For two weeks in January 2020, Swiss artist and composer Lilian Beidler and Basotho musician Mpho Molikeng will meet in Maseru, Lesotho, to collaborate on a sound performance that connects contemporary experimental electronic music and Basotho folk music. This musical performance piece is closely connected to the short film Pierce my Skin (2019) by Lilian with music by Mpho, based on interviews about the Swiss missionary doctor Bertha Hardegger. The collaboration phase will be followed by a tour in February where the sound performance and film will be staged in various sites in Lesotho and later Switzerland.
Mpho’s work is multi-disciplinary: After studying fine arts and performance he worked as a curator, actor, musician, poet, painter, storyteller and cultural activist. He uses his performances to preserve traditional Basotho instruments and playing techniques. Lilian has been working with her unique “Voicetrument” for more than five years, continuously developing this electronic instrument that uses different sensors and her voice to sonically react to individual performance spaces.
In 2017 Lilian started researching Bertha Hardegger, who had been living, working and funding hospitals in Lesotho between 1936 and 1970. The life story of this woman fascinated Lilian as it merged a lot of her interests: The role of Switzerland in (post-)colonialism, imperialism focusing on the role of women, “otherness”, faith, international feminism and processes of healing.
Lilian began interviewing people in Switzerland that had known Bertha Hardegger. During a research residency in 2018 supported by Pro Helvetia, she spent one month in Lesotho where she continued her work and met many people who remembered the doctor. These conversations, which often strayed far from the doctor’s life to recount personal histories and memories, resulted in more than 10 hours of film footage.
In 2019 Lilian and Mpho began working together. The fruit of this collaboration is the short film Pierce my Skin (2019), a first montage of the interviews and recorded performance elements. The soundtrack is composed of recordings of traditional Basotho instruments played by Mpho and electronic sounds. It was shown at ArtStadtBern in May 2019 in Switzerland.
The video footage will form the basis for the musical performance developed during this current phase of the project. Film scenes, protagonists’ stories and emotions, individual words, atmospheres, camera movements, sounds etc. will inform the sound performance that complements and intermits the film material and responds to the performance space. The film will be screened before, during or after the sound performance.
SITE-SPECIFIC TOUR IN LESOTHO
The performance and film tour will be presented in 5 spaces in Lesotho where interviews were previously conducted – to migrate the project to the protagonists. The idea being to show the work in places related to its genesis and where the story continues to live. (In August 2020, the performance will be staged at similar places in Switzerland.)
The performances during the tour will be documented and additional interviews recorded with audiences about their impression of their original interview which will be used later for an extended version of the Pierce my Skin film.
The artists say that it is an important goal “to bring contemporary music out of its designated spaces and to show it in new contexts. Subsequently there is no clear separation between production and performance; the performances are rather another step within the whole process and part of the work creation itself.” Lilian adds that by presenting the sound performance and film in local contexts closely linked to the project, she hopes “to open up discourse about the topics which are at the core of the whole project and motivate it: Imperialism, decolonisation, otherness, healing, images of women/international feminism, the relation between South and West, etc.”