The Living Dead
by Marleine van der Werf
Are you your body, or do you own it?
With a loud bang, Erna falls on the black ground. She tries to sit, but she can’t move. She lies on the floor, paralysed, and her face has become strangely expressionless. Erna’s mouth falls open, she can’t even control her voice anymore: “Something terrible has happened,” she mumbles in a spooky, flat voice. “I can no longer feel my body...”
Erna is a character based on real stories. She suffers from Cotard syndrome, also known as Walking Corpse syndrome or Cotard delusion. It is a rare mental disorder in which the affected person holds the delusional belief that they are already dead, do not exist or have lost body parts. Although there have been links to depression, scientists do not know what causes the syndrome.
The multi-sensory installation The Living Dead is a 10-minute personal journey in which you feel what Erna goes through, from a first-person perspective. The installation uses wearables, sound, smell and virtual reality to immerse the audience into the story of the patients. The central element is a floating tank. During the journey, the participant slowly disconnects from their (virtual) body. The narrative will end with Erna’s disembodied experience.
The Living Dead takes an interdisciplinary approach: it integrates knowledge from the domains of cinema, art and science. We collaborate with neuroscientists, physicians and artists in the field of dance, sound and image. During our research we conduct physical experiments to understand how we can influence the senses to create a disconnection.