Creating a portrait of Miet Warlop would be impossible. How could you pin down someone whose essence is so mobile? You could call her restless, but fluid would be a better word. It is as if she finds herself in a vortex, and is resisting getting sucked in. No – it’s more like she herself is the vortex, searching for the centre, and simultaneously spinning outwards in ever widening circles. Perhaps restlessness is her strategy for unmasking both herself and the world around her time and again, sowing seeds of doubt and seeing things from another perspective. Her weapons are humour and the ability to laugh at herself. When we talk about love, she lights up and speaks of a man with long legs and curly hair. This woman has so much energy, a lust for life, despair but above all passion. And when we start talking about work, she claims that theatres are not keen on her because she always arrives with a truckload of stuff and then leaves the stage in a mess.
Oscar van den Boogaard: Where are you in your life?
Miet Warlop: I’m leaving for Thailand tomorrow to take boxing lessons and get a rest. During the past year, I’ve been touring with Mystery Magnet and developed a new act, which wasn’t always an easy process. I’m suffering from a bit of mental exhaustion, because I’ve been dealing with a lot lately. Perhaps things are changing, or perhaps it’s me who’s changing. I spent a long time trying to be the strong person who could take on anything and for once I’m admitting that I can’t cope any more. On top of everything else, my heart was being broken much too slowly, in a torturous rhythm, bit by bit, until there was nothing left. Everything came to a halt. I had to do something. I was so drained that I couldn’t enjoy the success of my new performance. I want to regain my strength, see the sun and relax. I’ve registered for a Muay Thai boxing camp. I want to sweat everything out, reconnect with my body, and be unreachable. I’ve never had a paradise experience and I reckon that Thailand gets pretty close. When I get back, I am moving to a new studio in Brussels where I can both live and work.
I’m more of a fantasist than a dreamer.
My imagination can take off quickly and wander all over the place.
Oscar: Where are you in your work?
Miet: Recently, it became clearer that a larger part of my work is running my own business. This means making choices parallel to artistic ones, which create an ideal environment for those to take place. In both cases, it’s key to keep raising the bar. I’m happy to say that there is an increasing demand for my work, and where I am with it is putting all these pieces together. It’s easy to get lost in all the travel. I’m constantly moving and want to avoid arriving ten years into the future and suddenly realizing that the only thing that has developed is my professional life. I want to create more of a home, a headquarters that isn’t just about my business. I need that. Of course, building a strong foundation has its own set of costs and demands.
Oscar: And love?
Miet: There’s a lot of love in my life because I look for it and need it. Sharing things is something I find important. If you don’t share things you can’t find out what the other person’s desires are and so you can’t get to know them. That’s a pity sometimes. These are important things; you need to find out what your desires are so that you can make them happen. I often say I want to do this or that later on, but ‘later on’ is starting to turn into now. I have to adjust my options to fit my desires and not just let things be dictated by my work schedule. I tend to go all-out for things.
Oscar: Are you good at relationships?
Miet: I connect love and empathy. When I’m with somebody, I’m extremely empathetic. That’s my approach to love… of course I need a way in. The ‘other’ needs to be willing to make their quirks understandable and to try and understand me as well. I’ve been told that I’m an extrovert, but people who’ve been really close to me know there’s a blind spot in me. I don’t really know myself what exactly is going on there but there’s a stillness that other people notice. This spot can occasionally produce unexpected outbursts. I’ve never had a hysterical relationship with a man, but I have had men who have behaved hysterically towards me… probably for the same reason. That doesn’t mean that they can’t upset me, but a while ago something switched in me and I no longer go ballistic at someone because of things they might do. A man could drive me crazy, but I don’t know if he would ever recognize what was happening. I’d guard this in that blind spot. I’ve never actively tried to take possession of a guy, but I have sometimes felt he has taken possession of me. The feeling to belong to someone else and not just to myself is beautiful… is that bad? I don’t know.
Oscar: Have you found your limits?
