Man is a Beautiful Animal


Interview with Jan Fabre

“The body is like an incredible paint box, a laboratory, a battlefield” says Jan Fabre, theater director.

In many of your performances, you cut yourself…

Yes, I’ve been drawing with my own blood since 1978. Once, as a young boy, I went to Bruges to see an exhibition of the Flemish masters. I remember experiencing a physical shock – I discovered performance before I even knew what the word meant. I went back to the hotel and started cutting myself. I bled. I ached all over. Later, I discovered that many Flemish Primitives painters mixed blood into their paint. This phenomenon is therefore a part of our artistic tradition. There was a time when we used crushed human bones to make white paint. These examples show that it’s all about achieving a natural quality. The artist does that by using his own body. Our bodies are veritable treasure troves of knowledge. As an artist, you often act instinctively. Only later do you realize that you were not the first one to take this particular action.

The body, including bodily fluids, is an important element of your performances. What’s the attraction for you?

I’m intrigued by the political, philosopna rymnical and social meaning of bodily fluids. We live in a society where people have become odorless. But we do smell, we sweat. There’s nothing wrong with that. Women get periods all the time, yet all over the world people associate menstruation with the blue liquid from the “Always” ads.

This means that our society is still filled with great taboos. Menstrual blood was seen as evil by the Catholic church, but from a scientific point of view it’s very healthy – it’s a sign of vitality. That’s what drove me to my research. I’m trying to find out why blood is seen as something negative by the majority of people. As a young man, I was fascinated by my penis and sperm. Do you know what sperm looks like under a microscope? What incredible biological struggle is waged therein? It’s a whole new universe! I deal with these issues, because we are essentially beautiful animals. There is great knowledge to be found in our blood, skin, bones, sperm, and water. For me it’s all organic and very natural. But when people look at it from the outside, they think it’s dirty, provocative and weird.

Just take my sculptures, or my plays. I’ve analyzed bones, muscles, blood, sperm, urine and tears. The body is like an incredible paint box, a laboratory, a battlefield. Everything that comes from it is very important.

Your work is based on improvisation. How does your idea of a production, the initial concept evolve?

At first I try to be very naïve. I tell my actors that I don’t know anything, although I already know how it will all turn out. It’s a bit like playing a blind man, who is being led by guide dog to his destination. However, the blind man turns out to be a seer. He knows where the dogs are taking him. I close my eyes and I know where I should be. Still, improvisation is an incredibly important tool for me. For example, I want the actors smelling each other – through the sense of smell, they discover one another, get to know one another from head to toe. Improvisation also serves to hone one’s imagination and physical reflexes. It is therefore a training for them rather than for me. Thanks to improvisation, the actors can believe that they’ve discovered something on their own. They’re proud then, and work better – they glow. It’s very important for the actors to believe that on stage they’re the heroes of an ancient tragedy. It’s beautiful. And obviously I learn a lot from them as well.

How much control do you maintain over the actors’ improvisation?

As an artist, I have to be a dictator. This is the only profession in the capitalist Western society that allows me to be one. Usually I have to say: “no, no, no, no, no, no, yes, no, no, no, no, no, yes.” I set up the rules, I design the structure. But I allow the actors to venture outside the wall I’m constructing. They struggle with the structure that I’m trying to impose on them. The entire dramatic conflict revolves around that struggle. Thanks to their strength and their ability to transcend themselves, the actors break out of the structure. That’s where theatre, drama, and beauty is born; that’s where you see the production come to life, become flesh and bone. I’m nothing without my actors. But they in turn become more beautiful when I’m a dictator. Bear in mind that I never force my actors to cross certain boundaries. I propose situations, and they – if they treat their work seriously – make the choice whether to go on of their own volition. All serious artists have to face this decision.

And do you cross boundaries yourself? You still act as a performer…

I sometimes do performances. But they’re always one-offs – otherwise I’d end up in a hospital, or get arrested. I did my last performance at the Louvre. It was a five hour long homage to Jacques Mesrine – the famous gangster and enemy of the state, who was active as an artist in the late 1970s. My performance dealt with metamorphoses and escaping the biggest prison in France.

When you work with actors, do you look for individual gestures, a movement coming from within, or do you rely on certain clichés, on method?

