November- interview by from stage to page

Posted on November 28, 2015

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photo: A. Amenta

Could you briefly introduce yourselves?

We are November, Marion and Christos, we work on interventions in public spaces/ public places. We are interested in rendering space, into place (topos). We look for situations occuring in a space and create interventions. A public space can be a street or a common place, somewhere where things happen. Our rule is to never announce or advertise our actions, so that the reactions of the people-spectators and the people-performers is as authentic as possible. The performers are not in a state of expectation for an audience or for a specific outcome of the action. In interventions, the state of affairs is the risk of the inevitable sucess and failure.

We are self-taught and so far our not knowing has helped us gradually construct our own vocabulary. We don’t really fit in any framework. Within one year we went to 3 different kind of residencies: one for dance, one for circus and street arts and one for fine arts. The same year we were invited to a contemporary art festival. It’s all in.

What do you want to question with your current project? Why?

We constantly have a project, we go out there, do things and the more we do the more we learn. Lately we are creating certain situations looking for reactions from people. We use two techniques: object and apparent invisibility . What we propose is ordinary but also slightly distorted or displaced. In this kind of work we discourage the notions of awe and admiration towards an art work, the presentation of art. The object and its apparent invisibility invites a decision to be made on behalf of the audience- they either to do something with it or ignore it. It is about how a spectator ‘reads’ and registers these objects available. We never use objects of art, we work with familiar objects, diminishing the distance of the object and the spectator. In fact we do not consider the people responding to the work as audience or spectator , or passer-by but as inhabitants. These objects come from our everyday life, objects you feel familiar and free to touch. In STONES- recreating secret landscapes, we collected black stones from railway tracks and created little mountains of these in landmark points next to the sea. These were at the disposal of anyone to stand there and throw a stone in the sea. Throwing a stone is the first creative moment of man, when as a child you throw a stone, it is one of the first actions with an external effect you do. People that were at the landmark, looked at this mountain of stones, were wondering whether this was there for them or for something else. This mountain seems deserted and at the same time it belongs to the person who is there. In a way it is his.

 Is questioning actually the process?

Things come out from our everyday life, which feeds us with ideas, there is no intellectual or psychological research. I do work with concepts but for me process is more important than product. The motivating force is how you live and perceive everyday life. In defining myself as an artist, I don’t feel special in any way. Ultimately we deal with interactions with everyday people, looking at everyday moments.

Do you want this question to become the audience’s question?

I am not sure it is in my interests to know if, what or how much the spectator/inhabitant got out of this. In any case, as an audience member you are already faced with many questions. Why should I go somewhere in order to see something? Why should I be sitting in order to see it? Why do we do what we do?

The other day we were working in the public space, Marion said there are certain things she cannot do since she is pregnant at the moment. Our decision was to do an action for only 1 minute and ask someone to take a picture of you while you do this action. So, some citizen complies and takes a photo, makes the choice of when to press the button, which then raises the question: Who does this photograph belong to? Who is the author?

For stage shows the situation is the following: the spectator arrives at 9 ish, they have come to see what the artist made, both performer and spectator are there, waiting, expecting something. For the public space or the street, both the performer and the spectator are in a precarious situation, they both have to make decisions on the spot.

In another project ‘ITHAKA 24- the destination is only an excuse’, I was hitch hiking, holding a sign with Ithaka written on it. Some cars give me a ride outside the village and then I would hitch hike my way back to the village returning, and then again and again. We spoke with some of the drivers on the way, (they say that artists speak only through their work, not the case with me), anyhow the drivers didn’t know what I was doing. I was inhabiting a common space with the spectator, in their car, sharing a new locality with them. The inhabitants of the village didn’t know what I was doing either, witnessing me continuously departing and returning.

Do you think audiences are looking for a message?

Depends on the audience, their background, how they watch things, whether they have expectations. In the past I was the ‘easiest to please’ spectator, I liked everything I saw. I am now more critical, I pay, I sit down and I have certain demands. I prefer shows in which I go to with a certain amount of fear because I don’t know what I will see, rather than going to something I can predict what to I’ ll see. In the interventions we create, no one expects any of it to happen. I am unconcerned with whether the audience sees, ‘reads’ a message or just senses something, moreover I have no idea how they will interpret it.

What is the action you want to propose with this project?

