Click on the image and listen to the actor’s voice as he plunges into the deep, dark there, where – as Gertrude Stein put it – there is no there.
Voice: Jeroen Van der Ven | © image: Laura Van Severen

This is an image from Simple as ABC #2: Keep Calm & Validate, a documentary stage musical on the digitization of migration management, based on interviews with officers and officials working for several European institutions and agencies.

Among other things, the play was triggered by a paragraph from a European Commission staff working document on the fingerprinting of migrants:

If the data-subject still refuses to cooperate it is suggested that officials trained in the proportionate use of coercion may apply the minimum level of coercion required, while ensuring respect of the dignity and physical integrity of the data-subject, as specified in an approved procedure for taking fingerprints.

Starting from this notion of people as “data-subjects,” as readable carriers of measurable identities, the play proceeds in 2 discernible parts, which both address you in very distinct ways. In the first part, a speculative monologue, an actor speaks to a collective “you” of theater-going citizens. In the second part, which consists of interviews with border managers set to music, two actors and four musicians sing to a collective “you” of border-crossing migrants.

At the beginning of the first, non-musical part, the actor enters an empty, slowly revolving stage and invites you to an imaginary, early-morning stroll along the EU’s external border. Gradually, the revolving stage picks up the pace, while the actor struggles to keep his balance and get a grip on a borderscape that is increasingly non-local, virtual and vertical.

Thomas Bellinck is an artist and theatre maker.

His futuristic-historical museum Domo de Eŭropa Historio en Ekzilo (2013), detailing life in the former European Union, has traveled from Brussels to Rotterdam, Vienna, Athens and Wiesbaden and is now set to open in Marseille.

As a doctoral researcher in the arts at KASK/School of Arts (HoGent), Thomas is currently working on Simple as ABC, a series of performances and installations scrutinizing the Western Migration Apparatus.

The second instalment, Simple as ABC #2: Keep Calm & Validate, with music by Joris Blanckaert, was presented at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts 2017 and other places, and is currently touring Europe.

Thomas Bellinck, ”Simple as ABC #2: Keep Calm & Validate” Stedelijk Studies Journal 6 (2018). DOI: 10.54533/StedStud.vol006.art05. This contribution is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.