I never use the word method, for me it’s a guiding line. I’m a blind man, and my guide dogs are leading me to where I’m supposed to be. I’d rather use the term guiding line, because method is too dogmatic for me. I think it’s very important to teach your actor to think, to use his imagination. The moment you accept your imagination as a tool is the moment you gain access to truthfulness. Truthfulness (as opposed to truth) can be achieved through concentration and imagination. It is like making love. It’s this moment of complete concentration: imagining someone’s skin and consciously penetrating it, physically or metaphorically. It works both ways – from the inside out, and from the outside in. The surface is very important to an actor’s work. Without it, there would be no depth.

In your work, you sometimes refer to actors as “warriors of beauty”. What does that mean?

An actor that I would call a “warrior of beauty” is someone exceptional, because he defends beauty with all his might. I think “warriors of beauty” must approach their work very seriously. They make themselves objects of their own study. This is a very big challenge. “Warriors of beauty” need to keep looking for the terra incognita – the places where they lose all points of reference, and even themselves, in order to discover their roots, and enter a new plane of consciousness. Discovering these states is synonymous with the search for beauty. There’s this Flemish word, ‘redeloosheid ‘ (meaning un-reason) which encompasses both reason and its opposite. This un-reason comes from the inside – it’s the domain of unbridled anarchy, passion and love.

And what is this beauty that the actor searches for? What’s your perception of it?

Beauty is very important to me. I need it. It’s something that can exist outside of any sort of ideology or aesthetics, which can be manufactured. Beauty is a harmonious, vibrating sequence, independent of all ethical or aesthetical guidelines. It is freedom. It’s akin to a butterfly, which dies when you grasp it by its wings.

The influence of advanced technologies on the life of contemporary European societies is growing. What is your attitude towards these technologies and using them in theatre? Your work is, after all, very organic.

Would you rather be kissed by a computer, or by another person? My answer is: “another person”. I still don’t own a computer or a cell phone. For several reasons. One of them is that I like to look people in the eye. I like to smell their scent. We’re animals, we smell each other. Telephones, iPods – they’re all wonderful tools of communication, but the essence of theatre work, writing, or creating any sort of art is perception through touch. Great art is made by man. And man is beautiful – if you can’t touch, feel, or smell him, you’re missing out on quite a lot.

In your last production, “Orgy of Tolerance” (which premiered in 2009), you presented a very critical attitude towards European society. What does being a European mean to you and how do you see Europe’s future?

To be honest, I’m not European. I’m a very young man from Antwerp – a provincial artist. But it is this provincial quality that makes me universal. I say I’m very young, because becoming a young artist takes a whole lifetime. Concerning yourself with systems and political structures – the stuff EU foists upon people – is a waste of time. Don’t forget it’s all about economy. And the power of economy as such is of little interest to an artist.

But it’s becoming more and more important in our lives. Great corporations are ever more often cooperating with politicians from the top echelons of power.

Just look at the Middle Ages. Take Bruges, for example. It was the New York of Europe. That’s where all the important artists worked, and where the money was. This link between art and capitalism has always been there. Why did artists crave money? Because it meant better quality, being able to use the best possible materials. When 15th century artists needed lapis lazuli – the blue stone required to paint the Virgin Mary’s garments, they had to go to Afghanistan. It took six months to obtain that stone. Its price was exorbitant! And nothing has changed in that regard.

In order to do their job and create beauty, artists have to take advantage of the system. A good artist is always keenly aware of the spirit of his times, and opposes it. I don’t have anything against capitalism. The thing is to use it properly. I don’t have anything against money. As for corporations becoming more important than politicians the world over… it was similar in the 15th century, when politicians were trumped by the Church. It was all about the money then, too. And that’s how it has always been. But we have to be clever. I keep repeating to my actors and dancers that just because we’re surrounded by various ideologies doesn’t mean our work has to be suffused with them. I don’t have to tailor myself to the ideology of the National Opera - which is my employer. I can remain independent. Drawings I create end up at museums or galleries, therefore entering the realm of money – but that doesn’t mean they become tainted by it. A good work of art will always prevail and serve as a tool for reflecting on society, adapting to its evolution.

