I hear voices stating that art cannot change anything and other voices responding that technique helps alter human beings. I read phrases like “surely that’s art…” and cynical comments like “art, art… what’s art?…”
If art cannot change things or the practical sense of things, it can at least change the one who does it and, in a certain way, collaborates or provide elements of change for everyone sensitive to its effect.
Art is not necessarily a reflection of society, but it confronts it with its inverted mirror image. This mirror is sometimes concave, sometimes convex, always deforming; and the image is always inverted, altered, transformed. Generally, this image disappoints us, because it does not correspond to the idea, we have of ourselves. It doesn’t have to be that way either.
The artist can choose to speak or to remain silent. However, he can’t be indifferent. There is a risk of flirting with mistaken ideas, just because you want to participate because you want to be right within the unreason, because you don’t want to take responsibility and because you want to avoid confrontation. Moreover, I consciously use the term ‘wrong,’ at a time when there is a tendency to moderate opinions about what is wrong and what is right. It is very easy to quote brilliant phrases from famous artists, especially if those phrases are more or less funny “boutades.” But it is difficult to contain one’s genius and to refrain from quoting foreign concepts, based on other experiences.
All artistic expressions, whether concrete, abstract, reproductive, documentary, conceptual, formal, experimental, commercial, profound or superficial, respond to the demands and conditions of the society that generates them.
Voluntarily or involuntarily, artistic expression is a political act.
When an artist calls himself apolitical, he is making a political statement, even if he doesn’t know it and refuses to accept it.
The artist appeals to the sensibility of the public by exposing his sensitivity.
Sensitivity can be motivated in infinite ways. Artistic choice is personal.
Artistic sensitivity does not mean artistic quality or art itself.
The eye, the ear, the voice of the artist is not those of the audience.
Imitation, copying, can be effective on a commercial level, in a society in which most people want to possess the same thing.
Majorities tend to homologate their tastes and their opinions, and still the right to have one’s bad taste and to express one’s own ill-founded opinions.
The history itself:
In the year of the Lord 1961, I began my professional activity of communicating through art. Since the year of the Lord 1967, my work has taken place outside the borders of my native country. This means that during ninety percent of my artistic life I have tried to communicate through art with societies in which I am a foreigner and an outsider. I never asked myself whether or not I belonged to those ways of life and I never considered the dilemma of whether or not I had the right to participate, give my opinion or criticize the society in which I found myself living, because for me it was, and it is evident that from the moment one accepts to live together in a social adventure, one has not only the right but also the obligation to see, to observe, to correct, to protest, to criticize and to give one’s opinion. I want to quote here the Spanish writer Elvira Lindo who suggests that ‘the homeland should not be the place where one is born, but the place where one wants to be.’ And to make this clearer I quote the writer, also Spaniard, Eduardo Haro Telgen who suggests that consanguinity, language, and historical origin are not sufficient reasons to appeal to a national identity, but the personal choice to share the same destiny.
Mabel González and I came from an exceptional theatrical experience in Turin in 1968, where we participated in theatre programmes with Pier Paolo Passolini, Carlo Quartucci, Roberto Ceschia, Carlo Cecchi, Cosme Rainieri, Carmelo Bene, Giovanna Marini. There I met someone who was going to awaken in me the vision of facing the theatrical action in another way: Mario Ricci and his Teatro del Orsolino, then Teatro Abaco, of the Centro de Experimentación Teatral del Teatro di Roma.
To my surprise and encouragement, the theatre that was presented at that time in Europe was the most international I had ever experienced. Already in Italy, we had met with El Living Theatre, La Mamma Theatre, The Black Theatre, Grotowsky, Els Joglars.
In our first work with Rodolfo Ceschia, we were asked for a spoiled scene about the Vietnam War. Mada concrete, not at all illustrative, but with a strong emotional and expressive charge. From that moment on, we were already directly involved in Italian society. The program was represented in squares, in the most conflictive working-class neighborhoods and plazas in front of barracks. Our next step was to try to tell the story of the Three Americas through songs, poetry and body language. No one asked us who we were or where we came from, but yes: what we did, how we did it and why we did it.
From Turin, we returned to Uruguay, with the illusion and mission of putting into practice our Turin experience in our own country, there in the society to which we were supposed to belong. Grave mistake: during the two years of our absence, the country was in the dark terrain of repressive democracy.
To our surprise, we were invited by the Dordrecht City Council to do a series of performances on the cultural, social and political reality in Uruguay.
I arrived in Holland on March 14 of the year of the Lord 1971. Holland had just had a cultural revolution. There was the cultural euphoria of the post-Provos, post-Dolle Minas and post action tomato. For Holland in 1971, Latin America had been La Bamba, in the popular and El Cóndor Pasa, in the most progressive.
