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.
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.
Bojan Jablanovec, Sigledal.org, portal of the Slovenian theater, 3 January 2012
“Why and what to perform” is a question that we find ourselves asking with every new performance afresh. It is as if you are asking it for the first time, even though you have answered it for the umpteenth time. This game needs to be played onto death. And it is precisely in this that the biggest difficulty of performing lies.
The minute you start insisting on a particular answer, defense, conviction, method, concept …, you are in trouble. You start using the stage as an asylum, a haven in which you allow to play a trick on yourself, in turn playing also a trick on the audience with the performance. There is an audience who enjoys that. Many do indeed come to the theatre as if it was an asylum in which questions what and why don’t need to be asked. And therefore there are many such performances. And then there is even more of this type of audience. And so then theatre becomes jaded, old-hat and boring …
With every performance therefore we keep asking “What and Why” for as long as it takes for us to plumb virtually every meaning; to clear all rational, conceptual and ideological dross getting in the way – until we are left with purely the basic sound of the stage. This is the whole point of creating the performance. It is only when we feel we are getting close to something that can no longer be rationalized and when we no longer have to pretend we understand something we do not that we become real.
But this is not some kind of irrational surfing, aimless improvisation, emotional unshackling or some such thing. On the contrary. If you want to occupy a space behind the seat of reason you must first go through many filters of reasoning. This is a thick web of stereotypes, prejudices, conventions, presuppositions and expectations, references, paradoxes … We are talking about an astutely rational process here. The stage is the last lens which the gaze travels through. A zoom-in on the question “What and Why”. The stage is a situation of a sharpened focus: we are ready to see what is impossible to show. A silent agreement between us who show, and you who are watching, is: We know that what is between us here is here only so as to open up a space for what is hidden behind us.
The question “What and Why” is constantly hanging over our heads. In fact this is an impossible question about meaning. We all know there is no answer. And we all know that someone has to keep asking it. We all know this is a pointless, but necessary exercise. That is the privilege of the stage, its only purpose.
Via Negativa project emerged out of the need to keep checking the meaning, purpose and reasons for the existence of theatre today. It emerged also out of the conviction that the outcome of artistic endeavor is fundamentally conditioned by its means (method) of production. From the very beginning our prime goal was to develop a procedure that will allow the performer (standing on the stage) to answer the question “What and Why” with his/her own statement, his/her own body and his/her own meaning.
This basic creative field thus becomes the performative “self here and now”: my story, my relationship, my body, my situation, my gesture, my conflict, my anger … The performer (in her own name and for herself) fights for her right to be on the stage, she assumes the responsibility for everything said and done, the director assumes control over the coherence of the creative process and the responsibility for its impact, for the context and the structuring of the event … The creative field is strictly bounded: a paring down to basic stage elements (via negativa); theatre as a medium of communication and not aestheticization. We focus on the relationship between the performer and spectator (between what is shown and what is seen – which is the basis of theatre communication) and on the question of the real in this relationship (which is the key characteristic of a live theatre situation).
2002 – Starting Point: Anger (Modern Gallery Ljubljana). “A theatrically articulate, lucid and unambiguous pronouncement on a series of ontological questions related to theatre and existence.” (Blaž Lukan: Who acts my part. Delo, Ljubljana, 29. 11. 2002);
2003 – More (Theatre Glej). “This project offers an absolutely fresh take on the so-called ‘safe’ creative approaches. The hierarchy between theatre as ‘text’ and the perception of ‘theatre as theatre’ is no longer thinkable. Original.” (Primož Jesenko: Lucid madness with a point of view. Delo, Ljubljana, 2. 12. 2003);
2004 – Incasso (Theatre Glej). “Incasso has much to do with the changed context of life in relation to capitalist production and labor, communication and performance politics, and, last but not least, with the history of theater and its most political though marginalized core – performance art.” (Marina Gržinić: A rearticulation of the history of the performance. Maska, Ljubljana, XX/92–93, 2005);
2005 – Would Would Not (SMEEL Ljubljana). “Would Would Not does not conform to the expectations of the ‘classical’ viewer as it saddles him with the responsibility of executing this carefully structured open piece. At the same time, it extends an exceptional opportunity for the viewer to personally experience the fundamental issue of performing arts.” (Barbara Orel: Faces of lust. Dnevnik, Ljubljana, 27. 12. 2005);
2006 – Viva Verdi (Festival Eurokaz in HNK Zagreb). “Via Negativa has entirely justified its performance, and although it has repulsed the audience, it has shown exceptional theatrical verve, energy, innovativeness, imagination, demonstrating without restraint where European theatre is heading.” (Helena Braut: Shocking and controversial. Vjesnik, Zagreb, 3. 7. 2006);
2007 – Four Deaths (SMEEL Ljubljana). “Finally someone dares say it out loud and without restraint: Audience is god.” (Zala Dobovšek: Audience – divine judge. Radio Študent, Ljubljana, 6. 10. 2007);
2008 – Out (Gledališče &TD Zagreb). “Via Negativa has succeeded in opening up a space in contemporary Slovenian theatre for which theatre in Slovenia will never be quite the same again.” (Rok Vevar: Inflate the theatrical event, let it burst! Večer Maribor, 17. 11. 2008).
