4th International Encounter of Performance Art in Yucatan 2005
by Helge Meyer
From the 30th of August until the 5th of September this year, Elvira Santamaria as a curator and Antonio Prieto, director of the Performing Arts Research Center of Yucátan (Centro de Iinvestigaciones Escénicas de Yucatán, invited 5 international performance artists and 5 local artists from Yucatán to take part in the “IV Encuentro Internacional de Performance en Yucatán” under the well-chosen title “doing and existing”. The festival was co-sponsored by Yucatán’s Institute of Culture (ICY) and the School of Higher Arts Education (ESAY). Raquel Araujo, director of the ESAY’s department of Performing Arts, also participated in the festival’s organization. During that week, several encounters took place that did have a special atmosphere and I cannot imagine where else but in a tropical surrounding this could have happened. The whole event was a lecture in cooperation and exchange.
The main venue for the festival was the School of Higher Arts Education (Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatán), at Mérida’s Cultural House (Casa de la Cultura) , in the historical center of Yucatán’s beautiful capital. Here, the well known artist and teacher Bartolomé Ferrando from Valencia in Spain gave a performance art workshop during threedays. Ferrando found a perfect structure between very philosophical and theoretical tools that invited the participants to deconstruct their thinking about intellectual content and practical tasks that were asking all senses to be involved in the creation of space, time and an image with their whole body. I was able to witness one section of his workshop were he invited the students to use a plastic bag they brought for a 30 second action which was started and stopped by a whistle that Ferrando used to introduce the students to a very unusual structure of time. As a witness, I could observe the useful idea of this task: during these stressful seconds, one could see how the students were able to produce a clear, bright image with their body in a very short time, or try to tell a short storyline in a kind of minimal theatrical glimpse.
After these play-like actions followed a theoretical section with many quotes from philosophers and artists who have talked about creativity and the concept of an idea (for example from Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, Julia Kristeva or Antonin Artaud). These quotes were followed by long explanations from Ferrando, so that the students in the end got a wide overview in philosophical ideas about the chosen topics. As coming from the poesie sonore, Ferrando also included the voice as part of the performance tools in his workshop. The students had the chance to use the human voice without using the human language so that a Babylonian symphony took part in the rooms of the cultural house. As a culminating point of the whole workshop, the students were included in the programme of the festival and had the chance to show some astonishing performance pieces in Dzidzantún, a small community near Mérida, and in Progreso, at the beach. Here the students became very involved in the major challenge of presenting performance art in the public: They had to perform right in front of an incidental audience that was in the town or the beach for different reasons, but not to watch disturbing pieces of performance art.
Rosa Ma Vareta Alfaro presented a courageous work of feminist power. In the main square of Dzidzantún, she was embodying different clichés of female role models, represented by different dresses, which she exchanged in front of the local audience. While repeating the sentence “Men and women are the same!”, she first wrapped her nearly naked body with plastic tape. After this action that was underlining that bodies are the main field for social markings in society, she was getting in touch with couples she found in the audience and taped the two persons together while she constantly repeated her phrase about equality. With this work, she was going beyond the limitations of what society may project on female bodies. I think that Rosa went beyond a simple representation of female role models and created a simple but strong idea about gender questions that occur in nearly every society these days.
In Progreso on the 4th of September the situation was even more problematic for the students. They worked at the beach, inbetween people who spend their free time with their families. It was an interesting interruption of allday-life when Sandra Lara started to undress and did herself a dress out of newspaper parts. After this action, she was putting clammys on her naked skin, talked about danger in all-day life and walked into the ocean. The audience, which received some painful clammys on their skin as well, was amazed by the strength and concentration of the artist. At the same time, other students worked simultaneously: One young guy in a full business suit created a brutal methaphor for the “animal in men” as he said after his work. He held up a huge aquarium with a small fish in it. After some time bigger fish were put into this watercage. After he filled in a huge fish that was nearly too big for the small glass, he took out the fish and placed the living animal in his mouth. Immediately a discussion was started by the audience and questions about power and our relationship to animals were raised between the students and the audience. The way this discussions were held was in a calm, concentrated and open way so that finally a solution about how to deal with the disturbing images was found.
