Elena Cologni – III Episode – Audience and Characters

After focusing on the concepts of urban dramaturgy and space, especially public, in this last part of the reflections conducted together with Elena Cologni, will be on the relationship with the viewer and the idea of ​​character, in a separate way, and possibly highlight the tangle that can arise between the two roles. So, I ask our guest to explain to us then to talk about her approach with the…

…Public (understood as audience.)

“When I was performing and I was the subject, I tent to put myself in front of the audience and the audience participated in perceptual terms. In Mnemonic Present, Un-folding of 2004/06 (presented at Brown University, United States; GAMeC, Bergamo; Villa delle Rose, GAM, Bologna; Whitechapel Gallery, London, among others), memorization was central to the work, in relation to delayed live projection with a time lag. For this work I had designed a performance based on the generation of a perceptual stimulus by the spectators.

The work consisted of a temporal gap of the three screens that the audience was asked to observe, with a delay of 8 seconds. In the second version of the performance, you could see the images on the three screens, but one was one connected to a video camera I was wearing. The action of folding the paper from the white reels of a local newspaper was interrupted by a moment when I recollecting of going through the houses in which I lived. Then I stopped and looking at the audience, I interacted with what they were doing, I described them, I described what they were doing. This was seen by them back on the screen. At that point, the audience would start playing on what I was saying, testing me by making very fast movements or doing absolutely nothing, staying still and therefore I could not say anything, describe anything but the details including what people were wearing .

The audience became a participant and a character with me. I did a live performance at the Tate The morning toilette. I washed put on make-up and in one of the museum’s bathrooms and sent it live. There were two live projections, one with me and the other with my image reflected in the mirror, to introduce the fact that the missing image was the mirror image in front: the audience.

I was interested in the relationship between me and the audience in that case. But when I realized that my image was too central, I started to move away from that center in several ways. Later, I had a reaction to being the subject of the performance, I couldn’t stand seeing myself anymore. Already in Self-portrait in absence, performance for camera (for the exhibition ‘the dust’ curated by Elio Grazioli in 2004 for Assab One Milan) my image was decentralized. I made a video of mysef while putting flour on my face but taken from a point of view where my face was only next to the shooting space. The shot was made on a black background, you could see my hand taking the flour and using it, I was out of the shot.

 Mnemonic Present, Un-Folding #3, 2005, video live installation (3 projectors + 1 live video feed+ 2 video delay video feed + 3 screens + paper + 2 trestles) Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo, Italy
Mnemonic Present, Un-Folding #3, 2005, video live installation (3 projectors + 1 live video feed+ 2 video delay video feed + 3 screens + paper + 2 trestles) Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo, Italy

Being on stage, even if I was performing has always been inconceivable for me, not so much for the performance itself, but for the static nature of the audience. This idea of ​​immobility disturbs me and I have taken different actions to move away from this situation. For me, doing things in public space means focusing attention on everyday events that take place in public space and making them more explicit. This is why I call them experiential exercises.

What our body experiences every day belongs to our everyday life, it is not highlighted in the role it has in the development of our relationship with others, in society. The private is political, according to a feminist reflection, a question of responsibility. Everything we do in the home and public has an impact on others. The fact of focusing on the dynamics of everyday life, on the mutual way of placing each other, and highlighting it through the dialogic sculpture, shows how the distance between us plays a role, in the way we perceive each other.

The people I call facilitators know that they will do exercises and that I am interested in their experience of that moment. They are not audiences, they are called and can contribute, they know that they contribute actively “

So they become “characters” I say, they have a life of their own

“Yes because I am excluded, I am a kind of playwright, I invite them to do some things. It must be said that this makes me reflect on what happens when in reality I am inside the event with them, doing actions and when I am not there. It is a completely different result. One of the works carried out in residence at the Cambridge Department of Experimental Psychology was called Spa(e)cious, a title that refers to the term specious and spacious, with reference to the Specious Present by William James, a nineteenth-century psycho-philosopher. It is an exercise on a tilting platform, accommodating five people. I asked them to do some actions, but in some moments the way this platform reacted to the movements of the participants made everything I asked for irrelevant. “

Spa(e)cious, Cambridge, 2012, at Wysing Arts Centre, curated by Elionor Morgan with participants (here Becky, Elionor, Elisabeth) event of exhibition Wysing Arts Contemporary: Recollect
Elena Cologni: Spa(e)cius, Cambridge, 2012, at Wysing Arts Centre, curated by Elionor Morgan with participants (here Becky, Elionor, Elisabeth) event of exhibition Wysing Arts Contemporary: Recollect

I ask Elena to explain what she was asking for.

“There were two moments. At first, I asked those present who wanted to participate, so I was in a sense in the presence of an audience. Immediately afterwards, however, by accepting to get on the unstable platform, the sitting audience became a “character”, following your reasoning. At that point, I would ask them to position themselves in order to balance and to let me know when they were ready. The group dynamics started appearing in response to create that balance not easy to achieve, given the precariousness of the balance.

