Le regard et l’excédent, interview with Ricardo Zúquete
The exhibition Le regard et l’excédent is the culmination of photographic sessions from three shows: Luís Vicente’s À Espera de Godot, Nuno Moreira and Ana Padrão’s E morreram felizes para sempre, and Rodrigo Francisco’s Tragédia Optimista. Curated by André de Quiroga and running until December 15 in the King’s Hall in Rossio Station, Lisbon. We talked to Ricardo Zúquete about the singularities and characteristics of this exhibition, without overlooking his view and understanding of the relationship between theatre and photography.
Rodrigo Fonseca – You say that Le regard et l’excédent documents “rites of passage”. What rites of passage are documented in this exhibition? Does “rite of passage” have a religious meaning?
Ricardo Zúquete – Not really. The idea is based on the principles of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. There is a ritualistic sense in the way of being in our daily life. I’ m an architect and a teacher, my concern started with the presence generated in a specific space. The gestures that appear there (in reference to the theatre), the way we sit, walk, well, the way it develops a web of tiny actions that can be considered ritual. The body and its relationship with what is around tells a story. There is a narrative, a text and an unspeakable part beyond the text. This exhibition seeks this unspeakable quality. This quality is connected with the body’s gestures, with its presence. It fulfils the narrative with essential elements that are beyond the text – here I’m talking about rituals with this line of thought in mind.
RF – How did the specificities of the time-space of each piece influence your photography? Were the dramatic/performative techniques and the body on stage very distinct in each play?
RZ – The image is something utterly banal these days, with an often unbelievable levity. Sitting on the sofa we watch the worst atrocities. The image has lost weight and responsibility. For me, photography should assume the responsibility of its praxis, it should have a central role in our culture and raise awareness of the world of gestures, expressions, looks that often remain in the background in our daily lives. Perhaps we can give them the attention they deserve… A gesture can be much more important than a word. Often, we trivialise the images that are born in those gestures. The younger generation is hooked to their phones, using WhatsApp without knowing what expression is on the other end. We throw in some emojis and things to emphasise the expression we want to give to a sentence. The importance of gesture is this. I looked for fragments of gestures that were in those small pieces, restoring that responsibility to photography: to look for people’s attentive gaze.
RF – Besides photographing the show in action, you also photograph rehearsals, dress rehearsals, backstage and the corridors of Júlio de Matos. Can you share how was the experience in these two intimate fields? Public and private.
RZ – It was slightly different. In the play E morreram felizes para sempre, we had no access to the script, the element of surprise was essential. In all the other plays, I read the script beforehand and watched some rehearsals. I wanted to understand and listen to some conversations between director and actors. I understood the universe and the atmosphere imagined by the director, the narrative he wanted to create for the show. Then, I photographed the run-thrus, feeling expectant after having seen the readthroughs. The photographs sought to be my insight into the director’s look at the script and play. I let myself get involved in the work of the acting, set and lighting crews, to make the photographs happen naturally – also drawing on my previous knowledge of the plays. I don’t consider myself an image chaser, nor do I want to be. I wanted to be inside the concept of those shows and the actors’ effort. There are many photographs that I won’t reveal, photographs that I really like, related to the actor’s work, moments of frustration and overcoming. They are extremely beautiful photographs, which I will probably never show publicly. But they portray the power of the actor’s involvement in the rehearsal – a gorgeous thing! I’m interested in the passion for theatre and the relationship with photography. I don’t begin to photograph with any preconceived ideas, I look for the space between these two universes.
RF – You say that “the look should be an intense process of (re)cognition” and that “the theatre is the best place to find this intensity of human complexity, in the expression and life of its dramas”. In An Actor Prepares, Stanislavski establishes a theory and a formula about the actor’s work: he must intensely express his feelings, immerse himself in them, to reach the “true” expression. Stanislavski is acting, not life. Why is theatre for you the best place to witness human complexity, its dramas and truths?
RZ – We all live in a place of acting, we all play a role in our lives; now, I’m in the role of the interviewee and you are in the role of the interviewer, in the morning I was in the role of the teacher, during lunchtime I was playing the father… We all play roles. In my first-year classes, I explained architecture as a place that is there to be populated and inhabited: not an empty box that we inhabit meaninglessly. Stanislavski’s concept of circles of concentration helped me a great deal in these classes; the way the characters are organised among themselves, in relation to the set, the meaning of gestures… I used this methodology for architecture. In theatre, there is a story to tell. It’s not the same as being in your house during an ordinary weekend. In theatre, there is story and narrative. Some photographs are diptychs in a single image, short sequences of a photograph that try to portray a fragment of the play, a segment of the narrative that is what the actor is trying to tell. In this exhibition, there is an implicit tribute to the theatre, to the human dimension that the actors try to share. In the cinema this also occurs, but in the theatre it happens metres away. There is an overwhelming vibration.
RF – Given the title, what is the excess in this photo series?
RZ – There is a wonderful text by Merleau-Ponty, where he says an expression that I picked for the exhibition title. We have the look, but then there is a more complex universe, an almost extension of that look. Often people think it is something superfluous, but it is not. Sometimes a gesture is more eloquent than a word, a facial expression is more powerful than what was said. If the look is considered as something merely useful, we come to think that the rest is surplus. But that excess gives soul and depth to that look. In architecture this year we did an essay with homeless people. One of the most moving things they shared with us was how much they missed being recognised by people. No one would look at them. That look was what they missed most. I felt that M.-Ponty wanted to highlight and appeal to the apparent excesses that underlie the human and humanised gaze.