One Show, Two Opinions: on the concept of the face, regarding the son of God. Interview with Edélcio Mostaço |EDSON BURG and LUIZ FERNANDO PEREIRA
Edélcio Mostaço is an Associate Professor at the Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina (UDESC), working on undergraduate and graduate courses and post-doctorate supervision. He has worked as a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in Performing Arts at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) and at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP). He graduated in Theater Directing and Theatrical Criticism at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP) in 1974 and has a PhD in Theatre Arts at the Universidade de São Paulo since 2002. He has a scholarship in Research Productivity from Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico – (National Counsel of Technological and Scientific Development)- CNPq² 2010/2013.
Mr. Mostaço starts this interview with the analysis of two reviews, one of himself and the other from Professor Igor Simões, about the show “Sobre o conceito da face no filho de Deus” (On the concept of the face, regarding the son of God), staged by the Societas Raffaello Sanzio group, and the difference between the point of view of each author in their impressions of the show.A critical analysis of this show provides us with a chance to have a look on presence, on the representation in theater, on the relationship between an actor and a spectator and the big mechanism in fiction: the conviction.
The following interview took place in October 2013 and was part of the discipline Modern and Contemporary Territorialities, taught by Professor and PhD Rosangela Miranda Cherem and by Professor and PhD Luiz Felipe Guimarães Soares from the Visual Arts Graduate Program of the Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina (PPGAV – CEART – UDESC).
Edson Burg and Luiz Fernando Pereira: After readingyours and Professor Igor Simões’ review of the show “Sobre o conceito da face no filho de Deus” (On the concept of the face, regarding the son of God) staged by Societas Raffaello Sanzio group recently featured in “Porto Alegre em Cena” (Theater Festival that takes place in Porto Alegre city, Rio Grande do Sul state), we have noticed a very big difference of opinion. What could you add to this subject?
Edélcio Mostaço: What caught my attention was the fact that he was a professor in the area of visual arts and I am a person with training in performing arts. Therefore, before the same subject, the same show, we have two different views. He wrote his review before I did mine, so I did not know his text. In this show the matter of image is extremely strong. The show works all the time with a picture of Jesus Christ face, a clipping from a painting by Antonello of Messina, which only highlights the face. The show is to some extent a reflection on this figure. At some point, we tend to think about how the image exists, how it is made to be known, or how is image worked in theater, which by nature is not imaged. In this case it is very evident, since the show was created by an architect: Romeo Castellucci, who has a background in architecture and visual arts and works a lot with this aspect of scenic construction. The idea of Professor Simões, I think, is close to a more traditional approach to the visual arts. It is a Platonic and, in a sense, neo-Platonic vision. That is, it is on the origins of western thought, and later in the resumption of such thinking in the Renaissance period. Is the idea of a separate world, an ideal world, essential, that is not the one we inhabit. In this counterpoint, God will appear as essential, eternal, not corruptible, and Christ the God-man, would represent the link between the two universes. All the great mystery of Christ figure is exactly connected to this, a key figure in Christian theology, an essential figure for thinking about these issues that involve the two planes of reality. The show works precisely in this intercession. Put very briefly, it consists of three scenes – the longest one shows a very loving son who cares for an octogenarian decrepit father, who has no control over himself. He wears a geriatric diaper, he is brought to the scene with the diaper, and from the beginning until the end of the show he will have a fit of an endless diarrhea. The second scene is composed of a number of kids who come in, grab grenades from their backpacks and fire them into the figure of Christ printed on canvas. When all the grenades are thrown they sit and stare at the figure. And nothing happens to it. And finally there is the third scene, which is the dissolution of the image, the canvas; the large screen that was at the back of the stage starts to twitch. First, it begins to blur, paint begins to drip from the image, then it starts to squirm until it finally shatters and disappears. Professor Simões reading of it seems essentialist to me. It says, for example, that the show refers to our solitude. I would say exactly the opposite. We are born into a tribe, we are gregarious. Loneliness is a cultural element, is a result of the complexity of social life, from an anthropological point of view. I disagree with the interpretation that Simões has established. He makes the interpretation of Christ as one possible solution to human loneliness. For me, the most important image of the show is the last, is the dissolution of Christ. The image resists the bombings, it remains there without any changes, but then, by itself, without human intervention, it dissolves. To me the whole show was set to reach this end, to present self-dissolution. Perhaps what is worth commenting is the reason for our differences, and I think this is due to a difference in training, not ideological formation, but of artistic training, perceptual training, education of the senses. I do not have a big concern with image itself, it is not something that touches me very deeply, it is not the kind of stuff I work with. Theatre is a performing art, not imagery. There is very much a difference in our approach, our starting point.
E.B., L.F.P.: In your review you write that Castellucci is “vague, imprecise, leaves the viewer to make his own mental game.” I wanted to make a link with what you wrote in the article “absence makes the heart grow fonder” on presence. You say that in the origins of theater “scene was a way of making present what had become absent, or had occurred in a separate mythical time,” but in postmodernity this relationship becomes more complex due to new forms of representation of presence like conversations via webcam, to use an example set by yourself. How do these new ways impact theater making, thinking of theater as an art form in which the presence is in its core?