In MONOBLOCK we use the ordinary white plastic chair: the familiar object , the one for fiestas, sold by gypsies, for gardens, plain, plastic, easy to break- a symbol of outdoor congregations while the action of sitting in public spaces connects with the notion of occupation. We place this chair in public spaces and look for ways to provoke its use. We devise provocations for the chairs will be used somehow, anyhow.

In TRANSISTORS-polyphony is hard, democracy is harder, we used 120 transistors of which 20 were stolen. You learn to accept ‘uses’ of that sort too. We don’t describe ourselves as performers, fine-artists or choreographers we are conductors of situations, albeit with the sensitivity and performativity of Marion who has studied music, circus and dance.

What does it mean to produce work?

When you engage in production as in making, you get carried away, time passes, you get absorbed in what you do, it changes your everyday life- I find this very healthy. When you get funding in order to produce something, there are some promises you need to keep and this can give me a blank sometimes. At this moment, we produce something every week, we go out there and make something, within the frame of our subject. We discuss and do, it is very simple and healthy for me. Working on impulse is simple, but hard for making a living.

 How did you start this research?

What we do is exclusively research. We are in a process of observation, inviting people to position themselves to what we propose. In MONOBLOCK, the performers in a state of challenging the spectator-citizen are 2 dancers, 1 acrobat, 1 actor and 2 fine artists and out of this group 2 are also musicians. Our research doesn’t finish in the studio , you allow your findings to exist as a real action relating to real people: you observe, evaluate and act continuously.

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photo: clement martin

Are you interested in the individual?

Each individual performer is important. We give some guidance (practical and theoretical) and it is up to the specific performer and their own poetic language, how they create this live interaction. Our tasks are not about interpretation but instant composition- what happens is made by the people for the people. The performer is specific to the action, for instance in HEADPHONES-what does a muted image sound like?, George was in a public space, playing the bass, which was connected to a speaker which was connected to a set of head phones. The only way to hear the music was to use the headphones and sit with him, he was playing for only one spectator at a time. Only George could do this,  in this way.

The notion of the author is rather vague in our work, who signs this? Who is the author the maker, the performer or the spectator? It is really difficult to say with our work, its difficult not to sign the work and it is difficult to claim it. In STONES- recreating secret landscapes, I returned to the place one day and saw the mountain of stones totally destroyed, in TRANSISTORS- polyphony is hard, democracy is harder, 20 transistors were stolen, it is problematic. I cannot sign these works, they belong to everybody but this is challenging for me, because I have worked hard for it. I am holding on to the power of the process, this is my reward. When revisiting the destroyed mountain of stones, I thought the only way to claim this work is to multiply it, so I created another 7 mountains and it very laborious. So now we play with the idea of authorship, at the moment were are looking for the photographers of MONOBLOCK- the action of asking people to take of picture of us doing an action. These photographs don’t belong to us, the one that took the picture is it’s author, we have now created a Facebook page in which we are asking them to sign their photo. With this process you ask people to respond to what you do and then sign it, you enter into a dialogue with the spectator which becomes the co-author of the work.

As I said before, the specific performers of each intervention inform it. When we worked with Vitoria Kotsalou, an experienced dancer in improvisation, we asked her to try to convince12 people to sit down on the 12 chairs layed out in the public space. Once she managed to get all 12 of them, it would be her decision whether to dance or not. We had no idea what she would decide to do, but it was really ineresting to hear what she had to say about her experience. We record eveything in this project and it is interesting to see how the same task unfolded with an actor.

Do you consider yourself funny?

We laugh a lot, we are both experienced clowns, in the past we secluded this part of us in our work. Now humour and irony are part of our work. In TRANSISTORS-polyphony is hard, democracy is harder we were invited to perform in a contemporary music festival. We occupied the DJ table: we placed 120 transistors, batteries and a note saying: ‘I was supposed to be the DJ but unfortunately I had another gig. Please help yourselves and help me out’ People started putting the batteries in the transistors and tuned it to a station they liked. Once 10 of these were activated the sound was already unbearable. The organizer came up to us and proposed to turn the volume down but I responded that I cannot do it, since the ethics of this work don’t allow me to: I asked for people to do something and they did it. Each one tuned in to something they like according to who they are, after all the title is polyphony is hard, democracy is harder. There is a lot of humor and irony and truth in this. Try to imagine all 120 of them playing together.

Humor is sometimes necessary in order to handle the work, if the subject is heavy and dark, we try to find ways to lighten it. In MONOBLOCK we record everything with sound only, there are no videos, we are playful with the interviews, the questions become gradually more and more distorted and you can no longer be sure this is an interview or a joke.

