Mariano Pensotti: Reflections on La Marea
December 29, 2010
At night and in real time, moving from the pavement to illuminated windows, from balconies to café terraces, La Marea presents nine different stories—intimate snapshots that bring the zero hundred block of Water Street in historic Gastown to life for the opening of the 2011 PuSh Festival. These fictional scenes are repeated over the course of the evening in shop windows and on street corners, where audience members can observe the characters’ inner thoughts through projected subtitles.
This international co-production with Vancouver’s Boca del Lupo, known for their spectacular outdoor productions, features the work of Mariano Pensotti–an Argentinean-born writer and theatre director working mainly in film, video and performance. Mariano is the director of dramatic art at the Instituto Universitario Nacional de Artes in Buenos Aires.
What are the impressions that you got from your brief visit to Vancouver?
It’s always difficult to say something meaningful about a place when you have been there for just a few days, but I must say that I found Vancouver a very intriguing city. I’m really looking forward to work there and to have the chance to be more “exposed” to the city and it’s people for a longer period of time. On a personal level, it’s very curious to present La Marea in Vancouver because the performance was very much influenced by some of the works of local artists such as Stan Douglas and Jeff Wall. Back in 2005 when I presented the play for the very first time in Buenos Aires, I worked a lot with some of Jeff Wall’s pictures as a reference for the aesthetic of the scenes and I was frequently discussing with the team about the concept of “staged pictures”. Douglas’s works, especially the “Monodrama” series, were also a strong inspiration for me at that time. The way that these two artists worked with the mixture of tension between reality and fiction in small vignettes was a key point in our reflections of how to develop the project. When I got the invitation from the PuSh Festival to present La Marea in Vancouver I was really surprised, happy, and it felt like a closing cycle. I guess one of the impressions that I first got from Vancouver is that it’s a city that contains many different small cities within itself. And at least for me it’s a city that feels “strange” in a very good way. Strange in the sense that you cannot summarize it with just one cliché. I also got the feeling that it’s a city where ‘representation’ plays an important role, which it’s something that I like a lot from a city.
My performance work is heavily inspired by visual arts and literature. Georges Perec and Roberto Bolaños are among a group of writers that I usually reference back to. Also XIX century writers are a huge inspiration in my conception of dramaturgy, from Tolstoy to Stendhal. I really like the way those writers worked with the assumption that it was possible to create a work of art that contains virtually everything. The mixture that they developed between private lives, social and historic events and pure imagination is a central point of interest to me as a playwright. Visual artists such as Sophie Calle, Fischli & Weiss, Stan Douglas or Raymond Pettibon have also been an inspiration for several of my projects. Finally there’s a diverse list of filmmakers such as Godard, Fassbinder, Resnais and Herzog, that have indirectly influenced my work and are pivotal in the formation of my artistic point of view.
Your works revolve around the idea of the act of witnessing. What motivates your approach to the performing arts?
For some time, I’ve been very interested in the idea of the inhabitants of a city as voyeurs of ‘the other’s’ life. I like to give the audience and the casual passer by the “permission” to openly spy on someone else’s life. On one hand, I think that it’s interesting when you take the time to really look at the people that surround you in public places because it usually leads to some interesting discoveries. To look at somebody that you don’t know and try to imagine how could the life of that person be or what might the thoughts of that person be at the exact moment that you’re looking at them is one of the most common everyday creative acts that is accessible to everyone. I’m very interested in systematically exploring that idea. I’m also interested in how you might see your own life and thoughts reflected onto the people you see on the street, and the process of recognition of the self in the other. In a way, it reminds me of the idea of some XIX century writers, such as Balzac, who wanted to explore everyday life as entomologists, as documentarists who research reality using fictional tools. On the other hand, I guess the wish of being someone else or ‘the other’ is very common in contemporary cities. For some reason many of the characters in my stories want to be somebody else and I discovered that a lot of people in real life share that feeling.
La Marea, which will run in January 2011 as part of the PuSh Festival, was presented in a number of cities such as Copenhagen, Norwich, Gerona, Yokohama, Montréal, Québec, Rouen, Dublin, Riga, Berlin, Brussels and Buenos Aires. Did you find differences in the ways that the audience interacted with or reacted to the show?
