ECMA (Ex Cinema Mele Aperto), in Pizzo, Calabria, which was in October, to an international group of artists with manifold urgencies and modus operandi, a research space, a residence and an action on the subject of the intangible already contained in itself, physically, a proposal for a possible understanding on the subject. A cinema divided between the obscurity of a cave and the open horizon of a sea. Erected on a precipice where planes exchange during the nights – the room and the screen invaded by the light of the projector, a Mediterranean with a temper embracing the black. So much so that for the participating artists, as well as all the architectural, textural stimuli, objectified in the half-ruined building, slightly exalted by its new usage, the attraction between these two planes was effulgent and works were produced whose poetic essence communicates between them; some of them we had the chance to experience in the exhibition We only want the intangible, open until December 5, 2015 at Zaratan – Arte Contemporânea. Let us discuss obscurity in this article.
Enter Bataille, who sits on a rock in the Lascaux caves in France in 1955, to ponder on the reasons and ways the pre-historic man began his artistic activity. He identifies the two engines of creation, the interdicts death and desire, that served as inner impulses for the first gestures that went beyond the functionality of survival, subsequently to ritual, sacrifice, birth cosmologies and superstitions that were based on the triad fear-guilt-punishment, and previously to the perception of man’s occupation of a position in a specific time and historical reality. The anguish before death was the drive for the transgression movement to happen in men and be translated into art.
«By definition, the extreme limit of the ‘possible’ is that point where despite the unintelligible position which it has for him in being, man, having stripped himself of enticement and fear, advances so far that one cannot conceive of the possibility of going further. Needless to say to what degree it is vain to imagine a pure play of intelligence without anguish (although philosophy closes itself in this impasse). Anguish is no less than intelligence the means for knowing, and the extreme limit of the ‘possible’, in other respects, is no less life than knowledge.» – G. Bataille, Inner Experience, pp. 39-40
The «allegory of the cave», used to sustain the oppositions between light/truth/knowledge and darkness/ignorance/delusion, and above all a first discourse on the projection of reality, dear to Western philosophy, addressed in the dialogue between Socrates and Glauco, in book VII of The Republic of Plato, here loses effect because, for the artist, light is in the understanding of the limitations of the possible, and anguish is expressed many times in the alleys, the holes, the gaps, where the confrontation with oneself does not give rise to projections, simulations or simulacrums, these needing to be seen in daylight or in the screen in order to become desiring machines. Light and its excess brings out the noise of the images, creates distraction, dispersal and the construction of temporary truths, useful to those who profit from the obsessive consumption inside and outside of the artistic food chains.
«The spectacle erases the dividing line between self and world, in that the self, under siege by the presence/absence of the world, is eventually overwhelmed; it likewise erases the dividing line between true and false, repressing all directly lived truth beneath the real presence of the falsehood maintained by the organization of appearances.» – Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, p. 219
The difficulty of documenting the dark, of perceiving spatial and corporeal limits, of turning it into a large scale consumer product turns the cave into an ideal place for a cruel and confrontational metaphysics, because it is already imprinted with the interdicts of death and desire. In Lascaux, Bataille’s awe was with the sight of the paintings, witnesses to an activity that for the first time placed in the time of men the time to imagine, to not make the utilitarian, to express leisure, doubt and elation, which is also what amazed Herzog in the caves of Chauvet (documented in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, 2010). Yet silence, like the dark, does not let itself be consumed, and today it is still hard to understand in what sonorous way men expressed their restlessness inside the caves.
Perhaps, because of that, Antonin Artaud longed for a body without organs, without limitations, a cave-body where sounds would be able to circulate with primordial reverberations and echoes. Artaud, who in the final stage of his poetic writings used sound as a vehicle, proposed us instead a theatre of cruelty, itself made up of sounds that would go beyond the vibrations and trepidations that language’s dictatorship and Western logic had cemented.
«(...) the theatre must pursue by all its means a reassertion not only of all the aspects of the objective and descriptive external world, but or the internal world, that is, of man considered metaphysically.» – Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and its Double, p. 92
And the cruelty proposed by Artaud, was one to cast in doubt the appearances seen in the light of commodified culture, of the projected images, of the psychology of art which explores excitement and immediacy in predictable ways by moving closer to horror, by dramatizing the present, and idolizing works of the past.
