And be­ing true to her­self, and to her con­cep­tion and vi­sion of art as an in­ter­ac­tive act with the pub­lic… the en­tire weight of the novelty was in this pub­lic/play re­la­tion­ship.

Art On Cuba - - Index - Lil­ian Boti Llanes

The first edi­tion of Por­tu­gal’s BoCA—Bi­en­nial of Con­tem­po­rary Arts was held be­tween March and April, 2017. The main fea­ture of this Bi­en­nial was that its con­cept is based on the transver­sal­ity of its pro­gram. Not only were tra­di­tional sites used, as in the dif­fer­ent Bi­en­ni­als held across the world: museums, gal­leries, cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions, pub­lic spa­ces; but spe­cial em­pha­sis was placed on the­aters, bars and other un­usual places, to present in­no­va­tive and un­con­ven­tional works. This same trans­for­ma­tive vi­sion is rooted in the se­lec­tion of the Bi­en­nial Di­rec­tor, a po­si­tion which fell to a Por­tuguese ac­tor, stage de­signer and pro­ducer trained at the Lis­bon Theatre and Film School, thus pos­sess­ing an un­usual pro­file among di­rec­tors of art bi­en­ni­als. Hence also the im­por­tance awarded to the per­form­ing arts as a form of art pro­duc­tion and di­a­logue on the struc­tures of pro­mo­tion, pro­gram­ming and rep­re­sen­ta­tion of con­tem­po­rary art.

This Bi­en­nial was thought up with the idea of con­firm­ing some­thing that artists have been do­ing for a long time, that is the com­bi­na­tion of sev­eral dif­fer­ent artis­tic ex­pres­sions to pro­duce their works.

It was in this con­text that Cuban artist Ta­nia Bruguera was se­lected as one of the four res­i­dent artists. Like all the artists of var­i­ous dis­ci­plines, she was asked to ex­change with other par­tic­i­pat­ing artists and choose to ex­hibit her creations in a style in which she was not ac­cus­tomed to pre­sent­ing her work. Thus Ta­nia launched her­self into a project which was novel, yet re­lated to her usual per­for­mances and in­stal­la­tions, and chose a form of ex­pres­sion that she was al­ways in­ter­ested in us­ing, that of the theater.

Ta­nia’s de­but as an artis­tic di­rec­tor took place at the São Bento da Vitória Monastery in Porto, but the work was later per­formed in three other Euro­pean ci­ties: Brus­sels, in the frame­work of the Kun­sten­fes­ti­valde­sarts, at the In­ter­na­tional Sum­mer Fes­ti­val Kamp­nagel in Ham­burg, Ger­many; and at France’s Na­tional Dra­matic Cen­ter of the Théâtre Nan­terre–Amandiers, as part of the Fes­ti­val d’Au­tomne in Paris.

The São Bento da Vitória Monastery is one of the most im­por­tant re­li­gious build­ings in the city, but since its dec­la­ra­tion as a Na­tional Her­itage site it has formed part of Porto’s São

João Na­tional Theater com­plex, and there­fore hosts the­atri­cal per­for­mances, con­certs and other cul­tural events. When it was re­stored, the Noble Clois­ter was closed with a trans­par­ent roof that con­sti­tutes an acous­tic shell, and a wooden floor was also laid. This mon­u­men­tal gran­ite build­ing was be­gun in 1604 and the clois­ter was fin­ished be­tween 1725 and 1728. The build­ing is of a Man­ner­ist and Baroque style, as a re­sult of the long pe­riod over which it was built. It was here where Ta­nia placed the metal struc­ture that served as the medium and part of her cre­ative way of pre­sent­ing her work.

The work cho­sen by Ta­nia was the play “Fin de par­tie” (Endgame) by Ir­ish writer and play­wright Sa­muel Beck­ett. The play was com­pleted in 1957 and pre­miered that same year. Ever since the artist read the piece for the first time more than 20 years ago, she was deeply marked by it and has reread it sev­eral times through­out her life. In it she found the ideal medium to demon­strate all her artis­tic cre­ativ­ity and thus con­vey a mes­sage, which in her work al­ways has a markedly po­lit­i­cal char­ac­ter, but on this oc­ca­sion was pre­sented in such a way as artists usu­ally cap­ti­vate the pub­lic, with in­tel­li­gence and sub­tlety. The piece deals with the uni­ver­sal and eter­nal theme of power, its use by those who pos­sess it, of de­pen­dence, of ma­nip­u­la­tion and in gen­eral of hu­man re­la­tion­ships in all their cru­elty and hu­man­ity.