E.M.: Presence is, first of all, I would say, energy. Thinking more specifically in living beings, presence is this energy, this warmth, this bioelectricity that surrounds us. Thus, it is not exactly the image of a person, but I would say it is their aura, their emanation of energy that constitutes their presence. Walter Benjamin characterizes this very well when saying that the aura is what is lost in the reproduction. Reproduction does not capture, it is not able to fix this aura that would be the memory of the original presence. Presence, I would say, is much felt in absence. When we are in the presence of someone or something, or we are present, it is not always perceived much. The problem starts to appear exactly in the absence. In fact, I would say the question that arises is the nostalgia of presence, this nostalgia that starts getting disturbing, which leads us to value a beloved gone being. That is the loss of presence, of the aura that causes us to revere it in a certain way. We live all the time interacting with absence and presence. On the other hand, we live surrounded by a number of communicating and contacting media, which apparently bring presence. But in fact it shows us its flaws, or, better saying, their lack of ability to actually promote or bring presence. The best known media perhaps is photography. We all have at home pictures of our parents, even if they have died, and having their photo somehow keeps us connected to the household. But the picture is just a piece of paper, an image. I think we have this huge nostalgia for presence. We live this nostalgia of presence. And what does this have to do with theater? Theater, of all art forms, is the one that perhaps is more concerned, that has dealt more and has worked with the idea of incorporation. Trying to make the presence become real, materializing the presence, materializing the invisible. This dedication is intrinsic to theatrical manifestation, this occupation with the question of the body in the first place, and more specifically with this living energy with which we come into contact.
E.B., L.F.P.: An author who has occupied a privileged space in your recent studies is Jacques Rancière, for whom there is no need to turn spectators into actors to draw the audience from a passive position, as usually supposed. This attempted emancipation of the spectator, as highlighted in the title of one of Rancière’s books , “The emancipated spectator”, analyzed by you, is a constant in the history of theater or is it a contemporary reformulation of the relationship between spectators and actors?
E.M.: It is profoundly contemporary. By nature theater has never asked viewers to go up on stage. The viewer is a spectator, he is defined by the act of watching. Theater only exists or becomes effective from the moment someone watches it. There is no theater if there is no spectator, because nobody puts an act for nothing, for absence or emptiness. This also happens in our everyday life. We are several things simultaneously; we are not only a father, a husband, a bank manager or a football mate. As a matter of fact, we are in a constant process of representation. What theater does is to specialize it a bit so the theater works with this sense of representation in an artistic way. Returning to your question, a spectator really wants to be a spectator. A spectator wants something to happen in front of him. This idea of turning the spectator into an actor, and now I speak broadly, an actor in the sociological sense, not theatrical, is in fact found in the twentieth century. In a sense it begins with Bertolt Brecht, when he works with alienation, and deepens over time until we get to, for example, Augusto Boal, who will propose the theater of the oppressed. I would say that Rancière’s criticism refers to this type of demonstration against the idea that the viewer is passive or is simply seated in his chair. This is a mistaken idea, the viewer can be seated comfortably in the dark and still be deeply active. I need to be there to make my mental thing. At the same time, for sure, theater works with an energetic aspect, the apatheia, always linked to feeling and affection. The viewer has always been and is an active figure. Rancière believes that both actors and spectators are beings who are living the same story. Therefore, what theater should bring to the viewer, or should propose, is the ability to be recognized as a historical being in that moment. I think what Rancière is putting here is the possibility of the viewer not to think about the paradigm of the scene, but do his own mental thing.
E.B., L.F.P.: We have commented on the relationship of a viewer with theater. Can it be brought to the spectator who goes to an art gallery or to a museum and stands watching a picture or a work of art?
E.M.: I would say that this text is an example of this (refering to the text of Igor Simões on Castellucci’s show). If you look at a picture representing Christ and in your head all the paradigms created around Christ come and stand by you, you are enslaved to this paradigm, to a particular sequence of placements. Of course, this is inevitable, because our culture is like that, it lives off accumulation. When I looked at that Christ figure 500 others went through my head, but I was wondering why this and not another? That is, it is not the figure of Christ that interests Castellucci, a symbolic or conceptual Christ, what interests him is that picture of Antonello of Messina. That is why I disagree entirely with Mr. Simões’ position, because he does a reading of symbolic meaning, for it is for him of a mythical conceptual order, the predominant direction, as for me, the image that appears in the show is specifically that of Messina’s. If the director wanted to talk about Christ as a concept, he might have used other images. I would say that this is the issue that concerns us all the time: an artist offers us a particular picture, and that is the one that should be analyzed. That is how I think when I witness Castelucci’s show. In that case it is not a symbolic Christ. In that case, it could be more abstract, less indicative, it would be less of a cutout figure of Messina. If at the same time I am able to verify this, this huge amount of other figures of Christ appearing to me, I must articulate an allegorical ability to disassemble this sequence. In this sense, I think my reading was over Benjamin (Walter Benjamin), thinking through an allegory perspective and not that of a symbol.