A BALANCING ACT
A tough, intense and uncompromising alternative or a theatre of spirituo-political radicalism
Damir Bartol Indos: Laika - the first dog in space, a biophiliac performance
D.B. Indos constructs and destructs his group according to the project he is working on at the time. He has worked with a series of artists (Nicole Hewitt, Elliott Sharp, Emil Kristof, Ali Gaggle, Damir Prica Kafka, Igor Pavlica, Srdan Sacher,Charlie Morrow, Zlatko Buric Kico, Henning Frimann, Nino Prisuta, Miodrag Krenzer, Dubravka Sikic and many others) who accepted the idea of theatre as a ‘ritual’ confronting destructive ideaspheres. The purpose of Indos’s ‘hard’ performative induction of the History of Cruelty in performances accompanied by industrial music played on constructions made of scrap metal is the ritual shamanic removal of systems and ideologies opposed to Nature and Man. As opposed to this, in the theatre of the everyday D.B. Indos seems like a poetic ‘mild’ man (Indian) from next door, ‘obsessed by the natural mission of the innocent child-man’. In the gloomy everyday of Zagreb, Indos goes about his various working and workman's tasks on his bike. His new project Rough Ride or - On the Soul , based on the idea of a man-bicycle is dedicated to the bicycle. The project is based on his ‘personal experience of riding a bike in the city, surrounded by menacing cars and trams, and is constructed around the question :” Who will my killer be?”. As Indos says in one of the project’s chants charting his furious bike ride through the city - “Life (a rough ride) goes on” in spite of everything.
Fish- man and Lizards
In the actions of Kugla-glumiste, as Dunja Koprolcec noted in the review Gordogan, you used to perform ‘the fish pose’, what did that signify in the context of the 1970s?
- ”The fish pose” was an integral part of the project Man-Chair. In the 1970s, it came about as my intuitive protest against conventional modern theatre, but within objective circumstances which forced me to go into a space and perform Man-chair which was later supplemented with the position of Man-fish. It was called ‘fish’ because of the associations it triggered in the members of the group. The position looks like a fish with fins. It was a state which encouraged the liberation of spirituality and a way of spiritual communication between members of the group.
Today I can say that the ‘fish pose’ is a philosophy and that Man-chair is a philosophy, and the relationship and the process occurring as this takes place is a discourse on the inferiority of Man to the Divine act, which it was then but it was not conscious. Man-chair and the ‘fish pose’ form the basis of my work which I always return to.
A CENTRE FOR GOD IN THE BRAIN
Where do you feel is the source of your work?
I have a theory, which I believe to a point. I believe that just as there are various centres in the brain for various things there is also a centre for God. And I believe that only Man, through deep and difficult thought, contemplation and reflection can occasionally activate this centre for God and achieve inspired states of communication with and belonging to God. Man can activate this centre, but these states last a very short time and then die down again till the next effort is made to actively establish this connection. I think this is achieved through contemplation. Practice, in this case artistic practice, contributes to the next encounter. If art does not achieve this, then it is either entertainment or political art. This raises the question of the point of artistic practice if the act of contemplation alone excites me so much. Theatre to me is the practice of contemplation or a practical form of consciousness as a reason for making art. Art concerned with the inferiority of human beings to God, and this inferiority is manifested in bitterness, fury and revolt at one’s own position. It is, I hope, a creative and powerful confrontation of one’s own powerlessness and predetermined weakness. I wrote a text on this theme “ Reasons for working in the sphere of art” in the review Underground in 1977. The goal of my work is to instigate in the human mind the decision of contemplation - the only possible form of resistance to the power of God. Whenever I talk about this I think of Artaud’s fragments from the manifesto I hate and detest as cowardly , where he talks about how he hates and detests as cowardly those who accept the idea that they are born and do not wish to change. (Because he, Antonin Artaud, is his own son, his own mother and himself) This self-birth was accompanied by metaphysical thoughts.I completely support this powerful speech, this spite and stubbornness and this attempt to overcome the condition of not creating or not giving birth to oneself.
When I think and say things like this I expect God’s punishment , but, paradoxically what happens is communication and collaboration with God instead, I feel that it helps in my further work and development.
God Begins where the Tip of my Fingers End
What is the significance of your hand and finger movements in your performances?
