The tabula rasa of Lisette Ros

“Fashion people do their utter best to conceal feelings of emptiness...”


Performance artist Lisette Ros, one of the contributors to our recent New Fashion Perspectives exhibition, likes to confront us with our daily routines. During the festive expo opening, for instance, you might have encountered the artist while she quietly stared into an empty space or asked you questions about your emptiness. Yes, your emptiness. This is how the experiment went down.

Hi Lisette, we saw you walking around in a toned down outfit for the very first time. Weren’t you feeling yourself?

I have been working on my newest research/work lately, and that evening it was the first moment to do a live experiment with myself in that particular space/situation. Just to clarify: this was an experiment for me to be able to continue my research, and no “finished” performance. The empty look was therefore adjusted to the subject of that evening, researching the feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness. It was interesting that, even though I was so totally blank looking, a tabula rasa, to some people I was extremely remarkable (particularly the people who have known me for a while) and to the others just a timid girl in white with some odd behavioral actions. “But hey, that’s artsy right.”

It was interesting to me personally to find out if and how I would adjust my feelings and emotions towards the ‘role’ that I was taking, which was an extreme challenge, because in daily life I am indeed more exuberant, outgoing, loud and bright. I literally toned down my voice and acquired certain ways of behaviour in an attempt to take the next steps in my research. I must admit that the sentence “weren’t you feeling yourself” is quite hard for me to swallow as within a previous performance work ‘INTERVENING SPACE: My Self, the fetus’ I researched the sense of Self and the identification process, concluding that there is no sense of Self possible within the constructed and shaped Western society. This is one of the things I discovered again during this new live experiment, as I adjusted myself so easily into this new ‘role’ and behaviour. It was even hard to get myself back into “the usual”.


What was it that you were doing?

Within my research (current work title: ‘INTERVENING SPACE: het lege ogenblik’) I stagnated at some point; it was clear to me that I needed to get in the field and start experimenting, which is always a part of my methodology. The exhibition was a challenging but perfect location and situation for that, because, in my opinion, the ‘fashion’ people who normally come take on certain ‘roles’ the most, are bored out the most and do their utter best to conceal those feelings of boredom, meaninglessness and emptiness. To be able to take the next step within my research, I wanted to see if and how this public would reflect upon that, how they experience this, and what they know about this subject.

Also, to be able to take a next step within my performance works, I was walking up to the people and interacting with them, instead of them walking up to me in a more static, more clear situation of performance. I wanted to represent a certain type of emptiness, confront myself with this and dive into that feeling; especially because it is one of the vulnerabilities that I struggle with in daily life. I always tend to first confront and disrupt my own feelings and supports, dare my control systems, before I can be able to provoke that with others. So I created two scenarios of questions and started asking questions to people to create a dialogue.

Tell us a bit about how this performance came to be.

Well, in continuation of the previous: I wanted to get into the vibe of this public regarding this subject and to get something from someone, I needed to think about a complementary way to get that. Of course, not forgetting about my own performance techniques of emphasizing, isolation, repetition and over-exaggeration, and to always use a feeling of awkwardness to confront and provoke the spectator (becoming participant).

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What were the results like?

The word ‘results’ is too concluding for me, I would rather speak about insights, for me to be able to continue with my research. It is very clear that people do not expect profundity [towards themselves as a person] in a situation like this, and that lots of them find it very hard and are anxious to adjust to this. It is super interesting to see how easy it is to get people out of their comfort zones and to make them feel uncomfortable. Though, ironically enough, most of the unconscious participants first started to feel sorry/mercy for me, and tried to comfort me, while after a while it became all of a sudden more obvious that they were part of the dialogue, that I was talking about them as well. Some of them could handle that, and reflect upon that, but lots of them chickened out because of the confrontation and profundity with their own feelings and daily lives.

How do you reflect on that?

I know one thing: I need to redo this live experiment at different types of spaces, in other situations and with different types of public. Also, it is interesting to see how my friends and acquaintances responded to me as opposed to strangers. I am going to experiment more with even less; so other techniques, less oddity, other questions… Those to me are the next steps to dive into and experiment with, in order to find out more about our routine behaviour, society and personal control systems.

Words and photography by Michelle Janssen

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