on Via Negativa
Via Negativa is an international platform for research, development and production of contemporary performing arts based in Ljubljana. It was founded in 2002 and operates under the artistic direction of theatre director Bojan Jablanovec.
VN is focused in devising and exploring different performing strategies, with an emphasis on ethics and liveness of performance practices, procedures and genres. In addition to the production VN regularly conducts workshops, which every year take place in Ljubljana in the form of the VN Lab – the Via Negativa laboratory for contemporary performing arts.
Until 2016 VN devised 50 projects, 15 collective presentations and numerous workshops. VN projects have been presented in 24 European countries and the USA. These projects involved more than 90 performers from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Romania and Hungary.
“If we set out towards Via Negativa in the wake of its name, then every beginning, every direction or end will emerge as something merely transient, projecting itself in its negativity, inexactitude, unreliability, indefiniteness and finally also in its dispensability.
Statements about Via Negativa score low on the credibility scale, and this is not merely because we ourselves are involved in the various – interpretative, analytical and critical – competences guiding the project, but also because the project itself, while being conceptually and from the production point of view fairly solid, does at the same time suggest as well as eliminate the complexity of (self)reflexivity, as it persistently announces only to then undermine its own presuppositions.
This happens on many levels: when there’s talk about the correlation and interaction between the audience and performers; about the mutual questioning of the performance strategies and genres (with theatre and performance art occupying the first place); about the collective nature of putting the performance together and the distribution of authorial responsibility; about the risk-taking and the economy of the live performance; about the politics and ethics of performing; or, for example, when there’s talk about provocation, subversion or perversion of the conventions and protocols of performing arts (from the happening to opera), in other words also about the negative theology itself.
And so if Via Negativa already in principle (with its name) as well as in its approach to specific questions regarding the performances’ execution sets itself up through the gesture of negation, only to then radicalise and degrade it and make it downright banal, until every stance-expression (this is how Darko Suvin translates the term gestus) is felled completely, down to the exhausting state of the permanent reversibility of negation, it is difficult to resist the question: why all this at all?
Is Via Negativa therefore a project of relentless and consistent accumulation of negations in order to negate the negation with the negation itself, etc… Or is it a project that tests the blockades of the spiral chain of negations in a paradox of (but also an irresolvable critique of) double negation, or …? Or is it that Via Negativa depletes all the consequences of its aesthetics, politics and economics with a view to, possibly, dare to think, discover the potential of affirmation beyond negation? But no?! Why – not?!”
Excerpt from the introduction to the book THE NO, Via Negativa 2002 – 2008, Maska, Transformacije series, Ljubljana 2010
The term “via negativa” is derived from negative theology, which, as opposed to the accepted theological practice (describing what god is), attempts to define god by way of the negative (via negativa), by describing what god is not, or rather, what god cannot be. The concept, conceived in late fifth century AD, is based on the presumption that the concept of the divine is unattainable to the human experience and understanding and god can therefore only be contemplated through what god cannot be described as.
This term was introduced to theatre practice by Polish director and theater innovator Jerzy Grotowski. He used the term via negativa to describe a method in which the actor works primarily toward discovering and overcoming the obstacles that prevent him from attaining his psychophysical perfection.
However, neither theological questions nor techniques for perfecting the actor’s skill are the focus of our interest. Via negativa, in our work, functions primarily as a principle of reducing theatre to the relationship between spectator and performer, which enables us to focus on the basic principles of theatre, those that establish and set in motion this relationship and help us to understand what is (or is not) the essence of this relationship.