In the manifesto «No more masterpieces», he foresees the criticisms to his theatre:
« – With this mania we all have for depreciating everything, as soon as I have said ‘cruelty,’ everybody will at once take it to mean ‘blood.’ But ‘theatre of cruelty’ means a theatre difficult and cruel for myself first of all. And, on the level of performance, it is not the cruelty we can exercise upon each other by hacking at each other’s bodies (…) – but the much more terrible and necessary cruelty which things can exercise against us. We are not free. And the sky can still fall on our heads.» – Ibid., p. 79
And it falls numerous times. But the Intangible is that same cruelty in motion. The terrible exercise, the only one necessary in searching for what cannot be objectified – because it is impossible to fully grasp the urgency within the individual who creates, walks and rumbles in the dark. And to not want to possess, simulate or inhabit (apparently, in the caves where the circular dances took place, no human remains were found, nobody possessed it, nobody inhabited it). The Intangible was mistaken many times with the prospect of a horizon or with a line where one projects things that are lost or out of reach, like when boats that are slightly on the surface of the water (boats more frail than the expectations of a whole civilization, blinded by a light that is never a sunlight or by a hungry becoming) foretell that the sea may still fall on our heads.
Post Scriptum for those who don’t sleep
By now Bataille sits in one of the chairs of the Ex Cinema Mele Aperto. He scratches his scrotum and crosses his leg. He is slightly annoyed with Mr. Artaud who entered one does not oh god know from where and now hammers a stump, reciting syllable by syllable a poem in the language of cousin Dante. The stage is dark, as always. The screen was removed to avoid it being torn again, accidents have been happening but nobody takes them seriously. There’s a whole apparatus for the construction of the simplest things through the most difficult means, which are, at the moment, the only ones that matter. For instance, master Giuseppe decides to leave at 5 a.m. to test how much gasoline the boat’s engine drinks. He manages to row back with three big fish, enough for everyone’s dinner, with one leftover for Artaud to throw to the audience while slowly chanting P-E-S-C-E! Rowena and João have been trying, for days, to project sun rays into the cinema-cavern, through long, silver-coated, movable water canals. The effort resulted in the manufacture of a third ephemeral space where now a spectacle of shadows happens and although the flood was predictable, what interested them was to ascertain if that light was indeed real. Bruno has been under the stage, for a couple of hours now, proclaiming that the show has ended. He gets a late call from a Jeremy, from a glass factory at Marinha Grande. Apparently he’s trying to produce a positive of the cavern in black glass, hoping to create an anti-cinema within the cinema itself. Bataille looks around and says that it’s all very nice, but it takes more sacrifice, more. Meanwhile Fabre comes in, unexpectedly from the top of one of the galleries, shouting in a hoarse voice: «I am mistake, I am mistake, I am a mistake», followed by «WE’LL PUT YOU IN THE MAGAZINE, WE’LL PUT YOU IN A MOVIE, AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR EYES, WE RETOUCH ANYONE OVER TWENTY».
Then Artaud loses his patience and comes down from the stage. He is not in the mood for that. He tells Bataille that these artist gatherings always end up in existential hodgepodge, and the he would go to Mexico, which was right next door at the turn of his head, and that it would be better to leave the responsibility of the intangible to the present company. (Amazement, Pause, Acceptance).
After a brief stop in the dark, they resumed their work, in the endless laughter of those who do not know and yet still carry on.
ARTAUD, Antonin. The Theatre and its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards. New York: Grove Press, 1958.
BATAILLE, Georges. Inner Experience. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.
BATAILLE, Georges. O Nascimento da Arte. Lisbon: Sistema Solar, 2015.
BATAILLE, Georges. Oeuvres Complètes, Vol I-XII. Paris: Gallimard, 1971-88.
DEBORD, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald-Nicholson Smith, New York: Zone Books, 1994.
DELEUZE, Gilles e GUATTARI, Félix. The Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Lisbon: Assírio e Alvim, 1996.
FABRE, Jan. I AM A MISTAKE, seven works for the theatre Martin E. Segal. New York: Theatre Centre Publications, 2009.