This talk presents some reflections on the close affiliations between scenography and ecology, inspired by the original book The Sympathy of Things, in which architect Lars Spuybroek locates the ecological potential of design in the affective resonances between humans and their built environment. Following his inquiry into matter-in-making, the talk traces similar resonances in the realm of scenography. Taking the work of Flemish artist Benjamin Verdonck as a point of departure, especially his fondness for seemingly trivial matter and ordinary ‘stuff’, this talk suggests that theatre facilitates ecological thought and awareness in the creation of affective liaisons, generated by ‘material thinking’. Apparently focusing on the incredibly small and the seemingly unimportant, Verdonck tackles pressing climatic and societal challenges, by asking how we take care of (things in) our environment and what are qualities immanent in affective relationships and material thinking. Material thinking is understood here, as a process-oriented mode of thinking that stems from working with objects, spaces, bodies and environments, and ‘workings between’ objects and materials. Assemblage, affect, material thinking: this is where scenography and ecology meet, in drawing attention to the affective entanglements of humans, objects, materials and environments, and our capacity for care-taking and being-in-connection.
Liesbeth Groot Nibbelink is Assistant Professor in Theatre and Performance Studies at the Media and Culture Studies Department of Utrecht University. Her research interests include dramaturgy and scenography, spatial theory, performance ecology and new materialism, and performance philosophy. She is the author of Nomadic Theatre: Mobilizing Theory and Practice on the European Stage (Bloomsbury 2019) and has contributed to (among others) the volumes Ranciere and Performance (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021), Thinking Through Theatre and Performance (Bloomsbury 2019), and Intermedial Performance and Politics in the Public Sphere (Routledge 2018). At Utrecht University, she coordinates the Master programme in Contemporary Theatre, Dance and Dramaturgy. She also teaches in the RMA Media, Art and Performance and the BA Media and Culture Studies programmes of the department. In 2013, she co-founded Platform-Scenography, an open-source platform for scenographers and dramaturgs that seeks to stimulate reflection on scenography. She is also active as a dramaturg and artistic adviser.