The interview with Andrea Zangari for „PAC. Paneacquaculture”
Let us glance across the borders. In Poland, the contagions have been very few compared to Italy, but theaters are nevertheless closed and theaters workers are waiting for a clear and organic emergency support plan. The Polish contemporary stage is extremely lively, yet there is a political problem with deep roots, a distrust of the Catholic-conservative government towards the new artistic languages: a condition that in this situation extremes the marginality of the category. For this reason, we wanted to hear the voice of a female choreographer and performer engaged in research on the narratives of the female body between power and violence, in a country where the cultural weight of the Catholic Church has raised the common conscience through a capillary seek for national identity. Until the attempt, perpetrated in recent weeks, to make the abortion laws more restricted.
“I am a female artist, I am a woman, I am a mother” says Renata Piotrowska-Auffret in a sort of lace-up, yet eloquent manifesto. Her Death: exercises and variation (2014) particularly impressed us. It crosses the iconography of Danse Macabre to probe phobias and necropolitical manias of our society that wants to push death away from the bodies. A performance that could help us see through the contrasting sensations we are currently living. Death constitutes a trilogy of “private pieces” with two other recent works: The pure gold is seeping out of me (2017) and Flatland of limp muscles (2019), both biopolitical glances focused on the abuse of female bodies.
Let’s start where your work has been interrupted…
I was working in Warsaw when lockdown started, two days later I had to go and perform to Germany and from there to the Czech Republic, then to Ireland. Many dates have been postponed until next season, but some have been canceled. At the end of the year, I should have come to Italy too, we’ll see…
Any rumors about the reopening of theatres in Poland?
The gossip is that the season is over, at least until summer. Others are having more black scenario – that the theatres will not open till 2021…Officially we don’t know anything yet except that theatres will open in the last stage of the new sanitary regime.
Is the state taking care of the artists? Are there specific emergency tools for them?
There are attempts: a one-off social support provided by the ministry of culture. However, it is an already existing tool to help artists in financial troubles. Almost everyone has financial problems now and has applied for it. In any case, 400 euros per each will not be enough. There are also more looking-forward attempts to help, such as a public tender to fund online projects: however, the deadline is very close, and we still do not know about the fund amount. But does it really help, to ask us artists and art institutions to produce other ideas, other projects right now? Honestly, I doubt it. Overproduction is not a solution. We need social support. The situation reveals a structural deficit: in Poland funding for culture has always been lacking as well as a fair social system for artists.
Can you live these days at home positively from a creative point of view? After all, in your work, you often bring your private life on stage…
I would say that I somehow use to take my private sphere to the stage; now the opposite is happening, the work and the scene invade the house, and this is an unknown situation. Although for me private and public are always highly embedded. The biggest difference I feel is a different kind of attention, maybe due to my three-year-old son’s constant proximity. For sure, I have more time to process the information and to work conceptually these days, but without a chance to go to the studio and to rehearse, it turns out difficult to grasp sensations, process them, give them a name.
Speaking of osmosis between public and private, these days every social practice seems to find remediation on zoom, skype, etc … And the same for the live arts. Have you already had an opportunity to publicly stream your works?
A festival in Romania in which we suppose to participate at the beginning of June was thinking about moving online and asked us to send the recording of The pure Gold is seeping out of me, which would be streamed and followed by a moment of videocall confrontation. Unfortunately, their proposal is in suspension now after discussing it with the EU and Aerowaves Board and other artists (The pure gold is seeping out of me is a show of Aerowaves 2019)… I agreed to what they proposed cause right now it is the only option to work. However, I believe that the performance, recorded some time ago with a fixed camera, can actually work in the video only if rethought for that purpose: I would like to be able to record it again by changing the use of the camera, playing with the viewer’s gaze.
How do you evaluate the artistic potential of performing in streaming?
I think it is important for many artists, to be able to continue to work out the situation immediately in relation to their audience. I feel there is creative potential in digital media, but at the same time, I am so connected to the immediacy of dialogue in the creative or educational process, that I realize how I belong to the old school, so to speak. There is something that can never be part of the screen: I work with the intimacy and concrete experience of the female body. On the other hand, I like it more as a didactic tool for recording lessons and workshops, as I did for a project by the Nowy Theatre from Warsaw. Digital media is completely different media than the stage art I’m dealing with. Digital media basically work with images; I work with experiences. Thanks to the workshop/performative lecture for Nowy Theatre, I discovered something very interesting and I think I will continue such research. Nevertheless, you cannot replace one with the other.
The experience of the female body, filtered by autobiographical lenses, seems to be the core of your work. Tell us about how you look at it and how you believe this observation will change after the situation we are experiencing.
I want to continue going through the historical and conventional representations of the body, whose images I deconstruct and contaminate through experiential practices on stage. In some of my works, for example, I evoke the representations offered by the classical ballet repertoire, or by the Dans Macabre, or by the fairytale iconography of the witches. A somatic strategy to filter those imaginaries is, for example, to work with extreme contractions of the muscular and bone system, bringing the body to over-expression, perhaps a central concept in my work, towards which I believe my research between anatomy and imagination will continue. In each work, however, these imaginaries are filtered by an autobiographical lens, as far as any single life shows a universal issue. In particular, I have just turned 40 and I want to bring my condition as an aging woman, artist, and mother into play in biopolitical terms. And know that Polish culture is traditionalist: the woman is made to procreate.
Speaking about biopolitics, we know that the Polish government is (again) exploiting the situation to legislate against abortion…
Right. This makes me feel angry in a way that reminds me of the feelings I try to elaborate in Flatland of limp muscles, in which I want to transfigure the stereotype of the female body as a victim-to-be injured. Anger, but not despair. I feel a strong sense of community is being promoted through the web. We try to express our dissent by posting billboards on the windows, carrying placards on our shoulders while we are in line at the supermarket, making an appointment in the line in front of a certain shop… These are, somehow, choreographies. Here, going back to the question about creation: I don’t feel very creative now, but I think this time is rather for political and social action. Our category should fight to have structures that allow artists to have a recognized, stable labor framework, in order not to be on the margins of society in such situations.
Your piece Death: Exercises and Variation, prophetically speaks us about the present. Dance macabre took its origin from medieval epidemics, as an iconic elaboration of the proximity of death…
In Poland, the numbers of the infection are very low compared to Italy, so perhaps the perception of death is not as strong as there. Death speaks of a more general necropolitical paradox: how our bodies try to remove the presence of death, but how death floods us through the media at the same time. In fact, this is the basis of the quarantine and information policy we live in: but the phenomenon was already largely part of our culture.
Do you think we will see a spread of the post-apocalyptic imagination in the arts?
I think that the elaboration of the present leads to two tendencies: an apocalyptic and an activist one. In this regard, I recommend Rebecca Solnit‘s Hope in the dark, an essay on how the victories of radical thinking occur more often in unpredictable moments, just when one thinks of being near the end. In short, I hope to see more works committed to activism.