Home ≠ Third Space
Abstract: Using five poems originally written for the performance Blank Whispers, this text reflects on a situation in which we cannot immerse ourselves in dance and theatre. We are locked up in our homes, and even the privileged can no longer see the world as their home. Our actual homes are more multifunctional than ever, but for this reason, they cannot serve as the Third Space to experience the meaningful interactions the theatre provides. By re-reading and sharing these poems, I hope to revive such an experience.
This text was written in late 2020 and early 2021, at a time when the Netherlands had been in (partial) lockdown for five months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since the theatres closed, we have not been able to forget about our own homes. The theatre is a space where we can temporarily forget about our trivial concerns. We can forget about the world’s problems or reflect on the world at large. We submerge ourselves and, just like with diving, our body feels different. We hear differently, we see things anew, we move in other ways when we have to relate to what is being presented on stage.
While watching a performance on the small screen of my laptop, I cannot ignore the toys on the floor, the dishes on the countertop, the smell of the dinner I just had. I force myself to dive in the deep end but do not even come close to the feeling of drowning I sometimes experience when witnessing live dance performances. The screen feels like a thick fourth wall that both the performers and I are trying to tear down with our nails and voices, without having any tools at hand. Watching dance on screen does not fulfil my needs, and I turn towards the past. Using material from the past for a new iteration, I attempt to look into the applicability of the concepts of the Not-Yet1 and Third Space2 in current times.
In 2018, João Dinis Pinho and I started working on an exchange of dance and poetry. In an ArtEZ studio, we were creating dance-inspired poems and poetry-inspired dance solos. Even though the practice of exchange, of inspiration, of contamination or translation was at the forefront, we still felt it would be good to present what we were working on. In January 2019, we found a perfect opportunity in the festival Come Together #4. We presented a work in progress during this festival titled Blank Whispers (Dinis Pinho and Naafs 2019). We have continued working on this project, though it has been on the back burner. The will to continue working on it grows as the opportunities to do so become rarer.
Since I cannot visit the theatre now, I re-read the poems I wrote for this exchange. Reading them with more distance made me aware of a topic that is emerging from the texts, which I wasn’t aware of before. I am not surprised I did not notice it until now, since we focussed on the process, on being in the moment of interaction. Furthermore, the topic that I now realise is present in the work was perhaps less present in those days: our relation to home. We now spend so many hours a day in our own homes, we are barely confronted by anything else. We started the exchange with one dance solo, created by João and one poem written by me titled, ‘I woke up.’
Being at home, I realise that I am currently trying to stay safe and therefore I had to flee the theatre. There was no dance in this text. It was written in a moment I did not watch dance or think about dance. And we currently do not experience dance, we cannot visit the theatre to watch, we cannot visit the club to move, but reading this text again, I can imagine the solo that João Dinis Pinho created inspired by the poem. In our project, we worked on various ways of translation. I would like to share two poems I wrote inspired by the solo that João created.
The first poem, ‘Ready to run,’ is illustrative of what I do more often. I watch a dance performance and write a poem inspired by it. While writing the poem, I find ways to be carried by what the dance offers, both in potential meaning and in various elements, such as speed, direction, dynamics, etc. The second poem, ‘One man on all fours,’ is a result of forcing myself to step away from interpretation and association and really just trying to describe what the dancer is doing.3
Combining these two poems, I hope to trigger your imagination. Can you see him dance? Can you see him fly?
We find ourselves in a situation we do not and will not control. We do not know when we will get out of this situation. The only sane thing to do is embody the Not-Yet. Let us embody the in-between, the liminality of our current situation. We are becoming, but we do not know what we are becoming. The strategy of embodying the Not-Yet is present in our work as dance artists, as artists in the performing arts. The idea of the Not-Yet has made discursive appearances in religious contexts, and, most recently and locally, in Jeanne van Heeswijk’s exhibition Trainings for the Not-Yet ‘as a series of trainings for a future of being together otherwise.’4
With Van Heeswijk, we can ask what happens when we see the Not-Yet as a goal, not a transitional state which needs to be overcome.