Miet: The worst thing I have experienced in ‘love’ was a man who treated me like a circus act and always kept tabs on me. This was the man who would probably never have left me if I hadn’t pulled the trigger on it myself. It wasn’t easy. I wanted to prove that I was someone who was also capable of giving love despite all the critical remarks I was getting. In fact, his biggest complaint was that I couldn’t love and I was committed to proving that comment in accurate. It’s not that I can’t love, but perhaps I don’t always know where love ends. I’ve learned from my brother who went to pieces in his gloom that love is more than the here and now and me and you with our petty problems and occasional bigger problems. I’ve often felt guilty about his suicide because I was so close to him. I didn’t understand that his doubts outweighed his love of life. Probably I couldn’t understand this, because that’s not how I see things. However, it does mean that someone is giving you an opportunity to think about these things. Introducing that option… you can say goodbye to life… if you want. I think that’s made me live life more to the fullest. It has also given me a sense of responsibility towards any friend who isn’t feeling great, a need to give them a renewed zest for life or make them aware of the beautiful things inside them. I want to help people, but there’s another side to me that tends to disengage. And then sometimes the zoom-out lens is much too much on its maximum setting. I often feel distanced from things as if I’m floating above them and I believe I can see the bigger picture… which can be a problem as it means that I see myself more as a witness than a participant in a situation. I like to think that this comes through in my work. It’s something I’m aware of while making work and has spread into my general approach to life. I believe that people are equally hard, or soft, in all areas. If you lie about women then you lie about commitment and if you lie about commitment then you lie about money and if you lie about money then you lie about effort and if you lie about effort then you lie about energy and if you lie about energy then you lie about yourself. I can’t explain it properly because I don’t mean it in an extreme sense. I just mean that I don’t believe something affects you in one area of life only. We’ve been banished to the world rather than being where we belong, I reckon. I’m down to earth too, I’m not capable of living a woolly life, I’m more of a fantasist than a dreamer. My imagination can take off quickly and wander all over the place.
He was so nervous when he told me. He seemed scared he would lose me.
Oscar: What inspires you?
Miet: Life isn’t always consequent, and inspiration can be just as unpredictable, but in the end, the people, bands and artists that influence me most are connected by what I call a ‘low bullshit factor.’ You can feel the honesty of their characters and access the true search that drives their work. I like it if a work reflects the fun an artist had creating it and at the same time maintains a seriousness that breathes out from within it. This is true for me with art, once again, it’s a position that extends to the core of my being.
Louis C.K. is one of my favourite stand-up comedians. He could be a new guru, a mass psychologist for the world. Obviously, what inspires me doesn’t only have to do with art, but other things, seemingly small things that have a big influence: Somebody running his fingers through my hair, a trip through the fields or into a forest, a big frisco on top of a small mountain, friends, humour, dancing or driving while in the distance of my thoughts. I like speed when things move on – swimming in rivers is better than swimming in a pool.
Oscar: Family dynamics play a key role in your oeuvre.
Miet: The role model is definitely my family’s dynamics… I will not go into details, but one can say there was a lot that was unpredictable or unexpected about it with dramatic explosions inside, but what I’ve seen is how we have managed to survive this… humour was a big thing in our family to compensate for or handle the (silent) drama. I think my work has a lot of that.
Oscar: Can you say something about your family?
Miet: My parents are very warm and friendly people. There was always ‘a crowd’ at our home. My dad ran an amateur theatre company. When rehearsals finished, our living room turned into ‘Leen’s disco’. Leen’s my mum and she would be standing there shaking cocktails as jokes flew around the room. We had a big house and people often stayed the night. Later, my parents ran a bed and breakfast. My mother loved having people around the house. My dad too, but he was never a homebody. My father is always on the move. He has his own business, works tirelessly and still finds time to see every performance and exhibition he possibly can. I get a certain amount of intensity from him. My mother also juggles several projects at a time and is a very quick learner. She’s designed and manufactured collections of costumes for theatre productions. She took a course in film and theatre make-up, met somebody who knew how to make hats, and next thing you know she’s somehow putting together a wig for Andy Warhol. Her skills and enthusiasm have been a great asset to my own productions. If she says she’ll come help out with costumes, I know I can count on her to get the job done. Looking back, there was a wild energy that embraced a work hard/play hard ethic in the house and my family always opened up to accidental adventures and new avenues. In a stressful time full of work and parties, my father discovered that he was gay. He was so nervous when he told me. He seemed scared he would lose me. But I saw it as a way to get to know my parents better as people. The theatre, the parties, the drama, it’s not difficult to understand that people continue to mature even after they’ve committed to youthful vows and the pressures of institutions. Of course, this also meant the end of a certain illusion. Things suddenly seemed very different than how I’d always imagined them to be. A year after this revelation, my brother took his own life and the family dynamic mutated again. It’s hard to stay together when each of you is grieving such unbearable loss. It’s hard not to be able to comfort those you love or to make sense of such a thing. Not long after my brother’s death I moved to Berlin. I needed distance from everything and some time to myself.
