1. logbook
      23 June 2011

      Dancing, Blinding and Other Forms of Iconoclasms

      Inti Guerrero on Flávio de Carvalho, entry #4
      1. 'Flávio de Carvalho – A Lecture Performance', 19 April 2011, Frascati Theater, Amsterdam. Photography: Marleen Ozgur
      2. Francis Picabia, 'Relache', 1924
      3. Flávio de Carvalho, 'Bailado do Deus Morto', 1933 at the Teatro da Experiencia in Sao Paulo
    2. As part of my introductory lecture to the oeuvre of Flávio de Carvalho, which took place at Frascati theater in Amsterdam on 19 April, together with some friends, we reenacted a scene from de Carvalho’s 1933 Bailado do Deus Morto (The Dance of the Death God); a theatre piece which originally had been performed as the opening piece for his grand project the Theatre of Experience.

      As its names suggests, Flávio’s take on theatre wanted to seek a more experimental momentum with the audience, rather than a spectacle of a narrative. Meaning, although this first and only piece he developed had indeed a ‘plot’ (the killing of God in a tribal society, and the implementation of a new mundane totem), what was by far the most important aspect of such piece, was the visceral and retinal experience of the audience with the orchestrated effects between lights, tribal music and the actor’s movements. Light was key to this experience, because it was used to reflect on the shiny metallic scenography and on the ‘primitivist’ masks worn by the actors. But because the play was more of a dance (as its name suggests) rather than a theatricalized story line, it made it more experimental and performative in relation to the idea of theatre which at the time was being programmed in theatres of Sao Paulo.

      At Frascati Theater in Amsterdam, our reenactment produced an exact replica of the original setting and of the masks, which were all made with stainless steel. The actors in our version however only danced and cried out loud the introductory and final lines of the script: “God is Dead!” and “Psychoanalysis killed god!” an iconoclastic plea which clearly belongs to the artist’s heretic attitude (described more thoroughly in the interview If I Can’t Dance and Inti Guerrero in Conversation). An important contextual aspect must be however taken into account when understanding the radicality of the original play. In the 1930s, Brazil went through a military regime that embraced conservative catholic values as part of its ideological rhetoric in its normatization of the social body. By insinuating the Death of God, the artist was then interrogating the institution in power. If one sees the photographic documentation of the piece, in the background we can see a rolling metallic door, which if to be open, it will lead the audience to the street. This is a very important aspect, because, it seems as if then by leaving visible the architecture that literally divides art from life, FdC reminded the spectator that the fiction of the theatre is just speaking of the power struggles, the impulses of life and death, in the ‘real world’ outside which is behind the door. Bailado do Deus Morto suggests to kill God, the patriarchal figure and produce a new social order that would emerge from modern industrial technology, hence the use of metal for the costumes and stage design.

      These acts of iconoclasm, of blurring and blinding through the effects of lights and dance as to interrogate the division lines between the fiction on stage and daily life, reminded me of Francis Picabia’s 1924 theatre/dance piece Relache. In this case, an absurdist, dada ‘narrative’ is set on a stage composed by different layers of curtains made with huge car light bulbs, which are slowly switched as the piece evolves, until the audience is left completely blind. Described by the critics of the time as a piece that showed ‘nothing’, because at the end nothing could be seen, Relache_, had been written by Picabia to create an experience, that is an atmosphere that dislocated the usual gaze and behavior of the audience. Or in Picabia’s own words “_Relache advises you to live, to be viveurs, because life will always be longer at the university of pleasure than at the university of morals". As perhaps John Cage’s seminal 4’33, the iconoclasm in Relache transferred the ‘meaning’ of the play to the subjective experience of the audience. By becoming blind, the gaze became more and more introspective as the dance came to an end. With this condition of the audience’s perception of itself, we can then link it again to FdC’s Theatre of Experience or to his general insistence on understanding art practice as an experience which questions the perception, being and identity of the spectator. But it is also Picabia’s rejection to moralistic social codes which discipline the body that may well help us understand that in both cases there is a quest to produce an emancipation from the self.

      In France the word relâche is used on posters to indicate that a show is canceled, or that the theater is closed. Clearly Picabia, from the beginning was introducing the dislocation of gaze described above and, like de Carvalho, a new form of one’s conscious and unconscious behavior in theater.

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