Friday, October 05, 2012

Really real

Writing about performances one has seen is like telling stories of travels - it is not about a shared experience, all we can do is create a new experience. The experience of "I heard about a show where...". This is not always easy to accept, on either side.

The last edition of the Warszawa Centralna festival ended by two shows that deal with the dead-end of civilization as we know it, the fall of paradigms and the attempts to overcome entropy.
Two shows - one is Christoph Marthaler's +-0, the other, Christoph Schlingesief's Via Intoleranza II, ridiculed our attempts to try and do something, and both of them tried doing something, while not managing, but trying, and maybe doing, but not really, but really...
Marthaler's is a beautiful and desperate lamentation after a culture which cannot go beyond itself, which fits nowhere and makes nothing. It still is godly, but useless... For all its beauty, I found it proving its point too well - this high culture does nothing, here. It is a mixture of a deep-rooted feeling of superiority and of despair when this superiority does not help, build or bind. It is a hopelessness I am not ready to accept - or contemplate.
Schlingesief's work (not just this piece) is all about refusing to accept this status quo.
What does Via Intoleranza II do? If you see the trailer, you might get the impression that it's a lively multi-culti show with quantities of fairly classic stage-action and a humanist message. Which, of course, it refuses to be. And which it is, after all.

Let's begin with this: when watching the show, I can't stop imagining Schlingesief-the-director tired of the absolute spectacle with no performative transferrence. Tired of the isolation of art, and, on the other hand, of the happy solutions that are neither happy nor solutions.
And, of course, tired of being sick, of having his sickness define what and who he is (Schlingensief died of cancer short after the premiere).
So he makes one last show. A show where stage is a constant reminder that there is a reality outside. An uncomfortable reminder, one which is to make us feel how ridiculous this place, here, is, and that its one hope is making us feel the need to use it for something very different, really real, really real.
The problem is - unless you leave your culture of distance, pathos and irony, it contaminates everything. But how would you leave this culture? And what tools would you have left?
Please let me out.
How do I get out.
I would love to get out, but can I keep some of the toys? Can I still make it a performance? Can I tell them what I really think, and still keep it a show, and make it unbearable for them to the extent where they themselves will want to leave and act?

Of course, the tools are the tools at hand. The show tools. The contemporary theater tools. The German critical art tools. With a little help from this or that culture or art. It is difficult not to see the presence of the different artistic styles (from traditional Burkinabe music and dance to French-language hip-hop) as a postmodern collage. A playful fairy-tale.
But the question is not: whether, or how, can the real be built on fiction. The question is: what sort of real can we build with fiction?
But first: what sort of fiction can we build with the fiction of being smarter-than-all-this and more-provocative-than-all-this?
Well, in the case of Via Intoleranza II, fiction starts off by looking ridiculous.
Not again - the happy bourgeois laughing at their own pitiful culture. Not again - the spectators suffering joyfully, as it will all be gone soon, so what do I care, if this is real or not.

The first reaction is frustration: I didn't give you my trust and allow you to leave the space (mental space) of theater, so you can come back into theater and make the same sarcastic, self-flagelating stage jokes I know from so many  other contemporary theater artists.
Why are you doing this to me. Why are you taking us back into easy bitterness, when your bitterness was difficult and wild, when it was unbearable and over-the-top crazy and it was doing things. Why are you making it seem like it's just a show, after all?
The difference, here, happens, when you know it's real. If you know that there is an actual opera/school being built in Burkina Faso, if you know Schlingensief really was sick and did die, and really did give his social projects everything he had. Finally, if you know these people have something in there - that something is at stake, then it becomes something else.
It's a paradoxical situation: the show can only be performative (which is its explicit aim) if you know it corresponds to something real (in the outside world) already.
Whatever comes out of it, needs us to be prepared, and in a way, needs us to have lived it already. Is this a failure of art-as-intervention?
Maybe. Or maybe we misjudge theater. We still wishfully dream of the play making the King confess his crimes, out of nothing, out of thin air, and making the anonymous spectator become actor, agent, become activist, become action, become real.
This may make for some shallow theatrical provocations. Doesn't the spectator know he is more real than the stage? Because he comes from the outside? What is real, in this show, has already happened, and not onstage. It is the outside world that is working. And I'm not sure if the stage helps its existence in any way, if it provides it with the fictional energy, or if it is just an excuse.

After all, what we see is not what we get. We get everything it is part of. We are free to dive in and out of it, using it as a ficitonal or real weapon of our choice. Too abstract? Let's make it concrete then: the crazy stories about the opera being built exist also once you leave the space. You can help build the place. The child actor pretending to be an adult, is actually an adult actor who has the health condition of physically looking like a child. He says it, but why would we believe him? Because we know it already. Or we suspect it, knowing how the layers of fiction and reality abuse each other constantly.
Which makes it an insider's theater. Moving for those who had been moved even before, out there.
And extremely frustrating, because it makes it safe, after all, to treat this as a trick, a big, truth-filled trick. No matter how many operas you build and how sad the real death is, they remain outside. The show is so precisely full of itself, it is so spectacle-like, that I'm okay. Just when I hoped I wouldn't be.
That's my problem? I'm afraid Schlingensief's heritage makes it clear - it's ours.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Linger A Little Longer

A trace is not permanent. It is only there long enough for you to start thinking of it as a thing.

