Dance like a fool, walk like a king
April 5 until May 3, 2008
Opening hours: Friday and Thursday, 2 - 7 p.m.
PLAY is delighted to present the solo show by Alejandro Vidal, including the two new video-works Dance like a fool, walk like a king, 2007, and Pushing up the Power, 2007. The works are in exhibition at PLAY until the end of April.
Beneath the old human dream of flying, there lies the primordial desire to recover the wholeness of something we have lost: only through weightlessness (and sometimes in dreams) we become one with the world wherein the limits of our own body vanish. We are aware of the fact that it is actually impossible to attain this wholeness, but in order to resist confrontation with it, we suppress the knowledge of its impossibility.
When light and rhythm play together, as it is the case with techno music (or any kind of music that employs heavy bass and lighting effects), music can imbue the senses and cause a temporary feeling of weightlessness. One has the feeling that one is in good hands among the people around us, and for a moment we find ourselves situated outside of the normal boundaries of space and time.
Body, bodily sensations, the limits of our own body, and disembodiment are motifs that consistently find their way into Alejandro Vidal's work at both the image-level and at the sound-level (components which typically function independently of one another in his work).
In his filmic and photographic images, he recreates ecstatic moments and extreme situations through which he tests bodily transformations under certain conditions, e.g. in night clubs or during concerts, while fighting, in threatening situations, etc. Vidal installs his work in complete darkness and lets the sound track, which at a time operates independently from the images, exert an immediately visceral effect on the subject's body.
Vidal inscribes emotions into these “body-fantasies”: wishes, fears, traumas, and processes of defense. These emotions cannot be transmitted otherwise, and they are expressed through the body. The artist investigates these body-messages. While it is true that his work is often perceived as commentary or even as a means of intervening on current political and social events, his project is also to create images that can capture and reveal to us a sense of that which constitutes subjectivity today. In order to develop a social or political thesis from a critical analysis of the body, we have to consider the individual person first: we have to ask ourselves here, where corporality stands in proportion to self-images or role models. Vidal's images seem to treat the problematic nature of the relationship between the single individual and his environment and with the question for identity in the first place.
This is perhaps why the artist comes very close to his figures. The camera is welcome, but does not participate in the oneiric events. Like a ghost, it floats sometimes above the scene, sometimes watching from below, sometimes looking from behind. Nevertheless, it seems that the figures pose only for the camera. Not only does the lens witness and depict the events, but its observing and analytic gaze becomes the catalyst for what unfolds. It is for the gaze of the lens that anything occurs, that the figures take up their poses. The gaze becomes a mirror that gives evidence to the existence of the characters; it lets them appear as something “whole” and complete.
The camera or lens, which corresponds to the artist's and also to the viewer's gaze, constitutes the reality of the world in the film. As we can be real and “whole” only when we are seen by somebody or something else, every action in Vidal's work is carried out only for the gaze. We are not able to prove our own existence alone; we need the other who sees, feels, hears, tastes, and speaks to us.
It is exactly this speech that is banned from Vidal's videos. Even the figures in his photographs seem to act outside of the symbolic world of speech: the characters express their emotions and aggression, sensuality, fragility, fear and through their poses; at times, different objects symbolically accentuate their gestures.
Yet the law of speech governs our society; speech carries and transmits social norms and laws that we take over as soon as we learn how to speak. We do not become individuals until we speak. The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan describes the entry of every human being into society as follows: initially, a baby has a symbiotic relationship to his mother and the outside world. Between the age of six and eight months, the baby reaches the so-called mirror stage: he looks into the mirror and recognizes the reflected image as that of his own. For the first time, the child stops perceiving his own body in fragments and begins to recognize it as a whole. He sees himself in the same manner as the people around him. With the next step he will reach the level of speech. Only then he will become a social being.
By leading us away from the world where speech rules everything, Vidal opens up a window into our imaginary side: we can again perceive ourselves as we did before we learned how to speak. While dancing ecstatically or acting out any other confrontation using our bodies, for a certain period of time, we are no longer aware of being incomplete, as this is no longer important. Within this state of mind, we perceive our own bodies and the bodies of the others as simultaneously complete and fragmented: on the one hand, we belong to the mass of people that exists outside of the symbolic world of speech, and on the other hand, we see the others as fragmented in the same way that we see ourselves. There are no longer any borders between us and the others. Still, disillusionment follows this delirious state: the wholeness of the body reveals itself as a reproduction; but a reproduction cannot be a real body.
It is precisely this realization of which we are afraid, and we try to hide it behind norms and rules. Only when we focus on the “pure body” can we escape this knowledge for a moment, but the price we pay is to be confronted with the cruel reality. We are paralyzed by a vision of our own fear, as are the figures in the set of four silkscreen prints, Thunderdome (2006): their movement is frozen, they stand separated from the mass of people around them, alone. Melancholy, which shines everywhere through Vidal's work, emerges through this realization of fear.
In the last few years, Vidal's films and photographs have again and again presented pre- or post-apocalyptic, catastrophic scenarios. Paranoia and anxiety, the fear of dissolution, resistance to the end, these are all sensations that his images transmit. They are depicted through mythological weapons, strong men and fearless women. Except that nothing happens. The fear is not related to a concrete, imminent event or to something that has just transpired, but it is a part of our everyday existence. We feel insecure and unprotected in the world we live in, and the clear link between the fear of terror and surveillance is simply a symbol for a general feeling of uncertainty: if we follow the current social norm, we have to be individual, active, autonomous; the norm does not offer a shelter or a solid identity any longer. How then, can we live without oscillating between melancholy and depression?
Vidal's work seems to ask this question again and again, without providing an answer. By directing his events and arranging them into new constellations, he does not reflect reality through mimesis, but creates a new mode of reality. In this spirit, one can compare his work with Antonin Artaud's theater. For Artaud, theater was not a reproduction of reality. On the contrary, reality, which was inherently cruel to him, merely doubled the reality of the stage.
In two video-works that he is currently showing in his solo show “Dance like a Fool, Walk like a King” at PLAY_platform for film & video Berlin, Vidal puts the two procedures described beforehand in opposition to one another.
In the video “Dance like a Fool, Walk like a King” (2007), which is also the title of the show, the camera jumps back and forth between fragmentary shots of bodies that belong to the members of the Punk-Rock band who are carried away by the gig and the overloaded sound of the electric guitar, dreamlike sequences showing a person absorbed by a card game in front of apocalyptic TV-images, and the violent image and noise of a saw approaching a piece of wood (or a part of the body?). Image and sound are too close to the viewer, and their almost physical presence draws one into the installation, and removed from one's body, the viewer becomes a part of the events in the film.
However, in the film “Pushing up the Power” (2007) the camera draws back. Here, the fragmentation of the body is executed by a stroboscope light: none of the dancing bodies appear as a whole in the video, the light cuts them into pieces as if it were a sharp knife. But the mass of people does not see this aggressive action as a threat at all: To the sound of an acoustic guitar, (and not to the electric sound of techno-music) they sway in slow motion from side to side in the darkness. They experience the loss of body-control as a release that frees them of the pressure to be individuals, to control themselves, to be active. The music directly attacks the body and not the hearing, and the light, which does not illuminate but cuts through, incite the people to unveil their selves voluptuously. They are not searching for wholeness anymore, as they are “ok” with being fragmented, and the erosion of their selves has become their goal. Finally, it is possible not to engage in the sisyphean endeavor to have everything under control; finally, we are lost in the deception of “just being”. I is someone else.
Short biography of the artist