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Interview with Jonathan Uliel Saldanha, an associate artist of Teatro Municipal do Porto for the season 2021/2022

Jonathan Uliel Saldanha is one of the most stimulating artists in national contemporaneity. The means he uses include audio-visual or performance, with technical excellence. The themes of his conceptual imaginary are current and sometimes frighteningly relevant. The alterity between human-machine, nature-technology, body-algorithm, space-resonance are part of this imaginary. Jonathan is the associate artist of Teatro Municipal do Porto [TMP] for the season 2021/2022. We talked about his last performance-installation Lithium Faust and the ideas for his next piece as associate artist of TMP.

Rodrigo Fonseca – What interested me most in the installation was the way you produced the sound. How was it produced? Through field recordings or are they your own productions?

Jonathan Uliel Saldanha – For some years now I have had no interest in field recordings. I am interested in the real production of truth, more than a kind of instituted truth. Everything you hear is synthetic, produced. In the composition, there are some voices in particles, voices taken from excerpts from rehearsals or other old pieces. The sound of this installation, of this machine, is highly processed. Lithium Faust works the isometries of light and sound. These tools have similar rules and protocols. Inside this machine, we tried to build a kind of external intelligence, which elicits paradigm shifts, for example in verticality. The sounds belong to an imaginary composed of robots, vibrations, reminiscences of human masses, spectra… They make us inject humanity again, not from touch and proximity, but from the prosthesis that is technology, highly inspired by Starlink and the satellites animism. It is not a peaceful animism, it triggers a hyper-presence of the human being. The machine in Lithium Faust works because it is not empathetic. Anyone can be wherever they want to be. It ends up being a human prosthesis because it has extensions like looking and listening. The false is found here as a reminiscence of Goethe and Faust, of the deal Faust made with the demon to acquire more knowledge.

RF – What does lithium represent in this piece?

JUS – There is a triple thought about lithium: the blood of machines, exploitation, and animism – there are people who take lithium. It seems to be a lifeblood, something that perhaps contaminates us with its own agency and will: we are not the ones imposing our will on lithium. Maybe the lithium is telling us something through the mobile phone, the machines… Like a subliminal message. I am extremely interested in working with matters of alterity, matters where our limit of definition and understanding become impossible. When we manage to understand, it is interesting to listen to what that existence has to say, or to find tools to translate that into our perception.

RF – That ultimately creates communication.

JUS – Some kind of communication. These are things that I have worked on in other ways, I profusely worked based on echos, in which choruses were matrices based on cybernetic structures that were then applied to human masses. The humans communicated through touch or relationships that were not necessarily vocal or melodic. The result was harmonic, melodic, choral at least. This relationship opened up a kind of interval, an unexplainable space, the communication of all this with the echo and the resonance of space. This process served to make the space speak and, through the resonance of the people, reach a frequency that stimulates this dialogue with space’s alterity.

RF – Was this process in the play Mercúrio Vermelho?

JUS – In Mercúrio Vermelho, there are several connections to this, given the 6 months I spent in Kampala [Uganda] last year, where I met a man smuggling red mercury.

RF – Is it a stone?

JUS – No, it doesn’t exist! It’s a by-product invented by the Russians during the Cold War, whose aim was to be an esoteric technology. It was widely spread in North Africa as an object that really exists: red-coloured liquid mercury. With a purely fetishist use, but also to wash black dollars, stolen or embezzled dollar bills soiled with ink. It has now gained other meanings, for example: for alchemists, it is something like lead, hyper-techno, hyper-fucked; for the «Dubai people», it’s like an amulet-fetish for investing in oil stocks.

RF – In Lithium Faust, the human presence eventually vanished.

JUS – It eventually disappeared completely. Lithium has different characteristics to mercury, it has much more direct implications. As this is a mid-season piece, it’s still at an experimental stage. We need time, this is all technically complex, and it will develop more and more! We are going to connect artificial intelligences. The human presence is only in the reminiscence of Faust: to know more, we must make a pact, we must offer our soul, and here there are only souls. The people inside the machine [of the installation] are in a limbo… They seem to be in a hypnotic non-place. Verticality is especially important to experience the installation, because we can examine ourselves from it. We talk about Starlink satellites, which in 10 years will multiply by 15.000: in 10 years, they will be the stars. There is something to reflect on this new vertical axis.

RF – Our relationship with what is above will change completely, the constellations of things we will see…

JUS – The only place where you have absolute freedom is this! [he points upwards] Even at the level of astrophysics, of quantum… Astrophysics remains one of the most abstract research poles on the understanding of the human… [Up] there is the ultimate alterity. When that closes, we will have a problem: there will be no more jungles… There will be no more possibilities! We are clearly closing a circuit and it is remarkably interesting to try to understand it.

RF – What do you have planned for your next piece as an associate artist of TMP?

JUS – I have two things planned, which we have been working on. It’s a video that will be presented in December, possibly at Rivoli. Like Lithium Faust, it’s a kind of dialogue without humans, but with humans being filmed. We could say the piece is three dance solos, but no, it’s closer to a sci-fi flick. The performers move within unique spaces, spaces of capital, like the casino and the hotel. When they access dance, they do so because of a virus that alters their communication, that conquers their bodies. Dance appears as a stimulant and a means for another communication. It is one of the things we are filming. Next year, there will be something on stage: a lake. What do we find on the surface of the well? A lake. This lake is highly toxic and will be made through a mechanism of light, colour and robot clusters. The lake will read data from the stock exchange. Everything in it is subject to the fluctuations of the stock market, of capital: it is not a romantic lake. Other means will be used, such as a group of performers and a group of orchestral musicians.

Rodrigo Fonseca (1995, Sintra) studied at Escola Artística António Arroio, has a degree in Art History from FCSH/UNL, and a post-graduation in Scenic Arts from the same faculty. He travelled through Central Europe and the Balkans, lived in Italy, Greece, and Brazil. His artistic work lies on the music and the body, between the skin of his feet and the skin of the surface floor. He organizes and programmes the festival Dia Aberto às Artes in Mafra and is a founding member of the cultural association A3 - Apertum Ars. He is one of the founders of CusCus Discus. He participated as a musician in CusCus World Musik Radio 196.7 FM, Brussels (Festival Vivarium, 2019), Lisbon (Desterro, 2019) and Marseille (La Deviation, 2020). He participated as a performer in the show PARAANDAR, Festival Snow Black 2019 (Moita), and in the event A TROPA BELADONA (2019), ADAO - Associação Desenvolvimento Artes e Ofícios, Barreiro - productions of A Bela Associação.

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