The first two years in Holland were clear, transparent. We, the members of the Nuevo Teatro Uruguayo, were passing through and brought an established program: to make known, through our art, the reality of our country of origin, its literature, its music, its political situation. However, without falling into the commiserative and predictable margins of solidarity.
We were foreigners, but most of the theatre groups performing in the Netherlands came from outside, thanks to the praiseworthy initiative of Ritsaert Ten Cate and the Mickery Theatre, later continued in another artistic line by Steve Austin at the Shaffy Theatre.
At the base of Dutch society, the most numerous foreigners, but also the most ignored, were foreign workers. At that time there was neither interest nor infrastructure for their integration. Just a few elementary Dutch courses, useful for communicating with the Ziekenfonds, the social worker on duty and the merchants. No other intentions and I suspect it was also undesirable. The level of the Dutch lessons we received at that time was so elementary that we couldn’t even read the comic strips of the newspaper.
Through the Stichting Welzijn in Opvang Buitenlandse Werknemers, we attempted to move those cultures that were present in society and that nobody cared about. We invited them to our performances. Without knowing it, we were getting involved in the socio-cultural problems of this country. It wasn’t a premeditated activity, but it came naturally. Because if in the working-class districts of Turin, we were doing Brecht’s texts, theatre based on Grotowsky’s experiences, using an experimental theatrical language, why not here…
Nor in Italy, in 1968, did I ask myself whether or not I had the right to do what I was doing and how I was doing it. Instead of the sadly called cultural globalization, from whose word comes the cruel reality of being locked up in a balloon, at that time we practiced the most open internationalization of culture: culture as belonging to all and emanating from all, where we all felt part of the same society, without documented nationality.
Consistent with that principle of internationality, my theatrical proposals dealt with specific issues of what was worrying us at the time. Until then our role in society was evident, as we were passing through. This situation became more confusing after June 27, 1973, when the military took power in Uruguay and I glimpsed that my Dutch adventure was going to be longer and different than I had anticipated.
I had to rethink my purposes since I was now in this society for an indeterminate time and the surrounding reality would influence my artwork.
At that moment a conscious process of observation began seeing without understanding. My reaction, when I didn’t understand, was to imitate, to reflect what I saw, to reflect without assimilating. Always bearing in mind that everything I wanted to say, I had to do it by visual means since the language was forbidden to me at that time. At that moment I meet Mario Ricci and his research again on theatre with the theme but without history/verhaal. A theatre of objects, movement, images, voices and non-explanatory texts. Text as an image. However, I am always determined to tell a story, so I tried to use these elements to tell it through symbols, symbolic characters and a style of action derived from expressionism. The contact with the Dutch society has changed since we been introduced.
We have become part of Dutch society and were affected by the same problems and shared the same concerns. Moreover, society is not a homogeneous principle; many societies sometimes agree, but most of the time they do not. Our experience and our origin contributed to another perspective, offered another option, another approach. All my theatrical productions of that time were on tour abroad, and nobody told us there “this is not Swiss, or Swedish, or Italian, or Belgian, or French.”
At the beginning of 1980, I moved to Amsterdam to work as a freelance artist and here I had a unique experience. It was no longer I who thought, created or proposed theatrical works, but the leadership was offered to me. And they were all assignments that in one way or another were directly linked to Dutch society or history. That’s how I had to study plays by Johanna Maria Bekker-Schepper, the playwright of the 1920s, who wrote about rugged subjects such as male homosexuality, women who smoked or divorce in the Netherlands in the 1920s. Alternatively, “Noem mij maar banaan, ik ben een marrokaan,” produced in 1983 by the STIX theatre group, which at that time already dealt with the relationship of children of different nationalities in a backward neighborhood. Alternatively, “Españoles y Flamencos,” for the Academic Association of Eindhoven, on the occasion of the 750th anniversary of the ratification of the rights of the City. For this production, I had to study in depth the history of the 80-year War and its consequences. Also, so, followed many other projects that taught me, without proposing it to me, the origins, the foundations and the development of the society in which I live.
However, the society in which I live is no longer the society I arrived at in the year of the Lord 1971. We are now being asked to integrate vertically and not organically. What was not planned before is now mandatory — old ghosts of intransigence flourish. There is the talk of adaptation/anpassing, but I believe that it is necessary to be incorporated/inpassen.
Because one can neither adapt nor integrate into situations in which one is not one hundred percent in agreement, and I do not believe that anyone at this moment is one hundred percent in cooperation with the society in which we live.
