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Digital Collage of a Breathing World: A glimpse on upsammy & Sjoerd Martens’ A/V show

We talk with upsammy and Sjoerd Martens facing their upcoming performance for Saturday’s Deviant night, a dreamy, flowing sequence of translucent textures that merge sound and light.

Thessa Torsing – better known as upsammy – and Sjoerd Martens share a fondness for the subtle beauty of the apparently trivial. That common ground is where their collaborative work stems from, including a short film about the different life stages of Dutch ship MS Oranje and  their most recent A/V performance, presented for the first time in the last edition of Dekmantel festival.  

As Thessa explains, The basis for our collaboration would be our shared interests, this is why there is such a strong connection between image and sound to begin with. We are both obsessed with details in our everyday surroundings. With an explorative attitude we try to find special places to re-create or remix them later on.”

In an emotional symbiosis, the duo conjure visions of what seem to be childhood impressions. Milky and ever-changing, like confused pieces of dreams. By merging light and sound, they summon a kaleidoscopic whole of translucent textures that offers a glimpse into the intimate way they look at the world.

This specific project started with a request by the Van Gogh museum to make a performance that drew inspiration from one of their exhibitions. [T] “We wanted to use the painterly qualities from those paintings and apply them to a visual and sonic landscape, but more through our own styles and fascinations. Since then the performance has evolved into what it is now: a liveshow that stands more on its own but still with a very strong thematic identity in landscapes and the many shapes a landscape can take on.”

upsammy & Sjoerd Martens performing at Dekmantel 2022.

After compiling source material – footage in Sjoerd’s case and field recordings, sounds and instruments in Thessa’s – they put their work together and tried to find the common space they could build a narrative from, whether this one came from the imagery or from the sculpture-like quality of the sound.

[T] “During this process we often reach a point where we create new places out of existing ones (like mentioned before). This is a sonic place but also a visual one and the idea is that these two really intertwine. A sort of morphing environment arises where we change between scales in place but also in time. The works shows that the concept of ‘place’ can be hyper dynamic and malleable, especially when you include the digital world. Working with digital media and collaging techniques gives us the ability to travel through all these localities and tempos in a poetic way.”

On the visual side, Sjoerd is capable of conveying this, as he puts it, “[…] by listening to the natural environment in which you move, not only with hearing but with as many senses as possible, follow the patterns in light, shapes, textures, and movements that are around us forming the backdrop for us as persons. Trying to examine the memories from the energy around.”

When it comes to sound, Thessa approaches it by trying “[…] to show different layers of explorations at the same time, so the music becomes more of dynamic, sculptural, symbolic, monumental thing. […] I try to explore certain patterns, what do I see, where is it going or where is it coming from? This can be in the city, looking at the way things are structured, exploring different scales or visual markers.”

Their work reconstructs our environment by sewing together different textures and reflections of light. Like pieces of a puzzle made of glitches in the matrix. A sincere, honest narration of the world with a fairytale quality which can only be achieved with eyes of true innocence. No prejudice in looking around. No distorted lens.

[S] This scenery in its totality is not visible as we as individuals move through it, I believe. It is precisely by isolating the various elements from this setting that their extraordinary power emerges. And when I arrange them together as bouquets, precisely their character emerges that was not perceptible before. These bouquets take various forms, from an abstract microscopic perspective to represent precisely the germination of this innocence up to develop recognizable features of some artificiality where the viewer is invited to participate in a yet unknown future perspective.”

The performance comes off as an exercise on lightness: lightness of touch, of weight, of color, of sound. It detaches the burden of the being from the experience of observing one’s surroundings. It lets all the weight drop so you can experience things as clean as they come.

[T] It’s always interesting to explore ways of looking or listening. How far can you zoom in through various scales and times, what does that look or sound like, where do you place yourself in that? Looking at a certain object for example, let’s say a pile of sand, it exists over time. What would that sound like, the sound of this pile of sand over millions, thousands of years? What would it sound like in a split second? What you hear depends on the listener of course, and how they perceive time and place. […] Where does your inner emotional world interact with all the structures of the outside world?”

The whole experience feels like a tender kiss on closed eyelids. Like looking at the diamonds surfacing in a river coated by the sun. Or making your way through a backyard jungle and staring at the moss growing on trees. Eyes laid on the intermittent spaces where nobody looks: the dripping branch over a pond, stripes of an old billboard dancing in the wind, a beetle slowly conquering a colored piece of grass. 

When I asked him what was the intention behind their work, Sjoerd beautifully replied that such a thing was imbued by gratitude towards the ever-changing environment around them. Precisely by showing a viewpoint that seems every day with traces that we leave behind in our habitat – but that sets itself up exceptionally through the atypical narrative and the assemble on a literal stage this time. The hidden beauty and purity of human traces are what I want to immortalize so that they can be experienced differently and infinitely. Consequently, the subjects are no longer taken for granted. It is thus reminiscent of archeology, but with a different purpose and an unconventional meaning. I see it as a sculpture of our heritage that we develop together.”

Overall, this live set opens the eyes of the audience in a very specific way. It brings you back to a moment in life when you could look at the world and see further than the immediate. A moment to be revisited for a brief period of time and cherished, as Aldous Huxley once put it, “for it is good to have seen something of the world with childish eyes, disinterestedly and uncritically, observing not what is useful or beautiful and interesting, but only such things as, to being less than four feet high and having no knowledge of life or art, seem immediately significant.” Nothing less to expect from this Saturday night.