The moment they found a sustainable position, I locked them all together with a rubber band. At that point I asked them to take the elastic with them as they crossed each other. Again I would ask them to tell me when they had found a position that suited them. When this too had been achieved, I would mark the positions they had with the scotch tape on the platform and ask to get off.

At that point there were two shots, from one of them and from above, with an effect in the memorization of the event itself. I asked them to walk very slowly on this tape that I had placed, then I invited them to get off. I removed the adhesive tape and asked them to draw me a drawing of the path they had taken, to tell me in how many minutes they had traveled it. This indicated the level of concentration and memorization, the subjectivity of temporal perception.

The gaps between reality and individual perception emerged. So we talked about the illusiveness of the present and of duration, closely linked to specific theoretical aspects. The moment they got on the platform and had to communicate mainly with the body. I was directing that experience, but I couldn’t control it and that was the interesting thing. I like the fact of taking off when an experience is created between two people, as is happening in Venice, because at that point I place myself as an audience, an observer. “

At this point I underlined the fact that in this case the artist transforms herself into an audience and Elena resumes the discourse:

“This continuous shift of position has always been in my work, even at the time when I was performing I was the performer. In the design phase there was always the idea of ​​leaving a space for the interaction of the other and thinking of identifying myself, putting myself in the position of the other, to understand how it could be perceived. It is a situation, the desire to “put oneself in the position of the other” on which I reflected in Lacanian terms during my doctorate. Although I then followed and developed Merlau-Ponty’s lines of thought more closely.

During my PhD, I began to understand the limits of vision. I placed my performative work within a reaction to vision, understood as the most important sense in the Western context. I moved away from all of this through performance as well. The relationship with the audience has become even more important, together with the aspects highlighted by the “Kanizsa triangle”. In my doctorate I theorized the concept of fruition of work within the performance and the non-simultaneity of the exchange that takes place in it, through references to painting.

I posed the lack of synchrony as a possibility, rather than a problem. The fact that we are all in the physical space, where a performance in presence takes place, deceives us that there is synchronism with the other. Instead, there is always a space-time gap. As Derrida wrote, the moment you hear what I say, a sound becomes a word, time passes. I mention this because it evokes the concept of distance which is central to the work I do now. I am working on it in dialogue.

I am interested in crossing this distance to achieve synchrony. Another aspect that interests me is reciprocity. I made a work in Castelvetrano, focused on the maieutics of Danilo Dolci who had worked in that country after the Second World War. In this case, the idea of ​​reciprocity translates into the possibility on the part of the person asking the question to switch roles, when they receive an answer. In fact, the conduct of the discourse is not univocal as in Socratic maieutics, but there is reciprocity between the participants in the dialogue.

Elena Cologni - "Lo scarto" - Workshop - Castelvetrano, Italy
Elena Cologni – “Lo scarto” – Workshop – Castelvetrano, Italy

I like the term “scarto” because in Italian it contains the idea of ​​overcoming, it gives you the opportunity to go “beyond”, it’s not just something you reject. The space between oneself and the other in the dialogue is almost always discarded, but I make it central: on this concept I conducted a workshop-type work, like almost all my projects, with some young people. Among the various initiatives, we have created a series of hand sculptures, small, based on the position of the hands next to each other. The person could hold the object and go to someone else, without speaking and waiting for their reaction.

A working group made up of students from the classical high school and the theater school, went to relate to other guys who were in the square, who belong to another social sphere. One in particular was very enthusiastic, others were more self-conscious. We worked in this public space for three days and therefore these regulars knew we were doing activities. Some were looking forward to being part of the research, they were curious.

In talking to the group I was working with , the word “listening” emerges, I asked questions and they spoke to me from their point of view. I asked a girl what it took to communicate and she replied “listening”. At that point, I asked her, and the others to repeat it over and over again, until everyone shouted it and we got a response from the rest of the square, with a powerful result.

I tend to work with small groups, if not one on one, so it is difficult for them to become theatrical. I like the randomness of the action in public space, part of life. I am not interested in parades, I am interested in the intimacy and naturalness of the exchange. In these examples the work does not become a performance. Others ask me to use this term, but I don’t find it representative of what I do.

In a piece for the National Portrait Gallery in London, entitled Ancora  cerca (Still looking) (1999), I used the security circuit and planned my work, at a time when I was developing and studying Lacan. I walked around the galleries with a precise pattern after studying the position of the cameras, so I went to film what was left of the recordings from the screen. I found myself shooting myself (eight shots of similar duration, where you can see that I leave one room and enter another).

I presented it in 2002 as a video installation at the Tosio Martinengo Museum in Brescia. The title referred to my image on the screen: “you search!”, to my wandering around the rooms, with a rose red in hand, but it also indicates referring to the audience to whom it says “look for her!”. In particular, this refers to the fact that the way in which the institution stored the material caused some of these still images to disappear. So, when I went to retrieve the original material, I realized that one could only see some of my passage, but then I disappeared like a ghost. This is a work that defines my idea of ​​the double position: of being inside the work and at the same time seeing myself from the outside.”

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