One of the most amazing and beautiful images was created by Edgar Canul, Omar Euán and Mónica Cachón. The three young artists simply sat at the beach under large black cloth. Immediately associations about muslim women came into the observers mind. The performers sat there for a long time, sometimes playing with sand, all signals about their gender was erased by the huge blackness of the cloth. Suddenly one of the artists put his head into the sand, not breathing for a long time. The audience was surrounding the young people and this was one of the most poetic moments of the whole festival. In the end, two of the performers walked into the ocean, by the way an image that was often created by the participants of this festival.
More then 10 performances of workshop participants were shown during the whole festival and I think that this was a great chance for students to work in this internationally context.
The foreign artists showed their work at different places during the festival as well. Robin Poitras showed three works during the festival that were influenced by her physical presence through a lot of experience in dance. In “Work with honey”, the artist was marking the walls of a room with a large X, made of honey. Then she pressed her naked ass against this sign. In a ritual way she put her head with her long hair into a huge bucket of honey that was immediately overflowing and producing a sea of honey around the kneeling artist. Her face and hair was overflown with the strong smelling honey that filled the room. Drips of honey covered the floor and some members of the audience could not resist to try some honey from the artists cloth. In a dancelike way, Poitras was then climbing on a pair of ladder/clutches and made a walking circle around the packed room, leaving honey as drips and “footprints” around. This work was really strong and moving. It was attacking different senses with the strong, heavy smell of honey and the strange sound of the honey filled clutches on the ground. Robin Poitras strong poetical sense was also visible in her two other works: In her “Dance of the wind”, she was entering the beach in Chelem in a violet dress and produced images just in letting the strong ocean breath move her clothings, while she was moving very subtle in the sand and left amazing marks on the beach. In a discussion at the beginning of the festival, Poitras named the wind as one of the most influential sources for her work. In this work, she showed the ability to use what is existing at the time and the space in the here and now. Her last work was maybe the most physical appearance of her dance skills in this festival. In a variation of her work “Ursa Major”, she placed a large aluminium “star” on a large forged-iron door inside the cultural house and climbed onto this construction. In a series of very calm but strong physical of movements, she played with smaller stars as she slowly bent and stretched her body. The work was influenced by the artwork of sculptor John Noestheden, who arranged different aluminium stars in an installation in a way like they would have been seen from the Prairie. This motifs influenced the performance work of Poitras, where a mythological exchange between the idea of philosophy, dance, installation and performance art took place.
The richness of the different approaches to performance art also included two works of Bartolome Ferrando, who was able to continue his cooperative ideas in his shown works. In “5 Happenings in 16 parts”, he was giving reference to the work of Allen Kaprow, who was creating the idea of happening in the 60s. But Ferrando went deeper into the idea of the participation of an audience. For him it was really important that the audience is not only co-present but a co-creator of the artwork. Through a series of actions that the audience has to do, Ferrando wanted them to change the relationship between each other. After the performance, they should think more about what they have done then about the action of the artist himself. Ferrando power led to a very intensive, funny action, where most of the audience members were coacting with activities like smelling each others belly or elbow and even went beyond social borders through screaming and shouting against each other. The feeling of cathartic release was one of the main comments after this work.
The cooperative character of many actions in this festival could also be seen in the work of Cecilia Delgado, a local artist, who moved around the street in white cloth and asked passers by to bind her wrists and then cover her eyes and mouth with black cloth. She then made her way down one of the historical center’s main streets towards the Cathedral, in an image that evoked religious martyrs or tortured women. Slowly police appeared to make sure that the mass of audience was not causing any political trouble on the main square of Merida. Also the next action, a homage for Esther Ferrer from Mexican artist Monica Mayer took part in the main plaza. Mayer carried a sign that invited the audience to ask anything if they had doubts. In a friendly and very charming way the artist then invited the audience to walk together with her to the cultural house while everybody was counting their steps aloud. More and more passers by were involved in this performative march for Esther Ferrer. This action as well made one of the main possibilities of performance art visible in a very simple but refreshing way: Performance Art has the strength to transform people, to wake up and create a unity for a special time in a special place. The festival in Merida had lots of this powerful moments.
