Ana Schnabl: Interview with Bojan Jablanovec, Dnevnik Ljubljana, 17 January 2014
Whoever follows what is going on in the theatre more closely must have come across the independent producer of performing arts, the project Via Negativa, whose guiding light and connective tissue is director Bojan Jablanovec, an artist of considerable oppositional passion. Tonight the theatre of Mala drama is going to premiere the performance Generation’s Last Rehearsal, produced jointly by Via Negativa and SNG Drama Ljubljana, as announced by the performers, it will offer “a settling of accounts with the common enemy of both producers” – Slovene culture. »Institutionalization of art is an unseemly, rude and mindless business. The artist can only ever be an institution in his or her own right,” thinks Bojan Jablanovec.
Let’s start with the obvious. It is not often the case that a cultural institution would collaborate with a non-institutionalized producer. Does your gesture signify some sort of a crisis?
Well put, it is a gesture of a crisis of sorts, yes – but not of economic kind. This is not the first time that an institution collaborates with a non-institutional partner; Maska, for example, has collaborated with Drama before. Not only does the need in the non-institutional field exist for merging different practices, I would even say that the greater need for this collaboration comes from the side of the institutions.
Why? Because institutions tend to fall asleep on a given aesthetic, and somehow grind to a halt?
Partly yes. Every serious institution of course needs fresh blood. But ever since the independent scene in Ljubljana has become very active – it must be rougly twenty years now – this polarisation has become stronger and people have started to close themselves into their own fields. Institutions have their backing in the academia; that is where, say, a suitable cadre for the national artistic practice is being groomed. These cadres do also flow into the independent theatre scene, whereas the directos remain highly polarised. Polarisation of course is a kind of defence mechanism of the independent scene, given that institutions with their production logic present a major danger to creative procedures.
In your statement before the premiere you have announced that in Generation’s Last Rehearsal, “the actors from Drama will be on the stage in the role of parts and the performers as their respective authors”. Does this kind of conceptualization already carry a critique of institutionalized logic within it? The institution namely has the task to fulfil a certain role, which it doesn’t always take seriously enough and only rarely assume responsibility for its consequences. Is this reading too far-fetched?
Of course not, my statement offers anybody the possibility of autonomous interpretation. But in reality, what we are trying to ensure with this statement is that there would be no misunderstanding about what will be seen in the production. For what has emerged is the outcome of a well thought-out methodological approach about how a developed non-institutionalized practice such as Via Negativa and a developed institutionalized practice such as Drama can even collaborate. The first, indeed the key, decision was of course to insist that both must keep to their own production model and that their point of contact must be found. From my perspective it was therefore important that Via Negativa has time and space to approach the project in its own way, regardless of where it is doing it, and also that its theatre logic remains intact. What I am interested in is therefore the meeting point, the tension between the two kinds of practices, because only inside this can I find a certain quality.
As a director why did you decide on working outside institutions in the first place?
After seven years of working in institutionalized theatres I realized that this was a dead-end street; that the production model simply didn’t suit me and that I was interested in something other than what it was possible to do within the classical model. The only path for me was to find my own production model – and so in 2000 the transition took place; I decided to quit with the institutionalized practice and threw myself into the independent production with the intention of developing through Via Negativa a method or a creative procedure that suits me and my co-creators. Which is to say that I push everyone to take up an authorial stance – and to accept also the consequences of this.
You have used very strong wording here – “dead-end street”. Are these highly critical words intended to mean that it is only the practices from the margins or those from outside the institutions that are capable of paradigm shifts?
I think we need to say this differently. Of course this is a critique, but it is a critique of the institutionalization of art as such. For me this is an unseemly, rude and mindless business. The artist can only ever be an institution in his or her own right. The fact that this small country of ours wants to get institutionalized down to the last inch is something that kills every artistic practice. What we try to emphasize with Generation’s Last Rehearsal is that only in the most radical confrontation with this logic can we break through to some kind of a higher lever of institutionalized thinking. From the perspective of an independent producer I must stress that it is not true that nothing can be done from within institutions. The problem is not only in the institution as such, but also in our relationship to it. The Slovene character, I would say, is predisposed to kneel down before an institution.
What then are you aiming at with the slogan “more barbarism and less culture” that you use with regard to the production? Are you suggesting violence? And what kind of violence do you have in mind?
It is to do with the violence of an idea. A breakthough of an idea without a violent gesture does not exist in creativity. A fight for an idea is not a cultured fight, it is a barbaric fight. Democratic values are the death of an idea.
Is it then necessary to master a capability for conflict?
Absolutely. Conflict is not something we should be afraid of, it is something we should seek out. We are not trying to avoid a given problem because the problem is precisely what promises to provoke the mind and bring about creation. These are certainly main themes we want to open up and shed light on. Also because it is evident that Slovene culture over the last twenty years has turned into one big marshland.
You have presented us with a nice chain of negative definitions of art. Would you dare to offer an affirmative one?
Of course. For me art is a field of absolute freedom. But freedom is the biggest burden you can weigh yourself down with. This is the most affirmative and at the same time the most burdensome statement on art I can offer. This conflict is in itself what to my mind makes art interesting. Art in other words is a constant struggle for you to even attain your own freedom. First you need to dare risk your own self, else no one believes you. That is what you have to demand from yourself and what your surroundings expect from you. There is totally not enough of this here.
And in your view is it possible to train such a perspective, possibly learn it?
Yes. Already in the days of Via Negativa it became clear how this perspective can be quickly assimilated but also quickly lost. This is the permanent struggle of a creator with his or her surroundings: the minute you reach a consensus with the audience, the consumer, as an artist, you have to break it. This is a constant up and down. But in Slovene performing arts there doesn’t seem to be much stamina for this. That’s why all the phenomena that had burst forth on the independent scene died down too soon. There is no continuity, no creator who would be willing to push and push against the wall. The only perspective that has continuity is the consumerist one. Without a violent gesture there is no breakthrough of an idea in creativity. The fight for an idea is not a cultured fight, it is a barbaric one.
Bence Bíró, Via Negativa on Desiré Festival, revizoronline.com, 4 December 2013
I am Desiré – as Dezső Kosztlányi would say about himself today, and this is the subtitle of the Desiré Central Station Festival 2013 too, which has been organized for the fifth time by the Kosztolányi Dezső Theater, Subotica. I am Desiré – these are the words that the director, András Urbán stamps on his chest, on the opening of the festival. WRITTEN BY BENCE BÍRÓ
He is Desiré, and I am Desiré too, and you too, and everyone who is here. With an unusually humanistic gesture, this year the festival puts the focus on the human itself. What is steady from year to year is the strong graphic layouts of the printed materials, the quality program and the small city celebrating together for a week.
The Slovenian association Via Negativa is the main attraction of the festival. They are– just like in 2009 –present with three performances. Via Negativa is an open, international performing-arts project, with the leadership of the artistic director Bojan Jablanovec. Their provocative performances usually contemplate about problems regarding the stage-audience relationship and the stage reality. We are talking about a project which is being hyped internationally: they had toured around the world, and last year they had an album released with the title “No one should have seen this”, including all their works. They had been to Hungary three times as well: on the last two Thealter Festivals in Szeged and in 2008 on the Contemporary Drama Festival in Budapest.
Considering the origins of via negativa: it is a theological term by which theology – on the contrary with it’s usual practice – tries to define God in a reverse way: it doesn’t describe what is God, but what it is not for sure. Grotowski started to use this term to describe the process of the actor recognizing and overcoming his physical and psychic inhibitions. As a continuation of this tradition Bojan Jablanovec had announced the program of striping the theater in order to be able to study the relation between spectators and performers.
By researching the essence of theater, Via Negativa works on erasing every barrier and brake between viewers and players. In order to achieve this they use the toolbar of performing arts with wide attention: exposed nudity, sexuality, blood and other bodily fluids are frequent parts of their shows. “The audience can take much more than we expected” – says Jablanovec in his lecture, given in the morning at the Desiré Academy. He presents how they produced a happening at the Opera Festival in Zagreb: the performers (I’d name them this way rather than actors) had pissed on the program guide of the festival onstage. In some other performances they put the money payed by the audience into their vaginas or gave handjob to male members of the audience, who were willing to participate – and moreover the spectators weren’t even shocked by these things. On the contratry. Via Negativa doesn’t do anything that wouldn’t had been done by Tristan Tzara, Marija Abramović or Tibor Hajas some decades ago and they ofteneven give references on their big predecessors.
Based on the three performances, hosted by Desiré Festival – which are very different from one another in respect of the tools applied and the concept – we can get a complex picture about how Via Negativa works. Mandić Stroj is the one man circus-show of Marko Mandić. Mandić flashes more than 37 theater roles in less than an hour, which he had performed between 1996 and 2010. We can see fragments from the whole palette of the world’s drama literature, from Euripid through Chekov to Sarah Kane, and through them a king of actors who is able to play everything. What an actor is, then? A machine, producing emotions, a medium which is able to show huge variety of identities. And who is this Marko Mandić? Each and every of these roles and none of them, at the same time.
Throughout the whole performance, Mandić turns to the audience for help, and uses them for everything what the given role demands. In return the spectators must trust him as many times they find themselves in vulnerable situations and they can never know in advance what they are going to undertake. Surprisingly enough nobody said no to him even though he was naked many times while playing. Everyone took the risk. Seeing this, even those who aren’t normally friends of the interactive theater, were willing to go on stage. Regardless that as everything is happenning by his will, the feeling of being exposed to his will as audience members gets amplified. Mandić uses them more as tools than partners.
The brake was the one-person show of Rok Kravanja. It was a kind of a poetic performance – using roller-skating as a metaphor. The story is immensely simple: a young boy is being teased by his friends, because he has brakes on his skates, and it is well-known that only girls have brakes. Therefore the boy runs away: first to the girls, then – after breaking down his brake – back to the boys, fed up with the forced compliance in the end, so he simply goes out into the world. The story of self-discovery and acceptance, vanquishing the difficulties, and personal freedom can be seen in three steps: with brakes, without them and then in real freedom.
The subjectivity of Kravanja, his zest, physical performance and the self-ironic smile garrishing on his face was enchanting. It’s a touching moment when he dances ballet to Céline Dion’s I’m your lady. The audience is sitting in a circle and Kravanja, looking deeply into their eyes, runs rounds in front of them. The level of danger is raising with the speed: performer and spectator are concentrating together to avoid the tumble. Though it’s a real possibility. After the boy makes peace with himself he has only one wish left: to find a partner. He kicks off the rollerblades and dresses into a huge rucksack to have himself taken on the back and carried out by a man, who he had picked in advance from the audience.
The third performance, On the rigrht tack, is a paraphrase of Waiting for Godot. A political absurd, according to the playbill. Two background singers are waiting for the frontman, who just doesn’t ever seem to arrive. The vocalists are doing their job like machines, as the program says, while the big opportunity slips away in front of them: they could step out, break out from the regular cycle and take over the place of the solo singer. Short Beckett dialogues and refrains of internatnional hits are exchanging each other in a wizard tempo, keeping the rhythms with terrific precision. The lyrics cleverly resonate on the story: Time is on my side, Nothing’s gonna stop us now, I feel free, Come together, etc. The background singers leave their little stage for a short time to come to the rampe, but then they return to the place they are well accustomed to, as if nothing has happened. Maybe next time – they say. – Supposing that he won’t come then, either. He will not come.
