Thursday, January 10, 2013

Rodrigo Sobarzo de Larraechea / Mining

L1dancefest 2012 took place in September, and I failed to write the critiques I had promised about the featured pieces in time. In my defense, in the last months of 2012, I did not neglect the topic of dance, I just spent my time practicing it instead of writing about it. However, the new year has arrived, so it is time to get down to work and complete some unfinished business. Here is my critique about Mining, performed by Rodrigo Sobarzo de Larraechea, a contemporary piece that I saw in Bakelit Multi Art Center, September 20th, a piece that left me completely breathless. 

Rodrigo’s performance titled Mining is the simplest piece I have seen so far (though I’m young and have not seen so many contemporary performances as I would have liked to). It is basically made up of two parts. In the first part, the performer stages a seemingly neverending  scene of agony; he is writhing on the ground, breathing heavily, continuously wailing, suffering, as if his lungs and his body were thrown into a fit of convulsions. Giving out this hair-raising, nerve-racking sound of calvary, he is dragging himself along the the floor, at an excruciatingly slow pace, to arrive at the front of the stage, to throw his affliction into the face of the audience. He manages to stand up, but his misery does not come to an end yet; he suffers on, towards the other side of the stage, gets down to the floor again, tries to crawl under the dance floor, he stands up again, he is throwing himself against the wall, like he wants to get out of the space of the performance, away from the attention. Then he stops (it might be good to know, that by now at least 30 minutes of the 50-minutes long performance have passed). The second part of the piece begins. He acts like nothing happened, goes to the side of the stage, takes his bottle of water, and drinks almost the whole bottle. Casually, as if he were not in the middle of something fixed, something pre-planned and rehearsed. Afterwards, he takes a wooden board, jewelled with straps, and puts it on like a pair of wings. He makes some movements in this reborn form of a wooden dragonfly, then takes off this wing-like board and starts chopping it into two with an axe. 

And how did this extremely unusual piece affect me and other members of the audience? In the first 20 minutes, I was appalled, horrified, petrified, trying to grasp the meaning behind this piece, looking around, checking the reaction of the audience, only to see eyes just as surprised as mine were. How on earth can this be considered art?
Then my thoughts began to race. Instead of focusing on the performance taking place in front of me, my attention turned inwards, I started to analyse my own feelings and what I saw on the faces of the other viewers. The sound of the suffering artist became background noise for me (and it became routine for the artist). How sick is that? And still, how ordinary, how everyday, how typical of an average citizen, going past another member of society writhing in pain on the streets, just because (s)he is an outsider. Instantly, I became aware of my own ignorance, of my own hypocrisy, of me being able to contemplate about deeper meanings only because I stopped paying attention to all the hurt the artist was expressing, aware of my being just a member of the audience, aware of the borders of the stage, of the rules of a set piece, of the paradox that in this piece, it was not the artist who seemed to be constrained by a rigid script, but the audience; it was me who seemed to follow the screen-play of not looking away, of not leaving my seat, of not ignoring what the situation expected from me. 

So, basically, for me, this piece was centred around awareness:
-         Around audience-awareness: if this was happening in the outside world, I would call help, or – much as it hurts to admit the ugly truth – I would turn my eyes away, but in this case I’m aware that I’m supposed to focus on the performance and that the artist is allegedly faking his misery; thereby, the sense of being an observer is very intense;
-         Around performance-awareness: this is just a piece of art, all make-believe, so I can analyse it; being sophisticated, creating art allows me to depict social problems, but does it really solve anything? Is it not sanctimonious? Furthermore, the performance made me wonder how demanding it is to „fake” this suffering, and how demanding it is to experience it? To see it? To see it without intervening? Finally, since this was only make-believe, I didn’t think about the performer as sufferer, but as canvas, as symbol – not an actual human with feelings, but of course this might be only a sign of my own short-sightedness;
-         Around stage-awareness: when the performer tried to hide below the carpet covering the stage, I was shocked, it somehow seemed utterly unexpectable and surreal for me. But why? Had I always considered the dance carpet to be sacred, to be untouchable, like the actual ground of the performance, the border of art dimension, a layer below which there was supposed to be nothing? Well, now, the artist reminded me that it is only a regular carpet, and during suffering anything can happen, the sufferer/observed must not abide by the rules of art fabricated by humankind. But this was just the beginning. A bit later, after the performer stopped his route of calvary, we heard a phone ringing. First I thought someone from the audience forgot to silence his/her phone. Then I was appalled to see that the ringing phone was in the pocket of the artist’s jacket, the one that he previously took off during his suffering. The phone was in the performer’s “costume”. Hilarious.
-         About body-awareness: because, after the performer’s agony came to an end, he took a bottle of water and drank its whole content. Seems logical, doesn’t it? After all that demanding physical activity and sweating, it is completely understandable that the lost water needs to be replaced. I should not have been so surprised. The body has its needs, and it also has its socially set habits, like pulling one’s trousers up when one is conscious. This body-awareness can also be connected the wooden tablet the artist put on. It was like a pair of wings, through them, the performer stretched his bodily space, he was in control of his appearance, as opposed to what was going on in the first section of the piece. Then, at the end, he chopped his pair of wings with an ax. Did he not need it anymore? Did this act represent him breaking his own body?

Besides these different types of awareness, the performance also made me think of the performer as an embodiment of the weak: the beggar, the blind (as in the first part he kept his eyes closed, because it is less confronting), the ill, and, perhaps, the inner sufferer inside each and every one of us, our inner weak person whom we all prefer to ignore, in order to move on and save our face. After the performance, Rodrigo said that he had wanted to be in the moment. His words made me ponder to what an extent pain connects us to the present, to reality, to materiality, and to what extent one can lose touch with his/herself, with the present, with his/her sense of time, if (s)he chooses to ignore the pain inside.
As a conclusion, let me say a few words about the title. Mining, that is, bringing something up from under the surface, hard toil in order to find some kind of treasure. Does this mean that we need to let our pain work on us, so that we can find some gold in our wretched bones? On the other hand, ‘mining’ also brings another word to my mind: ‘undermining’, destroying something from under the surface. I could go on writing about the connection between this concept and the last part of the performance, but that piece of gold needs some more time before it can be mined.

Photos were borrowed from Kővágó Nagy Imre's website:

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