Concerning art, one lives in a moment of dangerous anti-intellectuality: everything that requires thought, reasoning and introspection becomes suspicious.
Anti-intellectuality = anti-understanding
Artists are required to have formulas that can be understood by everyone, with the least effort on the part of the public. There’s an obsession with learning, storing data, references. However, also, not too much.
In today’s society, we believe that everything is learned. The media continually repeats to us that it is possible to learn all kinds of kitchens, exercises, gardening, interior decoration. Question and answer programs stimulate and confirm widespread knowledge on subjects as diverse as historical facts, the private life of celebrities, religious opinions, social prejudices, dubious musical tastes, and various generalities. All this is confirmed by pressing a button or giving a hammer or quoting a name, without thinking, without thinking. The knowledge is in us because it was reiterated and reconfirmed to us on numerous occasions. So knowing is rewarded and not knowing is booed.
Also, in art, the learning of techniques without content or gadgets is stimulated. Everything is possible, in a society where it is more important to take up ideas than to assimilate them or at least to have understood them. In this confusion, the apprehender (grijpen) comes before the comprehension (begrijpen).
There is a misconception that one learns by studying, without thinking that these are different actions, sometimes complementary but not necessarily with a direct effect on each other.
In the artistic space, reflection is healthy when it is accompanied by introspection.
Homo erectus = Homo introspectus
Most of the time you learn by observation, experience, habit. Whereas studying implies the willingness to study in addition to the method of study (how) and the discipline (rule). Generally, those who believe they have learned to justify it by the prestige of the teachers, years dedicated to learning and what has been paid for the knowledge acquired. Then what is learned is repeated and defended as one’s own, since having paid for it, having attended the necessary years, and the prestige of the educational institution, whether or not accompanied by an attractive document verifying all this, should guarantee the right to know. However, none of this is valid if the acquired knowledge is not integrated into the being until it becomes part of its nature, of its origin until it becomes original. Integrating means relating what has been newly acquired to all the existing information, until it becomes part of a whole, which is, in short, the personal contribution to culture. Learning is a selfish act. Studying has the nobility and generosity to open up to the new, to new ways of thinking, to new perspectives, to a renewed will to know. Unnecessary in practice, indispensable in existence. You can learn up to a specific limit, but studying is unlimited.
Studying without learning = mechanics without technique
Learning without studying = parasitic act/action
As artists from other cultures, we are stressed that we are tolerated. So, we have to produce an art integrated within tolerance.
Tolerance works when no one raises reciprocity, and the tolerated one thanks to the tolerant for the favor of being tolerated.
The basis of tolerance has a servile and bitter side: it is tolerated as long as it is useful.
Tolerance does not imply acceptance because it always confirms the difference: for there to be tolerance it is necessary that the factors, the tolerate and the tolerated, are different. It’s a vertical action because of the hierarchical. In tolerance, you are always paying a fee, which works in commercial relations but not in human relations.
Tollo = Customs duty
Erario = Public box
Tollerantia = Hold who pays their customs duty
According to this etymological premise, the tolerated does not have to be accepted or put more directly: Everything else must be tolerated, which does not include being accepted. Who is tolerated is not necessarily welcome or loved.
We should look for new words with more generous meanings if we want human and social relations to be more generous.
I’m not sure if I want to integrate or disintegrate. Because to incorporate two elements, these two elements must be considered in their essential values, one and the other, without one of them having to lose its fundamental values. I am not sure that in the name of imposed and unnatural integration I want to eat couscous with Brussels sprouts. Nor do I want to know whether or not multicultural art is profitable, whether or not there is a marketing for multiculturality. Integration is not the number of veils in a theater or the amount of black socks. The artist is a being who does his work from other means of perception, and according to his origin provides elements that do nothing but enrich the public and consequently: society.
It is not unusual for an artist how he does what he does and under what conditions he does it, but what is interesting is what he does and why he does it.
It is not worth imitating, looking outside ourselves for an aesthetic that does not belong to us, to do something acceptable for the masses, to finally get the attention of the public. Copying lacks a soul. To create a merament6e reproducible aesthetic is to deny one’s intellect. Intelligence is necessary for subsistence and intellect for existence.
It is possible that as foreigners or strangers, perhaps simple residents or aliens, the purposes we should weigh are:
- Demonstrate against stupidity and mediocrity
- Do not fear or avoid criticism.
- Don’t crave the fatuous eulogy.
- To be always different from oneself, without repeating oneself, without betraying oneself, without giving in.
- To be oneself until the end, without complaining about the consequences.
- Forget decency.
Moreover, retranslate the initial proverb, “wherever you go, do what you see.”
in “where you go, you’ll see what you’ll do.”