While MandićStroj and The brake show something totally personal, and reflect on the relation between performer and audience directly, On the right track is a classical performance. With scenery, costumes and acting. With every kind of theatrical brakes and with that well known fourth wall. It is shown well that the ones who are playing do not react when the audience interrupts the performance with applauses. ‘On the right track’ contradicts the concept of Via Negativa, as formulated by Bojan Jablanovec on the Desiré Academy. Is it possible, that their path will turn back to the conventions of theater? Is maybe that the righ track?
What is undoubtedly typical in all three performances is that the ones playing the roles are exposed to vigorous physical stress. Jumping from role to role, roller-skating for one hour, or keeping the rhythm and pauses precisely – all demand a high level of concentration, therefore the brilliant performance of the performers takes an impressive effect on the audience. The invested work and energy can be seen and felt in every moment.
The creators of Via Negativa are questioning theater-conventions. Their performances are built on complex thoughts, although sometimes the execution is not able to go into real depths. Their intention to parry the obstacles of the communication in theater often leads to not using the proposed tools of the medium of theater at all. Bypassing the brakes which keep theater inside its frames is a dangerous area. Both performers and spectators can easily fall into the trap of oversimplification of thoughts. The meaning often becames one-dimensional: both in MandićStroj and On the right track.
Several Hungarian authors (Krétakör, Panodráma, Schermann Márta) are working on problems of the truth and reality, the possibilities of communication between theater and reality, spectator and performer, but unfortunately we can rarely see so hazardous attempts as the ones of Via Negativa on our stages.
Lilla Proics, Via Negativa on the Thealter Festival, szinhaz.net, October 2013
“You have to tell a story that people can’t undersand –
but would like to understand it.”
Joseph Beuys: KUNST HEUTE, 1989
The Balkan Connection was maybe the strongest event of this year’s nine-day-long Thealter Festival. The Via Negativa’s performance consisted of three parts – body, mind and soul – if I can say. And also an experience of theatre-theory and cultural history in a personal manner. Contemporary mentality and caring awareness of the performers and the director – with a deeply humorous approach.
The title of the first part (as we can read the projected translation at the beginning of all three parts): WHAT JOSEPH BEUYS TOLD ME WHILE I WAS LYING DEAD IN HIS LAP. Boris Kadin came on stage with smooth and strong attention and elegantly, precisely and effortlessly presented an understandable and exciting train of thought on art, the chosen topic, the artist and the power of action. This prepared the audience for the following part of the performance: The artist deserves a topic if he is able to identify with it unconditionally and can testify that with his full body. The body is the only place where the topic can reach its honour. Kadin explains with the help of modern theoreticians: The artists can be put in three categories: those who deserve, those who might deserve and those who surely don’t deserve a given topic. After that he asked the audience to contemplate a bit on the members of these categories. After the first category of those who deserve he made a pause and ordered us to follow him to calm down our minds. A slight laughter ran through the intense attention of the audience in the old synagogue of Szeged. Next day on the discussion with the two performers and the director it turned out that up to now nobody ever happened to laugh at this point of this perpetually developing, continuously varying production since 2007.
The second category is of those who might deserve their topic, but it doesn’t leave any mark. Now we listened quietly – and these interactions really were and are still exciting and worth thinking about. It was an unusual experience as a strong performer showed openness and tenderness to deliver a simply composed speech on theatre theory and the audience listens with restrained excitement. Beyond the text’s own power and it’s objectively interesting content, Boris Kadin propagated perfectly what he was talking about: such inner and outer harmony deepened our senses as audience members. Kadin’s excellent physique and flexible mind “came through” to the audience members’ undivided attention. This obviously was not a new invention of 2013 or neither of 2007. The theatre aims for this effect at all times (just as the spoken text also suggested) – but on 22nd of June in Szeged we experienced that even if a tidal wave broke in to the synagogue the performance would still go on.
So it went on: Boris Kadin turned into a rabbit (perfectly accordingly to the playful yet prophetic temper of Beuys). At this point he already only wore underpants and a stitched sackcloth rabbit-head with floppy ears, beady eyes (how could he see?) and lips Butick-painted mouth-hole. He is talking about Beuys, as a sculptor of great influence, as a performer, as a theoretician – who’s socially concerned thoughts, expanded art-definition and curious research of creativity is still strikingly important. Following these questions we have to re-think the controversial question if one is born to be an artist or not. Beuys’ astrological analysis with symbolic and mythological arguments puts our attention on trial.
But all this mess was not the result of some kind of momentary aberration – rather a detailed reflection on the works of Beuys completed with substantive statements on art history. For example: Joseph Beuys was the first to explore the power of action in artistic creation. He dissolved the borders of performing arts. He showed that animals can be equal participants of a performance. He believed that everyone is an artist. He was not far from stating: everyone is born to be an artist. Kadin spoke with covered face and applied certain text pieces into his speech with the purpose to loosen up the attention of the audience – so one could deliberately start thinking about the reasons why it is such a great revelation to get in touch with a so strong field of force and why does it cause such a joy to take part in an event like this. As nothing more is going on than at some other times, more or less frequent: we are sitting and watching a piece, at the end we clap and then go home. While everything happens in the most casual manner we are aware of the fact that a miracle is going on – that our lives are happening – and all the world is rotating (round and round) – all this because we can experience through one and later two performers that there is some kind of sense in it, because there is reflection, there is beauty. Obviously this rather can be experienced than objectively described.
So I will hang on to Gadamer’s terminology of “feast” . In the sense that -as Gadamer says- a piece of art is not a finished product by itself but it gets it’s meaning and certain qualities by the course of reception – just how the Via Negativa took us receivers into the course of creation. According to Gadamer the meaning of a piece of art “is not what the author, the creator originally said, but what he would have said if I was his conversation partner”. This implies that everything what I state here is just one single interpretation, one truth, one feeling among many others that were born in that moment and later in the audience. This gadamerian “feast” is some kind of self-serving time-stopper which rives away everyone who is able to take part in the game and get into the world of the performance. The goal of this game is to demonstrate the work of the performer (the performer or actor here means the artistic work being done by one, not the status or the education.) in a classical and plastic way. And as seen this game can throw some people into real fever!
The dramaturgy is sharp as a razor, so after that comes the well prepared second part under the title GAME WITH TOOTHPICKS. Boris Kadin introduces his partner with some more flirting with theatre theory: Novelty cannot be expected by anyone, new means originality, so it falls from the sky, so we can’t count on it… The novelty and the originality are so fatal and terrifying that no one really wants to face them… We are researchers who are not terrified by the immersion for novelty. We are not afraid to start to work. We know what we have to do: dig, dig, dig. We have to know where to dig. The Balkans is the source-field of not only corpses but also of originality. The originality is so rare nowadays that if we hit one we can hardly recognize if it’s original or not, because just the moment when a sparkle of originality is found it’s taken away by bad hands. But that can not happen today. Today we have a Syrian-Serbian artist in our circle, a real bone-and-flesh poet from between Novi Sad and Dubai. The alchemist of the impossible, a trained performer, who got several wounds int the hand fight against the new and original. Sounds impossible and unreal but believe me everything, I mean, everything is possible: Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you the new Marina Abramovic!
And then from the right back comes Kristian Al-Droubi as the new Marina Abramovic. Kadin evaluated the results of the fight for originality: Kristian couldn’t find out anything else than to shave his body and dress up like a woman. He knows that it’s senseless, but he hoped that maybe something would still turn out of it.
The terrific smooth sense of humour comes from this duality, how casually Kadin tells their method how the next part of the performance was made but at the same time how it worked as theatre, happened as a “feast”. The clever and witty introduction ingeniously anticipated the relationship of the two. It is obviously personal-professional on the one hand. Actors sometimes speak about this when asked about their profession, but not often to be seen so sharply – as this time it’s being shown with the help of knives between their fingers. On the other hand the second part of the performance accentuates the fact that they were born in the same country which later split up into several nations. Wonderfully cross-referencing model – the Balkan Connection is a viral problem. In the following moments we get to understand a meaningful sub-layer of the performance: the Croatian and the Syrian-Serbian performers were working with the Slovenian director, Bojan Jablanovec.
So Kristian Al-Droubi stepped on stage wearing female clothing and it was not funny and not awkward because he didn’t turn into a female in the decently tight, lace-collared dress and the red pumps. He was not playing a woman but filled the clothes with meaning. With himself. Carefully – as it takes serious practice to walk in those shoes – he was walking bravely like a man and filled the theatre with his powerful mental and physical truth in his well-done entrée. (That got even more evident in the third part when he undressed during a conversation.) His body functioned not as a sign but operated the performance with his presence. Did not mimic or act, didn’t use any unrecoverable technique, didn’t want any wild thing, but took position next to a table in the right third of the scene. He faced Boris Kadin with determined tranquility, and they started to play with knives.
After placing the Serbian and Croatian flags (like ones from an ice-cream cup) on their chairs Boris Kadin and Kristian Al-Droubi continued the famous game from the performance of Marina Abramovic. Obviously sassy for multiple reasons, if adding the imaginary role of the Slovenian director to the situation. The table – the Balkan emerald table – holds two knife-collections on two opposite corners, at both performers’ right hands. At the same time a video projection starts to show pieces of the performance from 2007 (documentary theatre inside the theatre) to demonstrate the audience reactions. I would have faint too if I had to watch this – says Kadin and starts to tell some more stories from previous performance-audiences, and with the following short introduction they started to play the game on each others hands what was played by Abramovic on her own: The Slovenian critics and theoreticians found out that to get into the history – let it be either political or contemporary theatre history – it regards blood and war. They found out that in the theatre still the living body has the strongest influence and in body art, politics are continuously written into the living body… Kristian still couldn’t find his way into the modern European theatre-history. The only thing he succeeded in was to get into the news in connection with scandals and strange rumours. Opposed to us he is not afraid of the new and the original. He is more than sure that you want to see blood tonight. And I am honoured with the task of cutting him. There was a lot more blood on the projected video than on the 22nd of June in Szeged.
It was the end of the first act. Just when we tumbled out the extra-interaction started as a half-loud rumour started to spread: one of the actors is hardly bleeding so me and my critic companion fast introduced ourselves as professional first aid providers (which was really the truth). So we showed up with the first aid kit provided and started to dress the wounds in the dark – as an interesting circumstance as we didn’t have the slightest doubt that those were real wounds. Today I am not sure about that any more – I don’t know but maybe I would say they were real. Up to that point as critics we already caught many interesting and instructive details from the performance and then finally we got into this situation when first time in our lives our role got really important: we could undoubtedly serve the theatre. To produce a critique it’s not enough to be a rationalist, but one must turn into an intuitive receiver, so it’s in this case the term of objectivity is meaningless. However, this does not imply being biased if the critic is truly independent – precisely because we can only rely on our own intuitions.
The second act began, the third part under the title: INTERVIEW WITH AN ARTIST. Kristian Al-Droubi was questioned by Roland Orcsik (just how in the original production by Bojana Kunst) who said a few sentences about the group’s previous works before asking his first question – such as: All the eight performances of Via Negativa are dealing with the acting strategies of visualization; with a strong focus on the different forms of presence and new pathways to find connections with the audience… Then he asked: The stage is full of the actors treasured private life and their intimacy and then it takes the shape of traditional presentation forms. Kristian, don’t you think these tools are a little bit outdated?
Kristian Al-Droubi: For me the biggest quest is to pinpoint the moment what I have to pursue to the infinity and the moment when I should stop… I need to feel the realness of the situation. For example if I experience the audience as a woman in black tights, high boots and thong panties then I know that we managed to produce a strong performance and I imagine that the woman waits for me in the buffet and says to me: “oh, you are that young man from the performance” and orders me a drink, undresses me, we have a chat, she brings me to the dressing room, puts her leg on the heater and allows me to penetrate her.