Oscar: What kind of a relationship did you have with your brother?
Miet: My brother and I were fans of each other. We did loads together and lived around the corner from one another. We shared and discussed everything. We had so many shared projects and plans for the future. I thought I knew him so well. It really hurt to learn that there was so much I didn’t know. The space between people is full of mystery and some mysteries are more attractive than others.
Acknowledging this mystery can be painful, but I suppose it’s the same thing that is erotic. After my brother died, I took the cash from a prize I had won and made a requiem for him: Sportband, Afgetrainde Klanken. It was a fifty-minute long, exhausting battle in which twenty friends played sport and music at the same time. It was a bombshell full of energy and gave me access to the theatre world. Now I’ve mentioned everybody except my younger brother. He’s the realist in the family; a hard worker who has developed an amazing voice by writing and writing and writing when he’d finish a long day of work. This was his way of dealing with loss. I turned to energy. He turned to words.
Oscar: Do you want a baby?
Miet: That’s one of those things a GPS can’t give you directions to. I think I’d like to have a child, but not with just anybody. I guess it depends on where you’ve been, who you meet, what you want and do at different moments of encounter. Some men arouse that feeling in me while others don’t. Perhaps it’s got to do with my degree of love or perhaps with where the guy is at that point and whether there’s an urge to go for it together. Sometimes I think it would do me good to have children because it would take me somewhere different and it shifts the reference of your immediate family. I don’t know… let’s say that I’d prefer it to happen to me than not happen to me, but there’s no way I’ll force the issue and I definitely won’t impose it on any man.
Oscar: Do you have a type?
Miet: The three big loves of my life had long legs and curly hair. I think it’s time I moved on to a different type because it hasn’t got me very far. A type is like a dream and I wonder if fixating on the same on makes a person too narrow-minded. I feel emotionally moved by a large body because it seems so strong and confident and has such an overview. That body exists at a different eye level to me… I feel that this makes a difference.
I find long legs sexy in a guy, a round arse too, preferably in tracksuit bottoms. I like a guy who laughs a bit at womanly stuff – in an affectionate way, of course. I don’t like guys who behave as if they don’t need you… but the need has to be in the right areas. My worst experience was with a man who was incredibly talented, but wasn’t able to put a single talent to good use and made me responsible for dealing with this. People like that are so needy that you seem to be their salvation. But of course you can never live up to that expectation. The key to your dreams is something you have to find yourself. The men I’ve loved have mostly been people who can sweep me off to ‘somewhere’ else; who have a passion and a clear idea about things, which inspires me to think and try to see things from their point of view. I usually learn a lot from them, but the same applies to my closest friends. It’s true that they all have long legs, and it seems as if that’s to let them run away from me more quickly … ha ha, no, not ha ha. Sometimes a guy will think that he can hide his weaknesses, but I think it’s precisely the way that they try to hide their weaknesses that makes them so attractive, because it’s often so transparent and that makes them cute – sexy sometimes – because for a moment it seems as if they’re an ace guy, a superman. The good ones are aware of this and can laugh at themselves. The guys that can’t do that… well, that’s why I like men who don’t hide completely behind their training programme. There needs to be some impossibility that is fatal to me in addition to natural beauty. I find a flaw in paradise attractive. That’s why I can also find baldness attractive in a man depending on whether he himself realises how unimportant it is. Sure, I appreciate the beauty of a muscular body but that inevitably goes hand in hand with a muscular attitude … and I find that difficult to stomach. Like lazy men and dirty men and men who still haven’t made a home for themselves. How big is your biggest love affair if it’s someone who never let you get close to him? Perhaps it’s your smallest, most pathetic love affair. In that sense a really intense relationship that lasts a week could still be a greater love affair. Sometimes people who really ought to be together can’t actually be together because it would be too perfect. Struggle and tension often appear as necessary friction between people. I thought about it when a guy left me saying that it was ‘impossible.’ I remember the frustration of believing that all the ingredients were there to make it perfectly possible. It’s a killer, and also in a way ridiculous, and I probably fell for a trap. This comes up in the last explosive scene in my work Mystery Magnet. It’s the ‘sweet horror’ where we hug somebody so hard we actually glue him to the wall; where the line between hurting, helping and playing gets out of hand. Horror is the moment where we realise we are not somebody else and that is why it is so scary. And we experience this pretty frequently on all different levels in our lives.