In 2012 Juha Valkeapää proposed a collaboration around the idea of “Astronome.” It is loosely based on the unfinished collaboration between Antonin Artaud and Edgar Varèse, L’Astronome[i] (1932), which intended to portray the annihilation of the earth and communication with the star Sirius. Albeit never concluded, this project came to be a source for collaboration between Mike Patton, John Zorn and Ontological-Hysteric Theater of Richard Foreman as Astronome: A Night at the Opera in 2009[ii].
However, our attempt was not to compare ourselves with this project, but to use the libretto by Artaud as a starting point for our experiment. Astronomer: experiment was a metamodel of the astronomical, social and mental cosmologies of our times, but not only destructive as it was mainly so for Artaud. We asked in this piece, how reality is being composed, and how can we recompose, decompose or annihilate it through the powers of performance? In other words, how to find the ‘lines of flight’ through performance practice?
Since Santiago was living in São Paulo and Valkeapää and me in Helsinki, our collaboration was at first based on email communication and sort of devicing method: each one posted his own interested that the above mentioned questions evoked. We met briefly in Novemeber 2012, had a session with Valkeapää in January and had our first one-week rehearsal period in May 2013, in Helsinki. At this point, there was a rather large amount of theoretical ideas, concepts or more experiential affects collected, which we begun to approach in our practice at a rehearsal room in the Theatre Academy in Helsinki. Similar to my previous project Life in Bytom, (2012) I could recognize how the initial material would circle around in very abstract or theoretical questions, and the more practical and physical issues were somewhat avoided. There was no direct link with the above mentioned versions of Astronome. However, our starting-point for the performance was quite grandiose, including twelve musicians and a miniature velodrome.
Our practice sessions lasted from three to six hours in each day, and comprised of going through the material from previous practices and physical experimentation with the topics. These subject matters were created from discussions and personal suggestions. We wrote these topics on a sheet of paper as keywords on a grid. In each practice session we went through these topics, or ‘seeds’ by proposing them to be performed after another. Each seed resulted in a certain physical expression and they lasted from five to fifteen minutes. At this point, there were some ‘seeds’ found, which we kept to the end of the actual performance. Our physical experimentation was still rather crude, and searching for some common language, and due to this the practice often ended up with a semi-violent and comical actions. It felt that it was hard to produce any material, without half-consciously estimating if they had any value – if they were ‘interesting’ enough. Moreover, the theoretical questions turned out to be more limiting than helping. We did not have a script, but there seemed to be a need to produce one, and it was often voiced by one of us in indirect ways. Just playing with materials – the real materials and abstract subject matters – seemed threatening and too difficult. Our initial starting point was to work with ‘seeds’ or minor ideas to produces scenes, which would follow arbitrary or aleatory sequencing in performance.
However, in the end of this period, we decided to collect 36 seeds like this, and that our performance would thus last six hours. The duration of each seed was decided to be ten minutes. We had started to use a timer from phone, which alarmed us every ten minutes to change the seed. We had created a system, but not much of content. At this point, we did not see any reason to continue with the musicians nor to have a velodrome, but decided to search for a gym in São Paulo for our performance.
Throughout the whole process, which eventually lead to very minimal means as props. It seemed that there was a fear of destabilization, which a lack of props or any other theatrical means produced. In the end, when we performed in the open space, on the balcony of Sesc Pinheiros, our only props were 36 pieces of grey EVA boards, which are used to create large, soft area as kind of puzzle pieces. We had only four lights, sound-system with microphone and Looper effect-box; a board to draw our ‘map’ of seeds and some chairs for the audience to sit on. Eventually we used almost anything available at the place.
These was a certain degree of compositional and mutual apprehension between the three performers in the Astronomer: experiment, and at the same time limitation of discontinuity and dissociated image of the body, duration, objects, technical devices, audience’s bodies and materials.
Photos: Paulo Pereira
[i] “Darkness. Explosions in the dark. Harmonies cut short. Raw sounds. Sound blurring. The music gives the impression of a far-off cataclysm; it envelops the theatre, falling as if from a vertiginous height. […] Street cries. Various voices. An infernal racket. When one sound stands out, the other fade into the background accordingly […] A hysterical woman wails, makes as if to undress. A child cries with huge, terrible, sobs […] Sudden stop, everything starts again. Everyone takes his place again as if nothing had happened […] Incomprehensible dream voice: GREAT DISCOVERY. GET YOUR GREAT DISCOVERY. OFFICIAL. SCIENCE BEWILDERED. OFFICIAL. NO MORE FIRMAMENT. NO MORE FIRMAMENT […] SIRIUS … SIRIUS … SIRIUS […] THE GOVERNMENT URGES YOU TO KEEP CALM […] EARTH ONLY MINUTE AWAY FROM SIRIUS. NO MORE FIRMAMENT. CELESTIAL TELEGRAPHY BORN. INTERPLANETARY LANGUAGE ESTABLISHED.” (Artaud 1932/1971, 79-85)
[ii] Hills 2010.