun is starting to rise slowly in the horizon. Slowly, but firmly, the light takes over the dark - the day has begun. It is misty and gloomy and the fog sticks to my skin, making me feel all damp and cold. I have been walking for a while, I'm starting to think I might be lost, but finally I arrive at the school. I enter through the door to the great hall, expecting to finally be free from the mist, but instead I enter a room that is just as foggy as the outside world. In some way the Academy is in-sync with the universe. The room is warmer, but still dank and stuffy. Through the darkness and the green fog that surrounds me I can make out a few silhouettes. They move around the edge of the room. Like shadows in a dream, I can't put a face on them. One is very tall and slim but with female curves. Another is wearing a cloak of some kind, barefooted and hairy. A third looks very different, almost corporate in a suit with a tie.
Now and then the fog fades away, giving me glimpses of what else the great hall beholds: a piano, stuffed animals en masse, an old typewriter, big green furniture's, small bottles and glasses, frames with sepia-photos, paintings and all kinds of different knickknacks. It is like something taken out of David Lynch's twisted Twin Peaks universe.
In the centre of the room is a great red carpet encircled by candles. The smell is sweet. Different but not disgusting. The soft music that fills the room invites me in, and like a lullaby it pulls me deeper. Deeper and deeper I go, into this mysterious dream-like world. Through the fog the headmistress emerges, greeting me welcome to the academy. I move to the back of the room, eagerly awaiting what will happen next...

This was my first encounter with the academy - a quite overwhelming meeting with a very different school system.

Still a school system
To be completely honest, I have (or had?) a lot of prejudices against performance art. My biggest fear about this project was, that it would be another example of the cliché on performance art: a group of people dressed up in weird outfits acting spacey and then legitimizing it by calling it art. Even though it was on some points exactly like that, I was still very much drawn to the universe. Perhaps because the universe still had the "school-structure". It was not just fun and games, weird outfits and abstract elements. Learning was still very much the fundamental part. The students schedule was kept, and even though the teaching was different, it was very clear, that it was still to be taken serious. During my stay at the academy I attended different classes.
During a Danish-class I witnessed how the students eagerly took part in the different tasks. They were working with poetry, something I myself remember from my school time as a rather tedious and dusty subject. This was very unlike what I remembered. Instead of applying the 'normal' approach to poetry - read, analyse, interpret - the students was to feel the poems. How does the poem taste? How can you express it with your bodies? How would it look still - like a sculpture? And how could you with your body express how it moves? What colours does the poem have? How does it sound? And how does it affect the poem, if you read it aloud in different tempos or change the volume? All very different ways of interpreting poetry, and all very subjective. This was very inspirational to witness. Sometimes, I think, the existing school system gives the impression that there is only one true answer, when in fact there is not. We have to embrace the subjectivity more - just like the sisters do.

A work of art
To return to the performance art element of this project, one might wonder why it was there at all? Why did this project need a group of performers and a fictional layer to work? Many would say that it all sounds a lot like what we already know as 'theme weeks', something many of us have experienced during our time in primary school. Couldn't this project just as well have been conducted without the performance art element? Before my stay at the academy, I had a talk with Gry Worre Hallberg, one of the founders of Sisters Academy. On the subject of the importance of the performance art, and the other elements that they work with in The Sisters Academy project, she said:

"Intensified presence is a very important thing for performance art - to create a space for that mode of being. One of the ways that it is created, is through a break with representation, there is no "as if", WE are here present with our bodies, and we put our body 100 % at stake, and that creates the framework of a potential intensified situation. What the theatrical arts, on the other hand, with its representation can do, is create a kind of magical doubling, and the magic sometimes provide a range of opportunities where you can do or say something you would not want to do when you are locked into your everyday life. So what we work with, and what I think is really interesting, is when these two approaches , the performative and the theatricality merges. (...)
The frames that we set affects the way we are present in the room, the frames can therefore redeem and liberate something in us. (...) In what we create, performativity and theatricality melts together. The theatrical frame, the representational layer, is not very thick. So when I am The Sister I could also sit and speak as I do now. Representation is very much turned down, yet there is a small doubling that amplifies or intensifies my presence in that situaion, which might feel liberating. We call this our poetic self. Representation then is used to intensify the performative space even further or deeper (...)
What performance art is (also) capable of is making the experiment bodily and physical - A human laboratory where ideas and theories can actually be explored (...). It is also why performance artists and performance art is a bold art form - It puts the body at risk. It indulges in the experiment, so instead of being something we just talk about, it is something that is proven one-on-one through your body."

Having spent time at the academy, it is very clear to me, that the performance art plays that exact role. The performance art element created a frame not only for the student to reflect within, but also seemed to have quite an impact on the teachers, which is just as important. The frame seemed to give the teachers the possibility to evolve further than they would have otherwise. The performance arts helped create a common language and guidelines for the teachers so that they could conduct the teaching and pass all of this on to the students. The performance art made new ways of thinking, new relations and new perspectives visible. Even though I don't know any of the students or teachers from before, and are not a part of their social sphere, it was clear to my, that new interaction patterns and social relations emerged out of the Sister Academy frame. The students, and the teachers saw new sides of themselves and of each other. So did I. I had never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be so drawn to the universe created at the academy.

But yes, one could still argue that this might as well could be carried out without the performance element, but I'm not quite sure it would have the same effect and outcome - but one should maybe put it to the test!?

An aesthetic educational system
During my stay it became very clear to me how art truly can be seen as a tool to stimulate individuals to influence the development of society and to take control of their own lives. Something that was (and still is) very much at stake in the Sisters Academy project. The project embraces a healthy, independent and sensible creative thinking, and a scale of self-reflection that I think we could all need now and then.
I must say, even though I was very diffident about this project to begin with, it has on so many points overcome me. I think the project should and hopefully will have an impact on how we think and create the future educational system and how we can use art in the learning process. The first steps towards a more sensuous society have at least now been taken.

Read the article about Sisters Academy here or visit their website.

The Sister Foto: Diana Lindhardt.

Sisters Academy Foto: Diana Lindhardt.

Reciting poems Foto: Diana Lindhardt.

Student - moments before giving a speech Foto: Diana Lindhardt.

Sisters Academy Foto: Diana Lindhardt.

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