It’s certainly always different. Of course the performance itself changes in each city. First of all, we do an adaptation of the texts of each scene to add some local references and mentions of social/historical events specifically related to each of those cities. The street where we work is also a key point in the performance and it usually influences the way that the audience perceives the work. And I work with local actors, which means that their interpretation of each scene is slightly different in each city. Even if the scenes are the same, the way French or German or Japanese actors represent a couple who spend their last night together because they are going to break up, for example, is different and it’s connected to a specific cultural frame. All these factors have a particular impact in the way that the audience interacts or reacts to the show. One interesting point for me is that the performance itself works on a strange borderline because even if the stories were written by me, with my Argentinean background and influences, it’s performed by local actors in a very specific local context, sometimes completely different to the original one. That adds a strange effect to the play.
I must say that La Marea is a performance that usually leaves a deep impression on the audience because although it lacks the element of the spectacular, in a conventional sense, its main goal is to change the perception you have about a very ordinary place in your own city that you might have seen thousands of times. The show aims to give you access to a new dimension of the people that surround you in public places.
Somehow La Marea is always a different experience for each spectator. In a way, it’s like a live movie: the audience is the camera as they can choose the angle from which they watch each scene- and the editor –as they can choose order of the scenes and the time that they spend on each. In the end, your choices are going to change the kind of experience you have with the performance.
Did you notice any transformations in the piece as you toured from one city to another? Did you find that each city brought out certain qualities of the show more than others?
As I said before, I believe that the performance is going through a constant process of transformation. I think that’s one of the most interesting reasons for doing this kind of site specific performance. It is important to notice not only how your fiction changes and modifies reality but also how reality modifies your fiction. I want to produce works that might influence or somehow change the ways that people experience their cities and also that are open to be modified and transformed by those specific places. I don’t believe in just “placing” fiction within a real context. I believe in creating tension between reality and fiction.
After so much traveling can you think of the most ridiculous experience that you’ve had while touring with La Marea?
Well… we had a lot of curious experiences touring with this play. You are usually exposed to many unexpected things when you work in a public place, far away from the artistic security of a traditional venue, and playing with the tension between fiction and reality. Thinking about strange situations we experienced while touring I remember that once, in Montréal, somebody called an ambulance because he thought that the scene of the motorcycle accident was a real accident. In Japan, it was extremely difficult to find actors to do the scene of the young couple who kiss each other in the corner because people don’t usually kiss each other in public places. In Norwich, I had kidney stones during the auditions with the actors and I ended up in a hospital bed doing the casting surrounded by doctors via a web-cam that connected to my laptop. And in Buenos Aires, in the middle of the show a group of hip teenagers came with their skateboards to see the play and immediately people started to look at them waiting for the subtitles because they thought they were part of the performance…
La Marea appropriates the concepts of public space and challenges its definition by superimposing behaviors that dwell in the private sphere. Why do you think that people find comfort in clearly separating the private from the public?
The separation of the private from the public sphere is always a political and economical conception. It’s related to some specific way to organize a society. Globalized capitalism has succeeded in restraining different expressions of public or collective activities. Even if public and private are concepts that you can always trace in different cultures and moments in history, nowadays we have the strongest division between both ideas. In parallel we have an explosion of expressions focused on the exhibition of the private. La Marea is a kind of zoom into private lives but in a public context. The collision between private and public in the performance problematizes that sometimes artificial separation by playing with a blur borderline. We also explore people at the individual level and the subjective history of a place- which includes the particular stories of its inhabitants- and the tension that this creates when juxtaposed with big social and political events. La Marea can be seen as a collective experience in a public place, dealing with private stories, where the audience has the freedom to organize the way that they want their experience to be.
The element of fictionalized realities or fictionalized routines in La Marea reflects the voyeuristic tendencies in all of us. Do you think that access to new technologies, such as the Internet, legitimize and even institutionalize voyeurism? Do you find problems with that?
Of course in the last ten years the issue around being virtually exposed to or enjoying the virtual exposition of somebody else has been quite common. Internet, reality shows, blogs, facebook, some artistic trends, etc. somehow institutionalize voyeurism in diverse forms. I think that sometimes my work plays with the assumption that the audience is now familiar to that kind of experience and I use the idea of the private turned public exhibition but always with a strong focus on fiction. That’s why the aspect of La Marea as fictionalized reality for me is just a part of the project, in the end, what counts are the stories that we tell through that specific format or procedure.