There are only four char­ac­ters in the play, who in­ter­act in a bare room with a door that is al­ways closed and pro­vides ac­cess to a kitchen that is never seen. There are also two very dif­fi­cult to ac­cess win­dows in the room. Hamm is a blind para­plegic, al­ways con­fined to his wheel­chair; Clov is his ser­vant who can­not sit down due to a strange rigid­ity in his legs. On in­ter­act­ing with his master, when not stand­ing by his side, Clov as­sumes an un­com­fort­able semi–ly­ing pos­ture. Hamm’s par­ents ap­pear in­ter­mit­tently and each lives in a garbage can, since they lost their legs in an ac­ci­dent. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Hamm and Clov and their mu­tual de­pen­dence is the cen­tral theme of the piece.

The play was per­formed in English, which al­though not the orig­i­nal lan­guage in which it was writ­ten (Beck­ett orig­i­nally wrote the piece in French), can also be con­sid­ered an orig­i­nal ver­sion in­so­far as it was the au­thor him­self who trans­lated it. Ta­nia de­cided to present the work in English at all four venues. The fi­delity to the text is rig­or­ous, as the au­thor de­manded of all per­for­mances of his work. In the lead­ing roles were two no­table artists who ef­fec­tively and con­vinc­ingly in­ter­preted the work. Thus Ta­nia’s in­no­va­tion was not in the use of Beck­ett’s text or the dra­maturgy, but in the pub­lic’s per­cep­tion of the piece, al­ready known to many but which al­ways al­lows new in­ter­pre­ta­tions given its many nu­ances.

And be­ing true to her­self, and to her con­cep­tion and vi­sion of art as an in­ter­ac­tive act with the pub­lic, who com­plete, mod­ify, in­ter­pret and en­rich its mes­sage, the en­tire weight of the novelty was in this pub­lic/play re­la­tion­ship.

For the pre­sen­ta­tion in the very well–cho­sen clois­ter of the Monastery, Ta­nia Bruguera built, with the col­lab­o­ra­tion of an ar­chi­tect’s stu­dio, a gi­gan­tic cylin­dri­cal metal struc­ture al­most 9 me­ters high. This struc­ture served as the box/stalls on which the au­di­ence was po­si­tioned, thus it was not only nec­es­sary to think about the con­cept of her work, but also about safety, given that com­fort was not a pri­or­ity here, de­tached as it was from the artist’s con­cept.

The work was seen through a white cur­tain in which some holes had been strate­gi­cally placed, so that each mem­ber of the pub­lic could place his or her head through one, and not only ob­serve from above the play that was un­der­way at ground level, but also watch the other mem­bers of the au­di­ence in their mix­ture of phys­i­cal dis­com­fort and con­cen­tra­tion on what they were ob­serv­ing.

The whole piece was ap­pre­ci­ated stand­ing in this cir­cu­lar metal struc­ture whose stairs spi­raled the cir­cu­lar tube in which the piece was per­formed. And in that cir­cu­lar tube cov­ered with a white cloth there were holes barely big enough to be able to see clearly through. They were dis­trib­uted two, four and six me­ters from the ground such that each au­di­ence mem­ber had to choose the height at which he or she wanted to be placed, on buy­ing their tick­ets, with­out know­ing ex­actly what that de­ci­sion meant. What was the cor­rect height? Was one height bet­ter than an­other? What did it mean to choose a height at which to be placed? Al­ready long be­fore see­ing the work, the pub­lic was ea­ger to dis­cover this new in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

But nev­er­the­less, the piece re­quired a con­scious and mo­ti­vated pub­lic, who had to climb up scaf­fold­ing to the places from where they were to see the play. They also wore ca­sual cloth­ing and shoes, as more than an hour of at­ten­tion was ex­pected of them, stand­ing, bent for­wards, sup­ported by an iron struc­ture cov­ered by metal mesh, with their heads pushed through a hole in a large white cur­tain. In short, a po­si­tion that was not par­tic­u­larly com­fort­able, in or­der that the viewer could also be aware of his or her own body. And it worked. Not only were they con­scious of their bod­ies, but great con­cen­tra­tion and em­pa­thy was achieved with the rest of the au­di­ence, and the work was per­ceived in a very dif­fer­ent way. Power and ma­nip­u­la­tion, there is no doubt that they can be ex­er­cised in many dif­fer­ent ways.

From the ti­tle it­self, “Endgame,” the work refers to many dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions. For those who did not know the play be­fore, it makes one think of the game of chess, of which Beck­ett was said to be a great fan, with its mix of strat­egy, long–term vi­sion, an­tic­i­pa­tion of the op­po­nent’s ac­tions, self–con­trol and un­in­ter­rupted con­cen­tra­tion. And it also sug­gests the im­mi­nence of an end that can be pro­longed in time.

I be­lieve that on this oc­ca­sion, Ta­nia Bruguera showed that art, as an art in it­self, is an ex­cel­lent way to con­vey a mes­sage to which the artist feels com­mit­ted, with­out be­ing ob­vi­ous in the means of ex­press­ing it. ƒ

Fin de par­tida, 2017 / Metal struc­ture de­sign by Dotan Gertler Stu­dio / 46 x 46 x 30 ft / Photo: Peter Hön­ne­mann

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