Jay Watson's furniture set, called Linger a Little Longer, does just that. It keeps your heat, so you know you have left something, and  you know it won't last.

And after a while... well, you know...


Sunday, August 19, 2012

About What I Heard About The World

"What I Heard About The World" is a theatre performance and an installation, both devised by the joined forces of Third Angel and Mala Voadora.
This text is about the performance. You can actually see it streaming live two hours from when I'm writing these words, at 4.30PM GMT on this pretty site. (If you're in Edinburgh right now, today is your last chance to see it live at St.Stephen's).
If you've missed it, there is a good review here which describes it quite well. (Total spoiler). I won't. Once you've seen it/read it...

Here is a trip outside of the comfortable framework of a finished universe. Sure, we've heard some of the stories before. Like the donkey in the Gaza zoo which is painted in stripes so it looks like a zebra. (okay, should have had a spoiler alert there).We might know some even crazier anecdotes. But we have some sort of control of them. Actually, a big part of what these last years have been evolving towards is a better control over what we see of the world. Does Facebook really open up our horizons? Or does it narrow down our spectrum to the channels we know? Sure, something can go viral. But most things don't. They remain little bits of the world, completely alien to us, and paradoxically enough, they seem more inaccessible to us then ever. They are not on the customized map. Ergo, they don't exist. The whole process of customizing our experience, which may seem to be enriching it, is making it easier to cope with the excess of information, with a world that is too vast and too diverse - turning it into something we can feel close to.

Well, this, here, is going back to the outrageous presence of everything that is not me.
The title is quite revealing: What I Heard About the World.
I didn't read about it.
I didn't see it as a Facebook status or Twitter link.
I heard it.
Hear-say. One person says something to another person. Remember that? That old analogic thinking? Analogic, as in: palpable. Analogic, as in: coming from analogies, attempts at comparisons. Try to compare what is happening somewhere else on the planet to what is happening to you. Go for the analogy. The donkey in the Gaza zoo represents... How does it compare to anything? What sort of analogy can you make of it? How does your mind cope with difference?

What the performance brings us, is chaos. A world which is not as we would expect. Not as comfortable, easy to empathize with - or easy to judge. It really is a world beyond our comprehension, and that leaves me thinking - how much of my worldview is just about making it easy on myself?
What makes it so poignant is that it's a live performance. These people, there, represent other people. They are unavoidable, they will not disappear, they will not stop shooting until they've finished all the red paint. The liveness means each of these stories becomes a real thing once again. A different thing, a represented thing, but once again - palpable. It gains a human scale. A scale not quite as comfortable as a status update. Not quite as easy to digest. But, in this case, much more fun.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Leave the Work Alone

Let's set the background.

Andre Lepecki:
What dramaturgy as practice proposes is the discovery that it is the work itself that has its own sovereign, performative desires, wishes, and commands. It is the work that owns its own authorial force.

This seemingly fairy-tale description of creation was once made clear for me by Alexander Kelly. Whenever working on a piece, there is always a point where the question that takes over the process is: What does the work want?

But here's another question: Why? Why is it the work's work?
After all, beyond a question of "ethics" (Lepecki uses the term), it is hard to justify why something being made by an artist should not obey the artist's ideas, needs and desires.

The most superficial answer is, because it works. A work needs coherence, as in, it needs to be a work to be a work, and the focus on the work's identity allows to be more effective and less prone to the artist's varying ideas, humor and temper. If the work wants it, there is little you can do but obey it. Consequently, you will think twice before introducing a foreign element. The piece needs to fit in the piece, not you.

Which brings us to another level. The work, here, becomes master. This means the artist is working for "someone else", and his burden is smaller. "Don't blame me - blame the work".

But also, this means the artist does not really "create". He "executes". Which is a comfortable movement towards the neo-platonian idealism we know best from Michelangelo. There is something, an idea, hidden in that matter (be it solid matter, movement or words), and the task is only to dig into it.

The above creates an important advantage for the worker: he can suspend his disbelief. For the duration of the work, he can be a believer, no matter how much doubt he has in regards to his own work. He is now free to move in whatever direction is necessary to deliver this being. And once delivered, he can complain. He can even complain while delivering it. But this, here, is the job, and one has to do whatever it takes to complete it.

All this is very nice, but most of the time, the work sucks. Most of the time, even those who claim to do the work's work make an impressive quantity of uninteresting, though certainly in a way uncompromising projects.
How do we deal with it?
Or, to put it more bluntly, who's to blame?
If in the beginning, "no one (except for the piece itself in its atemporal consistency) knows what it will be", than how are we to analyze its failure? Where are we to look for its sources?

Then there is the other scary option: the work doesn't suck. It works. Only it says something else than I do. The dream dreams another dream - which is not mine. How dare it! How dare it speak in my stead! How dare it take my moral will into the immoral pit hole, or the other way around, turning my cynical irony into a moralist's sword? How dare it ignore all the work I've put into being who I am? I do not want this thing which is not mine. I want it somewhere else, let it grow somewhere else, let the cancer move to another soul, I am cured, I tell you, I am at peace and no pro-ject can take that away from me. Consider me to be the PR manager for the daimonion, I might do what it pleases, but I am somewhere else, you will not find me here, the artist cries. I have worked hard to sell my soul, now please, do not let it keep on being mine.


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