letters from TryAngle

Saturday 15th of September 2012

Dear Grandpa,

In Pessoa’s Book of Intranquility I read this morning.

“As a man who would try from very high above to distinguish the living beings in a valley, but I look into myself from the summit, I am, after all, a confuse and indistinct landscape.”

What do we see from the living beings we try to see? Just ourselves when we look around? And from the summit, we lose the focus, it gets blurred, meaning within us? What shifts the view? Or is self-critical reflection just an honest way to describe what we see around?

Self-criticism is a notion that was praised by some these days, proving the validity of an artistic approach. So the critical faculty of arts comes as a reply to yesterday’s artistic sensitivity of critics?

La cité des ânes takes place in an old castle inhabited by a group of people from different regions. It is, like society is, Rui says, a product of circumstances, but adapted to our needs, which is the main difference with the world outside. On Wednesday evening, in the white room, he has presented a video of the white room where everyone was invited to come and leave during the day, participating in the constant change of disposition, invented as they came and left, for instance putting puffs one upon the other as to build a wall, make a line on the floor to another table where Alma sits, to meet her eventually when she gets up – what happens with the space in which we move? What game do we actually play?

One could feel absurd. We are looked at and recorded in each movement we make: each situation becomes material for a stage, on stage, where we actually are, shown to ourselves and to others, on the wide web. Inserted in present time, the other temporality of reflection can create distortions.

Rui made a performance about ourselves. He showed the video shot during that day and commented it ironically, made some laugh, and surprised us telling the story we made up, without knowing we did, as he made it. I wonder what performances are. Naivety is lost since 9.11, since tears were performed on the news, Rui said yesterday when talking with Augusto Seabra, there is no spontaneity anymore. I guess this is the other side of critical thinking. The separation from natural and immediate feeling. A loss that does not only concern those who exercise critical thinking but the collective mind of our time? Visible in daily and anesthetised life in which our senses are overwhelmed with information, leading to regressive sentimentalism, or to so called realism, the disenchanted world, to desperation and depression also. But is this gap within spontaneity not rather a step towards cultivating feelings? The spontaneity lost with consciousness could initiate another kind of naivety, one that includes and overtakes resignation, where acquiesce in enchanting the world becomes a natural consequence. As a research of relational reality in which we actually participate in the feelings that emerge – spontaneously. And Arts more than anything have this ability? Even a responsibility in our time?

Creation comes out of the life we live in and the circumstances we share are still fresh and frail. What can begin now and for such a short period of time? On the first day I crossed Rui on the stairs, tall and thin, thinking as straight as he holds his head – he has no time for politeness and suddenly smiles in surprise, looks further, willing to see truly, with a sharp view on his surroundings, demanding as soon as he listens and speaks. People presented projects on the first day and he seemed concerned with the absence of real fundaments, seeing how forced inventions can be fake. Was it lucidity or the incapability to see another’s intuition or idea? Both?
We don’t know all the way it takes to a blossom. And roots grow slowly too. But when is the time spoilt? If people are equal in dignity, they are not equal in faculties. And if there is astonishing human and social harmony in the convent, there also are artistic tensions. Which is healthy I guess. Organisation wise equal value is given to all initiatives and technical resources adapted to needs. Should artists not have the same space to develop their projects I started to wonder? But if there were a selection, who would measure, who would judge what is worth growing?

It is a choice and the risk taken for quality to emerge: time and material conditions given to experimentation that is not yet measured and not result orientated. I trust it is the disposition of mind which lets us see best what potential works eventually have. The awareness of the limited period of time in this very place with these particular people gives the participants enough attachment and distance to their being and work. Could we not always adopt this awareness for the flexibility and availability it brings?
“Live as if today was the last day and do as if your work had to last two centuries” I hear the echo of a sentence by Rûmi and believe our society would look quite different if we tried so.

When we got to the bullfight arena in the afternoon, a hot and sunny afternoon, the sand was bright, reflecting the yellow walls around. Sofia was laying on the concrete stairs, on one of the stairs that go around the arena; stairs painted in gray on top with numbers stencilled in black that indicate the seats; concrete painted in white on the vertical side, between the stairs. Sofia has a high oval brow and dark curly hair, a beautifully broken voice. Femininity personified – she has the aura to play queens. She was laying in the shade. She looked tired and as if she wanted to be somewhere else, in a world she kept silent. What would she see in it, what would it make her see?

Lots of people came to the arena. People had come from town for the 360° picture announced. Ola got the idea to take the picture of 360 people in the circular arena after visiting the place the previous Saturday and someone used a camera that turned round like a whirligig. Old people were the first arrived, waiting in front of the doors, taking their seat numbers, with impenetrable stories on their faces, dressed up for the occasion, curious; children running about, a little girl trying to fill a plastic bottle with sand; a white dog barking; women and men who live and work in Montemor-o-Novo; the lady who cooks for the convent every day; musicians from a band that would play Abba songs for a karaoke with us at the theatre the following Saturday. People stood and talked with their occasional neighbours. With the little Portuguese I understand and the mimics foreigners do to stumble a little exchange, I grasped the lady next to me was a nurse. Now she was extracted from her ongoing timetable she has usually, even on Sundays. Perhaps two hundred of us were standing inside the arena against the red wooden fence we covered all together. In the centre different cameras were placed to take the circular pictures, turning around a tripod, again and again –
What is held on whilst we are waiting? Waiting for something we don’t know will happen? For something we actually participate in? Waiting…
until Jacinto drummed the slow rhythm and started to sing “Estranha forma de vida – coração independente”. Well known to those assembled. In the suspense of the drums, the group of “hunters” gathered together in the centre of the arena on Philippe’s command, started to shoot with their cameras, in alert movements, without crossing another hunter, pointing at the people, who were surprised by the gravity of the scene they were included in and suddenly the group had elected one of their peers who laid down his weapon – they continued and another one was chosen. The scene came to an end.

Between the fado recognizable to the public and the unexpected choreography the group of foreigners made in the arena, seeming to know the rules of the game they played, there was a beating space for astonishment in a wider scale. What do humans do with each other?

People had come to the arena as visitors and became the cultural hosts of a heritage reinvented for a different sake. Who was who’s host and who’s guest? More and more sang the song of the olive twig with Alma, the young French dancer wearing a red silk scarf in her hair.

Dear Grandpa, today was a special day. We are now half way through the TryAngle residence. The community gathered together shared a picture out of daily life. A political act that arts can create – worthy of an intermediate achievement…
With affection yours, Isis