2009/2011 – Via Nova, a project which asks the question “What and Why perform” again and anew. For the material we go back to what we’ve already seen, to the scenes, performers, situations, predicaments … of Via Negativa 2002–2008 and thematize, interpret, and contextualize them afresh, testing various strategies of performance: dance, concert, lecture, video, auction, visual performance, documentary performance … A series of twenty smaller-format performances emerge, which we present either as individual performances or in the form of group presentations.
2009 – Via Nova Museum (City Museum Ljubljana), collective presentation and a museum installation at Ex Ponto Festival, according to the audience the best performance of the festival;
2010 – Via Nova via MSU Zagreb (collective presentation at the festival at Eurokaz festival), in the form of a video documentation, thirteen solo performances become part of the art collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb. “More interesting than provocation, is the laying bare of everything they touch – from the mechanisms in theatre, interpersonal relationships, expectations we harbour in relation to each other, the meaning of art … And it is precisely from this skillful exposure, linked closely to self-irony and subtle humor, that every encounter with Via Negativa has been exciting in its own right for a full decade now.” (Iva Gruić, Jutarnji list Zagreb, junij 2010)
2011 – MandićMachine, Association of theatre critics and theatre experts of Slovenia proclaim the solo performance of Marko Mandić the best performance in the season of 2010/2011;
2011 – Via Nova via New Territories Glasgow. Following a nine-hour collective presentation at the live art festival New Territories, a prominent critic Mary Brennan (who over the last thirty years had the occasion to follow also Forced Entertainment, Marina Abramović, La Ribot, Franka B etc.), wrote: “Pungent with confrontational insights and touched with humour, poetry and naked integrity, we need to see more of Via Negativa.” (Mary Brennan: Via Negativa. The Herald, Glasgow, 17. 3. 2011).
Markéta Faustová, Dance Zone Prague, 9 February 2011
The base of your work is the relationship between the interpreter and spectator. In your work the spectator is not only the spectator but a worker. If you should describe – how do you reach to move and vibrate the feelings and reactions of the spectator. What is this relationship about?
For me to be a spectator always means to take an active position. It does not mean that you should physically move or interact – no, you can be still, sit in the dark and watch the performance – but the viewing is still a very dynamic situation. Viewer is a receptor of various impulses and at the same time all these information must be processed, framed, decoded in the viewers mind – and only after this process the emotion can start to work. Viewing is a constant exchange of information, and the emotion is the result of it. Therefore first task of performing artist is to deliver right information in the right situation and thoughtful sequence of impulses in order to reach the result – emotion. In my view performing art is a situation of constant communication. It is an exchange that should give us artists on the stage and people in the seats feeling that we are alive, that this moment of performance is a moment of being alive.
In Casablanca Therapy is the contact with the audience the most important part. Was the reaction during the show different in the places you performed it?
Reaction of the audience does not significantly change from country to country (at least in Europe where we perform). Is it true that sometimes audience reacts more or less intensive, but this is usually a consequence of specific staging circumstances and not so much the outcome of the audience responsibility. We are fully aware that we are on the stage and therefore we are the only ones responsible for the outcome of the situation – and if sometimes interaction does not work as we would like to, it is a consequence of our acts only. In this way the audience is the most important teacher for me. For instance Casablanca was radically reworked after first performances in order to find right tuning of communicative situation.
The other side – neither the interpreter doesn´t have an easy role in your works. How do you work with the interpreter to release him and open him. For example in Casablanca you worked with very young people. How did you kick of their shame?
My basic creative demand is that performer must fight for the right to be on the stage. The stage is a situation of self-exposing – you have to be prepare to expose yourself. It is not enough to be in front of the eyes of the spectator, you must move into his mind and heart. During the work with performers I’m helping them to find the effective strategy, that will open the spectator. This is our first goal – to open spectator’s viewing, which means to open his mind, his reception. This is the most difficult part of our work. If you want that viewer will accept you, you must be authentic, simple, vulnerable, human, clear, precise etc. And with all this you make a kind of promise on the stage, the promise that you are worth to be watched, that you will deliver some kind of experience, message, insight, that something will happen. When you as creator stand in front of all these demands you become aware that you must mobilise and invest all your being, imagination, intuition, skills, frustrations and your whole body if you are going to achieve this. There’s no other way.
Casablanca therapy ends with a scene where the spectator is asked to touch the naked skin of the performer. The border between the scene and the auditorium is crossed. What is the final effect or catarsis in this therapy for you personally?