Orcsik Roland: And now how do you experience the audience?
Kristian Al-Droubi: It wouldn’t be bad if someone (for example you) after the performance would really do so.
Standing up from the table he came closer and said among some others this clearly understandable banalities – pointing at me. Next day a familiar man from the festival asked me, why didn’t I stay after the show to avail the reformative offer – and really, why didn’t I? After all, these terrible words were able to move me so much that I started to come to my senses only a week later. And I am totally sure that all the other members of the audience had a similar experience. See, how the precise theoretic and practical knowledge of theatre and the presence of the performers happened to work: stunning calmness, dignity, great courage and strength.
To end this interview on the mostly empty stage they played with the naked body with natural confidence. They didn’t just illustrate the text but visualized certain parts. The text elevated the actor’s propaganda: from the intimate details of private life they turned to modern philosophical references of intellectual epicureanism and then to the nonsense of introducing the performers genitalia to the audience. Some sort of slight media-criticism showed up when the genitalia overacted it’s owner (it didn’t). He worked against himself with systematic ambivalence: The whole Via Negativa project circles around the single question if the performer can be real and genuine on stage. For me it took seven years to understand and accept that it’s impossible.
Eventhough Kristian Al-Droubi’s former acting-demo – when he sat across the table with his colleague who was wearing a sack on his head, calling himself a rabbit and talking – convinced me about his greatness as an actor-alchemist. Mentally and emotionally delighted by what happened on the stage I was not alone: I felt that the majority of spectators experienced the evening similarly. This is not wrong because the arts have to be understandable for everyone. If only the underlying ideas were the art piece itself, why to have a sensitive theatrical scene at all. One obvious purpose of this performance is – to focus attention on Beuys’ oeuvre – certainly a social work. The phrase said out loud in the performance “he believed that everyone is an artist” is to be considered crucially important, with regard to the social problems of the present and the near future. The performance ordered us to shape the closest and broader environments of our lives with awareness – with euphoric and liberating joy. Because of the frenetic level of involvement – what else you can do: you’ve got freedom to live responsibly.
Patricija Maličev, Sobotna priloga, Delo Ljubljana, 5 January 2013
Urinating on the stage of The Croatian National Theatre, masturbating live, forcing chocolate hearts up the vagina, gorging yourself on rice, enacting Marina Abramović’s performance Rhythm 10 – Game with Knives with deep cuts and blood flowing … These are just a few excesses of the Via Negativa project (VN). And they have all been carefully thought through, for the work of Via Negativa as an artistic form of expression has been heavily marked by excess – transgressive acts, nakedness, provocation, shock …
Via Negativa insists however that the excesses have never been intended as a cheap means for attracting media attention, but have always been carefully thought-out strategies intended to lead the spectator to a sudden insight into the paradoxical, often times a highly perverse position that we as artists and spectators hold in the machinery of contemporary pleasure industry.
Via Negativa Project is currently celebrating a decade of its existence. To mark this tenth anniversary, an extensive video retrospective has been put up at the Modern Gallery in Ljubljana. The place is apt, since it was in the Modern Gallery that ten years ago Via Negativa started out on its project with the performance Starting point: Anger. That this could be so is in no small measure the outcome of late Maks Soršak’s efforts. The retrospective will be held until January 13th 2013. Anger was followed by a series of performances on the theme of seven deadly sins; this went on for seven years. Then performances More, Incasso, Viva Verdi, Would Would Not, Four Deaths and Out followed. In 2009 Via Negativa embarked on a series Via Nova. This gave rise to another 20 performances, but of a smaller format, and which were most spectacularly enacted precisely in museum and gallery spaces, where they assembled into more complex performance units — Via Nova Museum, Via Nova via MSU Zagreb, Naked Presence – Kunsthalle Dusseldorf.
The project of Via Negativa emerged out of the deeply-felt need to explore anew and test the meaning, significance and reasons behind the existence of theatre today. It also emerged out of the conviction that the result of any artistic creation fundamentally determines the manner, procedure and method of its production. The basic creative field of Via Negativa is the performative “self – here and now”: my story, my relationship, my body, my situation, my gesture, my stance, my conflict. The creative field is delimited precisely: a paring-down to the basic performative elements (hence the name via negativa): theatre as a medium of communication and not anesthetization, a strong emphasis on the relationship between the performer and the spectator and on the question of the real in this relationship. VN has presented its projects at numerous festivals and art centres in twenty-one European countries and the USA.
The tools with which to dig deeper in the theatre
When in 2002 the director Bojan Jablanovec was getting the project off the ground, one major decision he made was that Via Negativa be a long-term research project. He felt that if you wanted to evolve an autonomous production model, a method of work that will be productive and effective, then you must be prepared to give it time. This cannot be achieved with a single show or within a year. It needs to be persistently and continuously developed from one year to the next, testing from one performance to the next: “The goals I set therefore go beyond merely producing interesting or intriguing performances. Each performance must be a new step or at least a new testing, a tightening or broadening out of creative strategies. So when I reflect on what we do I never think in terms of a particular performance being successful, but mainly in terms of how we have managed to resolve what we had set out to do in a concrete performing situation. In that sense the project is evolving in the way I had anticipated it to. The performers understand and demand ever new challenges, and so does the audience.”
After ten years, when – at least symbolically – one can draw a line under the project, Jablanovec’s feelings are mixed. On the one hand he is very proud of what they have achieved in a decade, he feels himself to be creatively fulfilled. “On the other hand my feelings are exactly the opposite; that we have barely just touched the surface of theatre, that Via Negativa is a tool with which we must begin to dig deeper. And this is not merely a feeling, but an ever more pressing need. In that sense Via Negativa is still up against the same questions it faced ten years ago, which only confirms the fact that we are dealing with relevant issues, except that with each passing year it is more difficult to tackle them anew.”
Body, imagination, reason and skill fight it out on the stage
The protagonists of Via Negativa are interested in art that is alive, an art that exists for the questions it asks and not for the answers. Their performative strategies are therefore ever more varied: theatre, dance, lecture, radical bodily practices, video, gallery projects … they feel themselves to be at their utmost real when they push against something that can no longer be rationalized and when they no longer have to pretend that they understand something they do not. They work as a collective in which every individual with his or her particular rationale, body, imagination, reason and skill fights for a place and meaning on the stage.
Katarina Stegnar, who has been with the Via Negativa project from the very beginning, says that VN to her means a comprehensive authorial approach that has to do with the method of working in a group and reflecting on the entire performance you are helping co-create: “I take myself and my attitude towards the world as my starting material. As an actress VN has allowed me to explore a whole lot of relations that a spectator and performer can have with each other. I cannot say that VN has changed me as an actress, but it did show me a creative collective process of working in the theatre. This is the kind of creative work that I then strive for also in other settings.”
Her answer to our misgivings as spectators who often felt their time on the stage was one protracted suffering and that above all they set themselves physically extremely demanding tasks was: “Funny you should say that. Before I started working with VN I felt that scenes in which actors torment themselves were horrible; but the minute I entered the process myself I saw them as being essential, as proof that you deserve to be on the stage. Now, after so many years, I am more rational and I try to avoid such action and seek out other means of getting around body art to say the same thing. However I do want to stress that you alone decide to do something, no one forces you to do it.”
The hardest task in the entire process must be the putting together of the scenes, choosing the right ones and cleaning them out. Stegnar agrees that to get to good material, and especially a good scene, is not easy. “You go through all your ideas, no matter how controversial they are. It is in this process that the scene itself makes it clear what it needs. It seems that within one and the same process you are working on the same story, but from different perspectives. At the end the scenes come together. It happened to me only twice I think that I censored my ideas: one was having sex for real on the stage, and the other was resuscitating myself with defibrillator. I could still do that, ha, ha, ha…”
Primož Bezjak, on the other hand, thinks that Via Negativa is a polygon of total freedom; precisely with its infinite possibilities, it forces him to rummage in the darkmost corners of his personality – especially all of the seven mortal sins –, since it is he himself, and not a character, that is always the protagonist. This is where he always gives himself away, reveals himself, confesses, throws himself to the lions, letting off a bit of blood along the way or some other bodily liquid, without a conjuror’s trick, with no special effects. “Where you are alone and at the same time with the entire collective. Where you are the spectator, author, critic, director, dramaturge, choreographer, physiotherapist, musician. You.” Because many times he was also the spectator of VN, he experienced it similarly to the way most people experienced it, namely, as one big agony up there on the stage, but that was only initially. “Via Negativa was quick to establish a special language all its own that communicates differently with the audience. Extreme actions of the performers were always in the service of a scene, the entire performance, never intended for itself. As a spectator I find every project of VN – also – very humorous. Of course, with becoming the performer all this changes; that’s when I seek my boundaries and the boundaries of the ever greedier spectator.”
Bezjak says that he never had trouble choosing the right scenes, because he was always searching for a way of how he could, as precisely as possible, as well as in an interesting and humours and of course perturbing way, speak about the performance, while staying within a concept. “Usually I found it by chance when I was already completely lost …” But otherwise the first few days after the performance of the Invalid were the hardest for him. “The most difficult thing however is to be merely a spectator,” he concludes.
Fighting for the right to be on the stage
To the question of how he personally coped with the scenes charged with autobiographical content that were often very sad or full of anguish, the project leader Bojan Jablanovec – in the ten years with his collaborators they had tried out at least a thousand scenes – says: “everything happening in our performances stems from a very simple and at the same time brutal … demand: the right to be on the stage of Via Negativa needs to be fought for with every performance. This is not about some kind of an elite club of the select few: this is the most elementary ethical requirement that we have always abided by since the beginning of Via Negativa. The performer is on the stage because of who s/he is for her/himself. S/he must fight for her own meaning, s/he must find strong enough reasons for her presence there, s/he must seek the strongest, the most original, sincere, authentic version of herself and offer herself to the spectator through a strategy that will excite his gaze, animate his interest, absorb his attention and put up with even the most cynical expectations. This is at the same time the demand we place in front of our performances.” You can’t have one without the other.
“The stage, that is to say the spectator, is pretty ruthless. It is merciless; in its evaluations it can be brutal, though hardly ever directly so – it tends to hide behind metaphorical mist. It’s usually clear pretty fast what it means, but it is far harder to ascertain what it wants. And when you finally do make out what it wants you know only that you cannot afford to go there; that you have to find a way around it, that somehow you need to trick it and also trick yourself, and every time in a new, interesting and witty – not funny! – way. If and when you succeed in doing that, despite the overwhelming production that has been staged, decade upon decade, on its floorboards, it is then that the stage loves you.”
That is why all the stories which have featured in their performances have only made him more convinced of the fact that art and with it theatre are but a profound and permanent need to make sense of, and affirm, our existence and to do this you need to be prepared to pay a very steep price. “The difficulty is in stamina, perseverance, the extent to which you are prepared to pay dues to the stage. The problem arises when you start expecting a “pay-off”, while the stage goes on demanding a “reprogramming” of its debts. When it seems to you that the stage has become ripe for a “bad investment”, then this becomes a sad tale of defeat. In fact, the only sad tale. All the stories that are brought to the stage are — each in its own way — cathartic – if for nothing else because they have made it there. In the process of making these performances I am always on the side of the stage and I try to endure its brutal and tough logic. I am not allowed to be interested in whether someone is getting hurt, what torture someone is subjecting themselves to, I can’t allow myself to be more understanding and humane in this process. My task is to represent the stage, not the performer. Intimately I often feel myself to be a heartless brute, an unfeeling leech, a calculating executioner … in fact; many throw this into my face. Still, this is the most that you can get me to do for the performer with whom I am fighting for the performance.”
