Interview with Mercedes Azpilicueta
During ‘Doors of Perception‘, an evening of performances that took place on 30 November 2014, Mercedes Azpilicueta presented ‘Florian‘, a collaborative work between her and the dancer Joy Kammin. In this interview the artist speaks with curator Fleur van Muiswinkel about the collaborative proces and the experience of making a new site-specific work.
Fleur van Muiswinkel (FM): Before you started working on ‘Florian’ you mainly worked on your own and your work seemed to research the implications of working with your own voice & text and to a lesser degree the idea of storytelling. What made you decide on changing this direction, creating more distance between the focus of the piece and your own private body & voice? You even took it a step further by collaborating with a dancer. Why?
Mercedes Azpilicueta (MA): I liked the idea of having an interlocutor in my working process. Someone that could “speak” from a different perspective. As I had developed a very personal performative type of work, where my voice and memory were the key components, I decided I could involve someone else in this conversation that I usually have in my own mind. So, besides having all these voices in my head, speaking constantly, I would add someone else from the outside that would, if possible, translate those inner voices into body movements. In a way I wanted to have a dialogue, where voice/sound and body movements would take place. But the bottom line is that I wanted to work with someone else, learn from this process of exchange and step a bit out of my comfort zone where almost everything is under control.
FM: We had several conversations in the year prior to your presentation at A Tale of a Tub. One of the notions we spoke about regularly was the idea of translation and interpretation through movement – as a way of adding more layers of meaning to your performance. Could you tell me a bit more about the selection process that led to your decision to work with a dancer?
MA: I have always been busy with the idea of translation. Most of my texts end up being performed and voiced rather than read. Since I use visual mnemonics to remember the script, I am concerned with the idea of a spatial memory in order to inscribe the body of the text in my own body that, at the same time, occupies and defines a space. Even though, I usually confine myself to the sound of a text and the use of my voice or facial gestures and not further than that. But at some point, I started taking voice training lessons and a lot of breathing and alignment technique classes which was something that awakened in me the need for a more bodily experience. I thought that I could learn a great deal from a dancer. In my original idea, the dancer, through improvisation would embody and engage in a dialogue with me from a more Dionysian perspective. Meanwhile, I, by means of having to deliver a text by heart and thanks to the use of visual mnemonics, would be embodying a more Apollonian side. I tend to use a rigorous formality when it comes to work and also quite a lot of structure in my own working process that I wanted to dust out and I thought that working with a younger dancer would benefit the piece. It was great to go to Codarts in Rotterdam and be able to meet so many wonderful dancers. I finally decided to work with Joy Kammin whom I thought had the perfect balance between technique and flexibility.
FM: I remember very well the first evening you, Joy (dancer) and Janneke (voice coach) arrived at the space. For both ladies it was the first time they were at TUB. I remember Joy being very overwhelmed by the space. The week before you had been rehearsing at CodArts – where Joy was still a student at that time – to what extent and in what way did rehearsing in the space influence your approach to the piece?
MA: True, the space took on an important role for this piece. It was the first time I had the chance to develop a site-specific work where I could really dive into the architectural aspects of the space. The fact that A Tale of a Tub used to be a bathhouse is something that cannot be dismissed easily. The pronounced acoustics were something very particular that had to be dealt with from the very beginning. I approached the artist Janneke van der Putten, whom I had already known for a while, and asked her if she could voice coach me from an architectural point of view. Janneke´s work deals very much with space and I thought she was the right one to help me out here. She did a great job by following my script and trying to see how the space would modify it or viceversa. In a way, the piece was written and developed from the encounter with the space. There were parts of the script that simply had too much narrative and the space acoustics could not bare it. On the other hand, some small words or even letters became over pronounced and needed to be adjusted to the sound specificity of the space. I also had to slow down the way I was speaking so as to make the script more audible and accessible. On another hand, the sense of confinement was quite strong and also invited me to develop a more dense atmosphere. With Joy, we started our rehearsals in Codarts, although as soon as we could start using the TUB we rehearsed there. And yes, it was a big change for Joy to switch environments. We decided that Joy would stay downstairs and use that space as a playground and I would stay upstairs and use that space as an “evil pulpit”. The audience was also choreographed in terms of being asked to stay upstairs, where they could listen much better and look downstairs, from a bird’s eye view, where the dancer was performing.
