A Journey Through The Body
Pieter T’Jonck

About four hundred years ago we discovered that the body is in fact a kind of machine, and ever since then science has been providing us with more and more information about how this ‘machine’ actually functions. Even so, a wide gulf remains between that ‘scientific’ body and our own mortal flesh. We continue to experience and describe this gulf in metaphors that stem from a pre-scientific era. We ‘vent our spleen’ or are ‘heartbroken’ and situations can be ‘mind-boggling’… In this way we project myriads of experiences and thoughts onto the body. It is, as it were, the theatre of our most intimate feelings. The body lends itself willingly to this projection: while it is our most trusted object it also remains a great mystery to us: we cannot directly observe it from the outside let alone from within.
This fact becomes the departure point for ‘Under My Skin’, a piece created by the Croatian artist Ivana Müller, in collaboration with Bill Aitchison, Andrea Bozic and Nils De Coster. She presents the human body as a collection of allegorical images. Twenty observers are given a guided tour of a body that is conceived as a vast red space that can be rearranged at will, using curtains and a rotating door. At the outset, Müller invites you to close your eyes and imagine that you are commencing a journey through the body from the feet up to the head. Only then are you allowed to open your eyes for the real trip. This begins with the vista of an empty space in which crimson velvet curtains open and close. This is the fundamental allegory: the body as theatre, as an empty screen on which the imagination is projected.
A guide provides further clarification. He shows a photo of Müller: she is the body that is being visited, but then seen from the outside. That body has many rooms, inhabited by the craziest individuals. Over here a woman is producing pain sensations, over there, bodily sounds are being made; elsewhere good and bad thoughts are distinguished from each other. A woman flits timidly through the space now and then but the guide reassures you; this is the ‘running desire’, a rather unstable inhabitant. And then there are the masked dark creatures that crawl around in the space. They have no statute within the body. With these ‘illegals’, the body is presented as a political allegory. This idea is further developed in a fable about the revolution of the lower body parts against the supremacy of the head.
A marvellous element in this enchanting production is an ‘homunculus’, played by Müller herself. This miniature version of the real body guarantees the harmony between the interior and exterior of the body. This portrayal expresses an old philosophical allegory about the harmony between body and mind, through the literal representation in all its paradoxes. You know it’s nonsense, but you also realise that this ‘idea’ of the self is tenaciously vibrant, in defiance of common sense. Besides the ‘scientific’ knowledge we have accumulated, another ‘knowing’ of the body is still potent. And in this production an unexpected theatrical side to this ‘knowing’ is revealed.

published in De Tijd

translated by Mark Verschuur