Grega Zorc explains that for him VN is an experience through which he has learnt a lot about himself as well as the theatre. “Certainly when we start on a new section, when I start coming to rehearsals, I am in the grip of both joy and fear,” says Zorc on the evening of the opening of the retrospective. “I always experience it as a challenge, also because I find myself amongst people who allow me to express my creativity to the full. A project such as VN is such a specific project for an actor to do that possibly it affects me more than any of my other engagements. With VN I work with the only thing I have: myself.”
In the performance Incasso, which dealt with the theme of greed, Zorc represented this cardinal sin in the form of insurance money he had received as a child after his parents had tragically died in a car accident: he used the money to buy the best hi-fi sound system available at the time. “Never before did it occur to me how greedy I was. Funny, how a child, having lost his parents, latches onto a thing such as speakers … On the stage it often seemed that I talked about this without any emotion,” his voice trembles,” but in truth it wasn’t like that at all. Often I felt my parents to be there close by, watching over me,” says Zorc, who is with the project Via Negativa, like Katarina Stegnar, Primož Bezjak in Marko Mandić, from the very beginning.
Oh, how much work
Vito Weis, a student of Academy of Dramatic Arts (AGRFTV) was one of the last to join the project. At first he was merely a spectator, and then, a year ago, he participated at their workshop. This was an entirely different way of exploring acting to the one he was used to at the Academy. “With VN the biggest challenge for me is to add the text to what I have been working on at the VN laboratory.” At first he was a little anxious to be directly in front of the audience, with a lucid and unambiguous stance, but then he got used to it. At the opening he collaborated in the performance of Nataša Živković, and, this season, he’ll be working on his first solo performance.
How far is he prepared to go in sharing his intimate life with the audience? “There is no need for me to do that, at least not explicitly. Enacting stories from real life can be believable, but not necessarily a hundred percent. By all means one needs to show something that will capture the audience’s attention,” states Weis, seen to hold a lot of promise, with conviction.
Barbara Kukovec has been working on the project for quite some time now, though less over the last few years, because she stays in two places: London and Ljubljana. “The time’s flown by so fast that I can hardly believe that the VN project is already 10 years old,” she begins. “Every year we had to start afresh, banging our heads against the wall, but here, at the video retrospective, all we see is some sort of abstracts. It was trying, nice but trying,” she sighs. Her scene in the performance More, which dealt with gluttony, was unforgettable. Into her panties – or perhaps even somewhere deeper – she wedged three packets of chocolate hearts. Without as much as batting an eyelid. “The hardest thing is”, she tells us, “when in the process of preparing a scene you’ve exhausted all your ideas and you still don’t know how to carry on,” she reminisces, “in front of the people with whom you’ve been collaborating for so long … There’s no scope for bluffing then – because it all comes back to you.”
Via Negativa has above all taught her to observe, to see. The process in this project, according to her, involves fifty percent work, and the rest consists of observing. “I learnt a tremendous amount from merely observing.” At the same time she’s convinced that throughout the ten-year period the audience was learning too together with the project’s unfolding. “And we have learnt to be authors, performers and the audience at the same time. An incredible experience.”
Via Negativa – a Balkan project
To the question how, as a director, he would situate the VN project in the context of contemporary performing arts, Jablanovec replies that the answer will be provided by others.
Given the fact that the project is financed by the City Council of Ljubljana and the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, it becomes a problem for him to define VN as a project of an independent non-governmental organization. “Offices of city and state government are paying us to be provocative, critical, and audacious. Moreover, three years ago, the then ministry’s rationale for rejecting our funding application was that the project had evidently lost its freshness and innovative thrust that was demonstrated in the first years of our work. Later they went back on their decision despite their objection. It seems to me that already here the question of situating such projects breaks down, since all of them derive inherently from the pluralist democratic mess in which we currently live. Even though we are talking about situating the project in the context of the aesthetic-formal criteria, I cannot just wish away this ideological fact, because without this system of financial support we can at once forget and wipe out the entire not only Slovenian, but also European contemporary performing art scene as we know it today. Of course, the big question is what it would be like were it to exist outside this system – and what kind of a system that would even be. No doubt different and in that lies the crux of what I am trying to say: the system itself sets the criteria for selecting and generating production.”
The most pronounced examples of this utter confusion and production nonsense are to his mind the so-called European projects, in which the application criteria have become so far removed from the essence of artistic production that they practically no longer finance the production. According to him, what does get financed on the whole are organizations and networks with programmes for mobility and multicultural integration, various festival platforms on a multinational basis, which prescribe a list of relevant European topics, and these, in his view, have nothing to do with artists’ real interests. “These European-biased projects are proliferating more and more and in the time of crisis, as the national cultural budgets are being cut back, they are becoming more and more inflated, stifling with their ‘progressive’ demands also those who hope to breathe with their own lungs. The only ‘creations’ to come out of these ‘megaprojects’ are pseudo-theoretical smudges intended as cannon fodder for the bureaucratic rationales and evaluations of how successful they were. The entire European space seems obsessed with ensuring the conditions for artistic creativity, effectively creating an environment which makes creativity literally impossible.
The only way I can think of positioning Via Negativa with its underlying logic is to say that Via Negativa is a Balkan project. Not only because, one time, we collaborated extensively with Croatian and Serbian performers, but also – and primarily – because of the nature of the project itself, as it has shaped up over these years and as it still connects us. This temperament – its stubbornness, craftiness, refusal to compromise, creative madness, performers’ specific humour and lucid directness – the performers adopted, or might still go by, is far closer to what is often, without justification, pejoratively referred to with the term ‘Balkan’. Perhaps it is also on this count that there exist many misunderstandings about defining and positioning Via Negativa within the context of Slovene and European performative arts. Maybe it’ll happen when the United States of the Balkans come into being. Perhaps we are ahead of the time with Via Negativa or possibly we have long ago missed our time. In any case, the EU with its Central-European logos will never be able to stomach the Balkans.”
What was most difficult and what most joyous?
“The most difficult thing for me is to put up with myself,” is the answer given by the self-critical actress Katarina Stegnar. “Because we are enchained to our own parts and patterns and we cannot discover ourselves afresh. And when after ten years I get onto the stage, I’ll be damned if I haven’t tried this at least once before. All the texts I write have a similar style, similar humour. And when I look at my colleagues I wish I could come up with the kind of material they come up with. I get bored of myself. Then I pick myself up and try to rediscover myself. That is my task, to get onto that stage.”
For the actor and performer Primož Bezjak, the biggest joy over the last ten years was above all the honour to have met and worked with performers from home and abroad. “Ten years, the exhibition, the book, the response of the audience at home and abroad … and watching Bojan at the rehearsals walking up and down the Glej theatre as a character out of the Balthazar cartoon series, and watching Gregor, watching Katarina.”
Stegnar wraps up the discussion by saying that she was happy every time she saw that the performance worked. That people were reacting, that they were leaving the auditorium, pondering what they had just seen. “The other day, when I was looking at the retrospective of the VN in the Modern Gallery, I picked up the book we published and thought to myself: well, we’ve at least got something to show for the last ten years.”
The performers of Via Negativa have tried very hard for the last ten years to be real in front of the audience, at the same time demanding from the audience to be real too. In this game with the real it is vital that the audience knows what the performers know and that in turn they know what the audience knows. This is a game of which the first rule is: never forget that we are playing a game. The second rule could be that one should never forget that even in theatre the spectator is often more interesting to him/herself than the person on the stage or whatever is happening there. This maxim Via Negativa has proven time and again, clearly and unambiguously, over the last ten years.
Delo Ljubljana, 17 December 2012
Ten years of research, sins and excesses of Via Negativa
In 2002 Via Negativa held its first performance Anger in the Modern Gallery of Ljubljana and a few days ago, at the very same location it rounded off a decade of its continuous creativity, which had confronted Slovene theatre with a new set of aesthetic and thematic questions with the event No One Should Have Seen/Heard This. Under the constant watch of the director Bojan Jablanovec, Via Negativa has primarily redefined the relationship between the audience and the performers, shattering the performer’s private and public image in the process, while researching select thematic clusters in intense laboratory workshops.
When Via Negative first ‘broke onto’ the Slovene theatre arena, it presented a strong opposition to the then established theatre production and politics. The studies devoted to individual productions would last a year, and the results would be based on exhaustive group work; the director’s mark was never authoritarian but rather cooperative; excesses were the norm, and the audience became vulnerable as opposed to being sunk in the safety of the dark, often times ideologically attacked and subject to an avalanche of self-questioning about their own status and intention.
Two main streams that went into the building of Via Negativa’s character worked on the one hand to expose man’s archetypal sediments, while on the other prodded the spectator in the very practical sense, by changing his passive role as spectator into commenting or even into performing activity.
With this two-way communication Via Negativa effectively eschewed the trap of self-sufficiency, predictability and a mannered relationship with the audience. Not only did the projects delve deeply into select topics, but the artistic team had at all times invested amply into an overall development of the signifying and symbolic complexity of the contemporary performer as also into the spectator’s sensibility and readiness (or not) for excesses.
Via Negativa had never smugly pretended that as an ‘alternative’ it can survive without an audience and it had never been ashamed to admit that is it here because of us. It is fully aware that a theatrical experience is memorable when bold, hazardous while at the same time down-to-earth, personal and compassionate, with communication not being centred on the final stage product but enmeshed in the unfolding collective theatrical event – in being literally welded to the auditorium.
Three thematic stages
By systematically treating deadly sins – what begun in 2002 with the seven-year-long project Seven Performances – Seved Deadly Sins – Via Negativa announced a specific performative language which marked a radical departure from the established, traditional theatre currents then prevalent in Slovenia. What additionally contributed to the innovativeness was also the generational and international diversity of the performers, which to this day can be understood as a mark of a “collective’s independence” with which Via Negativa encouraged complete autonomy, uniqueness and independence of individual performers regardless of what their professional career or status might otherwise be (in the familiarity of the Slovene environment establishing this stance is by no means self-evident nor simple).
Between 2002 and 2008 performances on the subject of anger, gluttony, greed, lasciviousness, sloth and pride lined up one after another. They were based on the principle of collage entities with performers enacting their pieces from a personal angle, often drawing on autobiographical experiences and with effects of therapeutic cleansing.
Precisely these kinds of strategies then served as a reliable base for experimentation with, and development of, the various acting, thematic and aesthetic questions. These were carried further in 2009 in a new series entitled Via Nova, while the central axis turned on the relation between a counterfeit and the original, between the old and the new, between creation and destruction. The series Via Nova gave rise to twenty new shows (often realized in museums or galleries), in which the performers elaborated upon their previous points of interest, seeking out in themselves as well as the performer the anxiety and the pleasure through the phenomenon of repetition.
At this particular moment Via Negativa is at its third stage, in the process of Irresolvable, in which the performers’ central focus is directed at the current political and cultural situations, at the resolvability of the ideological dilemmas and subsequent frustration on the part of the nation that is being offered and advised to rebel.
In the ten years Via Negativa realized 48 projects, with over 80 performers participating from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Poland and Denmark. Over half the projects emerged out of a coproduction or partnership with over 20 different theatres, venues and festivals. They performed over 200 shows at festivals in Slovenia and abroad and travelled to 21 European countries and the USA.
