Transform Festival: Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue, created and performed by Belgian theatre artists, Silke Huysmans and Hannes Dereere, is an evocative documentary theatre show about the world of deep-sea mining.

The performance was part of Transform 23 an international performance festival held in Leeds between the 11 and 22 October 2023. The Festival itself was part of LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture, and sought to showcase a range of performances across several different genres, to encourage people to think about how we might live differently together.

Silke Huysmans and Hannes Dereere are known for their exploration of social, political and ecological topics in their performances. They use scientific examination, interviews and fieldwork to undertake research and then apply journalistic and documentary elements within theatre to share their findings and stories with their audiences.

Out of the Blue was part of a trilogy of performances about mining that the duo has created over recent years. Mining Stories was the first of the trilogy, premiered at the Bâtard Festival in Brussels in 2016. Mining Stories was about one of the biggest ecological mining disasters that has ever occurred, and was set in Brazil, where Silke grew up. The second performance in the series was Pleasant Island, which premiered at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels in 2019. In this performance, the impact of colonization and mining on Nauru, which was once a paradise in the Pacific, was shown.

Out of the Blue is the third and final piece in the trilogy.

In Out of the Blue, which Silke and Hannes premiered at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in May 2022, the
future of mining is explored.

I attended the performance in a studio of Leeds School of Arts, on Friday 20 October.

After chatting for a few minutes with other attendees, we were invited to make our way to the studio space where we found our seats and made ourselves comfortable. None of us was sure what to expect, but we didn’t have to wait long to find out because Silke and Hannes arrived, sat down at their computers at the desks on the stage, and the performance began. The lights dimmed, music played, and a poem was shared with us on one of the huge screens in the space. This poem, ‘The Observers’, set the scene for what we were about to experience – a presentation of the story that Silke and Hannes had witnessed – three ships, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, all with a focus on the feasibility of deep-sea mining.

The three ships were all there for different reasons: One ship was that of a large Belgian company testing out a new robot that could dive to depths of over 4km to retrieve rocks containing precious metals from the seabed. Another was
working with the Belgian company to record their progress and assess any impacts of the mining process to the deep-sea ecosystem and ocean environment. The third ship was that of Greenpeace, who were there to protest the testing and capture the work to share with the rest of the world.

Hannes and Silke had managed to speak with people on all three boats and record videos and images of the work. Out of the Blue told the story of the three ships and their work over several weeks. The performance was carried out using a journalist format with interviews and conversations overlayed with imagery and music. We heard from people working on all three boats, with recordings of interviews with the CEO of the Belgian company, chief scientists on the partner boat and members of Greenpeace.

Through this thought-provoking performance, which lasted 60 minutes, the challenges that we face considering an emerging industry, deep sea mining, were shared. We learnt how only ten percent of the ocean surface has been mapped and explored, and yet it is at great risk from mining because of the ongoing need for more metals to support the transition to carbon neutrality (think lithium, cobalt and nickel for batteries in electric cars). We also heard from both sides of the argument – from the company CEO about the pressing need for more materials to quench the thirst for a reduced focus on fossil fuels, and from Greenpeace staff about their concerns for the impact of mining on the environment and living organisms in the deep sea.

I thought that the performance was well executed, and a great way to share a complicated story. It was also highly thought-provoking. My partner and I chatted about it and the pros and cons of deep sea mining all the way back home. We both thought that the impact of the performance would probably be greater if shared with those who have an influence on the policies and practices around deep sea mining, but both thought that it was successful in sharing information and doing so in an interesting and unusual way.

Overall, I enjoyed the performance and left feeling as though I had learnt more about the topic of deep sea mining, although I left feeling conflicted about what alternatives there are for obtaining the materials that the world is in such need of. I will certainly look out for other performances by Silke and Hannes, and also do some more research into deep sea mining so I can be more informed about it as an emerging industry. I would also recommend that others look out for their performances as it was a new style for me, and one I enjoyed. I expect others would enjoy it, too.

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