Unfolding fields of interaction with health, life, loss and death

Our guest curators Helen Medland and Tim Harrison from the SICK! Festival, and Barbara Raes are embracing difficult topics and are dedicated to revealing urgent physical, mental and social challenges. They are hopeful that the arts have the power to create new ‘transitional’ spaces.

The proposal of this year’s block is to accompany and get inspired by Helen, Tim and Barbara on their changing professional journeys. As practitioners in the performing arts they have deliberately chosen to acknowledge personal (painful) life events and use them as a catalyst to transform their work quite radically.

What they share, despite their very different background and present occupation, are at least two issues that are at the foundation of this block: First, they both have become pioneers in involving a wide range of experts from different fields in their work, and in creating bridges between contemporary performance, larger audiences and every day life. And second, they are both deeply concerned about the effect of the post-industrial society on our personal well-being, that tends to make people sick or doubt about the meaning of their lives.

The DasArts (DAS Theatre) block takes place from 18 January until 1 April 2016 in Amsterdam, Manchester, Brussels and Antwerp.

Guest curators

Helen Medland is the CEO/Artistic Director of SICK! Festival, a two week long international arts festival exploring new ways of dealing with the challenges of life and death. With over 25 years of experience working across performance disciplines including theatre, dance, music and live art, Helen has been the driving force behind the creation and growth of The Basement from 2002. In 2011, drawing on both personal experience and curatorial aspirations, Helen founded SICK! Festival which brings together an international programme of theatre, dance, contemporary performance, film, literature and visual arts, with perspectives from academics, clinical practitioners, health care professionals and charities. 

Tim Harrison has a PhD in Art History focussing on the relationship between arts and science in the 19th Century and over 13 years experience of working in contemporary arts organizations. He has worked at The Basement since 2009 as Director of Development working closely with the Artistic Director Helen Medland on the artistic programme, leading on the strategic planning of organisational development and the creation of new projects and fundraising from a wide range of sources. Since 2012 he has worked alongside Helen Medland developing and delivering SICK! Festival. 

Barbara Raes was a dance programmer at the arts centre Vooruit (Ghent). She co-created the new arts centre BUDA in Kortrijk. From 2011 onwards she was the artistic director of Vooruit. In September 2014 she left the arts sector with her text ‘Stralend opbranden’ (‘Radiantly burning out and stacking stones’). Barbara has been trained as a funeral celebrant at Green Fuse in Totnes (UK). Presently she is a researcher at the School of Arts in Ghent, KASK, for the project OPEN EINDE (Open End), an interdisciplinary research about the development of mental and physical spaces for new farewell- rituals in society. She has also started her own practice ‘Beyond The Spoken’, a workspace to develop alternative rituals for unacknowledged loss.

SICK! Festival with Helen Medland and Tim Harrison

The first thread of this block introduces the DasArts students to the curatorial practices of SICK! Festival (Manchester, UK) which is seeking to bridge the gap between art and life, and combines a thematic approach focusing on the physical, mental and social challenges of life and death, with a process that involves a wide range of experts and social groups in the development, presentation and reflection on the festival programme.

Thematics: Identity & Trauma 
Over the past three years SICK! Festival has explored a range of issues relating to Understanding and Representing Trauma, including themes such as mental illness, abuse, death, suicide and social inequalities. Looking towards the next festival in 2017, the festival looks to explore issues of identity, with a particular focus on the role of trauma in the creation of personal and social identity. The investigation will embrace a broad understanding of identity incorporating perspectives from biology, psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, the arts and humanities. Running through all of these areas has been an investigation into narrative and its limitations.

Guest teachers and conversation partners: David Woods (Ridiculusmus), Kim Noble, Hetain Patel, Jackie Stacey ao.


The clinical psychologist Paul Verhaeghe describes in ‘The effects of meritocracy on identity and interpersonal relations’ (2011) how in our Western society, communities and social cohesion disappear as a result of an ever getting harder and individualizing and polarizing climate. A symptom of this individualizing climate is a remarkable new way of dealing with values and norms. Those are in our post-industrial society no longer driven by institutional representatives, and large structures, such as the Church, but are more and more individually chosen, thereby strongly influenced by the media.

With the disappearance of traditional institutions and the traditional forms to celebrate ‘rites/moments of passage’ in life, comes the search for alternatives. There is a clear need for the development of new physical and mental spaces for new (transitional) rituals in our society today.

The second thread of this block centralizes around the major themes: transition - (renewed) ritualization - unacknowledged loss. On the one hand our society is full of fear, alienation, agitation and without any social cohesion; and on the other hand an increasing feeling that something is missing. Globalisation paralyses people in the idea that the world became to big to be able to change something together; whilst actually so many people are looking for meaning, security, togetherness or a collective (sub) consciousness.

The focus will be on the flow of the ritual. We will make a curve from the ritual for death, the funeral, the flow of the funeral, the knowledge of loss and losing, the importance of transition, compassion to unacknowledged loss. 

Guest teachers and conversation partners: Kris Verdonck, Valentine Kempynck, Koen Van Synghel, Mette van der Sijs, Robert Steijn, Leentje Vandenbussche, ...