Men Only - Performance art Festival, curated by BBB Johannes Deimling, Berlin, Germany 2010 / Maya Dalinsky
"In Carvalho's piece, the words become a medium and not a message"
As someone who works with accumulating frames to improvise, I appreciated Márcio Carvalho's approach on laying one foundation after another in order to craft a performance and help guide the audience into a complex network of symbols and actions. Carvalho seemed to meticulously and generously lay bare a series of frames, which, piled one upon the other, turn into a rich tableau. This landscape establishes a situation with a inherent logic which can still be both absurd and poetic. And since it is carefully built before the audience's eyes, we are invited into the landscape without having to struggle to identify the meaning of it.
The first frame is a sparsely arranged series of mundane objects lying in plain sight on the stage. A chair, a bag full of something, some pieces of chalk, a polaroid camera… the world of inanimate objects. Like a bus route, they create stations along the stage-space that offer the promise of a guided journey. The vehicle, we will discover, is not only the performer as he visits each station and makes visible the intended purposes of each object, it is also the audience.
But how does the audience join his journey? By crossing the line from purely witnessing Carvalho's actions to actively engaging in synthesis with him, for him. This occurs at a precise moment: when the performer grabs a piece of chalk, takes centre stage to position himself in front of the chair, and writes in large, capital letters: TO BECOME CHILD
"Is it a commentary on the inherent violence of growing up, or a portrayal of existential nostalgia for a childhood long gone?" Often I find the use of words during a performance to be overwhelmingly explicit. Words tend to dominate our consciousness, they are so immediate and so penetrating, and as a maker I am wary to use them too hastily. But in Carvalho's case, the words appear on the ground for us, unspoken, like a subtitle. A brief insight to establish a specific frame for the things to come, without explaining. Thus he succeeds in overcoming one of the most difficult challenges when it comes to using text in dramaturgy: that the words kill the magic of the experience. In Carvalho's piece, the words become a medium and not a message. I find this to be a radical feat indeed. Because words activate certain intellectual processes that are hard to consciously decelerate, they create a lot of meaning. But in this case, the words appeared like objects or movements, stepping stones for the mind and body as it prepares to synthesize the transformations to come.
Two more words are offered (he seems like a bricklayer as he does this, laying one element at a time, allowing the cement to dry just enough for it to stick, but nothing remains too solid). On the wall, and beneath it: NEVER, and AGAIN, respectively. Altogether, these words work as a web, they even physically delineate a trajectory, one that Carvalho defines with his body, one that takes on increasing depth as he pours one more layer. The words become poetic through the performance, just as the performance becomes nuanced through the words.
"Provocative because of complexity, a complexity that disturbs because it awakens troubling images and associations in our minds" This performance "works" thanks to this delicate, indefinable balance between meaning and absurdity, fixed stations and transformative trajectories, manipulation and authenticity. Is it a commentary on the inherent violence of growing up, or a portrayal of existential nostalgia for a childhood long gone? The piece touches specific themes and interrelated symbols without forcing the audience into an intended reaction, and it is full of metaphor without venturing into the cliché. Instead of re-presenting the typical symbols related to childhood, manhood, transformation, deformation, he uses performance: time, space, dramaturgy, to provoke entirely new images.
Provocative because of complexity, a complexity that disturbs because it awakens troubling images and associations in our minds as we witness and experience Carvalho's transformation.
Photo credits: Matthias Pick