FM: To me the piece seems very much to be a site-specific work especially since the choreography is so defined by the architectural features of the bathhouse. How would you go about it if the piece was commissioned for another place? Would this be an option for you?
MA: I would definitely like to see how this site-specific piece could adjust to another space. You are right, this work grew from it´s own spatial references and to change the location would definitely change the core of it. But it could be a great thing to try. I can imagine that in a more dramatic space, the work would also become more expressive in terms of voicing the script. In the TUB I had to speak very slowly in order to cope with the acoustics. Also, the whiteness of the space added a more minimal and sharper aspect to it, in a way it was like being in a laboratory. I wonder how a more baroque space would translate the piece into something different.
FM: ‘Florian’ is a performance that weaves together quite a lot of different story lines. It’s a complex piece in which fiction plays an important role. Is it important for you that the viewer and listener completely follows the narrative?
MA: What is important for me is that the narrative survives whether you can follow it or not. ‘Florian’ was composed after an experience I had in an international school in Rotterdam, where kids are constantly subjected to all kinds of information and encounters. One could say that the way in which they perceive their context and surroundings is very fragmented. There is no clear narrative there. The performance was a subjective and playful response to issues concerning physical, intellectual and emotional growth. The script was divided into 12 different parts called: Gravity ball, Greasy touchscreen, No Ctrl, Sitting on a spaceship, bored, Ads & Meds, Future Diaries III, Sailing from Ameland to Robben Island, Future Diaries II, On a motorcycle through the mid West, Future Diaries I, Fibonacci in Delfshaven and Another place. Each of these parts relates to a certain moment or place in the life of Florian. I hope each individual part functions separately as well.
FM: At the moment of this interview you are already severals month into your residency at the Rijksakademie. I wonder, did this collaboration and piece influence your current work, and if so, to what extent?
MA: After starting my residency at the Rijksakademie I started working on a solo show for a particular space in Buenos Aires called Móvil. I think that after working with the idea of engaging with a space and its specificity became clearer to me. So after Florian I worked on this exhibition called Todo afuera adentro (All outside inside) where I took the idea of space further as I had to work with the acoustics of an old factory space. I also wanted to counterbalance the sparse aesthetics of Florian with a more outrageous piece in Buenos Aires. I started working on a performative installation with a 12 person chorus (a mix between professionals and amateurs). The script merged a vernacular sound identity of a specific neighbourhood in Buenos Aires called Parque Patricios. It contained a pre-linguistic element that activated onomatopoeia and other types of primal sounds as well as several poems from two Argentine poets from the sixties, Susana Thénon and Ricardo Carreira. Overall, the piece brought together questions in terms of identity, empowerment and gender applied through the use of voice and experimentation with the sound and affective quality of language. In a way Florian brought more complexities into my work regarding collaboration, site-specificity, and space acoustics. Another strong element is the authority embedded in my voice in Florian that was also present in many fragments of Todo afuera adentro in Buenos Aires. Violence within everyday communication is something that connects many of my works.
FM: In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently in the overall process of getting the script together (which I really enjoyed following so closely), the collaboration or the implementation of the piece at TUB?
MA: I believe I did what I had to do back then. I needed to process an experience that I was going through physically and mentally, but I also wanted to take the great opportunity I had to work for a specific space, in this case A Tale of a Tub. I am very grateful for the collaborative work with Janneke, Joy and the TUB´s crew. I think that a work is done because it needs to be done and that it functions as a new experiment for the works to come. I tend to say to myself ‘try to enjoy what you do’, since I put so much energy and work into it. Although at the very end, it is always a learning experience and a hard one, which I end up needing and enjoying somehow.