Artist Julian Hetzel likes to look for painful contrasts in his work. In debt factory as a spectator, you were shown around a soap factory that, with part of its profits, made possible water wells in the Democratic Republic of Congo – a metaphor for ‘charity’ washing our colonial debt clean. In all inclusive A maddened curator defended the works in her gallery’s commitment to a group of refugees from war zones—then enticing the public to buy merchandise based on human suffering.

In There will be light – the first series of which was shown in The Hague at the end of April and which can also be attended at SPRING throughout the festival – Hetzel once again casts a critical eye on social relations, but now more than in his previous performances he also looks for to alternatives. In the new work, in each performance series one person is chosen from a group of seventy ‘applicants’ who will receive a basic income of 1,250 euros per month for a year. “To be able to think about an alternative world at all, you need mental space. But a lot of people are only concerned with survival because they live in such precarious economic conditions. That’s why we thought: what if we could make room for a number of people? When I started figuring out with my business leader how we could give away some of our budget as basic income, we all ran into legal and tax hurdles: our system makes it much easier to accumulate money than to give it away.”

In the conversations about money, hope and a dignified existence, space is created for new perspectives – and that is precisely the value of art and theater for me.

Hetzel and his team issued an open call through various channels: anyone could register, according to the ‘first come, first served’ system. “Also during the first seven days of SPRING, there will be twenty-minute public discussions between the jury and the applicants. The jury members try to get a picture of an applicant on the basis of a questionnaire. At the end of the day, they choose one participant who will advance to the last day, where the ultimate winner will be chosen.”

Image from the performance There Will be Light
Photo Dana LaMonda

That jury consists of homeless people from Utrecht. “To discover another system, we have to turn the world upside down. That’s why we let people who themselves live in great precarity decide who gets the money. When you have to argue to homeless people that you need a basic income, the urgency really becomes tangible. At the beginning of the series in The Hague, the homeless in the conversations were still shy, but they grew more and more into their role, because suddenly other people listen to them, answer their questions and depend on their decision, instead of that their lives are always being controlled by others.”

The setup may sound like a game show, but Hetzel has avoided sensationalism as much as possible. “During the process, we removed all the show elements, until all the focus was on the meeting between participants, jury and audience. In the conversations about money, hope and a dignified existence, space is created for new perspectives – and that is exactly the value of art and theater for me.”

Also read: With artist Julian Hetzel, the spectators become accomplices

There Will Be Light can be seen at the SPRING Festival from 12 to 20 May.

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