What is art today?
On love and generosity
By Claudia Galhós
Art today is like life: a constant dilemma. Art today is like life: enigmatic. Art today is like life: always trying to discover the most simple answer to the most obvious question: what is the meaning of life? How is it possible to create a better life, and how do we create it together, as a community? A better life, because more meaningful. A better life that respects individuality in the context of a collective, and the expression of difference? Art is a commitment. A commitment to a dream of a better life. Is the manifestation of a desire. And it might be a statement: “I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now” – citing the title of a Damien Hirst work from 1991.
One by one, seven artists take the stage, in a brief solo performance, between improvisation and a generous act of sharing with one other artist, Cécile Martin, who was the initiator that triggered this presentation. The seven artists were – by order of appearance – Douglas Bateman, Nuria Guiu Sagarra, Jean-Jacques Sanchez, Kingsley A. Odiaka, Paula Diogo, Gui Garrido and Claudia Gaiolas. The pretext for it was an initial individual encounter between the director of the experiment, Cécile, with each artist, challenging them to “Fly”, which in fact meant asking the question “what does it mean to each person going out of their comfort zone?”. This is what flying symbolised for Cecile.
During one week (first week of TryAngle Düsseldorf), each meeting between the two artists was already a meaningful experience, for the perspective of art and of life. Was already meaningful because implied that two people were available to come together and be willing to give themselves to the other in a way that allowed discovering each other as persons and as artists in the context of a somewhat vague artistic idea. These happened with an intimate quality, even when the doors of the big auditorium were kept open and there were always someone else from TryAngle observing the interaction.
Before the day of the organised internal sharing (saturday, the 21st July) of what had been tried between all participants in TryAngle, the action of encounter proposed and implemented was already staging something extraordinary. Staging is here considered as the creation of particular and constructed conditions to enable the emergence of a revelation that is inspired and fed by human quality interaction and exchange.
This was where Douglas Bateman revealed that besides being a very confrontational person with a very gifted, loud and excessive technical use of the body, he also knows how to edit himself, to immerse in a more quiet and interior state, that comes to the surface of the skin with a detailed style of gesture writing. In a different way, Dejan Srhoj remembered dreaming of flying, and falling while flying in his dreams. And he remembered he came up with a strategy to avoid falling while flying in his dreams. He started closing his eyes inside the dream. It is not important if is true of false. The same way it really doesn’t matter if the disarming and contained dancing of Douglas is a result of years of training. What is important is that the dancing was felt as genuine and that they were really there with the others and with that feeling while they were sharing. It was true while they were doing and/or saying it. If we accept this statement, the question shifts from the need of truth to the need that there is a deeply involvement with the lie in order for the liar to get to a state that turns what he is saying into truth or at least authenticity.
But then, this may mean that we accept deceive and lie in society? Does it mean then that what is really needed is that the liar should be really good in pretending? Or that he his psychologically deranged to the point of being able to live a lie as if it were truth? And isn’t this similar to Lee Strasberg’s famous ‘method acting’ in his New York Actors Studio, in late 50s, that proposed the reliving of passed memories to bring truthful emotion to the act of representation? And what does this say in therms of the discussion around the quality of the presence of the performer on stage in contemporary dance since Yvonne Rainer’s refusal to keep lying through representation in the 60s?
Art today is not self-satisfactory. Art today is in a state of constant intellectual inquiry at the same time it has to be emotionally involved and involving. So, maybe questioning the question that produced a question is the most authentic position of art. And in the process, repeat the practice of searching for the answer to an ancient question: What world are we able to create together? This is also part of the reason why Cécile’s proposal is valid. It was valid in the first individual encounters with the artists. And is valid as an incentive for the creation of a frame where these artists can express their personality and quality as the extraordinary performers they are, which happened in the internal Saturday sharing. So, the presentation that came out of Cécile suggestion was for itself a gift for everybody that was watching, because it was offered as some kind of abandonment of any temptation of perfection or control of the result and was rather a surrender to the moment and to the others.
