In 2005, Alejandra Riera came to São Paulo and got to know the Ueinzz Theatre Company’s work. Shortly after she arrived, she proposed a collaboration with the theatre company involving a project she called Enquête sur le/notre dehors, along the lines of her previous research. Out of this, a device was activated with the actors from the company for a very specific, though open, inquiry and recording. It consisted of a group outing every day for several days to some place in the city suggested by the actors, where the group would approach someone of their choice – a pedestrian, street vendor, a student, a police officer, a stranger, a homeless person – and directly fire at them any questions that came to mind. In an unusual situation where the interviewee knows nothing about the interviewer – but sometimes perceives a certain strangeness – the rules of a journalistic interview are reversed and everything starts to go wrong, without anyone managing to detect the reason for the derailing. Postures begin to come undone, the personal, professional or institutional masks which everyone dearly holds onto fall to the ground, allowing a glimpse of the unusual dimensions of the disturbing “normality” which surrounds us every day, as the artist used to say. With a displaced camera that questions the anchoring point of discourse, a hiatus is created between image and speech, and thus a suspension in the automatism of comprehension.
Let us take one miniscule example. We were in front of the Legislative Assembly in São Paulo talking with a peanut vendor. One of our actors asks him what the magic of this place is. The street vendor does not understand and asks if the interviewer wants to know how much he earns. “No, I wanted to know what is your happiness here?” “I don’t understand,” says the peanut vendor. The actor, a little agitated by his interlocutor’s deafness, asks him point blank: “I want to know what is your desire, what is the meaning of your life.” Then everything stops, there is a suspension in the dialogue, a silence, and we see the man sinking into a dimension that was totally other, far from any journalistic context. And he replied, quietly, with a certain difficulty: “suffering…” This is the basis without a basis of the entire conversation, the disaster, which already occurred, the exhaustion which cannot be spoken of; it is the bitter isolation of a man cornered in front of a monumental building which represents an unshakable, but nonetheless empty power; everything which only appears by means of a sudden interruption, triggered by a sort of vital irritation. An interruption provoked by the one who is supposed to be drowned in his own abyss – the crazy actor. And here everything shifts, and the spectator suddenly wonders what side life is on, and if that question still has any meaning, since it is nothing but a whole context of misery which emerges from this unusual dialog. What causes an eruption is the psycho-social instability upon which everything else rests; and also, for fleeting moments, the germs of something else. In making the situation schizophrenic, for a time there is the impression that everything may become derailed: functions, places, obeisance, discourses, representations. Everything may fall, including the device itself. Even if we encounter what was there from the very beginning – suffering, resignation, impotence – we witness disconnections that make so-called normality flee, along with its linked automatic reactions; and also the evocation of other possible bonds with the world. As Riera says, this is not social reporting or a survey with humanist ends, but the recording of an experiment. It has no make-up, no claims to denounce a situation, and no inclination towards aesthetics. At the end, we do not really have a proper documentary, or a film, but an unusual object, a trace of an event that when seen may trigger other events – as was the case when some fragments were shown in the La Borde clinic, where Guattari once lived, in the presence of dozens of patients and psychiatrists, including the founder of the clinic, Jean Oury. In the enormous central hall of this decaying castle, one late Friday afternoon in September 2008, the people were waiting for the “Brazilian film” made by a theatre group, according to the rumor that was going around. But there will be no “Brazilian film,” nor any “documentary,” nor any “film,” nor any “theatrical piece.” Absence of work. How to explain this without disappointing such high expectations? The weekly meeting ends, the hundred people seated in the auditorium turn toward the screen, already stretched, the windows are closed in order to allow for the showing of the “Brazilian film,” and Alejandra Riera compliments those present and straightaway points out that she does not intend to show a film. She explains that this is only an experiment, that it is very difficult to talk about this… and instead of giving a talk on the project, on her intentions and its logic, as one would expect, she confesses that she has experienced great difficulty working lately… that in the end she could not manage it any more… to work or to build… imagine the effect of this talk on people who long ago had abandoned the circuit of “work,” “projects” and “results.” She then adds that lately all she could manage was to take things apart. She does not even stop from taking apart the tools with which she once worked, such as the computer… And she takes from her handbag two plastic bags with fragments of the disassembled keyboard: one of them contains the alphabet keys, the other the functions (Delete, Ctrl, Alt, etc.) She then passes around the transparent plastic bags containing the pile of pieces so that they can be circulated among those present. The spectacular expectations of a film gives way to an extraordinary complicity with an artist who does not call herself an artist, who does not bring her work, who confesses that she is not able to work, who shows the remains of her computer, pieces that have been dismantled, evoking a project whose impossibility is immediately made known, leaving only the impasse, the fiasco, the paralysis, the exhaustion that is common to us all, whether we are lunatics or philosophers, artists or psychiatrists… Only once the link between “art” and “audience” is short-circuited, once the glamor, entertainment, culture, work, or object which could be expected from that “presentation” of images us undone, and the central protagonist who leaves the stage is “de-individualized”: only in this way can something else occur – an event as the effect of suspension. A projection of fragments can even take place, or a controversial discussion, at times accusatory or visceral, that drags into the night, into the twilight of the auditorium, which no one has taken the trouble to light up and which ends with the hilarious question from a patient: “Do you all have a project?” As if reconnecting to Alejandra’s initial speech, in which she confessed about her difficulty in working, in constructing a project, in doing work, it evokes Blanchot’s intuition on the common ground existing between art and unworking, or Foucault’s idea about the relationship between madness and the rupture of work. Perhaps this is where we can find a performative exhaustion of the project or of the work, so that inaudible voices and improbable events can emerge.
- Peter Pál Pelbart, Cartography of Exhaustion: Nihilism Inside Out