Your next production is “Prometheus Landscape II” (premiere planned for January 2011 – ed.). In 1988, you staged “Prometheus I”. Will you be drawing on that production, or is it a completely new endeavor?

Ancient Greek theatre lies at the core of how I perceive this medium. All ancient gods and heroes are very important to me. Prometheus was the man who brought fire to humanity. Sometimes I feel that as an artist, I have this fire, and I pass it on to other people, other artists. We form a team, which I really like. Of course, there’s the question of who contemporary society’s heroes are. We live in a world that bars us from using fire. Fire is banned from every fucking museum or theatre. In this sense, we are also barred from being creative. We think about the contemporary world, about Prometheus, we keep talking about fire, but we can’t start one!

Interview by Dorota Semenowicz and Katarzyna Tórz

Poznań, June 30, 2010

listen to the content print version

  1. GuSAjhHDtgJklVhCqR2011-10-09 22:49:02

    I sreached a bunch of sites and this was the best.

  2. bKXUDLmSirH2011-10-10 01:22:56

    This airtcle went ahead and made my day.

  3. oem software2012-02-12 06:41:31

    XEyF3l Hello! How do you feel about young composers?!...

  4. buy cheap oem software2012-02-12 06:41:46

    Hgw5Jh Good post! Found a lot of new and interesting! Will share the link with others:D

  5. computer repair san antonio2012-06-25 22:14:00

    That is the proper weblog for anyone who desires to seek out out about this topic. You understand so much its virtually hard to argue with you (not that I really would want…HaHa). You definitely put a brand new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Nice stuff, simply great!

  6. LsSJpVVDskHXXfbCKj2012-09-12 01:32:50

    This was so helpful and easy! Do you have any articels on rehab?

  7. 2012-09-12 01:32:52

  8. 2012-09-12 22:51:03

  9. 2012-09-13 06:59:22

  10. 2012-09-13 20:23:41

  11. 2012-09-14 01:46:33

  12. ulEYIaDEtgwGv2012-10-11 21:29:10

    Gratulacje! :) Ale właśnie tak to działa w maju! Noclegi są rzeczywiście za darmo, pod wirnukaem wykupienia całodniowego wyżywienia (ktf3rego koszty są często podejrzanie wysokie) oraz wybrania terminu pobytu poza sezonem. Oszustwo i manipulacja polega w tego typu ofertach na tym, że koszty odebrania czeku / ankiety itp. są ukrywane (a czasami dochodzą nawet do stu złotych), a koszty obligatoryjnego wyżywienia są często wyjątkowo drogie. Tu dodatkowo wykorzystano manipulację z użyciem reguły niedostępności, bo z technicznego punktu widzenia nie ma możliwości sprawdzenia, czy użytkownik faktycznie zareagował w dniu emisji reklamy (jak to niby jest wymagane), czy kilka dni pf3źniej

  13. 2012-10-11 21:29:13

  14. 2012-10-12 09:55:20

  15. 2012-10-12 21:04:46

  16. 2012-10-14 16:55:44

  17. 2012-10-15 03:58:18

  18. 2012-12-11 14:20:56

  19. 2013-02-23 09:50:28

  20. amazing site2013-03-03 21:42:20

    oTmqly Im grateful for the blog.Much thanks again. Cool.

  21. 2013-03-03 21:42:22

  22. bookmarks2013-03-15 00:32:26

    leh2hl wow, awesome blog.Really thank you! Will read on...

  23. 2013-03-15 00:32:29

  24. bookmaring service2013-03-15 14:17:16

    khvZad Muchos Gracias for your post.Really looking forward to read more. Really Cool.

  25. 2013-03-15 14:17:18

  26. buy cipro2013-03-15 18:40:27

    Hey, thanks for the post.Really looking forward to read more. Great.

  27. ciprofloxacin 500mg2013-03-15 19:04:40

    Really appreciate you sharing this article post.Really thank you! Great.

  28. generic viagra online2013-03-15 20:19:16

    Thank you for your post.Thanks Again. Much obliged.

  29. generic viagra no prescription2013-03-15 20:43:25

    Great article post.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.

  30. generic cialis no prescription2013-03-15 21:58:26

    I really enjoy the blog.Thanks Again. Really Cool.

