SXSW: 'Convento' premiere shows us a place for our heads and a place for the dead

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​As the lines between virtual and reality blur, eddy, and close in around us, and the general states of things real and fantasy crack and atrophy, oftentimes it all just feels like a thick blue bubble in front of our faces in need of popping (almost more than our heads).

Enter Christiaan Zwanikken who, along with his horse-whispering brother Louis, was raised in an abandoned monastery in Portugal, the Convento Sao Francisco de Mertola, by his Dutch mother and father, Geraldine and Kees.

Convento is where we get to see Christiaan animate the dead.

He combs the rolling hills for skulls, corpses, and heavy metals, composing them into electrically-powered pieces of kinetic sculpture that sound putrescent and goth on paper, but in execution and within their context act more like wood sprites, surrounding and encapsulating the Zwanikkens' massively ambitious home.

It's their home that defines the lives of Christiaan, Geraldine, and Louis. After recusing herself as prima ballerina for the Dutch National Ballet Company, and finding success as an avant-garde performance and dance artist, Geraldine and her family left everything for a bouldered-out building in a remote part of southwestern Portugal, laboring for years to make it a practically self-sustaining artistic ecosystem. The result is a life that is best captured in visuals and tones, in the playful-with-an-undercurrent-of-serious way she anthropomorphizes the screams of each potato as she cuts them, in the terraces and ponds, and the noon song of Christiaan's robo-featherleaf choir.

Throughout Convento's perfectly synoptic run, director Jarred Alterman frames the scene and works of its subjects with strict, humorous, and poetic composition and editing, soundtracked sparsely by Lawrence Dolan, with thankfully abstract--or at least theoretical--voice overs from its subjects. The result is a glimpse into an option.

The Zwanikkens use their expansive, unbelievably gorgeous grounds as a setting for artist residencies, and are accepting applications to pop your blue bubble. But if that's (probably) not an option for you, see Convento then.



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