The Flying Project
Douglas Bateman is the first in. He is lightness and laughter. He offers his versatile approach to movement that, in a few minutes performance, includes talking, dancing and some more theatrical actions. He goes from provocative and eccentric to funny in a thread of water, going through more delicate and touching expression in a gentle breath.
Kingsley A. Odiaka with his powerful muscular body, disrupts the mist produced by the fog machine. Sometimes he becomes ethereal in his disappearance. Others crumbles in the fog. He is percussive in his rhythm. He is acrobatic. But shifts suddenly into a small scale and low vibration of the limbs, with a precise unbalanced harmony in his harms, that soothe also through the expression of the face.
Nuria Guiu Sagarra enters the stage with discretion. Her long blond hair and the skinny figure soon expands into a strong romantic field of battle between passion and suffering, almost falling as if her body becomes too heavy to bear. But resisting. Resisting to give up, to succumb, as if it was possible to feel pain very deeply and at the same time not letting go. Very much in sync with the temperament of the music and lyric of Janis Joplin “Piece of My Heart”. Is a dance that is shouting inside, with an visible exterior reverberation on the body. Or is just Nuria simply feeling in her skin Janis Joplin’s voice:
“Oh, oh, break it!/
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah,/
Oh, oh, have a!/
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby,/
You know you got it, child, if it makes you feel good“.
Jean-Jacques Sanchez enters the performance stage from the back. There is no rush, no precipitation, just a peaceful simultaneous contemplation of interiority and exteriority. With him everything and everybody is connected and the first gesture come gently as a delicate act of growing intimacy. It starts with a simple action. Just showing a small surface of the skin through a manual manipulation of a flashlight. As he reveals himself, a mellowness silences his body and goes into a poetry of loss. He enters a dark forest of the flesh where a man smiles crushed.
Paula Diogo immediately denounces her theatrical background that makes the approach the performance space distinct from the ones before her. She starts by reorganising the set up, turning the fans, that were always there creating a kind of circular frame, into the ceiling, also redirecting the movement of the wind. Jean-Jacques is with her, playing the piano – so this is a solo that is a duet that is a moment of a group piece that is presented in the form of various solos… Her actions are more clear in the intentions. Is it because she comes from theatre? She is jumping over the fans like a kid jumping over a fire, and screaming while doing so. The hot of the fire is now the cold coming out of the fans. And the danger has a different taste. When she lies over a fan, her dark hair loose seems to be at the eminence of get stuck in the rolling fans. But that might be just the perspective of the exterior eye…
Gui Garrido enters in a very personal way, full of energy. He bursts into the stage addressing public as being what they were: a group of colleagues with whom he has been living for the last weak. He asks for the audience lights to be turned on. And he explained he was in that set up responding to Cécile’s request for his participation on his way of staging his leap of faith. A per formative action that is about trust and letting go of constraints. And that is what he does, through a free improvisation. Always talking and walking, Gui goes to Dejan Srhoj, who was sitting on the first raw, to ask for the t-shirt Dejan was wearing. After Dejan, Gui went to Nuria for her trousers and t-shirt. And after that, while he was talking about why he was in TryAngle and why he was on stage, clothes started flying in his direction. He kept talking and organising the clothes he was getting. And he questioned. He questioned if we artists were forgetting why they do art? And he proposed a kind of an answer: Love above all. He was referring to the love he found in the generous help each one gave to the other to fulfil each others dreams that emerged during the little try out… “Above all” he said, “is not so common nowadays. Not in general life. And even less in the last years arts world”. At the end, his leap of faith was just a “thank you” written with clothes on the stage.
After him, Claudia Gaiolas closed with humour and cheerful creativity a playful performance. In her action of messing up the fans and turning them out, she offered herself in a gesture that was a tenderness. And with simplicity she returned once again on stage to say: “Hi. I just came to say hi!” In a way that is all that it can be. Saying hi with tenderness. Or love.