  31. buy generic cialis2013-03-15 22:22:55

    Awesome blog article. Awesome.

  32. Buy Levitra online2013-03-15 23:38:47

    I truly appreciate this article post. Will read on...

  33. Buy Levitra uk2013-03-16 00:03:21

    I really enjoy the article post. Fantastic.

  34. 2013-04-15 22:48:00

  35. Social bookmarks2013-04-20 06:42:15

    D8hMzR wow, awesome article.Thanks Again. Will read on...

  36. 2013-04-20 06:42:17

  37. best compact digital cameras2013-05-14 08:25:35

    dPtK9o I truly appreciate this post.Much thanks again. Want more.

  38. 2013-05-14 08:25:38

  39. digital camera guide2013-05-14 16:38:06

    nq59RS Awesome blog post.Really thank you! Want more.

  40. 2013-05-14 16:38:08

  41. 2013-05-20 05:29:22

  42. good seo2013-05-25 07:40:48

    Y6EXOf Very good blog.Much thanks again. Really Great.

  43. 2013-05-25 07:40:50

  44. seo service2013-05-27 15:42:36

    Brsqgj Awesome blog. Fantastic.

  45. 2013-05-27 15:42:42

  46. seo service2013-05-28 09:29:57

    dDeTUO I think this is a real great post.Thanks Again. Great.

  47. 2013-05-28 09:29:59

  48. social bookmarks2013-06-19 18:57:24

    WSUtE4 Appreciate you sharing, great post.Really thank you! Cool.

  49. 2013-06-19 18:57:26

  50. 2013-06-21 07:54:15

  51. great service2013-07-04 14:43:52

    Ugiofw Really appreciate you sharing this post. Awesome.

  52. 2013-07-04 14:43:56

  53. PYXgXAnBMIk2013-07-23 20:52:21

    Really enjoyed this blog.Really looking forward to read more. Much obliged.

  54. tPuLRgLx2013-07-24 22:33:24

    Wow, great blog article.Really thank you! Want more.

  55. best news on earth2013-07-26 14:36:25

    nqBVXW I really enjoy the blog article.Thanks Again. Want more.

  56. 2013-07-26 14:36:28

  57. 2013-07-27 12:21:57

    That's a craaekrjcck answer to an interesting question

  58. 2013-07-27 12:21:59

  59. 2013-07-28 03:59:05

    I was serouisly at DefCon 5 until I saw this post.

  60. 2013-07-28 03:59:07

  61. 2013-07-29 18:13:18

    New Beginner Guitar Class at MusicMakers in Manchester, CT ab Nick Basic guitar tenqhicue; Learning how to read notes on all 6 strings; Learning basic chords and how to read chord charts and lead sheets; Learn how to understand tablature; Basic introduction of Music Theory . Known for being a " communicative player with natural musicality," Nick Cutroneo is an up and coming classical guitarist of the new generation. An active performer, Mr. Cutroneo has played concerts throughout the North East of the United States and Italy.

  62. 2013-07-29 18:13:21

  63. 2013-07-29 19:12:28

    It's a pleasure to find such rattonaliiy in an answer. Welcome to the debate.

  64. 2013-07-29 19:12:32

  65. 2013-08-01 08:21:21

  66. 2013-08-01 18:36:54

  67. best news2013-08-02 17:06:47

    cRJQ1W Awesome blog.Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing.

  68. 2013-08-02 17:06:49

  69. cool linkbuilding service2013-08-08 12:16:58

    15Zp8h Say, you got a nice blog article.Really thank you! Will read on...

  70. 2013-08-08 12:17:00

  71. 2013-08-09 23:42:20

  72. 2013-08-10 17:57:07

  73. 2013-08-10 20:05:32

  74. 2013-08-12 21:12:18

  75. great link buildng2013-08-19 15:08:23

    baILr8 wow, awesome blog.Much thanks again. Cool.

  76. 2013-08-19 15:08:25

  77. awesome links for you2013-08-20 02:48:02

    KZdW8f Thanks so much for the blog article.Much thanks again. Really Cool.

  78. 2013-08-20 02:48:04

  79. great seo service2013-09-04 08:00:47

    ouPSTA Major thanks for the blog post.Thanks Again. Really Cool.