No one should have seen this
The title No One Should Have Seen This was to accompany not only the event celebrating their decade-long presence on the performance scene but also the latest monograph and exhibition in the Modern Gallery. The exhibition is conceptualized as a video installation, offering excerpts from the Via Negativa peformances, but in a deliberately disconnected retrospective manner, for a number of video inserts are shown simultaneously, and disjointedly in a characteristic line of ‘ViaNegativa’s’ excesses and following a logic that tends to conceal the essence of what is being shown deep under the surface of the presentation itself.
The monograph No one should have seen this (Zavod Maska, urednik Bojan Jablanovec, 270 pp.) is also organized following a retrospective order. A walk, let alone a reading, through it turns out to be a labyrinth that barely allows for a moment of ‘respite’, but rather drives the reader onward into accepting the game of shrewd dramatic manipulation. Besides the exceptional photo material (Marcandrea) and a chronological survey of all the performances accompanied by short introductions, there is also a substantial essay by Blaž Lukan entitled “Erasing the Audience” and interviews with Via Negativa’s performers done by Marin Blažević.
Interview with Nataša Živković
Tanja Cirman, Delo Ljubljana, 14 December 2012
Tonight at 8 p. m. on the premises of the Modern Gallery in Ljubljana the project Via Negativa will celebrate its 10th anniversary with two events: the video installation No One Should Have Seen This and the launch of a monograph. The event will be opened with a dance performance Still Life and tomorrow, on December 15th, at the Old City Powerhouse, a party is scheduled with a concert No One Should Have to Hear This staged by Tomaž Grom and an ensemble selected especially for the occasion. Contributors are: Barbara Kukovec, Barbara Matijević, Boris Kadin, Grega Zorc, Katarina Stegnar, Marko Mandić, Nataša Živković, Sanela Milošević and Uroš Kaurin.
The impetus for our interview with the dancer and actress Nataša Živković is provided be her re-enactment of the dance performance Still Life as the opening event for the retrospective No One Should Have Seen This to mark the 10th anniversary of Via Negativa’s project. After quite some time she will put on the ballet shoes in which she began her artistic journey, which is far from finished. Last time she acted in a performance was in Janez Janša’s Who’s Next?.
Why do you think that out of all the Via Negativa projects, it was the performance Still Life that was given the honour to inaugurate this event?
This performance hasn’t in fact had many stagings, partly also because of my long absence. I am happy about this opportunity to do it again (but I couldn’t say that I count this as a particular honour). Why Still Life, I don’t quite know, except to say it is a very ‘clean’ performance. It presents a sketch of a seemingly perfect family with a very orderly petit bourgeois life, at least as it appears from the outside. That something isn’t quite right in this picture, I demonstrate with my little excess which is at the same time a small pleasure of mine. (Excesses are always and everywhere, something that Via Negativa likes to highlight). Many people are bothered precisely by this; why does everything have to be made so explicit, why these „ViaNegativesque” excesses of stripping, urinating, blood and such similar things. The title of the retrospective itself No One Should Have Seen This foregrounds this excess as Via Negativa’s signature mark.
Your performance is conceptualised as a withdrawal into motionless, partly also inspired by an idea from Slavoj Žižek’s book Violence, in which he comes to the conclusion that now seems to be the time for us to become silent. Is it time for us to be silent?
The performance lends itself to many associations. To a family made up of a man, a wife and a child, which is supposed to be the only normal one. It is a commentary on the outside seemingly orderly life, but in fact every family has its share of problems, as does every relationship. The time when we should keep quiet was meant in the sense of all of us wanting to say everything, we all want to speak, but in the noise we create we can no longer hear each other. Silence is a possible alternative. I liked what Žižek suggests in his book: that in silence there can be the greatest violence and the clearest answer offered to someone, be it a person or a government. Noise and commotion can sometimes cover up other things.
Would demonstrations be louder with silence?
They might have been more effective, but for that we would need everyone’s complete solidarity; there would have to be a total blockade on transport, economic transactions, people wouldn’t go to work. That would be silence that would convey clearly that we are not going to participate in this system. But there’s a catch. Our political leaders aren’t competent, true, but the question remains who is to replace them and is it going to be any better then. The problem is systemic in nature. It became clear to me, for instance, when during the protests I walked into a bookshop. There pleasant jazz music was playing, while outside it was resounding with “everyone onto the streets” and this was so strong I myself started shouting, at which point the startled sales woman replied: “I would say, everyone into book shops.” This is where the problem lies. If everyone wanted change, she would have closed the bookshop and gone onto the streets. By staying in the bookshop as its employee, scared for her job, she remains part of the system.
Do we live in still life?
It seems so, especially when you walk into these beautiful bookshops. (Laughter) That is truly beautiful and smart still life. Not to mention the New Year’s decorations in Ljubljana; what good are these lights and decorations for someone who doesn’t even have enough for a sandwich? The country is in crisis, but this light still life goes on shining as though nothing at all is amiss.
Do you go to protests?
I do, full stop.
Did your collaboration with Via Negativa transform you as a performer?
Absolutely. Mostly in the sense, that what you do needs to be given a clear meaning. If you know what you want to say, the spectator will also know. I think I have moved away from forms that are unclear, for example, dance, which had a pronounced aesthetic function and is not so much concerned with conveying a clear message. I have become far more discerning in reading both my own work and the work of others. This doesn’t necessarily imply a politically-engaged stance whereby you must comment each and every single thing that goes on. For the spectator it must be “readable” what is going on. So we avoid situations in which people have gone to see a contemporary dance performance and, on coming out, they find themselves thinking how they don’t have enough knowledge about dance, since they have not understood what they had just seen. I am convinced that contemporary dance can be presented in a way that makes it more readable, so that even an occasional spectator of dance performances can recognize something in it, of course if that something is there.
The questioning of the position of the performer vis-à-vis the spectator is also one of Via Negativa’s characteristics.
This question is one of Via Negativa’s main preoccupations: how to open up a channel between the performer and the spectator; how to get rid of the fourth invisible wall that is still often present in the classical theatre – namely when the actors look at the audience it’s as though they are looking into empty space, something that bothers me very much. This is an illusion which is already passé. In its attitude towards the spectator, Via Negative is for the most part very direct. Sometimes people ask us: “Is this one of those performances in which I will have to participate?” A great number of people still like to have this safe position in the dark, i.e. I’ve to come to watch, so let me watch undisturbed, which in my view is perfectly legitimate. But it is precisely this that gives theatre a great advantage over film, for instance; the fact that it can use this living connection and open up the channel between two people who are differently positioned. In the case of Via Negativa, this theatrical moment is very real; we are here together in the here and now and in whatever is going to happen to us. It’s not about me doing what I have set out to do and that’s the end of the story; I want to nudge you, the spectator, out of your passive position. Some find this uncomfortable, while others love it.
Why are you on the stage?
Because on the stage I am far more alive, I exist more intensely. Every artist goes through crises in their creative life, asking themselves whether to go on at all. Every time anew I come to the realization that the stage is really something special, for me it’s priceless to be on stage. And this is something Via Negativa demands from the performer; if you want to be on the stage, you have to earn it. By investing into the process itself, for you to know why you are up there and not for the director to tell you why and what you should be doing there. This is the performer’s contribution, and it is massive.
And what is your attitude towards the spectator? What is his function?
To draw on his presence, to create together with him or her an event at a given time and a specific place, for something to happen which is not everyday-like. My attitude towards the spectator is such that I rouse an emotion in him and draw him out of indifference and state of despondency.
Performer’s contribution is the foundation, while all the productions are created with the least input in terms of ideas from the director Bojan Jablanovec, the father of Via Negativa.
Bojan is the first critical viewer. In the process he is first and foremost a spectator and only at a point when we run out of steam does he intervene by way of support. In that sense he is often the one who finalizes the matter, gives it a full stop or an exclamation mark. He is still the director, but of a different kind. The process is like organic molten lava, very tough (laughter), a river. You fall into it and the moment you start drowning, he comes to rescue. You try out his suggestion, while remaining active in your own search. Bojan won’t bother saving you if you have no idea what you’re doing. Performances take shape slowly, over the course of an entire year. We have cases of people who attended rehearsals throughout the year, but because they didn’t reach that clarity about what they were doing, nothing came out of it at the end.
What about the point of excess?
Via Negative is about demystifying everything. Already the fact that we worked consecutively on seven deadly sins … sin itself is already an excess of sorts and is therefore already at the heart of what we are researching. There’s no such thing as perfection, there’s always going to be some error somewhere, Still Life being a case in point. One tilt and the meaning of the entire picture changes. Action with which you destroy what you have built, adding a big exclamation or question mark to it.
Why is excess important?
Excess is a bodily reaction to a feeling of suffocation and closeness and this feeling must express itself externally. It leaps out, because there’s no other way, because all around it something is not right. It’s an event, a moment, a commentary, from which this event emerges as something that cannot be repressed. It can be something quite simple. For example, we all pee every day, but the minute this happens on the stage, it becomes excessive. Why? We don’t want to see it, because we go to the theatre to see something beautiful. And then we see someone jerking off and someone else peeing. Maybe we want to point to the question of why is the spectator so upset in his petit-bourgeoisie mores that things we do everyday should offend him so. The expression excess seems excessive, because all these things can also be fun. It’s about playing with the moment of surprise, the moment of disgust, a physical reaction that is evoked in the spectator. Especially through bodily fluids, this being a medium at which point the spectator plugs his body into the process itself. Some people see Via Negativa akin to “Shopping and Fucking”, but there’s no aggression here by way of shock, in fact, it’s all very human. Via Negativa has an elegant way of doing things. To give you an example: when Katarina pierces her index finger so as to draw blood with which she signs a bank note, giving it added value as an artefact, because it carries her blood. There’s nothing shocking about this or aggressive, and still it contains blood.
You started out as a ballerina, established yourself as a contemporary dancer and actress (the performance First Love received Zlata Ptica Award), and now we can detect a move in the direction of performing arts.
True, though I still like to dance. After finishing ballet secondary school I asked myself whether I wanted to be a ballet dancer for the opera house. The answer was a no. Meeting Maja Delak was the first step towards contemporary dance and so I quickly swapped heights for nether regions and learnt how it feels to fall without getting all black and blue. Now I can appreciate theatre more wholly. If you ask me what I am, I am a dancer, an actress, a performer, a choreographer, a director. A stage is a stage. What matters is how what is put on functions. I am still interested in the classical theatre. I derive a lot of pleasure from seeing a performance, which succeeds in breaking through the sound barrier between myself and the actors.
In conversation with director Bojan Jablanovec, discussing the president, total devotion and the meat mincer. Maja Čakarić, Delo Ljubljana, 13 November 2012
Doesn’t matter if it’s not Broj Jedan or Flash Gordon and therefore hasn’t got all mighty powers; it suffices that he’s the president of the country. The theatre group Via Negativa with the artistic director Bojan Jablanovec at its helm is not too bothered about whom we the voters garland: “We are happy that you are what you are. No doubt about it.” At least in the performance.
Can you be more precise: are you saying we don’t need the institution of the president of the state, or are you disappointed with the concrete embodiments, or is it something else altogether?
The premiere of the performance happened to coincide with the presidential elections. Any other time, the address would have been exactly the same, since it is intended for every president of any state, government or party, in other words of any democratic institution. We are primarily thinking about the role we citizens play in a democratic system, about the role of the voting body. In a representational democracy the voting body is a motor which drives the motor. Its motor, its flesh, its food – all of them together. It’s summoning us to vote all the time.
Don’t be a slacker, we like to help, right?
It summons and we vote. The content has long been unimportant. It’s merely keeping up the form. We can choose only between the options given to us. Even if you choose not to choose, you are counted in. Democratic system is very intelligent machinery that crunches everything. It feeds and renews itself. Democracy is a meat mincer. Your voice is not about expressing your will or meant for anyone to hear.
