Antechamber – Feast of performances
Antechamber @ Ledreborg slot, 18.09.2021 – by Ivna Franić
Announced with a description that seemed simultaneously clear and cryptic, Antechamber promised to gather “thirteen local and international artists for a collective performance and banquet within the baroque interior of Ledreborg Slot.” The arrival at Forum in Copenhagen, the designated pick-up spot for the organized afternoon ride to the castle, was no less perplexing, with only a handful of us getting on the bus amidst a huge crowd of drunken people wearing funny costumes. (Apparently, this is what dart championships look like. As the great Alanis Morissette said – you live, you learn.) As the bus took off and left the freaks and geeks behind, we got to enjoy the ride to Ledreborg castle, its forty minutes offering just about enough time to try and anticipate what the event might look like. A long, tree-lined avenue led us to the late 18th century castle, which up-close looked somewhat less monumental than expected.
The first thing the visitors could see was an installation by Sonja LaBianca and Heine Thorhauge Mathiasen. Located in the large family hall, where nobility portraits look down on you from every corner of the room, “Spinning Fourth” was comprised of four speakers mounted on rotating pedestals. The sound combined ambient and string music with field recordings that seemed to have been taken precisely at this place, such as the sound of footsteps climbing the stairs and the old wooden floor creaking. The sound of whip crack soon interrupted the installation sound, inviting the audience outside to investigate. In an intriguing performance by Lia Mazzari and Sholto Dobie, the large castle ground got punished in a whipping treatment of sorts, as did the castle walls and whatever else came in Mazzari’s way. The pair also made use of Ledreborg’s bizarre speakers camouflaged as stones and spread around the yard.
“All the performances were developed specifically for Antechamber,” I’m later told by curators Max Shamash and Sholto Dobie, a New Yorker and a Scot who’d previously put on events together in London. As a site-specific event set to take place in a country where neither of the two main organizers live full-time, Antechamber was a long time in the making. “The idea sprung from Ledreborg and was formed and informed over the past three years by our relationship with the building and the caretakers who live there,” the organizers say. For Shamash and Dobie, as non-Danish residents, it took a while to find partners with whom they could work on applications for local funding. They list some of the local contacts that helped bring the event about: “Curator Malou Solfjeld and man of many talents Claus Haxholm helped us to plan and organise over the years. The Lake Radio were up for a live broadcast, and venues and organisations like ALICE, Museet for Samtidskunst, the Danish Art Foundation, and SNYK, although not directly involved in the execution, helped us navigate the terrain.”
And then, of course, there was the global pandemic. Initially getting in the way of putting on a live event, the pandemic eventually provided them with more time to develop ideas for the event and to strengthen the relationship with the caretakers at Ledreborg. As Dobie concludes, “in retrospect, it was probably for the best.”
Some pieces and roles were conceived years ago, while others were developed on the spot, in the days before the performance, such as Judith Hamann’s site-specific cello piece. As Dobie explains, “All the international artists stayed for six nights and the local artists stayed at the castle for the last two nights before the performance, so we really had a chance to develop work in situ and build on the relationships between the pieces. The varying timeline of the works added richness, I think.”
Judith Hamann’s solo cello offering occupied a large room furnished only with old ornate golden chairs. She stood in the centre of the room, playing the cello and slowly rotating around her axis. Surrounding her were several of the golden chairs, which were arranged in a square around her, each chair occupied by a stone. The audience got to sit or stand on the edges of the room, enjoying Hamann’s beautiful, uninterrupted performance. It was pretty much a perfect way to wind down after Xenia Xamanek’s and Varnrable’s intense show that had just taken place next door.
In terms of today’s internet lingo, those two definitely understood the assignment. Xamanek and Varnrable made themselves at home in a luxurious room full of tapestries, furnished with gold-red chairs and sofas, and glass cabinets stacked with fancy crockery. We all had to take our shoes off before entering the castle, presumably because the place was so old and filled with fragile things. It was funny, then, to see Xamanek and Varnrable blasting the bass so hard that, at one point, the glass cabinet started trembling and the crockery almost went all Beauty and the Beast. Going from a relatively calm, ambient start, their performance ultimately erupted into raging beats blended with hysterical laughter, descending into a vengefully decadent mania.
At several points during the show, each of them lit an incense stick, in what looked like a ritual of purifying the space, presumably of the castle’s ties – both figurative and real – to Denmark’s colonial history. The whole performance depicted the sense of bewilderment that probably comes with developing a work in a space that – as impotent as it is in its modern-day preserved form – inevitably signifies the horrors that such luxury is usually built upon. One of the highlights was when Varnrable sang about escaping to the countryside and being met with reactions that went something along the lines of: “People look at me/ You can’t be from this country, right?”
At some point, Xamanek’s and Varnrable’s music merged with Hamman’s, and the whole castle interior was submerged in a cacophony of sounds. Claus Haxholm’s organ performance at the castle’s impressive chapel, followed by a reading by poets Nat Marcus and Zoe Darsee, made for a delicate ending to a string of performances that took place in this wing of the castle. There was, however, one more point to the event’s program: a banquet waiting for us in the family portrait hall, back where we’d started this peculiar journey.
Involving performance and food alongside music has been a common feature of Shamash’s and Dobie’s events. When it comes to Antechamber in particular, throwing an event at a castle just wouldn’t have been complete without ending with a feast. “Ledreborg has this beautiful historical kitchen with three generations of cooking tools, so we had it in mind to incorporate a feast of sorts into the event,” Dobie says. Prepared by Vilnius-based cooks Jonas Palekas and Kotryna Butautytė, the rich dinner full of unusual dishes indeed had the marks of a feast. An opportunity to meet new people and get involved in conversations surrounding you felt like the cherry on top of a day spent with a group of people gathered around this particular occasion. The audience size that might have seemed humble at the meeting point back before the start of the event, ultimately turned out to be just perfect for navigating and occupying the castle’s many chambers throughout the day, as well as for filling the seats available at the final feast.
The banquet brings us to another essential aspect of Antechamber. Save for a bar selling drinks during the day, everything else was free of charge – from event tickets, through the organized bus ride from Copenhagen to Ledreborg Slot in the afternoon and back in the evening, all the way to the delicious dinner. Thanks to public funding, Shamash and Dobie were able to realize the event in the way they’d wanted to.
“It was important to keep the event as accessible as possible. We never wanted to ticket the event; it would have given it a whole different vibe. We also knew it wouldn’t be easy to get people out of town to Ledreborg, so we wanted to remove as many obstacles as possible,” they say. While the idea of putting accessibility first might not be new nor radical, it’s definitely something that would be nice to see more of, especially in music and arts scenes with access to decent public funds. In weird times such as these, when the audiences are starving for any type of live experience, really, such a well-rounded event as Antechamber may well serve as an inspiration for other small festivals and gatherings.
Editor’s note: Claus Haxholm is a frequent contributor to Passive/Aggressive.