Sense of Place

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New developments

As a location theatre festival, Oerol has been operating for years on the line that separates culture and nature; theatre as a layer of imagination over the landscape. Every year, human intervention takes temporary shape, in the form of shows, visual projects and musical performances in the countryside. But Oerol is increasingly the place for developing artistic projects that enter into a long-term dialogue with the countryside; interventions and additions to the landscape that last, rather than simply returning home on the boat once the festival has finished. Read on if you want to know how we will give shape to this laboratory function, this year and in the years to come.

Oerol is a theatre festival on the Frisian island of Terschelling in the north of The Netherlands. For 35 years Oerol has been a haven for theatre producers, landscape artists and multidisciplinary artists who use the versatile island landscape as a stage. The unique setting is what makes this ten-day festival a unique phenomenon in Europe. The exclusiveness of nature and culture are the main focus points of the festival; the beaches, dunes, heather, woodlands, polder, and dikes, as well as the charming villages and hamlets are sources of inspiration, and are used as platforms for site-specific performances and land-art.
The connection with the island has become stronger over the years. Site-specific theatre, expeditions, landscape theatre and nowSense of Place. As the founder and art director of the project, I have made use of the spatial identity of the island and of its community, customs and island feeling. Terschelling inspires artists to work with culture and nature. After 35 years, and with over 50,000 visitors every year, Oerol still proves its value and importance.

During the 90s I developed the Oerol festival and the focus changed from visual theatre to site-specific theatre; the landscape became more and more important. Mapping the landscape, environmental performances – the island as a 21
st century stage.
For me, Sense of Place is the logical next step, as it deals with  human interventions in nature. Nature preservation or self-preservation? Dynamic coastal protection, rising sea levels, environmental control and sustainability. These are terms which we, as human beings, presently use to discuss our environment with all the consequences that they entail.
Sense of Place opens up new horizons for me. My new working space is larger than just that beautiful sandbank enclosed by the sea. A World Heritage site, the Wadden now figures as a stage for cultural landscape development and tidal theatre. It is my duty to develop this concept further, without relying too much on the opinions and expectations of others. Just like Oerol, I use my own artistic compass to lead me there. Sense of Place will inspire, it will be surprising and visionary, and it will awaken the admiration and astonishment of the audience. It encourages the spectator to look at the landscape in a different way. 
According to Marcel Proust: The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”

I spread my wings. I feel like a sea eagle nesting on Terschelling. I fly across the Wadden in search of unique locations, the stories of the shallows, traditions and
 heritage, current affairs, and the future of development in an extraordinary tidal landscape. I translate the elusive, scientific and sometimes political thinking of conservation managers and organisations into art, theatre and knowledge. As a result, I am able to make an involved audience privy to my mission of taking the environment seriously as a stage, as a supply source and as a source of inspiration, through observation and experience.  Through our location, I want to emphasise our spatial identity even more. It has to be a response to social changes and globalisation. After all, people are  once again searching locally for their own place in the world. One’s own identity. Not because of nationalism, but because of awareness.
Because of its island setting, Oerol is a model for others, in a disengaging cultural free state. Sense of Place is the feeling of freedom  communicated through interventions within the landscape. Not only on the island, but also in the World Heritage site of the Wadden. It is the understanding that,  as a result of the constant presencue  of the human touch, Nature and Culture will be the next evolutionary step.
It is nearly 2018, the year that Leeuwarden, capital of the Province of Friesland, will be the Cultural Capital of Europe. By choosing the Wadden World Heritage site as a hinterland, the culture of the city is linked with  its age-old landscape and its young history. It was after the Lucia Flooding of 1287 that the present landscape was formed.  Over the course of time storms and rising sea levels have remained recurring issues, and it is no wonder that it is right here that the so very typically Dutch human battle  against  water originates. Because of this battle , dikes, mud flats and mounds were built, and a  unique form of water control through locks, windmills and storm surge barriers defined  the new landscape.
By focussing  attention on the valuable history and  historical landscape, and by combining this with landscape architecture and land-art, we frame the World Heritage site with a golden edge. This is what Sense of Place is about, thinking from within the landscape, from within the ‘Mienskip’, without becoming rustic. I connect international perspectives with regional and local consequences. This  will stimulate artists and theatre producers to fully integrate the Wadden World Heritage site into their work. We will no longer be merely an international location theatre festival, but a global landscape festival. 
It is my duty to see to the nurturing and embedding of Sense of Place in the bigger perspective; both within Oerol and within the domain of the Wadden World Heritage site by focusing on cultural landscape development. Thinking outside the box is a stimulus for innovation. Science, landscape development and, above all,  thinking from within the perspective of the place where you live, will be invaluable for the future. Sense of Place is a good incentive to view the Wadden World Heritage site from  a new perspective. A perspective that also offers nourishment to new forms of art in exclusive landscapes. 
Sense of Place will be inspirational and not be restrained by narrow-mindedness or by people who operate institutionally. We have to translate the feeling of having your feet in the mud into a conversation in which the artistic vision will be given shape. The only possible way for me to accomplish this is to make my work transparent, to show clearly what Sense of Place represents.
Once in his life, a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands in  every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of noon and all the colours  of the dawn and dusk.” (N. Scott Momaday)

Sense of Place will make the spectator curious by raising questions to which they want to find answers. Sense of Place is about the universal. About the slow, unstoppable processes to  which the Wadden area is subjected, and about intangible values that need to be rediscovered. Sense of Place wants to visualise the invisible changes in the tidal landscape. And not just the physical dynamics but also the beautiful stories and mystical elements of the Wadden area with its hinterland of mounds, dykes, polders, churches, and a special community of farmers and fishermen.

Following these developments, I encourage  new art forms that will eventually give an answer to the consequences of human intervention. Art always raises concerns, the answers need to be verbalised by means of cultural landscape development. Art puts the intervention into perspective, whilst at the same time art is, in fact, itself the intervention.
In this way, Sense of Place becomes the landscape gallery in which  cultural landscape development is made visible to a larger audience. Furthermore, with a cultural route along and through the unique tidal landscape of the World Heritage site, we stimulate the economy of cultural tourism.
 In the Wadschouwburg” Sense of Place creates the floating base that will allow this dance to be fully appreciated. It protects, but also creates, the most beautiful performance of the choreography that was inspired by the landscape. Thou, nature, art my goddess” (Shakespeare, King Lear).
Joop Mulder
Founder and Creative Director Oerol
Art Director Sense of Place.