Is that why the theatre must listen to these quiet voices so as to transfer them on more loudly?
The artist is part of the machinery. His right to create and critique is part of the mechanism. The more his voice is heard, the more it is included in the fundamental value of democracy – the freedom of expression.
Which seems like shooting with empty cartridges?
In a democracy all of us citizens, be it real or virtual, have the right to express our opinion, that’s why opinions no longer carry any real content. Every protest is already formalized and a priori counted in as a right to express your opinion.
And still: is it possible to imagine a people without a leader?
No. A people can only be constituted through a leader. This is pure instinct, not something democracy has imposed on us. Somebody has to make decisions in the name of the majority. It’s just that it seems to me that the system of representative democracy has emptied itself of any content. The more it draws on the discourse of change, the more I detect its desire for the status quo.
So we have what we unreservedly deserve?
I agree. Our democratically elected representatives are a reflection of their voting body. We need to be self-critical about this: they are what we are. They do what we are prepared to tolerate. That is why the poster for the performance has naked bottoms. We are both, I am sorry to say — asses.
And do you still insist the performance is not a critique?
It’s more a reflex. The backside of the voting body is red-hot from the excessive slacking. We are not performing from a position of a critique, but uncompromising support. Total support.
But which is not total obedience?
In expressing our support for the democratic platitudes we push at the limits of what is still physically endurable. We exhaust the voting body completely for the empty phrases.
And what conclusions do you draw?
That we are exhausted. And though nobody likes it, and though we all know that it is quite pointless, we go on doing this all over again. From one election to the next we play this game with the system in which there are no winners.
You address these questions in the theatre which, although a public space, it is nonetheless closed. Wouldn’t you rather step out with the performance onto the streets?
We are not street activists or protesters. We don’t want to be designated critics of the current government. What we do surpasses the banal concreteness of any given government.
Have you anticipated the possibility that the president could visit you?
We have eliminated this possibility, that’s why we have ensured his presence with the concept of the performance.
And what expectations do you have of the spectator? Should he be the recipient or should he pass on the message?
I wish for the spectator to recognize him or herself.
Will this shake him/her up?
I hope s/he’ll be able to at least laugh a little at his/her own absurdity and pointlessness.
It doesn’t seem we lack a sense of humour?
No. But it’s true that our jokes can also sometimes have a sting.
If this is only the beginning, judging by the title of the performance, what’s to follow?
The next beginning, always the same story. At every election the intimate and social expectations return to the point in which we hope that everything will fall into its right place. We always have only beginnings. Which we fail to see? And forget too readily that we have more than once found ourselves at the beginning? An apt diagnosis. Every time we invent ourselves anew: as individuals, a nation or a system. Our historical memory is really incredibly short.
And where does everything fall into its right place? Or, put differently, where don’t you fall into the trap of perpetual beginnings?
In truth it’s impossible to escape this logic. Also in art. With every new project you must return to the beginning. Art is a game you play with the awareness that as an artist you must keep asking yourself questions, all the time and anew, to which there are no answers.
You create art, but you also enjoy it.
My enjoyment comes primarily from creating, from the feeling that regardless of the system it is still possible to create. And that no one can take this away from you. And there are plenty of interesting and intelligent people who are creating in Ljubljana, the city is even too small for everything we do. That’s why the audience are very demanding and expect us to reinvent ourselves every time anew.
Don’t the foreign artists ensure a good enough soup?
Yes, but the audience is always the same. The independent scene has about 1500 spectators. We simply don’t have enough power to extend our circle of spectators, because this would demand a lot more than the production of interesting shows. In Ljubljana the production goes as far as the product, a more serious positioning into the cultural supply of the city is for us sadly – financially as well as from the point of view of manpower – impossibility.
In other words, we can’t change the audience, we can’t change the citizens…
We have created a state for ourselves and we have learnt what kind of a nation we truly are.
Would it be appropriate to try and get the voter to be more engaged? Or to rouse him in any other way?
Voter’s engagement depends on the engagement of those who address him. In truth no one is sleeping, though we are sleepy, because the addresses we listen to cannot rouse anyone. Nobody is prepared to bang their heads against the wall for what we hear. We are somehow content that this wall of democracy is even standing. Even though it’s a pretty shabby copy of everything we could quickly copy, we nonetheless feel safe behind it. The main thing is that it stands. The fear that behind it is only a black void has very big eyes. And all our presidents love to play on this fear.
Dina Jokanović, Interview with Bojan Jablanovec, Balcan Can Contemporary, issue 8, November 2012
First of all, where did you grow up and when was the first time you knew that your life path was in performative arts?
I grew up in the small provincial city of Murska Sobota in the South East of Slovenia, which was at that time about 4 hours drive from Ljubljana. The city lies in the middle of extensive fields of corn, wheat, sugarbeet, vegetable gardens and orchards. My parents came to live in the city from neighbouring villages, and were proud that they were not peasants anymore. It was the story of the majority of citizens. Murska Sobota was a socialist project
of urbanizing of the rural part of Slovenia which caused a lot of tensions, disappointments and frustrations in the local population. This atmosphere was very fruitful for all kinds of “artistic rebellion”, which in my case was first expressed in a passionate need to be a part of the rockn’roll subculture. And this provoked deep conflicts with my parents, which we never resolved.
What influences from your youth would you say had the biggest impact on your life as an artist?
It was quite early in my high school theatre activities, which I took a part in as an actor, that I read three books: A Short Organum for the Theatre by Berthold Brecht, The Empty Space by Peter Brook, and Towards a Poor Theatre by Jerzy Grotowski. I was thrilled about the ideas in these books even before I saw any professional theatre productions. Shortly after that, I started to go to theatre performances in Ljubljana, and very soon I was quite disappointed with them. I could not understand why none of what I had read in the books was visible in the performances that I saw. I was not sure if I had not understood what I’d read, or if I simply couldn’t recognize these great ideas on a real stage.
What was the main trigger for founding Via Negativa?
At this point my story becomes a little bit twisted and not as straightforward as I would like it to be. It was a slow process that lasted for 10 years and not at all some kind of epiphany or sudden decision. In 1989, immediately after finishing at the Academy for Theatre Studies in Ljubljana, I started to work in Slovenian institutional repertoire theatres, and this lasted until 1999. During all of this time I was struggling with the production system in these theatres, but I hoped that I would work out how to approach it in a way that would make it work for me. So I accepted various offers to direct drama pieces
and, (as a ‘talented young director,’ as I was labeled in those days) I fought with the dramatic texts, the actors, the rehearsals etc. I was never satisfied with myself or the outcomes of these fights, until finally I had to accept that my expectations of theatre demand a completely different approach in the sense of production and working methods. With Via Negativa I first of all I started to build a production framework and working methods that would work, not only for me but also for the people I work with.
The performances you stage and direct are usually based on somewhat reduced aesthetics, and your focus seems to be based on (mis)communication between artists and viewers. Do you think that performance art can communicate with the audience differently than theatre?
Not at all. They function on the same principle and the difference between theatre and performing arts is quite artificial in my opinion. (Mis)communication is written in the core of both practices. I believe that the crucial difference lies in the working process itself, or, more precisely, the difference is that performing arts is dealing with issues of the working process, which become a visible part of their production, while on the other side, theatre mystifies its working process. In this sense for me our state theatre academies are institutes of mystification and not tools of artistic enlightenment.
What are your expectations from the viewers? Have you ever had a negative experience with an audience? And I assume that some viewers have had negative experiences with you?
I do not have any expectations of the audience, but from the other side, the audience should have and do have expectations of the artist. I never think about this as something right or wrong, I’m just simply aware of this fact. It is a fact that each artist must accept and work with. Problems arise if the artist submits to those expectations, or if he wants to fulfil them. I think it is necessary to play with them. Our task is to outplay them intelligently, and we have to use expectations in order to offer something else, something we believe in and fight for. About the unexpected there’s always uncertainty, which could
work for or against you. In this sense certain viewers probably have had some negative experiences with us, but this is a process written in the dynamics of the continuity of artistic development.
What are the criteria that guide your selection of performers in your productions? What are the artistic and philosophical rationales or processes that you use when building your projects?
It’s quite a simple philosophy. In Via Negativa the performer has to stand on the stage with his own reason, body and story. I make sure there is a consistant working process, a frame of work and a focus. During all stages of our work I follow the performer’s interest, needs, and energy. If there’s no personal need or readiness in a performer’s habitus to expose himself on the stage beyond any boundaries – then there’s no ground on which we could co-operate. I always give performers a lot of opportunities, support and time during the process to find the way to approach the subject we are dealing with, and to overcome creative blocks. This is successful only if we constantly and openly exchange material and
ideas. We always start from a zero point, and we have a deal that the delivery of the content (meaning story, situation, gestures, etc) is the obligation of the performer. I can start to build the structure and context only when I feel that we have reached some promising material.
The human body is the main tool in your productions. How far is it possible to push the limits of the human body in the pursuit of art?
It would be more precise to say that our basic tool is the presence, which is captured in the body. It’s true that in our performances many times we touch the ends of the body’s limitations, but it is not our goal to test them or push them further and further with each performance. It would be creative suicide. But everything that performer possesses in the sense of creative tools is trapped inside the body: energy, imagination, voice, everything is limited by the body and limitations were always a big creative challenge for humans. In my opinion it is only because of our limitations that art or creativity in general make sense – always with the same mission: to overcome them.
How does the role of art change in this time of crisis?
In the times we’re facing today the importance of art and the artist’s responsibility is growing. The current situation offers artists a very explosive and productive context on one side and on the other we are faced with brutal financial cuts and neoliberal logic, which is reducing art to the level of a business activity that has to compete for profit on the free market. Daily politics deals with us as parasites on the state budget and in this atmosphere general public opinion is not on our side. In my opinion the most important task of an artist in this situation is to fight against this logic with strong works, clear and
sharp statements that viewers can identify with, and in this way to gain more audience on our side. “To make people free is the aim of art; therefore art for me is the science of freedom.” This is one of many of Joseph Beuys’s statements about the meaning of art. At least from Duchamp onwards art is what the artist succeeds to define as art. And this is what the art is preoccupied with for the whole century: to create new definitions of art. Maybe today’s mission of art should be to make people free from art. And we should not be naïve, art cannot change the world, but can support and accelerate its need for change. More risk taking performances, more visibility, louder works, regardless of the shortage of
money. This is the only strategy for today and tomorrow.
Eurozine, 28 August 2012
First published in Dialogi 3-4/2012 (Slovenian version)
The talent of the actor is one of the most elusive and difficult to define phenomena. Analytical treatment of the art of the actor can be found in essays published from the end of the sixties by Samo Simcic in the journal Nasi razgledi. Among writers on theatre, Blaz Lukan offered this fragile matter the most attention in the nineties, already in his piece on How to conserve the actor at the symposium. On the problematic conservation of theatre culture held as part of the Maribor Theatre Festival in 1987. In his later texts the emphasis shifted to selected roles from contemporary theatre production. As the compilation of these texts Tihozitja in grimase (Aristej, 2007) summarizes, “the actors don’t speak through a description or psychology of sorts, but through their body and its life”. In this way, Lukan makes a departure from the linear approach of theatre criticism. At the 1987 symposium, Vasja Predan added that the memory of only one living role of a single living actor in the experiential sense reveals more than anything that can be read about this same actor, and in a different way.
