It's OK to be nervous: DocLab opens at de Brakke Grond

    After several years spent in Tolhuistuin, IDFA DocLab has returned to the heart of Amsterdam with exhibitions, live shows, VR experiences, digital art installations, and motion capture performances in de Brakke Grond and Arti et Amicitiae, as well as fulldome projections at ARTIS-Planetarium.

    This year's edition, entitled Nervous Systems, officially kicked off on Friday night at de Brakke Grond, where guests had a chance to experience some of the program. But before that, it was up to IDFA Artistic Director Orwa Nyrabia and DocLab curatorial team Caspar Sonnen, Wotienke Vermeer, and Annabel Troost to open it with brief speeches.

    "It is absolutely thrilling to see all of you here, in this amazing space, at the 16th edition of DocLab,” said Nyrabia. “I want to congratulate the team of DocLab, who are introducing an amazing line-up and the theme of the year that makes me so nervous.

    "The point to me here is that there is nothing that makes me think longer and more than this title, Nervous Systems. Is it because we're post-Covid that nervous systems are important? I must say I'm one of those who has been nervous much longer than that."

    "It is still a system. It is a system that makes us nervous. It is nerves that create a system. It is something that I can't describe better than what DocLab's current exhibition is doing. From the technology of MoCap, all the way to the VR cinema, to the different dome projections, and to all the various immersive experiences and live performances—all the different elements of DocLab this year are really making me nervous.

    "So I will just tell you that being nervous is OK, and it is absolutely fine as long as we can talk about it and as long as we do not expect to understand it. Understanding is overrated, and I think that's what the works in DocLab liberate me from. They liberate me because I don't have to keep trying to understand. I can just truly experience it.

    "This is all just to say that I am deeply proud and honored to be working in an organization like IDFA, where I can work with such inspiring colleagues and discover such inspiring artists and their work."

    Nyrabia then invited Sonnen, Vermeer, and Troost to the stage, to the applause of a visibly animated audience.

    "I think I'm a little bit nervous too," said Sonnen, Head of New Media and IDFA DocLab. "But if anything, nervous systems are the things that make us make sense, connect, and interact with the world around us. With this year's theme program, with Annabel and Wotienke, who I once again had the pleasure to make this program with, we invite you into all kinds of nervous systems: inside our bodies, outside our bodies, in the systems around us, exploring systemic changes that the world is facing, and systemic challenges that the world is facing, and the changes that we are looking for.

    "With our without Covid, I think it's truly special to see all of you here. We can't wait to invite you to explore the projects with as many senses as you possibly can. But before that, we have some important thankyous to share.

    "First of all, to people without whom all of this just wouldn't even be. Artists, producers, creative technologists who have been working with the selection this year. And thank you to the artists in the selection, you deserve every form of tentacular applause. Thank you for kickstarting 35 projects, and for allowing us, for trusting us, for fighting with us how to present this program in a limited space."

    Next up, Troost noted that another important theme of this year's festival is co-creation.

    "Our research partners, MIT, are launching a book on co-creation which is called Collective Wisdom. But the point I want to make tonight is that everything around you, the festival, is an example of co-creation and collaboration."

    Troost then asked everyone who is not part of the DocLab team to sit down, instantly creating a completely different layout in the very same space—a very DocLab sort of intervention. A jovial applause for the teams followed.

    "And while you slowly rise, we are happy to be back at de Brakke Grond and we'd like to thank director Bart Govaert and Lisa Wiegel," said Vermeer. "Thank you so much for welcoming us in your home and making us feel at home, and also helping us realize all this."

    "This year marks the very first year that we collaborated with ONX Studio, and we present to you the ONX + DocLab MoCap Stage. Over the course of four days there will be live performances and workshops that are inviting professionals and audiences to explore the artistic potential of motion-capture technology for documentary art. I would encourage you not to miss it."

    At the very end, Sonnen thanked the partners and research collaborators of DocLab.

    "Thank you so much for keeping us sane and nervous," he concluded.

    Photos by Jurre Rompa.

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