Tania Bruguera interpretes Samuel Beckett

/ 1 December, 2017

The first edition of Portugal’s BoCA—Biennial of Contemporary Arts was held between March and April, 2017. The main feature of this Biennial was that its concept is based on the transversality of its program. Not only were traditional sites used, as in the different Biennials held across the world: museums, galleries, cultural institutions, public spaces; but special emphasis was placed on theaters, bars and other unusual places, to present innovative and unconventional works. This same transformative vision is rooted in the selection of the Biennial Director, a position which fell to a Portuguese actor, stage designer and producer trained at the Lisbon Theatre and Film School, thus possessing an unusual profile among directors of art biennials. Hence also the importance awarded to the performing arts as a form of art production and dialogue on the structures of promotion, programming and representation of contemporary art.

This Biennial was thought up with the idea of confirming something that artists have been doing for a long time, that is the combination of several different artistic expressions to produce their works.

It was in this context that Cuban artist Tania Bruguera was selected as one of the four resident artists. Like all the artists of various disciplines, she was asked to exchange with other participating artists and choose to exhibit her creations in a style in which she was not accustomed to presenting her work. Thus Tania launched herself into a project which was novel, yet related to her usual performances and installations, and chose a form of expression that she was always interested in using, that of the theater.

(…) The work chosen by Tania was the play Fin de partie (Endgame) by Irish writer and playwright Samuel Beckett. The play was completed in 1957 and premiered that same year. Ever since the artist read the piece for the first time more than 20 years ago, she was deeply marked by it and has reread it several times throughout her life. In it she found the ideal medium to demonstrate all her artistic creativity and thus convey a message, which in her work always has a markedly political character, but on this occasion was presented in such a way as artists usually captivate the public, with intelligence and subtlety. The piece deals with the universal and eternal theme of power, its use by those who possess it, of dependence, of manipulation and in general of human relationships in all their cruelty and humanity.

(…) For the presentation in the very well–chosen cloister of the Monastery, Tania Bruguera built, with the collaboration of an architect’s studio, a gigantic cylindrical metal structure almost 9 meters high. This structure served as the box/stalls on which the audience was positioned, thus it was not only necessary to think about the concept of her work, but also about safety, given that comfort was not a priority here, detached as it was from the artist’s concept.

The work was seen through a white curtain in which some holes had been strategically placed, so that each member of the public could place his or her head through one, and not only observe from above the play that was underway at ground level, but also watch the other members of the audience in their mixture of physical discomfort and concentration on what they were observing.

(…) But nevertheless, the piece required a conscious and motivated public, who had to climb up scaffolding to the places from where they were to see the play. They also wore casual clothing and shoes, as more than an hour of attention was expected of them, standing, bent forwards, supported by an iron structure covered by metal mesh, with their heads pushed through a hole in a large white curtain. In short, a position that was not particularly comfortable, in order that the viewer could also be aware of his or her own body. And it worked. Not only were they conscious of their bodies, but great concentration and empathy was achieved with the rest of the audience, and the work was perceived in a very different way. Power and manipulation, there is no doubt that they can be exercised in many different ways. (…)

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