Edgar Canul, a young local artist who performed one of his first works in this festival, was able to bring in his all-day-life into a state of art. Through a strong physical action, the artist, who works as a baker every early morning before he goes to school, was forming a huge figure out of flour and water. Afterwards he lay down naked as a kind of mirror in front of the life-sized model. This prooved again, how close the title of the festival was related to the works that were shown. Real existence was presented in a present and concentrated way and was so transformed into more sensitive images that had the power to teach the viewer something about their creators and their cultural background.
I performed another version of the “Hand to hand” performance in this festival, were I did exchange each piece of cloth that I was wearing with one member of the audience. After doing this performance in Manila, Quebec City, Boston and Providence, it was again a great number of stories that were presented by the exchangers. In this work, the performer is not important as an artist but more as a medium or a moderator who creates the possibility for the stories of the exchanged cloth to appear in a public space. The second work that I presented was a new one. In “Taschlich”, which is a jewish prayer where the participants through breadcrumps into the ocean to ask for forgiveness of their sins, I was creating a situation for the audience to load their burden on me. After a ritualistic action with melted wax that I put on my naked body, I asked 13 members of the audience to write a personal guilt on a stone. All these stones were then taped to my naked body. In a march with the audience, I was carrying the stones to the beach in Chelem and went into to ocean to leave the guilt of the participants.
Religious metaphors also appeared in the work “Sublimation 2” of the artist Brian Pattterson from Northern Ireland. In Dzidzantún, the performer was first creating an atmosphere of suspense when he was holding a ladder in an upright position, looking up along the ladder and starting to climb up carefully. Of course the ladder crashed and Patterson felt on it. This was a perfect moment to describe what performance art should have: The artform is about tilting in general. When our expectations are mislead, when moments of shock and disturbance take place, we start to transform our concentration and go beyond the obvious. In the ongoing work, Patterson was dealing with issues of nationality through using coloured tape to mark chairs in the national flag colours of Mexico and Northern Ireland. The artists presence in the whole work gave a strong idea of a religious ritual. He was moving very slow, remaining in positions that reminded the viewer of a crucification or a praying priest. The observation of Pattersons work opened the curiosity to know more about the so called “troubles” between the religious groups in his home Belfast. Maybe this was one of the most political works in the festival.
Another strong work, was done by a duo of young artists, Omar Euán and Monica Cachón. They worked late in the evening in the Plaza Principal in Dzidzantún. A video projection was beamed against the roof of a pavillon. The audience could see a human figure with a mask from Venice on its face. This figure appeared at different places in the city of Venice in the video. At the same time, two figures, one male, one female, were approaching to the pavillon. Viewers recognized that one of the performers is thec same as in the video. An interesting shift between reality and the “fiction” of the projection took place. The two performers then wrapped their bodies in plastic and started to stitch this “artificial skin” together, both standing in front of a large, white sheet of cloth. This mirror between them and the concentrated action of deepening the bind between this two human figures was a strong image that reminded me on the early works of Abramovic and Ulay. Here, both performers were producing the image without taking any advantage of their gender or placing one sex more into the centre of the action. Together with the mixing of the different media, this was a very rich work, what was very surprising, if one is thinking of the very young age of both of the performers. This underlined again the potential of very serious and strong works that were shown by the young generation of performers in Yucatan.
As a last work, I would like to mention the very poetical work “Progreso negro 2 “ by curator Elvira Santamaria. In a calm and wonderful clear action she was “catching” the ocean breath on the beach of Progreso into black garbage bags. When she had a real mass of bags, just filled with the air that was there at this day at this time, she was moving inside this large black sculptor and walked along the beach. Santamaria was disappearing in her work and this was maybe a great statement about what this whole art can be about: The action that she did was clear and poetical but she as a person was not playing or placing herself too far into the focus of the work. The sculptor was just done and existed….like the whole festival in a very challenging and transforming way.