-The movements of my fingers are combined with the symbolism of distorting my legs. It is a contorted, deformed position of the body. The effort involved in these intense movements of my fingers, the alteration of fingers and the crossing of hands stem from the wish to communicate with the external world. This is possible only through man’s extremities, with his ends, those parts of the body which are the furthest away from the part of the body where the soul and the centre for God reside. And that is the chest and the head (the brain). The tips of our fingers are the furthest possible point away from our inner body. At the tip of our fingers Man ends and beyond the tip of our fingers God begins. That is why the movements of my fingers are directed outwards, and that is why the movements include the spreading of my fingers and their alternation. Another important thing - I am extremely grateful to Nature for giving me such big hands and big fingers. When I was younger this was a big problem and caused various insecurities, but with time it turned into an advantage and an almost painful longing for these fingers and hands to be even bigger. That way I could capture an even greater space outside of the bodily. That communication is directed at capturing, catching external spirituality. The fingers return to the body, they return the message they received from outside, they return to the body.
Can you comment on the development in your work from thematising an ideologized pollution of life to the obsession with the fate of the space dog Laika?
A big change for me was my acknowledgement of the existence of God, whether he is alive or dead. Kugla adhered to Marx’ The Basis of Freedom where the question is as follows: How did I come to be? (Answer) Through the sexual act of your parents. (Then) And how did they come to be? In the end this leads to the question of the birth of the First Man, wherein Marx’s answer is: Do not ask this question because it is not a human question. And I think I adhered to this principle in my own philosophy. However, in the last seven years I have persistently and stubbornly asked how the First Man came to be. I am interested only in the final question. So, there has been some kind of spiritual change in me. If I insist on the animal as victim, I postulate the thought where it is a very small step from the pointless and unjustified sacrificing of animals to the pointless and unjustified sacrificing of humans. In the performance itself the audience can feel this ecologic or apply this hidden humanist care for animals to Man.
According to encyclopedias Laika and her space capsule landed on Earth, somewhere close to the launch site of Sputnik 2 as ‘planned’, but in your performance the sacrificial dog is represented as a golden skeleton eternally floating in space.
I didn’t know that. That is a wonderful piece of information. I thought that after the sacrifice she was simply left to float in space and that the capsule never landed on Earth. That is why I imagined her as a skeleton, which is not the only sacrificial animal skeleton in space. I imagined Laika’s skeleton to be golden, the colour of karmic energy. My only saving grace in this situation is that this is art where, contrary to science or scientific work, freedom is allowed. I want animals to be able to die naturally, which I derive from the thought of Hanna Arendt who says how mankind in the 20th century has forgotten the joy of dying a natural death. When I talked to my daughter Hana... she wanted to take part in the performance. She wanted to wear a dog costume. She didn’t take part in the Zagreb premier, otherwise she does. When I shout “Let your voice out!?”, Hana comes up and starts barking, then I said No! This will be a performance about Laika’s soul. You will be Laika’s soul, so the dog costume isn’t necessary. Yes... the soul... it is something white.” She said: “What will Laika’s soul be like?” And I said: “Sound”. I wanted my art to have a divine background. Hannah Arendt says that art and religion were once One but that art managed to separate itself from religion and since then has tended to being purposeless. Art has lost the purpose it had while it was united with religion. I would like that to be clear in my work. In that skilful separation rests the artistic method, the divine background.
What direction is your ‘exploration of balance’ taking, in your next project?
In the concept of Rough Ride - or On the Soul, which I am working on now, bicycles appear as angels and they confront the predators - cars, aggressive enemies of life. The performance is directly and intensely directed towards the defence and renewal of heavenly conditions, such simple conditions for life which were given to Man on Earth. And while a few years ago I got rid of my ‘incarnational’ connection to R.D.Laing, the ability to make a powerful connection with him in special moments of inspiration, and which happened in the state of consciousness just before falling asleep, I still haven’t managed to ‘free’ myself of a strong ‘incarnational’ connection with Heraclitus the Dark. I am returning to him again. I will literally try to perform Heraklitus’ fragments on stage in the juxtaposition of the reality of a screaming bicycle ride through city streets where cars devour bikes, in a city with no bicycle routes, and the possibility of becoming a soul in case a car or tram fatally hits me. This project is a way for me to express my gratitude to all those drivers who did not make use of the possibility of participating in my execution.
How long have you been riding a bike?
Every day for twelve years, except for the rare occasions when the roads are icy. In our social context riding a bicycle in the rain is a symbol of extreme social failure.
Alfred Jarry is a big inspiration to me, he rode his bike around Paris to the point of exhaustion every day and describes this passion in the novel Le Surmale.
interviewed by Suzana Marjanic (Zarez)