The performance Mandicstroj (“Mandic Machine”), which follows the structure of a collage and is part of the performance series Via Nova – in the framework of Via Negativa, a contemporary performing arts project initiated by artistic leader and director Bojan Jablanovec – is an extension of two solo performances from 2009, Ekstrakt Mandic and Viva Mandic, and of the performance essay Mandic? What the fuck is Mandic? from 2011, all in the production of Via Negativa. Marko Mandic, born in 1974, who after completing his studies at the Academy for Theatre, Radio, Film and Television in Ljubljana and gaining experience at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York, joined the actors’ ensemble at the Ljubljana Drama in 1998 and won the award of the Preseren Fund in 2009 for a series of his theatrical roles, shows in Mandicstroj that the memory of the actor is an indigo, a sponge that absorbs everything, for a considerable time.
The number of roles has risen in the meantime. In Mandicstroj, which encompasses 38 torsi, created in the time span 1996-2010, the question of authorship does not arise. Every role is articulated and conserved inside the broad frame, and at first glance it glorifies one of the acting fundaments of Via Negativa (the deep impact of the latter on the dramaturgical thought of theatre in Slovenia has not yet been fully evaluated). Homo ludens in front of us plays his game, being unbound by prejudice or limitations, and does not mystify any of his roles. His principal communication channel is the word, while the staging involves the continuous inclusion of the spectators as well. The animated public remains sufficiently invisible in its presence and does not compete with the word of Mandic. It is not possible to forget about the way in which spectators glowed as they passed over to the other side of Mandicstroj.
The procedure of Mandic is not purely fragmentation. The audience is an important part of the performance and this is expressed even more fully in the intimate space of Mala Drama SNG (the show was transferred there in November 2011) or at least gains its momentum only there; in other venues, the actor needs to use other strategies. While the radical performing arts practice for the time being exhibits a rather weak outreach in its construction of the genuine relation with the (continuously diminishing) audience, Mandicstroj tries out the liveness of the stage event without a populistic intention of any kind and does not present it as a stylized form or an aesthetic excess where the relationship between performer and spectator would be in vain. There is a subtle and non-violent tempting of the spectator into the sphere of the imaginary. Identification with “laymen” on stage, who as fragile, numb physicals yield to the orders of the actor, enables an extraordinary experience. Mandic crowns the spectator: after all, he acts to reach him, this is where he moves away from narcissism.
The parts of roles make up a thread of substance according to the context, not to the date of their origin, but the method of the staging is not pretentious. What attracts attention is the performative strength of jumping from one state of mind to the other that in the current dominance of the flattened televised era enables us to feel theatre in its flesh. Mandic takes over the attributes of a machine and its irrational and in a way comical fixation on reconstruction, multiplication or erasing of moments, images, words, thoughts – arbitrarily but as sovereign as one can imagine. He constructs reality as an interaction under control, regardless of unexpected adrenaline shocks. As an artist, he is fixed only on the technology of one’s own self, since the persistence in the body and the live presence, discarding digital mediation, is a challenge. The political strength of this excess is limited but this is exactly why there is no artificial boundary in the relationship with the auditorium of spectators left.
The actor intensively oscillates in connection with theatre directors who are able to feel the catalogue of his non-classical registers, and needs the space for experiment, in proportion with the enacted psyche and the words that are being articulated. The hopping between roles in Mandicstroj might seem almost a routine thing; the spectator yearns for something more, but this rare phenomenon has already in the time of his presence in the Slovene theatre to date (as well as in the German television sphere where he appeared in two series) determined the collective receptive apparatus to the extent that there is no turning back: the voracious animal of the spectator in us demands an increasing amount of Mandic. It could recently, in June 2012, reach him again in the most effective moments of the staging of In the solitude of cotton fields in the robust ambience of the Talum factory in Kidricevo (in the direction of Ivica Buljan), where the physis of Mandic is put together with the prolonged poetic stance of B. M. Koltes and results in the impressive twitch of the world’s logic of sale and demand.
Here lies another reason why Mandic, in spite of his being unexploited by the media, is a well known face in Slovenia. After the award for his role in the performance Ma&Al in Split, he even became the ‘name of the week’ on national radio, which for a theatre actor of his generation is not a usual thing – let’s leave aside the fact that the moderator of the telephone commentators easily “caught” a voter or two who have never truly seen Mandic on stage yet.
“Owing to digital technologies which allow us to virtualize, archive, transmit, mediate and network all kinds of data, nowadays it is possible to endlessly restore and reproduce, share and show, edit or delete the moments, images, words, thoughts of our life without a risky contact of two bodies, a suspense about reaction of somebody else. Our digital apparitions may be exposed and observed in the virtual world, yet our coexistence with others is becoming quite conservative – an interaction without a real risk. (…) It seems that insistence on the body and live presence is nowadays, and already, an anachronism of liveness; that live experience, as “the subject of the work” of contemporary performance art, is simply no longer real without digitalization of presence,” Marin Blazevic and Bojan Jablanovec write to accompany Mandic? What the fuck is Mandic? at the Performance Studies International Conference 17 in Utrecht.
Accordingly, Mandicstroj among the costume remnants of the previous years plays with roles at the meta-level, simulates them, already “withdrawn” from them, re-enacts them, as if he never has and never will leave their trajectory (the relation between the ‘original’ and ‘repetition’ has often been dealt with in various performances of Via Negativa). This gives him the freedom to play with copies of his live presence; to list and arrange his ‘portrait of a young man’ which is thus presented as a documentary but not a dead thing. The auditorium is not faced with historical matter through which the actor would try to point out that he would still cope with. He tries out (invents) a new form of conservation of the past acting material. When he addresses the most reliable carrier of his past autopsy, his own self, he in a way confronts the theatre history as a genre dealing with the subject which no longer exists. Are the possibilities of archiving that we use today comparable or more efficient from the previous ones at all?
In this way, Mandic jumps over the reductions of the written records and reduces himself on his own. He reflects a playfulness that does not want to get conserved and shows an ironic form of (auto)archiving. A live encounter can do more, a physical experience which reaches the irrational sphere and with it the essential truth which gets recognized by a subjective gaze. When a suggestive experience exceeds pure memory, the actor is not an archeological fossil. Mandicstroj poses the question on the essence of the contemporary acting which lies in its elusiveness, in reconstructing with a difference, in listing the roles from one’s own stage history. In the elusive nature of the human being as such. The spectator catches the essence of Mandic’s moment in the live confrontation with him, this is what makes him paradoxically (instantly) eternal in the secret of his art, not tied to anecdotes or handy fables.
As a footnote: the question about the role of the co-author Jablanovec in the making of Mandicstroj remains unanswered deliberately. In fact, a longer list of authors who began exploring the theatre language already in the nineties (Vlado Repnik, Barbara Novakovic, Marko Peljhan, as well as Silvan Omerzu) could well be called in to creatively work with the actors (pre- or post-academy), but Slovenia has simply not evolved a proper educational platform for their know-how. To some extent, this succeeded only for Emil Hrvatin/Janez Jansa with collaborators who evolved Maska from publicist to educational-productional spheres.
Dijana Matković, intervju z Markom Mandićem, Življenje na dotik, EPK Maribor 2012, 16 april 2012
“Igralci stalno plujemo po najrazličnejših vodah. Teksti so kompleksni, kar pomeni, da te že sam tekst preizprašuje. Pri sebi si intimno večkrat pripravljen narediti korak k priznavanju strahu, veš, kakšen je postopek, da boš šel čez, veš, kako se spustiti tja, kamor mogoče niti ne bi hotel iti.”
Markov Mandićev je več. Najprej zato, ker gre za relativno pogosto ime in priimek, toda to ni niti približno toliko zanimivo, kot so zanimivi vsi tisti Marki Mandići znotraj igralca Marka Mandića. Prvi, ki pride na plano, ko se z njim srečate, je vsekakor prijazen, gostoljuben in topel Marko Mandić. Gre za enega tistih ljudi, ki poskrbijo, da se ljudje okoli njega počutijo prijetno. Potem je tu igrivi Marko Mandić, ki za potrebe fotografije mimogrede skoči na polico v salonu Male drame, od koder binglja z nogami kot kak deček z gugalnice (kar nam govori tudi, da gre za človeka, ki je za dober cilj – kot se je izkazalo tudi skozi pogovor – pripravljen iti »do konca«). Tu je še hiperaktivni Marko, ki sredi pogovora opazi odprt radiator in ga hiti zapirat, »ker je treba šparat«. Pa Marko Mandić na odru in tisti, ki sedi pred vami za potrebe intervjuja. Bržkone sta ravno ta, če ju primerjamo med sabo, najzanimivejša. Na odru razpet v 37 vlog, kolikor jih vsebuje predstava MandićStroj, pred vami »sestavljen« v nadvse zgledno celoto (avto)refelektiranega bitja. Zato je vprašanje, ki nas je glodalo med intervjujem, predvsem naslednje: Kje se konča eden in kje se začne drugi?
Predstava MandićStroj se skozi delčke vaših nekdanjih vlog pravzaprav sprehodi skozi vašo celotno kariero. To je bržkone tudi priložnost za nekakšno osebno inventuro. Kaj vse se vam je v igralskem smislu dogajalo od časov študija do danes? Kaj so te različne vloge, zgoščene v eni predstavi, potegnile iz vas?
Dogajalo se je marsikaj, spotikal sem se ob marsikaj. V tem času so bile vloge, ki so mi ljubše kot druge, so vloge, ki so mi zelo všeč, in so vloge, ki bi jih mogoče v kakšnem obdobju celo zatajil. Ideja režiserja Bojana Jablanovca, da narediva neke vrste revizijo mojega dela, se mi je zdela odlična priložnost, da grem čez vse svoje šablone, predale, mehanizme, manire, orodja itd. V bistvu sva začela tako, da sem moral iz čisto vseh predstav, od začetka do konca, izbrati odlomke, prizore, dele besedil, za katere se mi je zdelo, da bi najboljše reprezentirali posamezno vlogo. Merilo je bilo, da gre za ekstremne stvari, da so vsebinsko zanimive, da govorijo o delu, o ustvarjalcu, o odnosih …
Toda kakšen je bil občutek soočanja z vsemi temi vlogami? Vendarle ste imeli naenkrat pred sabo zgoščen sirup vsega preteklega dela.
Že med vajami sem se soočil z vsemi stvarmi, ki jih ena revizija omogoča. Opazoval sem denimo modifikacije nekega giba, ki se je razvil, ki je bil v eni predstavi še zelo zadržan in si roke niso upale iti do konca (v tem trenutku na široko razpre roke, op. avt.). To je po eni strani povezano z likom, ki sem ga igral, seveda pa je povezano tudi z mojo svobodo in mojim pogumom, ki ga skozi leta pridobivaš. Prideš do neke točke, ko se sovražiš takšnega, kot si, ali ne preneseš več svojih pojavnih oblik in jih včasih hočeš zavestno spremeniti. Pri kakšnih vlogah je bila to celo priložnost, da sem naredil delni popravni izpit. Pri spuščanju v stare vloge, za katere sem mislil, da sem jih že povsem pozabil, je bilo zanimivo to, da ostanejo v tebi kot neka usedlina. Presenetilo me je, kakšne svetove sem nekoč poznal in v kakšne svetove sem se spuščal, kakšen miselni milje mi je bil poznan, pa sem potem pozabil nanj. Določenih stvari sploh ne veš več, čeprav so ti bile takrat znane. Spomnil sem se mnogih materialov, filmov, o katerih smo debatirali, knjig, ki sem jih v tistem obdobju bral … Ampak to nekje v tebi ostaja kot zapis in to uporabljaš takrat, ko je treba. Najbrž ves čas potiskamo določene stvari na stran, da bi naredili prostor za nove. Po drugi strani se mi zdi, da z vsakim režiserjem, s katerim ponovno sodeluješ, samo nadaljuješ odnos, ki je že prej obstajal, bivšo komunikacijo. Isto je s soigralci, denimo z Urošem Fürstom sva že ogromno igrala skupaj in na neki ravni še vedno vstopava v najin primarni odnos iz časov akademije, ne pravim, da še vedno igrava Joeja in Murphyja iz predstave Indijc hoče u Bronx, so pa najina odrska soočanja logično nadaljevanje tiste prve interakcije Uroša in Marka. Enako je z Veroniko Drolc, pa z Natašo Barbaro Gračner od Uršule naprej. Ne vem, če vedno igrava Uršulo in Lukasa, ampak permutirava to podlago. Z Mileno Zupančič sva si bila mama in sin ter žena in mož, a ima ne glede na to najin stik na odru podobno bazo, korenini v nekem osnovnem vznemirjenju med dvema igralcema.
