Interview Marta Gili and Jordi Colomer
MG: When I'm getting ready for an interview, I always think of the distance, the autonomy of a work vis-à-vis its creator. I remember, in some animated films taken from tales or traditional narratives, the objects rebel: they think for themselves, do things their won way, go beyond the initial function that their human creators intended. At night, they come out, cups meets spoons, lame toy soldiers fall in love with princesses without castles, etc. Can an artist's own work rebel against him or her in a similar way?
JC: That's fascinating, yes, toys coming alive at night, museum statues descending from their pedestals, or objects becoming human and starting to speak..., like Pinocchio or the Golem. This revolt against a supposedly all-powerful master or creator is obviously seductive, although also a little hypocritical. It's generally just at night: in the morning, all order is re-established... Inanimate objects coming to life, this is related to the idea of "disturbing strangeness". It's entirely different from that Pirandello-like concept of characters determining to live their own destinies. It seems to me that one wields a great deal of power from one's position of hidden author...I remember a sort of nightmare in a text by Jacinto Benavente: one night while at home, he hears voices in the room next door; he gets up and discovers all of his characters in full discussion...
MG: Yes, I think that it's in El principe que todo lo aprendio en los libros ("The Prince who Learnt Everything by Reading). Can you imagine your characters talking amongst themselves! What would they talk about? About you? Themselves?
JC: I think that all my characters are linked to a specific situation, place and/or action. They aren't "psychological" characters, even if they are very defined characters. In fact, for years, I avoided making my characters talk, or in any case, I wanted them to express themselves in ways other than words. And even when very recently, in En la Pampa, I suggested that the actors improvise their dialogues, I still gave them a concrete action to do each time; for example, washing a car in a cemetery in the middle of the desert, while talking.
MG: To be sure, in that last piece, words don't figure as a central element, or even as accompanying the action. They are almost like any other prop on the set- like the sponge, the soap or the car.
JC: The dialogued text comes almost naturally out of the situation. We're in a desert land, in the north of Chile, where it's nearly fifty degrees Celsius. Imagine a boy and a girl, each walking from opposite directions, meeting in an intersection, the only one for 500 kilometres around. Obviously, they'd talk to each other: "What school did you go to?"etc. The pampa then acts as a grand stage, where the text becomes matter for experimentation, improvisation, play... I had already worked on this question of dialogue, but in a very different way, in Babelkamer.
MG: In Babelkamer, the dialogue is undeniably constructed by means of a complex system of "intermediation", interpretation and multiple translations...
JC: It takes place in Brussels, in a shopping centre inside of a small caravanm/cabin. Two people sit facing each other, each one is below a screen showing Sunrise by Murnau, the last major silent film production. It's a situation conceived to encourage dialogue (the sub-title is "Babble room"). The two people- one is a Francophone, the other a native Dutch speaker- who don't know each other, engage in the discussion game, without any pre-established scenario, while watching the film, which is the common theme for discussion. One essential detail, they speak in signs, not the ‘universal' sign language - which is practiced as little as Esperanto- but each in his or her own language. Yet, through signs, the dialogue unfolds from the fiction' silent images. Simultaneously, by means of speech, interpreters translate, translators transcribe. The result is a written text, a film sub-titled with the dialogue, shown on the screens at the shopping centre- it's also a form of improvised exegesis of Murnau's film. What I found most interesting was the idea of experimenting with live television in a very open way. Once again, considering speech as extendible matter that can be transformed by various filters. Each unique gesture of the speakers- as the entire body entered into play-turned out to be, in this ultra-artificial setting, the most powerful thing.
MG: One finds this extendible quality in the narration of Un crime. Here, the narrative of a news story is embodied by a group of characters who each carry a piece of the story, each thus participating in its construction, in its enactment.
JC: It always follows a pattern of displacement and chain transformations. These are the facts: at the beginning of the 20th century, near Cherbourg, a couple commits a very violent crime, cracking their victim's skull with blows from an axe. To get rid of the body, they put it in a trunk at the baggage checkroom, intending to then throw it into the sea. A journalist gives his version of the story in Le Petit Journal - a paper chronicling daily news, which is in itself a literary genre. In Un crime, this is the text I rework literally: the letters made enlarged are distributed to a group of anonymous residents, a sort of Brechtian chorus, who restore the sequence of words in several areas in the town that are related to the crime (the train station, a boat in the ocean, etc.). The chorus does not do any acting, nor does it reconstitute the actions. It simply holds the words transformed into objects, physically carrying the scenario. Yet, through this alteration into three dimensions, the words return to the scene of the crime.
MG: This circulating of people, words and landscapes, is just a matter of physical displacement, or also, in a larger way, cultural, social and political?
JC: First, it's a matter of displacement in time. The medium used for a one-hundred-year-old text is altered. I update it just by adding a short epilogue, a sort of moral to the story; the famous sentence that you hear in train stations and in airports: "Unattended baggage will be removed and may be destroyed...". This is really another way for me to talk about found objects. In the post-9-11 world, the object without owner is a potential threat, a disturbing reality. It has new status: it is no longer the object put aside to await identification in the Lost-and-found Office ("objetos perdidos" in Spanish); nor the found object described in Art History; that is to say, it's an object that is, finally, transformable. From now on, this found, or lost, object, becomes just a danger that must immediately be destroyed, even without looking at what's inside...I've also always been enthralled by that almost mythical, primitive moment when object becomes word, to eventually result in the invention of writing. Rendering text into the form of object also allowed me to find another space for the text, beyond the image printed on a page, in the tradition of Mallarmé, Broodthaerts or Brossa. Here, it is inscribed in the city and in movement.
To read more
Jordi Colomer. Fuegogratis., Le Point du Jour, Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2008
The book is available at Meessen De Clercq.
Interview Marta Gili and Jordi Colomer