Current and Upcoming
Manon de Boer
Mario Garcia Torres
Works by Other Artists
newspaper 31, March-April 2002
Pick up & Pass off
by Raimundas Malasauskas (featuring Lucy E. Smith)
"So the guy zooms his
video-camera from the street into the room where the dance rehearsal is taking
place. The home video image is shaking, but dancers don't seem any better:
jumping, crawling and cuddling they are engaged in a sort of free-style warming
up. Apparently the director is not present yet. As it is dark outside, the
voyeur follows their petite actions with camera unnoticed until some of the
dancers spot him. They get rather excited, stick to the window, someone is
waving his hand, a woman flashes her breasts. The voyeur feels ashamed and
tries to turn his camera away. However soon after they get back to the usual
routine on the both sides of the window. Even if one may have some suspicion
about staging the sound part of the film, the end credits came as a surprise
bringing up the fact that the whole thing is meticulously staged collaboration
between choreographer Alain Platel and artist Sven Augustijnen. The rehearsal
was the performance and the voyeurish act was fictional like porno" I try
to describe one of my favorite films from Amsterdam video festival 1999 to the
guy in Brussels's cab. 'That was my film" he smiles. "Iets op Bach
." 'Really?" I smile
too. Then we talk about Alain Platel and his "real people dance"
attitude, about the impressions of Sven's brother from Lithuania, winters
there, untill I have to get off. I guess John Cage or couscous, maybe
vegetarian couscous would have followed as the next topic.
"If I would write a text on
the L'ecole des Pickpockets the last sentence would be the following: "Given
the content of Sven Augustijnen's film how one can be sure that the film has
not been stolen from the pocket of another artist" I write my e-mail later
to Sven after seeing his film-instruction where the two experienced pickpockets
from Brussels teach new acquaintance the basic technique of the craft. During
the day he advances so much that his practice on selected citizens impresses
the mentors. After wondering what do I mean with "stealing another
artists' video" Sven asks whether I would like to write a text on the
film, to what I reply "Of course, that would be a big intellectual
pleasure!" and never manage to do that.
"Well, if I would write a
short review on L'ecole des Pickpockets for Village Voice or
Time Out" replies Lucy E. Smith to
my ideas of the possible end of the text. "I would simply make the point
saying that "In this video Adrian Piper meets Alain Platel after meeting
with Sam Fuller and Henri Kassagi."
"I would add a Post
Scriptum after your end: "Don't try this at home." I reply back.
"You mean pick-pocketing or
those imaginary meetings?" she shrugs and explains that Henri Kassagi was
the professional pickpocket who highly contributed to Pickpocket, 1959 by Robert Bresson. He
acted in the main episodes of the film demonstrating the precise tricks which
born resemblance to the techniques shown in Sam Fuller's Pick Up On the
1953, "the fact which suggests that Henri could have watched the American
anticommunist film noir before entering Bresson's vision thus picking up
and passing off foreign textual elements.
However in terms of instruction and dance (leaving the racial and gender issues
aside) I would like to place L'ecole des Pickpockets along
Lessons of Funk - the 1983 video by Adrian
Piper, in which she instructs a mostly white crowd of UC Berkeley students in
the theory and practice of booty shaking. Even if pickpockets don't teach
choreography directly, their work has the timing, grace and precision of a
ballet. Speaking in more general terms a number of contemporary artists
developed significant dancing sensibilities: Gillian Wearing's dance in the
mall, Peter Land's relaxed fertility twist, Rineke Dijkstra's suburban rave-kids,
Juan Capistran's breakdancing on a floor sculpture by Carl Andre, not to
mention numerous situations where visitor is invited to dance. As we know this
type of the 90's auto-communicative dance is a self-liberating practice,
solipsistic ritual similar to the reading of poetry aloud in the Middle Ages.
However there are certain aspects of L'ecole des Pickpockets which I find more important than
these." writes Lucy.
"Performance in the
structure of choreography?" I wonder remembering Alain Platel. But the
dance of Pedro and Pepe - two Latinas from The Night of Iguana, 1964 by John Huston comes to
the mind first. The graceful way they fight the bus driver on the beach is a
complex choreography ending up in the bus driver lying on the floor. Of course,
there are other remarkable marriages of martial arts and dance, such as
capoeira, however the most striking example is definitely the Funk Balls -
Brasilian mix of dance, computer games and fist fight, which resulted in more
than 60 deaths since 1996. These examples prove that dance very often functions
as a medium for exchange of fundamental messages about life and death. "So
you mean the performance in the structure of choreography?"
"Well, even if the
pickpockets teach us a certain technique step by step thus comforting the
notion of art as arte, i.e. technique, in truth their aim is to teach a complex concept,
which I would call the meta-statement of the piece. This meta-statement is
invisible as well as choreography of the pick-pocketing, but it is about invisibility
itself. It's not coincidence that pick-pockets talk about their practice as art
- the film is about art. The message of the Augustijnen's film could be read as
a meta-statement on contemporary artistic practice whose ideal model it
actually offers: the artists is invisible and classless as pickpocket, he/she
creates a situation for everyday-life or live models of complex social
situations, works collaboratively in decentralised team play, involves the
element of game, shares the outcome and aims at a certain social
reconstruction. Don't you think so? Yours, Lucy E. Smith"
"Well, Lucy, art has no
bounds. Yours, Bart Simpson."
Anyway, I get back to her in a
slightly similar fashion "The ultimate fiction is always invisible and is
created by anonymous authors. It is intended to be life-like as life. Is it
more difficult to believe that the script you live is real, or the reality you
take for granted is scripted? Our experience provides us with an answer - we
have to put more effort to believe that the fiction is real than fictionalise
our daily environments. However the ultimate fiction is beyond of those
questions - it's unquestionable as it is closer to reality than reality itself.
How many fictions - grande and petite we participate in with no being aware of
it? Everyday life provides us with many complex narratives where we act as
uncredited characters. Getting into crowd simulated by invisible pickpockets
crew on a subway or making a detour on a cab in unfamiliar town according to
the masterplan of twisted driver. Don't be surprised that you pay extra for
your trip - there are no free fictions, you must pay for it as you purchase the
ticket for the theatre. And don't think that you paid for the extra miles, you
paid for the spectacle. By the way, Lucy, do you think that social ideals of
pickpockets are OK?"
"The only solution for the
great artist of tomorrow is to go underground (Marcel Duchamp)" comes her
answer. She definitely insists on her notion of invisibility art and the artist
and that L'ecole des Pickpockets teaches not miraculous manual technique
a la Houdini, but more complex
concept of artist's dissolution and evaporation aimed towards revolution.
"What do you mean?" I
reply. "That "It's tomorrow already" (Mixmaster Morris)?"
"Use your head instead of
hands" she does not hesitate to get back with the line from her favorite Pick
Up On the South Street, to what I could answer only "Oh, Lucy, what a strange way I
have to take to meet you!'"