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MIMINAL GESTURES, MINIMAL TALK: interview with Philipp Gehmacher and Valdimir Miller


“An abstract movement doesn’t exist for me” (Philipp Gehmacher)

Rita Natálio (RN): Maybe we could start by the history of your collaboration and a small preview of the two works that you are showing in Alkantara festival – “The fault Lines”, a collaboration with Meg Stuart and “In their Name”. Both works link very strongly visual arts to performance Can you tell us more about them?

Vladimir Miller (VM): Me and Philip, we have been working for 4 years together. We actually started collaborating in “The fault lines”, one of the projects that we are showing, a collaboration with Meg Stuart, Philip and I.

Philipp Gehmaher (PG): After “Maybe Forever”, Meg and I felt that we had still some elements to explore and we set up a residence in Salzburg and asked Vladimir to join because we wanted a visual artist to contribute or share what we were going to work on. Because it was clear for us that we wanted to work with some elements that were “smaller” or installation-based. In previous worksI was used to work with empty spaces but I was looking for a long time to work with other spatial arrangments, elements that would not create a “scenography” in a traditional way, in the same way I believe I use body in space.

VM: And also in what concerns the other performance we are presenting - “In their name” - we also never talked about “classical scenography”. There was more the desire to create an environment for the audience, in a way that people could sit in a kind of an island inside a space. I made a collection of objects for that space with the aim that each performance is created according to pre-existing elements of the space that we are performing.

RN: Can you talk us about “In their name”? I would love to know how do you use and perceive text in this performance. Because I feel that you were creating a “poetic structure” by using the resonance and disonance between 3 layers – movement, objects/space and text . The same way poetry is also, in a common definition, a process of “becoming-poetry” by creating breaks and continuities between meaning, sound and rhythm.

PG: In this perfomance, text is hardly used in a literal way, so it is ultimately always poetic, in a sense that it is never used in a linear way.

VM: I think there was a wish for an equality, equality between objects, movements and words. They are independent correlated players that enrich each other. We create a structure where meaning emerges from proximity of things. There is no leading parameter.

RN: There is no leading nor there is a closeness of meaning...

VM: Yes, I guess there is a lot of space for the audience in this kind of structure. But what is interesting is that this loose structure is not a random structure.

RN: And, in a broader perspective, how would you describe the nature of your research, Philipp? I would say there is a relationship between animated and inanimated in the way you propose movement. This may also be the link between your work and visual arts or, at least, a link between your movement and this kind of “poetics” of the environment.

PG: Well, definitely, my physicality is grounded on a composition that uses interruption - a rest - which always creates a sense of stills. The physicality is inacted and unfolds throught many gestual research we do, but when it falls into imagery, into images, when it gets pictorial, there is where we normally pause, we interrupt, we continue, we repeat, we re-adress, we restart. So there is a kind of a cyclical sense in the motion. It’s complex because it is also linked to the way performers use their sense of affect and expression. How much they present physicality or the structural properties of a physical state and when they show the expressivity that could lay within this state, when they charge their state with expression rather than the shape of it. This is my research for years. Maybe this is the reason for my affiliation/association with minimal art. The great belief of minimal arts lays in how shapes or forms communicate by themselves, by their composition, their syntaxe. In a way, in live performance, an abstract movement doesn’t exist.

RN: In the collaboration with Meg Stuart in “The fault lines” there is clearly something about formal or “minimal“ emotional landscape. Can we tells us more about this work?

PG: I can say that “The Fault Lines” allows some physical places that are more still or stiller than the more expressive or entertaining ones that we use in our previous collaboration “Maybe Forever”. Actually, in this piece we go for the whole range of movements. But the stillness in our piece as to do with a posture, to the way we hold ourselves in a place, the way we embody ourselves but also our ancestors. The space is actually much more full than we think, it’s not just ourselves there. And this is the special sense of that piece. But it is also very much guided by the sound and visual landspace that is creating a dramaturgy of the whole piece.

VM: “The fault lines” starts very clearly as a performance of 2 performers coming together in a fight situation, and then more and more coming from the side of the space. And there is a static camera on space that films and reprojects the image somewhere else. And the way the camera films is telling a different story of what they are proposing live. The juxtaposition of 2 spaces is the core of the work. And, in this sense, audience has to choose which way to follow. Off couse, you can see the delusion in front of your eyes, so it is more about what sentimental perspective you want to follow. An in a way I recreate a kind of a “nostalgic aesthetics”, almost as a siren song that draws you into it, with its colours and old aesthetics. And at the same time we have the performance or the reality of the performance.

PG: What is very special for me, is that I’m not just transformed by the camera of Vladimir. The way Vladimir uses beamers and light is also an issue of ephemeral appearance of lights that come and go. In a way it is very etheareal, I could say even, it’s very much “imaterial”. And in a way, it is what I feel within this performance, the stills, and the postures we hold, they are very much there, they resonate and it’s quite rewarding to see this visual transformation being expressed without any “known“ theater device. It is very special to me.


The fault lines


In their name: