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Me, Myself and I

Nóra Bükki Gálla

How far can you stretch your boundaries is the question Flemish performer Sarah Vanhee presents to us in her lecture about strangeness. We like to see it as a sociology or political issue but if we dig deeper, we find other aspects to complement the picture. Fragmented as it is, it still adds up to a kind of Dorian Gray portrait – you end up looking at yourself in the mirror with all your past mistakes and possible futures written on your face, block capitals.

Depending on our ethical taste and sensitivity for social nuances we can still live with this image; the bold ones can even try to justify our inability to deal with pressing issues of immigration, frustration based nationalism and a complete and total unwillingness to communicate with the Other. (Oh sure; if we did communicate, we could end up coming to an understanding, Heaven forbid a consensus. But let’s not get lost in the labyrinth of idiotic idealism.) So. Being European we find scientific approaches comfortable; it doesn’t intrude into our neatly crafted little world of stereotypes which protect us but doesn’t leave us a lot of room to maneuver. Still Vanhee’s ideas and comparisons work: you don’t have to look to someone else to find a stranger. The stranger can be living in your skin – just think of auto immune diseases or a ‘simple’ heart implantation. So on one hand you have to be quick to identify possible danger (if not, you’ll catch a flu or wake up one morning looking around and finding yourself in Chinatown) but on the other hand not make rash judgements of what is strange and what isn’t, because you can easily end up having cancer or cutting your arms and feet. (Like you say: This morning they looked so strange, so I just got rid of them. One never knows with these arms and legs, you know.)

Vanhee collects these ideas and puts them in perspective by showing us film footages and street interviews. She glues the pieces of collage with comments and explanations and does not even want to go beyond the formalities of a lecture-like presentation. She concludes with a video of herself (she actually talks of herself in the third person which combines personal-ness with a kind of distance). Finishing with a poetic text about the love and hate relationship between the Stranger and Me leaves a kind of vacuum in the air. The audience was hesitant to applaud – was this the end? Something is still missing for a lot of us. Of course have to see our own Dorian Gray images, however ugly or nonresponsive they are. The act of confrontation is there, Sarah Vanhee Gray, I don’t doubt that. But did you get the knife out and slash your portrait? I wonder.

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