developments in hybrid enterprises
to do what we did till our last breath, with dignity and festivity.

Dear Colleen, dear Rebecca, dear family and friends

Ritsaert called me about two weeks ago and said: “As you asked me if you could use the name TouchTime and continue its life in the future, I would like you to speak about TouchTime in due time; and given the fact that ‘everything is really perfectly going as planned’, I expect that to be somewhere in the middle of next week.”.

TouchTime was the name which Ritsaert used for the last season of Mickery, in 1991. He wrote about this: It took over three years to work through what this would mean. I spoke to the Board, and we discussed at length what to do. We talked with three staff members to see if they wanted to kill me off, to take the Mickery and turn it into something new, but finally it did not work out like that. I decided to do TouchTime, to do what we did till our last breath, and to end Mickery with dignity and festivity.
TouchTime was a festival, or was it not? Although I do not clearly remember what and how many performances I saw at TouchTime, I remember very well long conversations and letters with Ritsaert about festivals, about what really was at stake for us, active in the field of contemporary performing arts. I was preparing the Klapstuk dance festival in Leuven at that time, and also involved in Springdance. We discussed about this at IETM meetings, and we made our TouchTime journey during intimate gatherings in Amsterdam, Brussels and Berlin, with Hugo De Greef and Nele Hertling.

What stuck us then and what kept us returning back and back to Ritsaert, was his eagerness to understand fully what is ‘contemporary’. Ritsaert had been visiting Peter Sellars’ 1990 Los Angeles Festival. He was really impressed and full of new energy about how over there he had felt how Peter Sellars has been in … touch with time. How a festival was about really gathering people and sharing, through art, today’s life, with its tragedies, with its fears and hopes, with its traditions and beliefs. Often lost beliefs and traditions, often hope to be regained. We tried to define what beauty is and means to us, and we took distance from performing art by discovering beauty elsewhere, in nature e.g., in visual arts, or - as this ‘strange’ element in Mickery’s TouchTime season - in traditional Hawaiian hula dancing.

TouchTime was reborn more than ten years later when Ritsaert used it as the name for his studio in the De Clercqstraat and for the activity in it. Besides the obvious directive - to touch time is the artists duty - it showed also a strategy of incorporating permanent doubt, hesitation and eagerness to take another road. This is most easily explained by citing the website:
The space is an example of developments in hybrid enterprises. A gallery? No. A shop? No. A Workspace with opening hours? Again, no. Sorry.

Elsewhere, I think on the window, it said; TouchTime, probably not a gallery. What could be explained - and was explained in the beginning by Ritsaert as such - as a solution to have an open studio there and a real gallerist elsewhere, is in fact a beautiful way to oblige yourself an open attitude towards innovation. It became, as was pointed out by Dasarts this week, an inspiring meeting place where many of the Dasarts alumni and participants met Ritsaert, talked about their lives and discussed their work.

All of us surely recognize the need for reflection on our own life and its occupation. In those moments, Ritsaert was a good listener, and advisor. Last year, we started talking to each other again more often and longer than the years before. In November, I wrote him a short mail:
“Dear Ritsaert
Here is a mail from Antwerp to say that often, during quiet moments, I am thinking about you. And about Touch Time: inspiration from a distance, moral authority, artistic motive and love on a ‘woonboot’. Something like that.”
Touch Time is a real source of inspiration to me, I repeated a few months later, sitting in the studio in front of Ritsaert who was tired and clearly unhappy about the frequency with which he was seeing doctors. I said: if in the near or not so near future I will think about ‘Bruno, what is really at stake for you and what will you do with that’, I would most of all like to start something like your studio. It will probably not be a gallery, probably not a production house, probably not a consultancy firm, probably not a management company. It is fun to play with rule number one of marketing and management (“You should always phrase what you are doing positively!”, but then again, it says ‘probably…’), but that is not the only thing. What is also inspiring is how you organize your artistic activity: behind a window so that people from the street can see you, with a door that from time to time is open so that the street can walk in and discover what Touch Time is, with a library and bulks of information, with all the executed and non-executed ideas - the latter in your box with balloons - and with a unique set of artworks, from your hand and from other artists. That is what we seek: touching time and sharing it. Not doing business by having an idea and keeping it secret till it is copyrighted, but by sharing it with as many people as possible and getting in return better and other ideas. It might probably not be possible, but it seems Ritsaert has managed to do that.

Ritsaert, faithful to himself, tried to counter the idea. “Touch Time was an ideal and it hardly ever had worked the way I thought it had”, he said. He wrote me a day later: “Maybe I was a little down and you were on the right track. The original Touch Time might need some polishing, new energy and content.”. It is true: you open the door and see that the street does not walk in. The energy you need will make you go into the street and keep on looking for people that want to share ideas. But the setting of Touch Time makes it such that you are always opening yourself up to what you might least expect. Touch Time helps you to be sure that what you do is connected to what is going on.

Time to cite Ritsaert citing his favourite: Winnie the Pooh (from The Long Goodbye, notes on the past (and future) of festivals, 2007)
You must be the Winnie the Pooh of things.  Rabbit and Pooh are walking together in a thick fog. When Rabbit tells Pooh, "We'd better get on, I suppose, which way shall we try?" Pooh responds, "How would it be if as soon as we're out of sight of this Pit, we try to find it again?" To which the Rabbit of course grumpily mutters, "What's the good in that?" At which point Pooh -- as befits a famous Bear of Little Brain -- mildly tells Rabbit, "Well... we keep looking for Home and not finding it.  I thought that if we looked for this Pit, we'd be sure not to find that, which would be a Good Thing, because then we might find something that we weren't  looking for, which just might be what we were looking for, really.". To which Ritsaert adds: You're the key.  Be Pooh.  Forget about the Rabbit questions.

When we last saw each other, with Barbara and Colleen, we laughed a lot. When leaving, I said: “Ritsaert, it still is not really clear how and when, maybe soon, maybe later, but is it ok if I use - continue to use - the name Touch Time, in one way or another?”. “It’s OK”, he said, “and we should never forget to laugh!”.

Laughing, philosophers say, is the distinguishing human activity that for a short moment and in a safe way, disconnects us from reality, I would say, disconnects us from time. Only when being able to laugh, you will be able to experience the distance and by that, able to touch time. ‘Tóuch time’, Ritsaert would smile.

A friend wrote me, after having seen Ritsaerts video film ‘the offering’: “Thank you Ritsaert, for your fire, your glow, and your ashes from which the phoenix will rise”.

I promise, and I am sure many of us do too, to Touch Time, to do what we do till our last breath, and to end with dignity and festivity.

‘Touch time

Bruno Verbergt
At Ritsaert ten Cate’s funeral, September 11, 2008



Bruno Verbergt