Illustrating the disasters of humanity using an army of gummy bears. It seems like something from a Spike Jonze film but it is actually a theatrical performance by one of the world's leading theatre companies: Agrupación Señor Serrano. We met with them.
Your way of doing theater is characterised by the use of maquettes (models) which reduce society to a copy, a representation, a reflection. The analysis of reality happens through a mash-up of metaphors, images and paradoxical juxtapositions. You are looking for a "distance" from the reality to understand the world around us?
Effectively this is a constant in our shows. In everything that we do, we achieve something similar: we begin with a problem or a paradoxical situation of our contemporary reality, something which draws attention, but the we tackle it in an indirect manner. We start working from metaphors, we take a step back to see sense in the chaos, we strip the facts down to reach their core, we suggest connections between true stories, history and fiction (films, novels, comic books) to create a new approach, a fresh and very personal point of view. We escape from the here and now, from that which reminds us of the haste, because it is the kind of approximation to reality which you might come across on television, in newspapers or in documentaries and because the pornography of the dramatic images and the direct approach to the facts only activate one type of overly impulsive and therefore ephemeral emotional response: anger mixed with shame and suffering (all those feelings that can be felt in your gut). Instead, we call upon other emotions such as compassion, tenacity, hope, determination and, above all, emotional intelligence and the critical sense of the public.
It’s not that we distance ourselves from reality or the realistic, because our shows are anchored to reality, it’s just that in order to address the problem we believe that it is more effective to do so in a mediated way as opposed to a direct one. In a sense the reality presents itself as too flashy to be observed and it is necessary not only to take a step back to be analysed but also a mechanism of substitution through the use of metaphors to be able to speak.
Through your performances you examine contemporary society, its tragedies and its contradictions, from September 11th to the banking system and migration. How would you describe the present and where we are going?
Honestly, we are nothing more than simple designers. We are not philosophers or poets, although we often use their tools to build our subject. If a person becomes a frequent visitor of our shows, they obtain from them an image of the world where chaos, evil, manipulation, false interest, inhumanity, hatred and stupidity reign. At the same time, a sense of strength and intimate rebellion also emerges from our shows, a suggestion which allows us to see things in another way. Even if the spectators witness events, situations and very resistant thoughts, in the end we believe that they leave our shows with more hope than when they entered, with the desire to do something positive instead of being filled with rage. We, when we take on a new theme or a new show, can never know what effect it will have on the public, we have no desire to change anybody’s mind. If this does happen, it is a collateral consequence.
We only aspire to make the best show possible following our social, poetic and aesthetic ideals. Furthermore, in some way our contemporary reality is too complicated to be explained. Making a parallel with mathematics, to predict where we're going is complicated because in the equation of contemporary reality there are too many variables to be able to come up with a single result. It would be like attempting to produce an accurate drawing of a fog bank, of a mirage.
The inaugural exhibition of the Pecci Centre is based on the idea that man is just a speck of dust in the immensity of cosmic movement. In the show Contra.Natura you reflect on the connection between vulnerability and the futility of the human condition and the infinite and eternal ubiquity of nature. What is the meaning of art in the dichotomy between human finitude and the eternity of the Universe? Does it make sense to create art when faced with the obvious fate of death?
Let's say that in the face of the evidence that humans will disappear and our sun will die, not only does it not make sense to make art, but also get out of bed and have breakfast. And yet ... it's quite the opposite. Either we accept the defeat and give up, or we begin to create, think, study, research. The same force that will one day abandon all that we know is that which drives us to be a creative species: curious, restless. So if we do not create, we look around, we investigate, we betray our essence. Human beings are constituted as a species who go through a constant struggle to differentiate themselves from "nature."
Contra.Natura evokes a reflection on the dramatic essence of the connection between the cultural creation - ephemeral, fleeting, fragile- and the action of nature - infinite, eternal, omnipresent; between the vulnerable and futile nature of the human condition and the ubiquity of nature as a whole. Nature, the Whole, is imposing, changing, impartial. It does not act without a plan, it simply develops itself like a balance of forces. We - a unique product which is alien to all of this - have built our identity as a species constantly working against these oppressive forces, a decisive and constructive/cultural action.
In this way, we intend to overcome our concern about the power erasing ourselves of nature with a constant struggle against oblivion, against extinction.
In Katastrophe you entrusted hundreds of gummy bears with the duty of depicting humanity and its disasters. Why this choice?
Katastrophe is a very important change in the manner of interpreting our theatre. Between 2006 and 2010 we can say that we were trying to find ourselves. When we started in 2006 we did not have a definite plan. We just started writing a show together, taking as reference the directors and the companies that we liked at that time. After three shows with actors and dancers, where the video played a supporting role, we decided to change everything.
We started working on a real-time video as the main instrument; we abandoned the actors and dancers; we ourselves undertook the task of going on stage to move the cameras and models; we chose a theme and we have developed a history with which everybody could identify worldwide. We wanted to talk about humanity and its relationship with the catastrophes, but we did not want to do it in a direct way and rather, as we have explained before, through a metaphor.
In Europe, before the arrival of Darwinism and the discovery of our genetic relationship with the apes, for many centuries it was the bear which was considered to be our figurative ancestor. With this backdrop of creative change and the search for a new language through which to talk about catastrophes, the gummy bears appeared. Somehow, it was easy to identify with them and at the same time understand that they were the protagonists in a fairy tale.
Furthermore, they are a type of candy universally known and linked to the idea of sweet, so to transform these sweet little bears into creators of wars and disasters provided us with a really powerful contrast: suddenly the viewer is confronted by the terrible events which they have as protagonists in a context of a seemingly naïve fable, good and sweet beings, and this causes a conflict to be resolved in their mind.
How do you imagine might be the end of the world?
Beautiful. And without us, because we do not want to miss the show.
Katastrophe. Photo Ewa Gleisner