In Diane Mahín and Manuel Groothuysen’s video performance COME TO BED, two bodies are trapped in a tangle of electrical cables. Subjected to a strange force, the creatures keep repeating each other’s words and slips of the tongue. Communication thus becomes utterly impossible. In this alienating universe, Mahín and Groothuysen explore how determinism can be represented linguistically and visually. Determinism is the idea that our behaviour -and in this work also our language utterances and bodies- are completely determined by background causes and past events, over which we have no control and of which we are mostly unaware.

What if your previous sentence inevitably determines your next one? And even determines the next sentence of those around you? The creatures in the trip-
tych stammer, stutter and bellow. They grind words between their teeth and spit them out in front of them. Although they are -linguistically and physically- intertwined, they cannot look at or feel each other. The confusion of speech and cramped posture drives them into a grim loneliness: “I can’t think of anything heavier than the brain of a human being.” 

Mahín and Groothuysen adapted for this film a text from the work Us Dead Talk Love (2012) by British contemporary artist Ed Atkins. The static and unfree -because predetermined- position of the creatures is reflected in the imagery of physical deterioration and stasis, as in “corpses on a defeated congress”, “the decay of brains” or “a bundle of genitals: unkempt, ragged, swollen and ligatured” The text also bulges with dark absurdist humour, self-mockery and self-compassion that is supposed to offer comfort to the creatures; “are you smelling your nails now?”.

“Am I free to do that which does not occur to me? Of course not (21).” In Free Will (2012), neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris argues that accepting free will as being an illusion can lead to greater self-reflection, compassion and, paradoxically, greater creativity in how we deal with our determined position. According to Mahín and Groothuysen, only surrendering to the role into which previous choices have pushed us can offer a way out of existential pain. In COME TO BED, this happens together with the realisation that the other is also trapped and has no freedom of choice over his senses or actions, but we still influence each other’s actions and mental state. Thus, although the call for contact and understanding - “I want someone to sit there”- cannot be answered, we are still inextricably linked. It remains to be seen whether the creatures in COME TO BED achieve that surrender. Perhaps the phrase “Come to bed” is just a sigh of resignation and imperturbability. An escape into passive self-pity. However, it may also indicate a desire to live life together. Knowing that mutual incomprehension is unbridgeable.

Text written by Astrid Soetewey

Playground Festival 2023, STUK Leuven [BE]
Image by Joeri Thiry

concept, performance, direction: Manuel Groothuysen en Diane Mahín
camera: Julia Schmitz
set-assistance: Liz Abels
texts edited and translated from: 'A Primer for Cadavers' by Ed Atkins. Copyright Ed Atkins, 2016, courtesy the artist and Fitzcarraldo Editions.