Rio de Janeiro
Marcela Levi interviewed by Laura Erber
LAURA ERBER: French writer Francis Ponge (1899 - 1988) used to say that writing, especially poems, should be propelled by the attraction force of objects. Ponge believed that to escape from the sterile circle of humanism we should "allow ourselves to be pulled by objects". In his opinion, it wasn't anymore a matter of arranging things around us to achieve harmony but letting ourselves be disarranged by them. You coined the term "subjetos" to designate the transitive body that allows itself to be contaminated. Can you talk about this?
MARCELA LEVI: Yes, that's exactly it: "...allow yourself to be pulled by objects". When I am working, I think of "submitting" myself to the objects and not just manipulating them as something I have control over. I seek to experience things a little like children do it. I enjoy very much watching them move about, they have a 'state of moment' i.e. they have access to a state of attention very much like some kind of animal intensity. Unlike adults, they are not burdened by the concepts of past or future, they are just there, fully settled in the here and now, just like the animals and from this it emerges a totally fascinating presence. I believe children "do not make things", they mix with what they do, they are the act itself. Each step is a step and nothing more, each gesture speaks about the gesture itself. I am never sure if they are playing with the toys or if the toys are playing with them. This is the kind of experience I seek to activate in my work with objects, a third thing that is not anymore my body nor an autonomous object, but an overlapping body/object/subject. Out of this work practice, emerged the word "subjetos" in Portuguese: objects/subjects displaced and put out of their common function.
LAURA ERBER: Your first solo performance was Imagem and it seems, in a broad sense, that more and more your work stands in this subtle border that separates (or links) performance and visual arts. Could you talk a little about the idea of image that emerges from this process?
MARCELA LEVI: Yes, I think I can. I built the performance Imagem in collaboration with the Brazilian photographer Claudia Garcia. Our starting point was to think of an uncatchable body that is constantly exposing its reorganization. We were interested in thinking of an image as something that does not affirm, does not stabilize. We wanted to talk about a hollowed image/body blurred with sensations. An accurate image, but an accuracy full of ambiguities.
LAURA ERBER: There is a very particular kind of humor in your performances that, in my personal view, besides being caustic, conveys a strong sense of helplessness. It is a humor that keeps away from easiness and also from arrogance that are often characteristics of irony, because, in your work, the question is not denouncing or judging something foreign to the body that constitutes itself on stage. Perhaps this humor contributes to the "undoing" of the autarchic and autonomous body, thus making room for other combinations of strength between passivity and excess of stimulus (and control) that, for good or evil, we are all submitted to. Even when your work points to issues of an external real (the vulgarization of death in In-organic, for instance), it works inside, I mean, I don't see in it any strategy to lead the spectator to take an immediate stand. And from there on, the humor is connected to a state of unaccomplishment, also leaving the spectator in a kind of helplessness, not knowing how to react. More than a means of criticizing, this type of humor creates crisis situations. How do you see this relationship between humor and crisis in your work?
MARCELA LEVI: Funny, I have always thought humor was missing in my work... but helplessness yes, I can see it. I think it is related to the fact that I believe we are solitary beings who talk to each other in roundabout ways. But I look upon this solitude in a very positive way; I think this impossibility of union is exactly what makes it possible for us to desire and to speak. When I built In-Organic, as you said in your question, I was keen on speaking about the vulgarization of death. I was not interested, however, in discoursing about it or pointing fingers at anyone. What I wanted was an unaccomplished draft-talk. I then thought about immersing myself in what I was talking about, that is, turn that external talking into an intimate thing.
LAURA ERBER: In In-organic there was already something that is intensified in Around..., disjointed associations interlacing the fragments/moments without entirely filling the gaps between them. In these holes, the spectator may experience a kind of uneasiness, but also the possibility of undoing the linearity, a model of a successive time that tends to impose itself on scene. This disjunction is not synonymous of "lack of unity" and suggests the possibility of a swap. How do you see this "temporal syntax" of the body on scene?
MARCELA LEVI: My work material is the body. I think of the body as a strange, ambiguous and rough zone. This body is part of (engenders) a specific situation that unfolds in a (pre)determined period of time. I make an attempt, when articulating these situations, to do something that Francis Bacon said: to provide emotions without the boredom of communication.
LAURA ERBER: In what way Around the hole everything is edge is related to your previous projects? How do you see this passage from solo to a duo in which the two bodies never dialogue, but inhabit the same fragmented space and handle convulsive objects that, throughout the performance, also come undone and change meaning?
MARCELA LEVI: I liked very much the idea of "a fragmented space and convulsive objects", that's exactly what it is. A friend of mine (Volmir Cordeiro), who was accompanying the rehearsals, said he was under the impression, while seeing the work, that what he saw on scene seemed to be a part of something he wasn't seeing. I like very much this idea of showing an appendix of the unseen, the unseen becoming more corpulent than the seen. During the creative process, I worked with the book "The Infinite Conversation" of the French writer Maurice Blanchot. Among many other things in this book that helped me to imagine this work, Blanchot says that conversation is in the empty space that erupts between one speech and another. So, I think Flavia (Meireles) and I we dialogue, I mean, while not occupying the same physical space at the same time, we show the void that speaks between one speech and another. I don't see it as a passage from solo to duo. Since I started working on my projects, the question of a non unity and of a non totality was already present in the solos. In my previous works, I had already realized that being on scene is to be in relation; so, Flavia coming on scene - as we had already worked together for four years - was just another step in the direction of building this "fragmented space" you referred to. That's it; I work so that disagreements, edges, non fittings and deviations resulting from partnerships and conversations can show up. Perhaps this is the political aspect of my artistic project, to deviate, to deviate even from myself. Around the hole everything is edge, as my previous works, invests in the non pacified, incomplete and transitional sense of things, in the things that emerge from among things. Around..., as well as In-organic, speak about death, but a death that can appear in a frantic body (un)inhabited by a collective, impersonal, massive and non reflective voice. Objects are once again present and allied to this work body - the void - create a third thing. This time, 200 carrots blur, cross and mark the scenic space. However, differently from my previous works, which were built in a continuum unfolded by associations, i.e. one thing leading to another and by association to another one and so on. Around... is composed by small autonomous fragments that we call short manifestations. I am interested in the jumps, in the voids, in the jolts that this structure can engender and this interest is linked to that helplessness you mentioned in one of your questions. That's helplessness, but a kind of helplessness that (so I hope) leaves room for desire, a helplessness/invitation to let yourself go without knowing exactly where. To watch yourself "gone"; with pleasure (so I hope).
LAURA ERBER: Flavia, I would like you to speak a little about the elaboration of the language of Around... and the research you did around these short manifestations.
FLAVIA MEIRELES: What we call short manifestations appeared as a strategy to make fragmentation, discontinuity and interruption a matter of work. What has interested us was the crack in the sense they could cause, or rather, the narrow edge of sense they could carry, their provisional state. The question here is not fragmentation seen as part of a unity or of a series, but each fragment or manifestation as the thing in itself, as a synthesis or saturation of an idea. So, each part was worked autonomously and then put together in tension. We built a specific rhythm and time for each manifestation and a set of relationships emerged. They deal with excitement, clogging, celebration and violence in constant (re)articulation. What interests me in this proposal is to deal with this tension as it shows itself, avoiding to solve it or to appease it.