  80. 2013-09-04 08:00:50

  81. ZlpQKoffcYHpBiKZsXr2013-09-11 00:16:14

    Hello guys! I have 20 Minecraft premium accounts that I wont use so I decided to give it away to those of you whom cant afford to buy one. Please send an email to this email:

  82. best place for make money online2013-09-12 00:04:51

    cyVBeY Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic article post.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on...

  83. 2013-09-12 00:04:54

  84. only for 5 dollars2013-09-12 23:04:23

    QjOonk A round of applause for your article post.Really looking forward to read more. Great.

  85. 2013-09-12 23:04:26

  86. only for 5 dollars2013-09-13 10:58:26

    xL4t4Y Muchos Gracias for your blog.Thanks Again. Really Cool.

  87. 2013-09-13 10:58:28

  88. awesome link building2013-09-24 18:53:29

    c95gZa Looking forward to reading more. Great blog.Really thank you! Want more.

  89. 2013-09-24 18:53:31

  90. 2013-10-07 08:52:08

  91. check out these guys!2013-10-15 12:12:57

    mZYD5S Thanks-a-mundo for the blog.Really looking forward to read more. Want more.

  92. 2013-10-15 12:12:59

  93. best link build2013-10-16 02:14:44

    f0paLa Appreciate you sharing, great post.Really thank you! Fantastic.

  94. 2013-10-16 02:14:46

  95. top seo guys2013-10-25 03:21:56

    GHxvIl I really enjoy the blog article.Really thank you! Will read on...

  96. 2013-10-25 03:21:58

  97. smashing top seo2013-10-31 02:20:16

    fxDBDW I really enjoy the post.Thanks Again. Want more.

  98. 2013-10-31 02:20:18

  99. seo service2013-12-14 18:18:38

    BvtL5U Wow, great post.Thanks Again. Will read on...

  100. 2013-12-14 18:18:41

  101. stunning seo guys2014-01-08 12:42:01

    UZYbBP I really like and appreciate your post.Really thank you! Really Great.

  102. 2014-01-08 12:42:03

  103. look at this2014-01-16 03:39:14

    Fsg8Og I am so grateful for your post.Really thank you! Want more.

  104. 2014-01-16 03:39:16

  105. awesome things!2014-02-28 22:22:54

    Dr6B8g Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic post. Keep writing.

  106. 2014-02-28 22:22:56

  107. 2014-03-08 01:57:53

  108. seo for cheap2014-03-22 15:30:30

    ab8M2v Really informative article post.Much thanks again. Fantastic.

  109. 2014-03-22 15:30:32

  110. check it out2014-04-01 15:27:31

    DoHMgW Thanks again for the blog post. Fantastic.

  111. 2014-04-01 15:27:35

  112. 2014-04-07 13:01:03

  113. stunning seo guys2014-04-21 00:51:19

    j23w6n Really enjoyed this article post.Much thanks again. Want more.

  114. 2014-04-21 00:51:22

  115. 2014-05-06 13:01:10

  116. 2014-05-07 14:51:06

  117. seo for cheap2014-05-12 17:28:09

    8XJioH Awesome article.

  118. 2014-05-12 17:28:11

  119. 2014-05-19 22:07:58

  120. 2014-05-21 11:23:52

  121. awesome seo solutions2014-06-04 22:11:52

    QDTy0F Thanks-a-mundo for the blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.

  122. 2014-06-04 22:11:55

  123. nice penalty removal2014-06-18 11:05:31

    Jv8A8G Looking forward to reading more. Great blog post.Really thank you! Keep writing.

  124. 2014-06-18 11:05:33

  125. cheap seo services2014-06-19 10:23:41

    UqoC9e I truly appreciate this blog. Really Cool.

  126. 2014-06-19 10:23:43

  127. nice penalty removal2014-07-03 22:56:53

    tJ3EPf Muchos Gracias for your article post.Really looking forward to read more. Much obliged.

  128. 2014-07-03 22:56:56

  129. 2014-07-18 13:21:55

  130. 2014-07-20 21:58:00

  131. 2014-07-31 08:51:10

  132. crorkz matz2014-08-02 01:11:37

    WZs6k7 I cannot thank you enough for the blog.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on...