To make this exchage possible. To create the situation where the audience is willing to fulfill something we wish. The context of therapy that we build in order to achieve this goal is full of self-irony and honesty at the same time. We admit that probably we need audience more than they need us. Casablanca is a performance that wish to be touched, it brings out the fact, which is hidden inside of every performance – although it is usually expressed in the opposite way: that performance wants to touch the audience. But this is only a first part of a true wish of the performance and at the same time the condition for making possible the second part of this wish – to be touched (loved) by the audience. Casablanca is the performance about love and love is the situation in which we are ready to cross the borders, let’s say the borders of our bodies.
As a director you worked on the text of Artaud, Brecht. The name of Via Negativa comes from Grotowski. What did you take from the thinking of those 3 personalities at the field of theatre.
All these reformers of the theatre brought out the deep, basic and constantly present need for aliveness of the theatrical situation. Although all of them approached this need from different sides in my opinion they do not exclude each other but in the contrary – they confirm that this is the most important goal of theatre. In our performances we use all techniques and approaches in order to reach it. If you want to reach the Artaudian unconsciousness there’s no other way than to approach it with Brechtian awareness and to create with Grotowski’s ethics.
We are making the interview for the web about the contemporary dance and new theatre. How do you work with the nonverbality and with the movement in your performances? Could we find there something from the conceptual art?
In my believe everything is hidden inside the problem or theme you are dealing with. I do not decide in advance what form of performing art should we use in next performance. There are subjects that you cannot talk about and on the other side there are subjects that you cannot dance about. But first of all you must test them, push them to the limits, combine them. Right now I’m developing the project with one of our performer that probably will be visual, conceptual. After one year of trying we found out that we should not use speaking in that piece. We will use movement, video and music. That’s why I’m always open to different fields of creation: dance, text, music, video etc. I treat them as tools for reaching some effect, as skills that have to be used with clear purpose and not only because of aesthetic reasons. In my opinion form should follow the content, the subject, the message – in this case I’m quite conventional. I believe that if you create in this way then you cannot hide behind the skills, aesthetic or forms anymore. Instead to drill the skills and to purify the forms you are forced to clarify the thought, to fight for the reason, to dig for the message… Before I make decision to speak, to move, do dance or to present the concept, I must know why to speak or dance.
When I read some articles about your work. Sometimes I came to the words such as – shocking or anarchistic. What do you think is the reason to use these adjectives characteristing your work?
Partly this is a result of our performing strategies, which always follow open communicative situation. We like to play with a certain unwritten rules that are present in the theatrical situations or generally in contemporary art. In many performances we deliberately transgress these conventions. On one hand we like to play with expectations of the audience, on the other we test our anticipations. It is my deep believe that theatre is a medium that allows and even demands the transgressions of all kinds. Theatre is the only space where we are called to test, provoke and question borders of life, social rules and conventions, stereotypes and paradoxes of living. We like to disturb conventional gaze, and in order to achieve this we are ready to cross all kind of borders and to stretch all kind of limitations. Usually the first barrier we must fight with is a personal, intimate safety. In Via Negativa there’s no space for those that would like to hide behind the curtain.
You are in the never ending research at the theatre field. What are the main points and questions for you now (thematicly and theoreticaly)?
Still the same as in the beginning of the Via Negativa project: To prove with each performance that there is a need, a sense and a meaning in the fact that theatre is still present in our contemporary society. Questions remains the same, the biggest problem is to ask them over and over again, because you must ask them as you are standing for the first time in front of them. I do not believe in answers and I’m always suspicious about solutions, they are just one of many possibilities you can choose. Our basic drive is to question the existing and to discover new possibilities of theatrical situation, and to develop dynamic and creative model for performing arts production. If I would like to discover something new (at least for me) then I must force myself to deal with something I do not know, I must leave safe zone of knowledge, experience and skills. When I reach something I cannot understand or rationalize anymore than I know that this could be a good project. For me creation starts from the frustration of not-knowing what to do.
Tomaž Krpič, New Theatre Quarterly, May 2011
The concept of the performing body consists of two elements: the performer’s and the spectator’s performing bodies. The performer’s body is an active and creative body on stage, while the spectator’s body is considered an uncreative body, passive in his or her seat. In this article, findings regarding the duality of the performing body, its interchangeability, and its intertwinement, derive from researching Via Negativa, a Slovenian-based (yet international in its nature) theatrical project established almost a decade ago by theatre director Bojan Jablanovec. The mission of Via Negativa is to investigate the relationship between the performer and the spectator exclusively through theatrical means. Tomaž Krpič is a sociologist of the body with particular interest in postmodern theatre and performance. He was until recently Lecturer in Cultural Sociology in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Ljubljana University, Slovenia.