THE LEGALISATION OF MADNESS THROUGH ART
Damir Bartol Indos interviewed on the occasion of his autobiographical performance MAN-CHAIR. MAN-CHAIR is performed as a separate piece within the performance CONFESSIONS by Goran Sergej Pristasa in the Zagreb Theatre ITD.
Your movements in the performance Man-Chair, like in your other performances, are based on the autistic movements and body of the ‘insane’. Do you have a ‘subnormal’ role model in your lasting devotion to the kinaesthetic idiom of ‘madness’?
The performance Confessions has helped me articulate the spiritual basis of my work. Just as the actor Vili Matula, with whom I met spiritually and in practice after this show, cites Michael Chekhov as his spiritual tutor, I realised that my spiritual tutor is R.D. Laing, a philosopher and practitioner of antipsychiatry. In my last interview for Zarez I said how I had ‘freed’ myself of my ‘incarnational’ connection to R.D.Laing, and how I was still unable to ‘free’ myself of the influence of Heraklitus the Dark. Now I think that this performance has enabled me to renew the incarnational connection with Laing’s antipsychiatry. My aim is to realise the symptoms of mental suffering, and pain - pain , in the sense of spiritual pain or the symptoms of transcendental experience, through movement which means speech and language, too. The symptoms of mental suffering in a vulgar or bourgeois interpretation is contained in the word ‘sick’ or in its most vulgar manifestation ‘madman’. Through my movements I want to affirm mental suffering as a language whose essence is art. The basic principle of antipshychiatry demands that the transcendental symptom, which society calls sick, be realised in contrast to traditional and modern psychiatry which stifles the symptoms from moral or bourgeois convictions, regardless of the fact that these symptom are not always destructive. I have had the ‘privilege’ for twenty years of observing a person who has the misfortune of producing movements every day as a result of mental suffering. And when I reproduce these movements on stage I imagine and feel the intensity with which this person performs his ritual actions. I have never seen a more perfect work of art than the movements this boy produces- he is now a young man. What I do in my performances is a tribute to the ritual he performs every day fifty meters from my window. This is where I find the strength to devote myself to my own language of ‘madness’, my own autism. In my role model, the anonymous hero or outsider, is devoted to repeating non-grammatical and ritual words, movements, giving certain words great emphasis and being obsessed by these words. I was convinced that I had freed myself of the fear of madness as a result of artistic practice. I felt that I had got what my model is. But in rehearsal for the performance Confessions I used to remain in this transcendental rhythm for an hour at a time, the question arose:”What if I wont be able to stop?” To me the value of taking part in this show is that through it I have further affirmed the idea of the transcendental symptom. I believe that 98% of the population in Croatia would say of my work that this is the work of a mentally ill person, and now I feel that this percentage has gone down to 95%. When I performed on the streets of Zagreb, I had interpreters - organisers - who convinced the public that I was not mad. As proof they would tell them that I had a university degree, that the ministry of culture supported me, that I had performed at various international festivals, that this was art...
How well did the actors and dancers in the performance Confessions enter the space of mental suffering?
The performance Man-chair was a strong motivation for the choreography of the other performers. The movements of mental suffering touched the hearts of both the director and the performers. Sergei worked very strictly and was obsessed with dramaturgy. In that way he obstructed some of the performers, but others got the freedom and the space to perform it, but in a very disciplined way and of limited length. I insisted on the performers passionate involvement with these movements and that during the show one of the performers is always in this obsessional state. That from the state of a controlled performance of their tasks - as actors, dancers - that they take on the state of being possessed by the movements which symbolise the symptoms of mental suffering after which they would go back to their source task. In that case the performance could have achieved a continuous trance. Although I realise that such a performance could not survive in the context of an institutional theatre. Sergei’s concept was based on showing various theatre styles. Those are not my starting points in the theatre. My reasons are intimate, personal, my reactions to the actions of the world.
Most of the actors were deprived of this movement except for Leon Lucev who after a period of abstinence and inability to recognise the movement managed to recognise the seriousness of the movement. Nikolina Bujas and Pravdan Devlahovic, from their experience as dancers managed to recognise the seriousness of the movement from the very beginning. In the rehearsals I spoke of how I prepared - you needed to think seriously about real suffering - how to defy unnatural death or how to conquer unnatural misfortunes. You need to imagine the seriousness of my role model’s situation, the prototype caught in his lasting devotion to expressing mental suffering or indecisiveness. Along with solitude, the most serious reason for mental suffering is the inability to make a decision, in the struggle to make a decision for or against. That is where suffering begins.
The Flag of Imagination
There is a scene in Confessions when the performers carry the door of the confession box on their backs, what did this mean to you?
To me it meant I could go home, as if nothing had happened. Suddenly I would feel a sense of shame for what I had just done and a desire to find a quick escape. My performances end with me dismantling the set, collecting the leads, I take on the role of a stage hand, this brings me back from the world of otherness. I do not support the servile spirit in art, which means the stage managers .... I do all that myself and that way I devote myself even more to my work. All effort and hardship to me is saying ‘No to life’. I believe in the depth of Max Scheler’s thought - the spirit is nurtured by saying No to life. To me saying No to life in art means negating the servile spirit. I have a fear of death because of the physical efforts I subject myself to in the performances. I think I have worked ‘beyond death’. Along the lines of Breton’s First Manifesto of Surrealism - “Fear of madness will not force us to put the flag of imagination at half mast.” This is where the space for the creativity of the spirit begins.
interviewed by Suzana Marjanic (Zarez)