Coleção de Espectador_s, a show by Raquel André at Teatro Nacional D. Maria II
Coleção de Espectador_s is part of Raquel André’s Coleção de Pessoas, a project that collects spectators who are invited to trigger a direct relationship with the artist. Co-creation by Cláudia Gaiolas, music by Odete, costumes by José António Tenente, with the participation of Ana Ribeiro, André de Jesus Conceição, David Gorjão, Fátima Barreto, João Limão, Júlia Catita, Luís do Paço, Marina Preguiça, Patrícia Santos, Raquel Pedro and Tânia Martins Ramos.
The show’s idea is to share something that is usually distant from the public’s perception and participation: the process of artistic creation. Artistic production is locked in a bubble, but that is the responsibility of its agents. Since post-modernism, artistic production has gone down paths superficially deemed participatory art. That is, it positions the public as an active agent of the work created. However, for me, these paths are often complex and totally miss their goal of sharing. Those invited to participate need guidelines and stimulation of the imagination to create an interactive environment where they feel part of the project and not just a mere prop.
Coleção de Espectador_s is one example. Participants are fully involved in the project through their bodies, stories and voices. They are an active part of the artistic object and process. But there is a problem with so-called participatory art. To assume that sharing the creative process is the key conceptual idea of an artistic object requires a responsibility that the artist cannot ignore. The idea of sharing the creative process originates in philosophy and politics. It is a political (therefore ideological) statement and an exercise in philosophical speculation imported into the art world. Philosophy is used as a thinking tool, one that art possesses to create the conceptual, creative, logical (or not) part of a work. It is the field of abstraction, where philosophy is instrumentalised by art. I don’t see any problem in this, except if this instrumentalisation is dishonest – which is not the case with this play. About politics, this idea demands a coherent and responsible position. Among several bibliographic references, Rancière’s concept of common and sharing of the sensible is inescapable. These two concepts are part of the theoretical and conceptual basis of the artists who think art in conjunction with politics. Participatory art is born from here. The common for Rancière must be constructed through the dissensual encounter of individual perceptions. Dissensus is something complex in Rancière’s thought, but – simplifying – it means disagreement, disparity. The sharing of the sensible is how the sensible is discerned in the relation between a shared common whole and the division of exclusive parts. This division has not been made and thus the shared common in this performance is incoherent.
Raquel André’s approach to sharing the process of artistic creation, the direct relationship between artists and spectators, and the political positions assumed is incoherent and attempts to underline her individuality. What happens in Coleção de Espectador_s is nothing new: there are several cases where artists try to put themselves under the spotlight, assuming as their own a discourse of revindication and struggle against social, racial, economic and gender inequalities. This kind of artist is not intimidated, freely waving all the flags, feeling «at peace» knowing that all the trendy left-wing struggles are covered. If, for Raquel André, the anti-racist struggle and institutionalised racial inequality are so important, why is there no black woman or man on stage? Why are they all white men and white women? If historical revisionism, the critique of the colonial historical narrative about the former colonies – particularly Brazil – is important, why are Portuguese men and women speaking on this topic and not Brazilian men and women? The great challenge of the progressive left political struggle is to give place and voice to the marginalized classes. We cannot speak for them, we can only solidarise with their struggles and help them without taking away their position of intervention. Otherwise, we are perpetuating the places of power we so badly want to destroy. To raise banners with slogans like FASCISM NO MORE, DOWN WITH THE DICTATORSHIP, BOLSONARO OUT or to listen to Grândola, Vila Morena in a play is almost always ridiculous. It is ridiculous because it decontextualises everything, it instrumentalises the street and collective political struggle in favour of individuality. The political struggle does not take place on stage. This does not mean that art is not political: art is political, just as almost everything in our lives is political. It means that the street is the place of the transgressive and transforming political power. On stage there are many others, but not this one. For example, if my artistic idea for a show is to call attention to alternative ways of living, I will create an artistic object that materialises this clearly and not an object that simply talks about how alternative ways of living exist. This discourse is from the self to the self, not from the self to the we or from the we to the we.
How things are said is important and almost always more significant than what is stated. I share all the concerns and political claims set out by Raquel André in Coleção de Espectador_s, but we must understand that this way of doing is counterproductive and problematic.