Are you interested in text in your work?

Once we worked on Ulysses by James Joyce, as a music score or a melody not in connection to its content. In ITHAKA 365, we made a silent contract with our audience, dealt with the stage time of the action of filling the stage with bottles of water. It was with this piece that ‘Ithaca platform’ commenced, a series of actions dealing with displacement, occupation and public time. The concept of public time is central to us, we still add new actions to it. We are now questioning the title of this platform, it is a little more poetic than we would wish at the moment.

Are you an artist?

Yes, of course , what else could I say about me.

 Are you a good artist?

Better than Picasso! Just a joke we have with a friend who is a painter. Everytime he says he is a painter people talk to him about Picasso and so he responds, better than Picassso. This is not a question. I don’t question that. I exist as an artist.

 Do you like your work?

Yes.

 Do others like your work?

Yes, some people do, some people don’t. Our specialty is changing audiences! We have build and lost audience three times so far. We used to do circus and then when we went into dance, then circus audience never came back and so on. We have changed 3 times circus, dance, multidisciplinary interventions.

The only action we were not involved as performers was TRANSISTORS. It was the only time we were observers only. Overall, in our work, the clarity, distinction and presence of the body is always there.

Are you happy with how you do things?

Yes. Generally speaking yes.

How would you be happy?

If we were better at communicating our work. The problem is that we have to do everything ourselves which is impossible, so give up some stuff. One year you apply for support and you find yourself only doing that for 6 months, its another job. You either have more freedom or more support, it is a fine balance to keep.

Do you have a daily practice?

We treat our bodies because we need them, yoga, Alexander, jogging. Sometimes a lot of music or something else, depending on the different projects we do. We are not dancers, we have studied different techniques and we have each assembled our own mix of what our bodies need and this changes over time.

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photo: Auguste Legall

How do you treat the body in your work?

Presence. The everyday present body.

 Time?

Real time.

 Space?

Real space.

 Lights?

You also treat lights as real, in a cinematographic way. Creating a place rather than space. When in a theatre you can’t ignore certain facts: that there are people sitting opposite you, they are sitting next to people they don’t know,

there are lights hanging above you. I cannot disregard the fact that this person came all the way to this place to see what we do. Our next work will be for the stage and we want ot take everything into consideration.

Set?

Dynamic set. An object is a dynamic set.

 Costume?

We define and discuss what the performers wear, we use our aesthetics to make a choice, we like beauty. Ordinary beauty or something that can stand out just a little. We often wear jeans and a white top or shirt, so we can mix with the crowd. These are clothes not costumes.

 Do you feel you have sometimes failed?

Every time you succeed and you fail. We are lucky we can fail in circumstances we create. Sometimes failure can take you to a new direction. Maybe you made a wrong choice or took a wrong decision. It is difficult to fail but it is not always bad.

 How has that affected you?

In circus avoiding failure is the a first priority concern. Discussing within the semiotic frame, the moment you are ready to accept failure, you are open to everything. You are standing there, you are about to do your most difficult trick, there is a promise you make and it might fail: something drops, something breaks. You don’t stay there questioning how what are about to do will work out. You do it. You fail everyday.

Is your work Greek?

I don’t think so.

 Is there a Greek dance scene you can identify?

The past 2-3 years, I feel that Greek dance is going through change. I cannot recognize something as Greek. In circus I can recognize French or Russian, in dance I can recognize French, Belgian, Scandinavian. At this moment I cannot define Greek dance. Five years ago I could see some common elements: minimalism, a desire to expose technique and lack of risk. Currently things are changing for the better, more information and artists are travelling to and from here.

So why does company matter? Why does your work matter?

We work together as a couple and we work together because we are different. I have my own way of seeing things and it is important that there is the other side. When you rehearse, you can see things differently if you are inside or outside the action. In fact, we work together because we don’t work the same. If we worked the same we would bypass things. The vocabulary we use can be read from different perspectives, theatre, music, fine arts, music and dance. You define a proposition and create. Ultimately it is poetics. Poetics is our way. A syntax, a technical method of composition, a methodology in order to create situations to bring the people closer. A theory under construction: our methods evolve continuously, but they come from a solid theoretical background. We are expanding in differnt directions, theatre, dance and others, ultimately translating a public space into public place.

 What do you wish for?

That we could do what we do forever, do it sincerely maintain this honesty and integrity. It is unpleasant to add water to your wine as they say.

 Thank you.

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photo: A. Amenta

november

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