We can question what we create. Do we create theatre or dance, or do we actually create the conditions for meaningful interaction? In that sense, the exchange between João and me is not so different from the exchange between the artist on stage and the audience. Looking back makes me realise that this meaningful interaction is not easy to find at home. I tend to see my home as a place that has meaning and value to me. I tend to see my home as under construction but not necessarily as not-yet. As mentioned earlier, the poem ‘Ready to run’ can be accompanied by another poem inspired by the same dance solo. It shows that if we try and use description to understand what is happening around us, we end up with a totally different understanding, a totally different poem.
This is how we might feel if we try to dance in our living room, our bedroom, our kitchen. We stupidly flap with our arms while being stuck in one place. Our home starts to become more and more like a void. Memories fade and new memories are only very rarely created since we do not have new experiences. We lack the meaningful interaction that is offered to us in the theatre. We miss the creation of new memories, of new images, of new interpretations and associations.
Were we prepared for our current situation? Are we prepared to see our homes as the combined office, museum, theatre, bedroom, living room, park and playground that it has become? Could the embodiment of the Not-Yet have helped in this? The Research Circle, part of the Academy for Theatre and Dance, has written a manifesto to develop the embodiment of the Not-Yet as an approach for creation, teaching and living. The manifesto states the following:
More radically, we see the Not-Yet as both: as always already inherent to performing arts methodologies and as a chance to regard the arts in their relevance to negotiate a future shared society. The Not-Yet is a cross-disciplinary, socio-politically engaged and collaboratively embodied form. It can thereby translate into a spatial concept of the productive in-between.5
We tend to talk about the creative process of theatre and dance as a rehearsal process, but in contrast to what that seems to imply for some, we do not just repeat what is already there. We do not prepare for something specific. The rehearsal space is a space for playing around, for trying and failing, for searching and re-searching. It is a space in which what is there and what is not-yet meet. It can be considered a Third Space. Theatre maker Lotte van den Berg uses this idea in her approach to theatre. She describes Third Space as neither a physical space nor an imaginary one; rather, ‘it is the space in which alternative scenarios for reality are possible.’6
She has taken this idea from Homi K. Bhabha, whose work The Location of Culture introduces this concept as a space where two cultures might meet, be together, but also where the differences are acknowledged. This Third Space ‘may reveal that the theoretical recognition of the split-space of enunciation may open the way to conceptualizing an international culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture’s hybridity.’7
Although political and aesthetic practices in such a Third Space might subvert the postcolonial structures that still prevail, I feel the everyday practice of being at home is harder to use for this. Just as it is harder to experience the space of alternative scenarios while being at home.
Although we can work and study in Arnhem at ArtEZ and therefore practise the embodiment of the Not-Yet in a Third Space to a certain extent, we are still homebound for a large proportion of the day. Based on the initial solo João created in our exchange, I wrote a poem which addresses a missing. The repetitive refrain of the poem is illustrative of my current situation, in which I seem to run on a treadmill trying to escape, trying to run towards the springboard, searching for moments of submersion, of immersion in a Third Space I cannot reach.
Our current situation makes me aware of the privileged space I was in before. I was able to see the world as my home, rather than the house I live in. I was able to roam freely on the commons, ignoring borders, disregarding outdated concepts of possession and instead finding safe spaces everywhere I went. On June 24, 2020—while theatres in the Netherlands were closed—I joined an online version of Impossible Conversation on White Privilege,8 organised by Building Conversations.
In a structure that resembled a contemplative dialogue, we spoke about privileges we have encountered in our lives due to our skin colour. I shared a story of crossing the border to Germany in the train that made me aware of my privilege in mobility9 and my privilege in privacy. The German border control decided to ask people for their passports, but they seemed to only ask people with a darker skin tone than I have. Being able to share this experience and others—in an online situation (for which I paid) with people I know and people I do not know and feeling safe to do so—is a privilege in itself.
