Now is new, said the mermaid

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By Dana Bergheş

Translated by Radu Şorop


What’s one got to do with the other? Well, I’ll tell you: I met Cristina Maldonado through the lens of the projector and it`s only during the interview that we looked each other in the eye, but I felt like she was incredibly close during each moment of the projection versus projection and filming versus filming.

The traditional definition of interaction implies presence. A presence with which we are used to. A close presence, in the proximal way. But performative arts have the role of confronting the participant with his or her self, and they will continue to do so, ever more strongly. It may seem easy. But when there is only one participant, this paradigm only becomes more concentrated. Renouncing the classic convention between performer and public instils you with the tension of confronting yourself and provides you with the easiness to leave behind the submissive stance you adopt as a traditional viewer.

It is a palimpsest-experience in the true sense of the word, in which you`re participating only as long as the projector is running. When it shuts down, the work bench is empty of anything but your personal touch. The interlocutor has disappeared, your cocreation has disappeared, and all that remains are suspensions of things that you wanted to transmit to somebody with whom you are not even acquainted. That is why the 1:1 performance is probably the only safe bet for the future of performance art, because it has an unmatched power, it connects spirits in a way void of meta-meanings, of plurality and collective pressure (exerted by the public or by other artists).

Everything becomes immensely condensed and immediate because all that matters is the sum of your experiences and that of the artist’s experiences. In the relationship you establish with the artist, the artist gains the authority of a guide – but, don’t get me wrong, not the means to control the other –, although she or he sets herself or himself up as a mirror. Unlike the passive performance model in which communication is unilateral, this new experience places one self next to the other self, enabling them to co-create. Right there. Something which only exists in those moments. 

Anyone who has tried at least once to depict his or her self knows what I am talking about: that healing path through a hallway that leads to a garden. It doesn’t matter if you walk there, run barefooted, let yourself be swept by a river or an avalanche. In my garden, there are at least two attractions: one beautiful, old and precious chest, which contains the deepest and most defining traumas from my past, and a clean, quiet bench, surrounded by flowers and greenery, in front of a smooth pond, maybe with colourful little birds chirping in the air.

Keep in mind this scenery and go to a 1:1 performance: you’ll enter a game of tennis. In your half you have the chest, the bench, the pond and the vegetation. You have a tennis racket, you’ve got tennis balls. In the other half, you can barely see through the mist something like a possible future, absent and full of mirrors of opportunities. You will never know who serves first until the match begins. This match is the gnosiologic challenge which troubled individuals like myself subject themselves to in order to attain a metaphysical climax. You’ve got your parcel of things, you’ve got eyeglasses, you are the clay which your past moulds and you’ve got certain expectations, no matter how hard you try to detach yourself. You read so much less from external experiences than you could because it takes time to fashion them into the forms that you have at your disposal.  

I sat on a chair that almost embraced me, in front of a desk which reminded me of the nobles` curiosity cabinets of old: a projection rolled on a worksheet; a video camera was taping it all; and there was a whole range of objects around the worksheet. Duct tape, scissors, a wire ball, small keys, tarot cards, prints of words and images, fir cones, beads, loupes, crystals – almost all possible semiotic markers to open up shortcuts during a fractured and limited act of communication. What is the aim of all this? Probably to make you absorb as much as possible.

So, anything is possible and you don’t have much control over it, because you’re not alone, but in fact, ha-ha, the joke is on you and guess what?! You are.

I have no qualification whatsoever in arts, I am a humble participant and a modest spectator. I compensate with curiosity and appetence, which make my senses tingle. So, I become permeable, not critical, and authentically open. I opened the installation’s instruction manual and understood that it is I who initiates the experience by placing my hands on the “battlefront”. Then, actions took their natural course: I could see the projection, which assured me that the Mexican artist was touching the same objects as I did: I saw her hands projected above mine, mirroring my gestures, handling the instruments that we had for communication. I could still taste the fruit tea that I had had before coming in, at the Centre’s staff invitation, without receiving any hint of what was to follow. The room was dark, except for the work lights on the desk, and quiet. While Cristina’s hands were mirroring my gestures, I started taking in the objects: cork plugs, small flowers and a feather on the table, game pawns, batteries, matchboxes, metal and wood rings, dice, a key, coloured highlighters and all the rest of the arsenal. I yearned for the interlocutor’s presence, so I realised I had to make a move. I can’t remember how it started. I don’t recall what object I moved first. I called into action a sea shell, a postcard with a dog, I drew a question mark, I rolled two sixes, she moved a string ball, I moved the feather. Then, I remember that I put a card with a sun, she one with a star, I one with a soldier, and a small key on top. I told myself that a psychoanalyst would be proud of this.  

I placed the word INCOMPLETE in our work space and continued to frame the latter with pebbles, laces and arrows. I asked her where am I, where is she and where are we. She wrote on a Post-It: do you want to see? Without giving it a thought, I answered on the first scraps of paper that I found lying around: I want to forget; it hurts. Cristina showed me a mermaid and wrote that she told me to keep on swimming, then she cut out bits of black lace around what I had written, put them in a tiny glass bowl, on top of which she put the word NOW. I placed the loupe above ‘it hurts.’ She used another kind of loupe, which she spun above our worksheet, changing the focal point of attention. After that, I placed the key over her star card. Cristina’s next step was to erase the IN out of INCOMPLETE and place under it TOGETHER, and up, in the left corner, NOW. On a cork plug, I improvised a tiny vase out of a tiny bottle, with tiny flowers, and drew a bridge between ME and YOU. Now is new, said the mermaid, Cristina wrote, signaling the star with an arrow. My whole emotional being was taken aback. We toyed around with mirrors and lights.

I sobbed, so Cristina took out a notebook on which she asked me, with the help of the newly-formed word of COMPLETE, if our meeting had come to an end. I clumsily replied that I wished it never ended and we took each other’s pixelated hands.

For some, our encounter was more of a stylistic conversation, an amusement or a nothing. But after the light went out, I moved towards the place where I thought I heard Cristina. In that moment, I wished to give her a hug and thank her for the present she had given me, which made that day unique in my life. But I quickly realised that you don’t have to cling to the driver, just enjoy the ride. It helped me so much to be able to cry. 


Originally published in Romanian on 18.11.2016, in SUB25.