Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The Theatre and The Life
My dear friend,
I believe I have found a suitable title for my book.
It will be:
THE THEATRE AND ITS DOUBLE
For if theatre doubles life, life doubles true theatre, but it has nothing to do with Oscar Wilde’s ideas on art. This title will comply with all the doubles of the theatre which I thought I’d found for so many years: metaphysics, plague, cruelty, the pool of energies which constitute Myths, which man no longer embodies, is embodied by the theatre. By this double I mean the great magical agent of which the theatre, through its forms, is only the figuration on its way to becoming the transfiguration.
It is on the stage that the union of thought, gesture and action is reconstructed. and the double of the Theatre is reality untouched by the men of today.
Artaud, Letter to Jean Paulhan
25th January, 1936.
In my first semester at the University of Giessen, i attended a seminar about Artaud held by Helga Finter. Partly motivated by kind of an exotic interest at that time, i agreed after the introductory session to give a presentation on Artauds intensive encounter with Mexico.
I ordered Artauds Mexico-volume and started to read it during the Christmas holidays. I remember how i was astonished and irritated about Artaud's heterogenous decsriptions of his trip to Mexico in 1936. Did he travel to the Tarahumaras, or did he stay in Mexico-City all the time? Did he take part in the Tutuguri-Ritus, or didn't he?
These have been my very first questions and it probably took some time, until I realized, that they are not very relevant at all. I don't think, that i understood a lot about the true origins of his conflicts with the mechanisms of cruelty, that construct identity, and of the as problematic experienced relation between language and the body, but what really impressed me was the basic necessity, that was inherent to all his writings, despite of - or just because off - all obvious inconsistencies. On the one hand here somebody was writing about an alien country / a different culture, but on the other hand you as the reader got the impression to experience primarily something about your Self.
The Mexico that Artaud had created in his mind had at a first glance nothing in common with the actual Mexico of his time. Mexico served Artaud as a subjective heterotopia, a space of otherness, as a means of escape from the as decadent perceived European culture.
During the last seven years I used to read Artaud from time to time, not with an scientific interest, but more as a kind of source of inspiration, as a footing whenever I felt the ground beneath my feets to become very fragile. Thinking quite a long time about an project dealing with texts by Artaud, I was very excited when i heard first about the call for "German Media Artists" to produce an artwork in Mexico-City, and proposed a concept for an audiovisual installation based on Artaud's expose "The Conquest of Mexico". This small text from the context of his “The Theatre and Its Double”-writings outlines an utopian theatre, that is so much more actual and relevant, than 99% of the stuff that is shown on contemporary stages: A theatre beyond vainness and hasty conclusions, a theatre that takes its material seriously and is no longer subject to the primacies of narcissism or prefabricated ideas.
I think it is quite difficult if not impossible to perform “The Conquest of Mexico” 1:1 on a stage, since the question is how can you deal with the representation of something, that articulates a subjective space, which everybody has to discover – and create - for himself?
The basic idea of my proposal was to construct an interdisciplinary and hybrid media dispositive, where I can research this question in more detail: Constructing something between toy theatre, display cabinet and peepshow, a kind of miniature stage, where not only Artauds first theatrical examination of “Mexico” becomes re-enacted on a small scale as a model drama, but where – via various conjunctions and permanently changing perspectives - at the same time the general mimetic constitution of our thinking and its crisis is reflected.
“For if theatre doubles life, life doubles true theatre”, Artaud wrote in January 1936, two weeks after he had left Paris to travel to Mexico, and for sure his trip to this country was highly motivated by his permanent quest for this true theatre. What did Artaud expect to find in Mexico? Probably, he didn't know exactly, but the gap between what he had imagined and what he experienced couldn't have been much larger.
When I went to Mexico, it was exactly this tension, that I was looking forward to. To re-read Artaud's writings about Mexico in the country with the same name. To concentrate on one text, that deals in a poetic way with a historical situation (the Spanish conquest), which still has a huge impact to the local contemporary cultural and political situation.
The Mexico that I have experienced during the last few days, is really something that was totally beyond my imagination. Sitting most of the daytime on our roof-deck with view on a public plaza, I became kind of an spectator of a very irreal and distant Mexico. But how irreal and distant this Mexico might be at the moment, I can't deny that I am also a part of it. The third wall is simply missing (or at least porous). Whenever you see people coming down the streets with masks on their faces, whenever you hear the sounds of police, ambulance, helicopters or even coughing / sneezing people - quite normal in other days -, you become remembered of the vulnerability of your own body. Nobody seems to know how things will develop further, and this is something that makes at the moment all of us to spectators.
I can't help myself, but I am really happy whenever I see kids in the streets playing soccer or couples exchanging caresses (what seems to increase again). I am happy now about construction noises or if shop owners turn up their music (all restaurants and bars are closed since today) and people in the streets start to move to samples of latin or western pop music. At regular intervals I hear just for a couple of seconds the refrain line of the 007 Theme Song "The World is not enough". One of my neighbours seems to like especially this song.
I am sure, if this is over, the whole city will dance.