Viktor in the Butchery

by Sonja Augart, performed by Viktor Halbnarr

A small ordinary butchery at night, dimly lit with cold tube lights, is the scene of a haunting performance that starts with the entry of a naked ghost-like man who appears to be blind. He is moving around cautiously, shuffling about with tiny steps that sometimes accelerate; his hands touching objects in the cupboards, a knife. He must have been here before: he dimly remembers the place and the function of various items and tries in vain to open a refrigerator. With his rigid posture and minimal gestures this apparition of a man appears to be trapped,  lost, but not quite: he is obviously struggling to piece everything together and the incapacity to do so causes him great discomfort and frustration.

To part of the audience standing in the street in front of the butchery’s window, other issues prevail: is the man attractive or not? Will we get to see his penis? The man is a piece of meat – to be judged by its appearance. Various theories unfold: the man could the butcher who visits his shop in a dream, or perhaps in an after-life. He could be an incarnation of a butchered animal’s spirit haunting the place at night… After a while, Augart enters the butchery and starts wrapping the man in plastic foil. Tenderly, she lays him down in the glass counter where during the day, all meat products are displayed. Is he dead? Is he asleep? At least he seems at peace – until he is released again, and his quest for meaning starts all over.

Ultimately, the performance explores the impossibility to make sense of scattered memories, conceptual remnants, fragments of a self that once was. One could imagine the experience of a person with Alzheimer’s disease to be like this but the implications are more far-reaching. Augart addresses questions of identity and meaning on a fundamental level: who are we when the things we believed in or thought we understood no longer hold true? How do we construct a coherent story out of meaningless ruins?

Viktor Halbnarr excels in this demanding role. It takes courage to plunge into the abyss of reason that Augart opens up. To convey so much inner tension and confusion, to suggest such an intense effort of the mind with so few outward means is truly magnificent.

  • Concept: Sonja Augart
  • Performer: Viktor Halbnarr
  • Text: Nanne op’t Ende
  • Photo: Peter Robben
  • Video: Sonja Augart
  • Producer: mEATing