ASHES COMPANY / JONATHAN VANDENBERG
A live installation inspired by the classical Greek myth of King Tantalus. One at a time, spectators entered a building and were led down flights of stairs to its basement level. Arriving in a darkened room, spectators peered through a hole in a wall to view a man lying naked on his back. A fitted hood blinded the man’s eyes. This anonymous figure was tightly bound to a wooden board placed within a shallow pool of water. A mouth gag and the low water level prevented the man from drinking. An enormous rock hung ominously above. Was the man aware of its presence? From the faint echoes of water dripping in the distance, the cavernous space seemed endless.
“Tantalus” challenged conventional definitions of theatre as distinct from installation and visual art. It was textless, without an identifiable beginning or end and was experienced by individuals rather than a communal audience. Yet there was a performer, a theatrical space, and an event to witness. Thematically, this work was an iconoclastic remnant of classical tragedy: a scene of suffering, without resolution.
“I saw Tantalus, who stood in a lake that reached his chin. He was dying to quench his thirst, but could never reach the water, for whenever the poor creature stooped to drink, it dried up and vanished” (Homer).
“He sat, a wicked man, among pleasant things, a rock hanging above, thinking he saw and seeing not” (Alcman).