Issue #028 Published: 29-01-2020 // Written by: Iris Kok

A review of Céline Gillian’s FRIGHT

“Nothing is more satisfying than overcoming the fear, it feels truly heroic: to be able to change the trajectory, to reprogram myself” - Céline Gillain

On 23th of November, I had the opportunity to watch a special performance called FRIGHT  by Céline Gillain, as part of the 8th edition of the Amsterdam Art Weekend (21-24 November 2019). The performance was set to be a hybrid consisting of comedy, storytelling and a live concert. Céline Gillain (born in 1979, in Liège) lives in Brussels and is a musician and performance artist. Her work is a fusion of corrupted pop songs, feminist sci-fi, storytelling with dark humour. After a debut single on mutant pop 7-inch imprint Lexi Disques, her debut LP ‘Bad Woman’ was released in December 2018.

The self-stated goal of Amsterdam Art Weekend is to promote galleries, project spaces, museums, art institutions and residency programs to art professionals, collectors and the local community. With over more than 250 artists and more than 50 exhibitions there were plenty of activities to choose from. Gillian’s FRIGHT took place at ISOamsterdam, a collaborative working space that hosts exhibitions, workshops, screenings, lectures, performances, and music events.

The audience was seated around a small stage; thanks to all the plants and rugs, the room had a living-room atmosphere. When the show started, we found Gillain seated on a little stool from which she started to tell us her remarkable show. Her performance was a combination of spoken word pieces and her music. and while performing it, Gillain discussed her stage-fright and how her suffering arises during these kinds of performances. Regardless of her uncertainties, she still performs. As she said during the beginning of one of the music-pieces: “When I push it hurts, but I still push.” 

Also addressed, in between the stories and compositions, was the taboo of stage-fright among other artists and society in general. According to Gillain, a lot of other artists claim not to suffer from stage fright, but that they prepare for their performances with drink and drugs (she does not, she told us). Perceived by some as rather self-inflicted, Gillain made clear that she was told that the suffering from stage fright is something you should not talk about. I agreed with her when she said that the causes of anxiety are real, and not the result of one’s imagination. It is a fear that maybe feels as if it comes from inside of you, but how you respond to it definitely depends on the performance context and the audience.

After the performance I had the opportunity to conduct a small interview with Gillain. I came to learn that she also feels that she is treated in a different way to her colleagues because she is female and much older than the “usual suspects,” who are part of what she calls the “industry of entertainment and/or fun.” She has a good sense of what she wants to say during her performances but remains open to new interpretations. Nowadays, she is more used to coping with stage fright. She explained that empathy is not something you can count on from others and so you need to have your own sense of pushing through the anxiety, and learning to deal with such a fright. This means that she also needs to prepare herself during the days preceding each performance, and afterwards she needs to let go a bit all while questioning what the audience thought of her performance.

To conclude, I would recommend keeping track of Gillain and her new work. She has managed to spark a new interest, at least for me, in the industry of fun and more specifically the electronic-music business while being open and clear about her own fear(s) and thoughts while doing so. Her approach to between-song conversation lets you as a member of the audience be part of her experience but also lets her thoughts enter into your own and make you reflect on the rhythms of the music at the same time.


Photo: Ernst van Deursen