Site-specific installation, mixed media, Kortrijk Triennial, 2021, Schouwburg Kortrijk (BE), room-filling set-up
The dream image of ‘Paradise’ may have never come so close. Sarah Westphal lies paradise at the visitor’s feet in the scenic installation Forêt océanique. Through this installation, she reflects on today’s world by working with the historical opera decor Forêt asiatique (1921), as painted by Albert Dubosq (1863-1940) for the opera Lakmé (1883) by Léo Delibes. The tropical forest breaths the atmosphere of the orientalism of the Belle Epoque. The original set was protected in 2018 as one of the Flemish Masterpieces and is part of the largest collection of historical theater sets in Europe (in Stadsschouwburg, Kortrijk).
In the installation Forêt océanique the visitor is immersed in the completely empty and dark ballroom; all the seating is removed to allow the playing field to extend far into the dark hall. For the scenic installation Westphal composed a film, a special light setting and a selection of the decor pieces into a well thought-through staging with a mirroring floor. The reflection evokes a sense of water and blends reality with illusion, mingles analogue images with digital ones and light with matter. In the film the gigantic arms of octopuses, their wiggling bodies, as well as water reflections and dust particles intertwine with the exotic forest.
In this installation, the impressive decor no longer creates an exclusive setting for human events or actions (the set cannot be used for any opera or theatrical performance since it was included in the Flemish Heritage List). In Forêt océanique the decor, now is a magical underwater paradise where octopuses play the leading role. In their cave-like wilderness, they dance according to their own rhythm, in a continuous movement that symbolizes things in the making, yet where the constant is the change. Co-creating with their tentacles to appropriate the world, they perform images.
In this vision, modern thinking of being able to control nature has been replaced by a new conception, in which humankind is only a small component of a complex ecosystem. Instead of seeing other living beings as the material backdrop to the drama of human life, the stage set, just like the visitor, has become one of many participants. All are agents immersed in this fluid world and entangled into this big atmospheric sea, this forêt océanique.