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Rudder, Performance for a Tug, a Port, and a Museum by Max Couper
Quayside in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (MUHKA) 1996

With the University of Antwerp (RUCA), the City of Antwerp, MUHKA, Studio Herman Teirlinck acting academy, and the Port of Antwerp

The performance took place at night in November and consisted of the tugboat pulled out of the water, nine dancers and semaphorists, four television actors and one professor as speakers, and a soundtrack.

The speakers engaged in a debate in English, Dutch, German, French, and Latin. They assumed the roles of four archetypes based around the historical figures of Erasmus, Descartes, Kant, and Henry Ford. Each archetype and text represented four historical areas of influence on the present. These were ethics, philosophy, science, and business.

The dancers performed over a large area of the quayside. Their body language interpreted the texts and assisted with the communication between the different languages. The overall performance was directed by Max Couper from the wheel of his tugboat by turning the rudder, which had two powerful spotlights attached to it. Around the venue was a quadraphonic soundtrack of layered mechanical sounds constructed from the noises of the boat’s machinery. On the roof of the museum was a semaphorist, who was communicating by flags with another semaphorist on the ground. Additional ambience was created by the movement of lights and sounds from ships in the port behind and a dramatic atmosphere of driving wind.

This artwork dealt with questions of communication and history combined with the idea of involving a variety of one city’s institutions in a single event. It was conceived from a simple analogy: that society is steered from behind by history in the same way that a boat is steered by its rudder.

The event had grown from a collaboration between Max Couper, an artist interested in structures and mechanisms, and Emile Vanlommel, a university vice-chancellor and economist interested in art. Their joint aim was partly a perpetuation of the concept of the university as a place in which ideas can connect in universality and polarity to one another. Their collaboration, which grew into a further association with other professors and staff of the university and a free interpretation with dancers and the sound artist Ward Weis, was an organic process. It eventually led to an artwork in which the academic ideas were tempered by the unexpected broader poetry of the final event.

The Historial Rudder,
University of Antwerp (RUCA), 1996.
Thematic flowchart and simplification model. Pen on paper, reversed
From a seminar by Max Couper with the students of Professor Vanlommel, project collaborator, during residence at the university whilst collaborating on the texts of the Rudder performance

In collaboration with Professor Dr Emile Vanlommel

Actors: Karen Vanparijs, Ludo Busschots, Caroline Van Gastel, Nick Skeens,
Professor Emeritus Clem Neutjens

Movement and Dance: Sanderijn Helsen, Kristien De Proost, Stijn Cole, Stijn Van Ostal,
Eva Schram, Nele Goosens and Geert Rampelberg of Studio Herman Teirlinck; Daniel Vidovsky; Carlos De Haro

Coordination: Veerle Emboo

Research: Glenn Rayp; Professor Verluyten and Theo Joos of RUCA; Michael Oukhow

Choreography: Toon Van Ishoven

Sound: Ward Weis

Photographs: Michael Wiegandt

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