My home, my oikos, has been large and spread-out. Thinking of home as oikos makes me aware of the privileges I have, but also makes me aware of not wanting to understand home as oikos. I am in the privileged position of having a fixed contract at a University of the Arts, while many of the alumni of the academy now struggle working on a freelance basis in the performing arts. I can afford my home due to this position, and I can thus make it a safe space for myself and my family. Home should be a safe space, and we can strive for safe spaces outside of our homes, but I am convinced it makes more sense to strive for Third Spaces. This iteration of old material in a new context, re-reading my poetry at home, makes me realise the potential of the concept of Third Space but also of some limitations.
Together, we can create new commons; we can create ground for borderless roaming; we can create rehearsal spaces for the Not-Yet. These might not always be safe, but they might be welcoming enough for us to exchange in a meaningful matter. I will strive for these Third Spaces as chairperson of the Research Circle of the Academy for Theatre & Dance, as a participant in an ECHO training in diversity and inclusion, as a lecturer and tutor one the ArtEZ Bachelor of Dance, as a poet and as a dramaturge. I am privileged. I can still continue writing poetry, though it is more difficult, and I try to write work that might resonate with my reader in a similar way that dance does with me. Perhaps it helps us through this period in which we cannot visit the theatre. I will run, I will crush, I will pace.
At this moment, if the treadmill suddenly stops, I will bump into the walls of my apartment. I might run against the doors trying to escape the place I ought to feel safe in. But chances are I would just step on a Lego brick or a breadstick and end up cleaning up again. In the end, being at home is also being a parent and a partner. Your home can’t be a Third Space since it is not in-between: it is here and now. Being at home also makes me call out for my mother.
This publication was made possible thanks to a wonderful collaboration with João Dinis Pinho and audio recordings by Luc de Groen.
- Academy for Theatre & Dance, Research Manifesto [unpublished]. Arnhem: ArtEZ, 2019.
- Berg, Lotte van den, Third Space, 2020. Accessed November 30, 2020. https://www.thirdspace.nl/en/about.
- Bhaba, Homi K., The Location of Culture. London/New York: Routledge, 2004 (1994).
- Dinis Pinho, João and Jochem Naafs, Blank Whispers. Performed by João Dinis Pinho and Jochem Naafs. Frascati Theater, Amsterdam. January 25 2019.
- Heeswijk, Jeanne van, Trainings for the Not-Yet. Gids, Utrecht: BAK Basis voor Actuele Kunst, 2019.
- Naafs, Jochem, ‘Poetic Feedback.’ In: Drop, Hanke (Ed.) Praktijken van Muzische Professionalisering. Utrecht/Amsterdam: HKU/IT&FB, 2019. Pp. 422-435.
I understand the Not-Yet not as transitional state but as a potential goal, following Jeanne van Heeswijk. From the perspective of the performing arts, the Not-Yet could be seen as the methodology which we apply across our disciplines. The aspect of Not-Yet is not a vague scenario of a future to come, nor a recipe for growth. Instead, the Not-Yet is at the heart of our work—it is both the past and future of our professions, as well as the emphasis on the forever-exploring, the counter-model of the accomplished.
In this article, I refer to the Third Space both as the concept introduced by Homi K. Bhabha to think about postcolonial relations and as the more practical concept used by Lotte van den Berg. I use the term to describe a space that is neither physical nor imaginary.
In the article ‘Poetic Feedback,’ I elaborate on this practice. Jochem Naafs, ‘Poetic Feedback,’ in Drop, Hanke (Ed.) Praktijken van Muzische Professionalisering (Utrecht/Amsterdam: HKU/IT&FB, 2018), pp. 422-435. Available online: https://www.musework.nl/nl/page/6739/poetic-feedback-eng.
Jeanne van Heeswijk, Trainings for the Not-Yet (Gids, Utrecht: BAK Basis voor Actuele Kunst, 2019).
Academy for Theatre & Dance, Research Manifesto [unpublished] (Arnhem: ArtEZ, 2019).
Lotte van den Berg, Third Space, 2020, accessed November 30, 2020, https://www.thirdspace.nl/en/about.
Homi K. Bhaba, The Location of Culture (London/New York: Routledge 2004 ), p. 56.
More information on this format is available here: https://www.buildingconversation.nl/conversation/impossible-conversation-on-white-privilege/.
As of 2021, the Netherlands ranks number four in the Passport Index and number six in the Henley Passport Index.