  133. 2014-08-02 01:11:40

  134. crorkz2014-08-03 21:26:34

    AnHnaY Say, you got a nice post. Will read on...

  135. 2014-08-03 21:26:36

  136. crorkz matz2014-08-04 23:03:06

    866sNB Thanks again for the blog post.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.

  137. 2014-08-04 23:03:08

  138. 2014-08-23 12:19:47

  139. 2014-10-06 07:35:37

  140. 2014-10-13 01:19:22

  141. 2014-10-14 22:17:59

  142. 2014-10-15 09:55:34

  143. 2014-10-18 16:22:56

  144. crorkz2014-11-23 22:12:04

    aW0O4l I will immediately clutch your rss feed as I can't to find your e-mail subscription link or newsletter service. Do you've any? Kindly let me understand so that I could subscribe. Thanks.

  145. 2014-11-23 22:12:06

  146. 2015-01-01 23:01:17

  147. 2015-01-07 13:36:34

  148. crorkz linkz2015-01-16 03:19:14

    CvpfnZ you've an awesome weblog here! would you prefer to make some invite posts on my blog?

  149. 2015-01-16 03:19:16

  150. 2015-05-01 12:06:37

  151. 2015-07-13 21:48:41

  152. 2015-07-20 16:28:22

  153. 2015-07-25 05:43:36

  154. 2015-07-28 19:16:25

  155. 2015-08-09 23:21:57

  156. 2015-08-11 01:07:35

  157. 2015-08-14 06:56:37

  158. 2015-10-06 00:43:18

  159. 2015-10-23 11:04:49

  160. 2015-10-23 13:49:36

  161. 2015-10-25 08:31:01

  162. 2015-10-25 16:39:25

  163. 2015-10-26 02:29:26

  164. 2016-01-11 21:34:02

  165. 2016-02-05 11:40:31

  166. 2016-02-07 02:49:44

  167. 2016-04-12 01:49:08

  168. 2016-04-18 04:57:19

  169. 2016-05-09 06:11:37

  170. 2016-05-12 03:03:01

  171. 2016-05-31 01:44:41

  172. 2016-06-08 20:01:59

  173. 2016-06-12 15:46:30

  174. 2016-06-13 15:36:03

  175. 2016-06-18 14:00:32

  176. 2016-06-23 04:13:56

  177. 2016-07-05 16:46:58

  178. 2016-07-19 01:03:34

  179. 2016-07-22 02:04:33

  180. 2016-07-28 01:56:53

  181. 2016-08-08 08:41:31

  182. 2016-08-13 14:39:47

  183. 2016-09-12 19:28:47

  184. free pron online2016-10-10 21:29:13

    4Ux3V9 this wonderful read!! I definitely really liked every little

  185. 2016-10-10 21:29:15

  186. 2016-10-12 04:00:38

  187. 2016-11-09 21:09:03

  188. 2016-12-27 06:39:27

  189. 2017-01-15 19:47:44

  190. 2017-02-04 01:35:02

  191. 2017-02-25 20:40:39

  192. 2017-07-05 19:58:05

  193. jeremy abrams2017-07-10 22:07:20

    m5xQDy Of course, what a fantastic website and informative posts, I definitely will bookmark your site.All the Best!

  194. 2017-07-10 22:07:22

  195. 2017-07-22 18:16:59

  196. 2017-07-22 18:17:08

  197. 2017-08-20 21:09:16

  198. 2017-09-04 09:58:55

  199. suba buba2017-11-08 12:14:04

    MGMHGb Wow, wonderful blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is great, as well as the content!. Thanks For Your article about sex.

  200. 2017-11-08 12:14:06

  201. 2018-02-04 09:57:42

  202. 2018-02-20 11:46:42

  203. 2018-05-03 02:49:03

  204. 2018-05-03 04:32:43

  205. 2018-05-03 17:13:57

  206. check this out2018-05-31 03:21:33

    favqcY Valuable info. Lucky me I found your web site by accident, and I am shocked why this accident didn at happened earlier! I bookmarked it.

  207. 2018-05-31 03:21:35

  208. 2018-11-27 12:55:47

  209. 2018-12-10 09:12:02

  210. 2018-12-10 16:03:33

  211. 2018-12-15 13:21:35