BLISS WAS IT in that dawn to be alive, wrote Wordsworth, about being young during the French Revolution. Being young today, though, in this age of overwhelming global problem and helpless protest – well, for many it seems like a kind of hell. It’s five years since the Belgian company Ontroerend Goed first burst onto the Edinburgh scene, with their brave, relentness, boundary-busting shows, often – although not always – created with and about the current generation of teenagers; and in a quiet but unflinching way, they take another compelling step forward with their latest show, playing at the Traverse this week.
On the surface, All That Is Wrong is a bleakly simple, almost tentative two-hander, in which writer-performer Koba Ryckewaert – a skinny, intense 18-year-old - first looks at a series of dim slides of recent political protests, and then begins to write in chalk, on the black floor, a kind of mind-map of her own life and anxieties. She starts with family, and the usual teenage stuff about school and college, boys, body-image.
As she thinks and writes, though, something begins to happen. She gradually begins to write on a larger scale, using and connecting bigger words like “greed”, “war”, “violence”, “environmental waste”. The technician handling the lights and projector – fellow-performer Zach Hatch – is drawn into her work, bringing extra boards to write on, shouting suggestions. A rhythmic, quiet soundtrack starts up, driving them forward; and then, towards the end, this strangely intense hour of performance begins to collide with some of the most powerful recent trends in visual art, as the whole floor full of words and ideas is heaved, shuddering and clattering, into a different dimension.
It’s hard to say whether Ryckewaert’s show – created with dramaturg Joeri Smet and director Alexander Devriendt - offers a message of hope, or of complete despair. Yet in itself, it’s a near-perfect example of the art that conceals art, beautifully written and thought through, despite its apparent casualness. And it’s also a living demonstration of how the act of writing, creating and describing can offer some sense of meaning; even in the most terrifying times.