Between Fear and Desire, by Who Knows?

The Between Fear and Desire performance closed the 2020 programming of the cultural space Rua das Gaivotas 6. A creation of the collective Who Knows? with the performance of Telma João Santos and Helena Baronet. Who Knows? is an ephemeral collective, created from the need to dis-identify authorship, allowing a less tapered approach to the work of the people who are part of it, and more directed to the possibility of the unknown. Telma João Santos is a performer and researcher. Her artistic work explores mathematical concepts that allow understanding and creating methodologies of artistic production, “not only at the level of execution, but also of thinking-about”. Helena Baronet is an actress and performer. She belongs to the cultural association Um Coletivo, with which has been working since 2013.

The performance begins in a dense, dramatic and dark landscape. A net (which looks like a mosquito net) descends from the ceiling to the floor, covering Helena’s body. In the centre of the space established by the net, a microphone is hanging at the level of her mouth. With her voice, she builds an atmosphere of dark sounds, stirring the scenic space. In parallel, Telma performs a score of dense and long movements. The position of the bodies on stage is opposed to each other, but slowly Telma approaches Helena’s body. Telma’s score registers breakthroughs and retreats, in a movement that always goes backwards after moving forward. Telma’s body metamorphoses in the slowness of this initial choreography, in an allusion to a fanciful quadruped animal figure. This figure is not new, it belongs to the imagination of the performance Perfect landscape [to let your (s)hit flows], which leads us to relate both performances. The latter “is about beginnings, (…) about resisting, staying, continuing, respecting, finding ways to survive, creating landscapes of desire and pain, anger and love. In this performance, I dive into a grey zone, of not knowing how to propose the strangeness of collapse, I propose myself to not knowing”. In Between Fear and Desire, we see the performers diving into this “grey zone of not knowing”. Their naked bodies show vulnerability and fragility. As Telma approaches, Helena verbalizes words that reflect this universe of not knowing, desire, pain, anger and love. The lights go out when Telma comes near Helena.

Slowly, a spotlight illuminates Telma’s body, leaving Helena’s in a slight darkness. They are both in opposite places from the moment the performance began. The net covering Helena eventually falls and Telma takes the floor by picking up the microphone. She starts a very scientific and detailed discourse about mathematical concepts that have as reference Lagrange and the maximum principle. While Telma is speaking, Helena goes on dancing. Her dance is not an illustration of what is being said. We can look at this choreography as a reaction to what is being said, but at the same time Helena’s movement and gesture come from a very personal place, from her own imagination. The viewer establishes a relationship between these two apparently isolated actions, a relationship that comes from the sensation that Helena is reacting or questioning that speech with her body. This is a deeply complex language, which is not understood by most viewers. But this is not the issue. Since we are in the place of not knowing, that speech can be a symbol of the narrative of science, instead of having to understand literally everything that is said. The idea of this symbology comes from the later scene – the last part of the performance. When Telma finishes her speech, the lights go out again. A focus is slowly lit in the centre of the scene, illuminating both performers. Illuminated by the light is also a jerrican with a liquid inside. The performers take the jerrican and put the liquid in their hands, then spread it all over their bodies. The junction of this gesture with the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic makes us wonder if that liquid could be hand sanitizer. The way the liquid is spread on the skin is remarkably similar to disinfecting the hands.

When they finish covering their whole body, Helena and Telma start a long and slow walk towards the audience. The intense look of both is focused on the audience, jumping from person to person, establishing a kind of intimate relationship with each spectator. When they get close to the audience, the lights go out and the performers leave the scene. The conclusion that Telma’s mathematical discourse symbolises a scientific hegemonic narrative comes from this last scene. The symbolism is clear: it is an allusion to the idea of fear, desire and the place that lies between – explicit in the title of the performance. Since the ending is a clear reference to the pandemic, the preceding scene can be an illustration of the feeling that parts of society have when faced with a scientific discourse on the virus: they often feel incomprehension, sometimes scepticism and distrust. Taking the words of the performers, Between Fear and Desire is a “landscape that metamorphoses between places of speech. We want to enter. We don’t know how, but we want to. To enter and swallow space, time, people, each one of us. Making the world within us disappear. What can we do with emptiness? Explode, vomit, conspire, love, share. The ephemeral art of meeting. The empty space. The world rolling over and us with it tumbling around. Let us love each other. Let’s eat each other. Let’s eat love. Who Knows?.

Rodrigo Fonseca (1995, Sintra). He studied at the António Arroio Art School, has a degree in Art History from FCSH / UNL and a master's degree in Performing Arts from the same faculty. He organizes and programs the festival Dia Aberto à Artes (Mafra) and is a founding member of the cultural association A3-Apertum Ars. He was co-founder of the publishing house CusCus Discus. He is a music and performing arts critic for Umbigo (2020), ArteCapital (2021) and Rimas e Batidas (2022). He is also a resident DJ at the DARC cultural association, music producer and sound technician specializing in concerts and shows.

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