S katero izmed vseh vlog, ki jih lahko vidimo v predstavi MandićStroj, ste najbolj preizkušali svoje meje, katera vas je najbolj »premaknila« v osebnostnem smislu?
To je vedno tista vloga, ki je nova. Zdaj lahko rečem, da je to Leone v Gospodi Glembajevih Miroslava Krleže v režiji Ivice Buljana. Tega koščka v MandićStroju seveda ni, ampak zdi se mi, da mi je bila ta doslej največji izziv, največja osebnostna preizkušnja oziroma neki spust vase, in mi je zato trenutno zelo zelo zelo ljuba. Kar ne pomeni, da ni bile tudi že prej takih vlog, ampak vedno si postaviš nek nov izziv; včasih je viden, tudi zunanji, včasih pa je intimen, notranji, ki ga drugi ne opazijo, sam pa veš zanj.
Kako daleč ste pripravljeni iti za neko vlogo? Tako na ravni telesa v smislu »rekvizita«, če lahko temu tako rečeva, kot v smislu premikanja nekih notranjih omejitev?
Mislim, da je telo res rekvizit, drži. Telo je rekvizit, s katerim jaz upravljam, je orodje in je recimo inštrument, saj to je vse zelo blizu. Kar se tiče vprašanja: za vlogo sem pripravljen iti daleč. Mislim, da je baza vsega, vsake misli, v telesu. Kar ne pomeni, da mora biti telo vedno v gibanju, lahko je notranji krč, ki potem proizvede neko idejo, besedo oziroma komunikacijo z drugimi. Svojega telesa pri ustvarjanju vlog ne želim omejevati, tako kot pri samem delu ne želim omejevati svoje domišljije in svojega miselnega obzorja. Zdi se mi, da te vsaka stvar, vsako novo sodelovanje lahko pelje nekam, kjer še nisi bil, ali pa v vode, v katere prej nisi verjel.
Se kdaj ustrašite?
Se. Ampak zdi se mi, da ti ta strah pomaga. Strah je zato, da ga premagaš, da zrušiš to prepreko. Da ga eliminiraš. Pozabiš. Istočasno pa se mi zdi, da ga je treba priznavati. Vedeti moraš, da je tam, ampak če ga gojiš, s tem gojiš tudi neke varovalne sisteme in neke vrste opravičila zase.
Česa konkretno pa se ustrašite? Tega, da ne veste, kam vas lahko neka nova izkušnja pripelje? Kaj je vsebina tega strahu?
Igralci stalno plujemo po najrazličnejših vodah. Teksti so kompleksni, kar pomeni, da te že sam tekst preizprašuje. Pri sebi si intimno večkrat pripravljen narediti korak k priznavanju strahu, veš, kakšen je postopek, da boš šel čez, veš, kako se spustiti tja, kamor mogoče niti ne bi hotel iti. Ampak vedno je problem, ali si boš upal to narediti tudi pred drugimi, pred soustvarjalci, pred soigralcem, pred prvimi gledalci, kot so to režiserji in vsi drugi sodelavci. Potem je šele naslednja faza pred publiko. Pogum za vse te korake mora obstajati že v samem procesu dela. To ne more biti le mentalna odločitev, v smislu, kaj bom naredil, kaj hočem narediti, ker se mi zdi, da šele takrat, ko nekaj preizkusiš, ko daš neki impulz, doživiš, kako je na ta impulz odreagiral ta, ki je zraven tebe. Lahko narediš mentalni konstrukt, kako bo prizor potekal, kako bo vse šlo naprej, a v končni fazi se moraš vedno soočiti s tem, kar je na drugi strani. Pa potem predati žogo in jo spet dobiti nazaj. Tovrstne vaje me najbolj veselijo in izpolnjujejo. Izmenjava plemeniti. Se pa zgodi, da si včasih zoprn in ničesar ne daš, zaradi česar nihče ne more reagirati.
Zdi se, da je ob tem treba ves čas hoditi iz svojega »območja ugodja«. Menda so možgani tako narejeni, da nočemo ven iz tega območja in večina ljudi tega tudi ne počne. Je za kaj takega potrebna toliko večja notranja stabilnost? Kako usklajujete Mandića na odru in Mandića zasebno?
So obdobja skozi proces, ko se to zelo kaže tudi pri tebi osebno, ker greš čez podobne procese, kot oseba, ki jo igraš. A vendar mislim, da si je treba upati tudi v privatnem življenju, se torej spustiti v neudobne cone, kjer se ne počutiš domače. Če si priznamo, da smo šibki, da nismo v redu, s tem nič ne izgubimo, kvečjemu se bolj stabiliziramo. Lahko se odprejo kakšni plazovi, ki so neustavljivi, toda, po drugi strani, če to ves čas držiš v sebi, potem nisi nič naredil, si samo neka razvalina, ki se oklepa in daje videz stabilnosti, v bistvu pa si neka razrvana oseba. Včasih si po kakšnih napornih predstavah, ko se daš polno in se celo izčrpaš, na koncu kot cunja, ampak zdi se mi, da te je to na novo zgradilo oziroma ti dalo več energije, kot če bi se ves čas obnašal zadržano. Vsaj jaz imam tak občutek. Po kakšni predstavi se denimo fenomenalno počutim, boljše kot pred njo, čeprav sem utrujen, čeprav je bilo naporno.
Ko sem za potrebe intervjuja govorila z ljudmi, ki vas poznajo, so v glavnem rekli, da greste na odru res do konca, zasebno pa ste precej bolj … hmm, lahko rečem – sestavljeni?
Jaz tudi mislim, da sem (smeh). Mogoče se ventiliziram na odru. Mislim, da moraš biti dokaj prizemljena oseba, če hočeš potem vstopati v vse te mračne tolmune.
Ker te odpelje, če si labilen?
Najbrž. Ali pa tudi ne. Tudi če si nadeneš vlogo, si nekako še vedno ti sam. Pri igralcih obstaja ta blazna želja po totalnih transformacijah, radi bi bili tako drugačni, da nas v naslednji vlogi ne bi prepoznali, toda vprašanje je, če je konstanten beg od samega sebe dober, obenem pa ne vem, če je potreben.
Zdi se, da imate izjemno močan učinek na publiko. Naj navedem primer, in sicer prizor iz predstave MandićStroj, kjer na oder povabite starejšo gospo in ta vas, ko ji pričnete govoriti »mama«, prične božati po laseh. Človek bi mislil, da je takšno vživljanje naključne osebe iz publike zgolj simpatično naključje, toda potem sem na YouTubu na posnetku istega prizora opazila, da se je neka druga gospa še bolj vživela: poljubila vas je. Kako pride do tega?
Sicer ne vem, kateri posnetek je na YouTubu – če je tisti premierni iz Stare elektrarne, kjer je bila premiera 25. junija 2011, se je v to vlogo vživela moja resnična mama. Če je gospa na posnetku v modri obleki, je to ona.
Mislim, da je.
Na tisti predstavi sem se spraševal, če naj grem ta monolog iz Strahov govorit njej ali izberem kar neko drugo žensko, ki bo za to priložnost moja mama. A sem si rekel, da je danes edinstvena priložnost, da svoji pravi mami podelim to vlogo, in zdi se mi, da je to imelo neko dodano vrednost. Zanimivo je, da se skoraj vse ženske, ki jih povabim na oder in jim govorim »mama, mama, vedel sem, da te bom našel«, nekako instinktivno odzovejo podobno – da me pobožajo. Nekajkrat se je sicer zgodilo, da me niso. Ne gre za to, da bi bile v krču, ampak mogoče jih je to presenetilo, splošno gledano pa je v tem prizoru res vedno neka gesta božanja, kar me preseneča, ampak očitno gre za nekaj prvinskega in naravnega, kar je vgrajeno v nas in je v odnosu mama–otrok zakoreninjeno.
Celotna predstava MandićStroj je narejena izjemno interaktivno. V čem je za vas draž interakcije s publiko? Je ob preizkušanju, koliko si bodo ljudje sami dopustili, tudi nekaj naslade?
Seveda mi je zanimivo preizkušati njihove meje. S tem, da je predstava strukturirana tako, da bi, tudi če se ne bi odzvali, če ne bi reagirali, tekla naprej.
Ampak to se ne zgodi?
Ne, ljudje gredo s tokom predstave, zelo uspešno sodelujejo, v osnovi pa gre za to, da jaz naslavljam konkretno osebo v publiki, moji partnerji iz predstav, iz katerih so vzeti koščki, zdaj postajajo ljudje v dvorani. Izziv mi predstavlja dejstvo, da govoriš resničnim očem, ljudem, ki niso igralci in ki tudi ne vedo vnaprej, kaj se bo zgodilo. Kot igralec si tako prisiljen vsebino plasirati čim bolj plastično, polno in prepričljivo.
Pravzaprav se že pred predstavo sprehajate med publiko in se z njo pomenkujete. Je to priprava na predstavo, jih malo preizkušate? Za kaj gre?
Pred predstavo se z nekom dogovorim, da bo prebral besedilo iz predstave Oblika stvari, dogovorim se z žensko, ki bo prevzela vlogo Sofje Jegorovne, da me na koncu odlomka iz Platonova ustreli. Priče temu dogovarjanju so vsi. Včasih se zgodi, da koga poznam, z njimi se pred predstavo pred vstopom v dvorano pogovarjam, včasih ogovorim kakšne neznance ali pa oni ogovorijo mene in moram reči, da me to sprošča, pa tudi publika je potem pripravljena na to, da bomo sodelovali.
Meni ste pred predstavo pomagali najti sedež, torej hvala.
(Nasmešek) Všeč mi je, da sem do zadnjega s publiko, torej do začetka predstave. Potem pa tako ali tako. Nekatere to preseneča, rečejo, »čakaj, kaj ne nastopaš ti danes?«, ampak vse to je pri predstavi MandićStroj skoraj nujno.
Z bratom Jankom Mandićem znotraj EPK MB 2012 pripravljata razstavo/predstavo z naslovom Walkingallery. Za kaj pravzaprav gre? Kaj lahko pričakujemo v prepletu igralca na eni ter grafičnega oblikovalca in glasbenika na drugi?
Miha Horvat naju je povabil v svoje garažno razstavišče. Veseliva se srečanja. Pred zidom se bosta soočila Jankov CD in Markov DVD. Reagirala bosta drug na drugega. CDVD. DVCD. Še en mesec je do tega dogodka. Vsaka obljuba bi bila pesek v oči. Vkorakajte med stene galerije. Ko to tamo peva? Firma Mandić.