Anna R. BurzyńskaThe Art of Erasing, the Art of Remembering
1.Over the last couple of decades the “copypaste” command has secured its position in the top ten of creative directives. The tactics of remixing has an infinite number of varieties, modifications and mutations depending on the material that is being used and the field of art, within which it is being created. Sampling, mash-up, cut-ups, plunderphonics, recycling, rewriting, fan fiction, found footage, détournement, plagiarism, photomontage, collage, assemblage, bricolage, combine painting… We use those names to describe musical, literary, film, multimedia and art remixes. The world of theatre and dance remixes lacks precise names, which is so strange that is provokes some reflection.
2.The word “remix” can mean the final effect of the “copy-paste” practice. However, it can also describe the practice itself. Its sense lies somewhere between one – the initial, and the other – the final work and characterises not the work itself, but the process, both creative and receptive. One can exaggerate and say in the creative process every artist mixes the con ventions, motifs, aesthetics they got to know during his artistic (and social) education and that every new piece of art is a recombination of the already existing (and used by a multitude of predecessors) elements. And that every recipient edits and remixes in his own consciousness (and later on in his memory, sometimes even relation) that piece of art. he is confronted with in the reception process. He selects elements that are important to him, builds structures and creates senses, juxtaposing new experiences with those that are stored in his memory. A remix demands activity, not only from the artist but also from the spectator/listener/reader. Therefore, it is a performance par excellence, what should make it a tool ideal for theatre (Isn’t watching a DJ mixing records a more “theatrical” experience than listening to the record?).
At the same time a remix is very closely connected with the notion of a carrier – that is why it marked its place as late as in “the age of mechanical reproduction” (to use a famous description created by Walter Bejamin) and it became commonly used in the times of media and digital reproduction. The author of the remix collects samples from a chosen artefact or artefacts, which he then transplants or recombines into a new work of art. That is why the gap between a painter citing a motif from a painting and creating a collage, in which, with the use of scissors and glue, scraps of a different piece of art are given a new context, is so big. Similarly to the gap between Chopin’s music borrowings, who introduced a fragment of the “Lulajże, Jezuniu” carol right in the middle of his Scherzo h-moll op. 20, and the works of the avant-garde music group Negativland sampling and commenting on their mini-album U2 songs by the famous Irish band. In this sense theatre as a field of art deprived of tangible traces and carriers (it is hard to perceive dramatic texts, decorations or costumes as such) seems to be resistant to remixes and sampling even in the era when recording performances is very common. It does not mean, however, that a theatre or dance remix is impossible to create. Quite on the contrary.
3. Stage remix was not created within the last decade or even within the last fifty years. It is as old as theatre: we did, in fact, find in Shakespeare’s plays entire scenes consisting of paraphrases, parodies, remixes or other stage forms: allegorical masks, pantomime performances, children’s performances. These forms were common in Shakespeare’s times or preceded his works by only a couple of years. For centuries it was impossible to cross the boundary of individual memory in theatre remixing – the artists remixed what they had seen years or decades before (lets take Tadeusz Kantor quoting fragments of performances by the first Theatre Cricot, Habimy or the Bauhas stage), quite often their own pieces (Kantor, but also Jerzy Grzegorzewski, among others). When looking further back in time, leaving individual memory aside, the hypothetical character of reconstruction made it impossible to introduce the “copy-paste” rule in its pure sense (a good example of there may be the experiments of the Gardzienice Theatre quoting in their performances-essays fragments of antique choreographies read from Greek vases and mosaics). Working with film recordings can also be perceived as playing Chinese whispers – the potential for making a mistake may be used in a creative way. Here are some great examples of that: The Poor Theatre – a remix created byThe Wooster Group on the basis of the recording of Acropolis by Teatr Laboratorium as well Poor Theatre: re//mix – “second level remix” done by Wojtek Ziemilski based on the recording of a performance of The Wooster Group (Wojtek’s project was a symbolic opening of the series initiated in April 2010 at the seat of komuna//warszawa on Lubelska street).
Artists invited to the series re//mix reach for elements that are within the range of memory, but the extended memory, their own or inherited with the use or recording, partially also by the stories told by the older generation. They work with a live matter of memories. This fact seems to be at the same time crucial and unique for the stage remixes.
4. There are two dominant strategies when it comes to choosing the material to be remixed.First is working on “anonymous” material that is unrecognizable to the audience and very often of quite poor artistic quality. Some examples of this strategy are: DJs recycling the beats coming from 70s’ disco recording; Dadaists creating collages out of newspaper cuttings or found footage by a situationist René Viénet “Can Dialectics Break Bricks?”, where a bizarre plot of a third-rate kung-fu film was enhanced with a complex political and philosophical comment. The second strategy is tackling the recognised and well-respected masterpieces: Marcel Duchamp painting moustache on the portrait of Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, a series of pictures by Zbigniew Libera entitled “Pozytywy” put on stage, remixing the most important photos documenting 20th century history.
In both cases a critical and a polemic potential is set in motion because a remix is a highly subversive, revolutionary, anarchistic and rebellious strategy. It should not come down to a simple parody, because in such case it would only limit and oversimplify the sense and the range of the contexts, instead of broadening them. The tactics of a remix enables renegotiating the existing interpretations, challenge fossilized hierarchies, discovering new details, changing the perspective of the recipients, broadening the inquiring sensitivity.
The authors of the re//mix series have narrowed down the search for the material. Instead of picking the most embarrassing examples from theatrical and dance world only to subject them to a hatchet job they decided to construct a positive programme. They did not attempt to be objective, therefore they focused on the moment of subjectivity that can be found at the heart of the network of text and meanings which lie somewhere in between individual memory and the archive of culture. They collected a list of key names from the history of performing arts understood in an unorthodox way.
Cannon chosen in a democratic way:
·· The Wooster Group (re//mix: Wojtek Ziemilski),
· · Pina Bausch (re//mix: Theatre Cinema),
· · La Fura dels Baus (re//mix: Marcin Liber),
· · Akademia Ruchu (re//mix: komuna//warszawa),
· · Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker (re//mix: Kaya Kołodziejczyk)
– has soon started to be extended with names and groups proposed by the invited artists, who pointed out selected shows, choreographies and performances as their sources of inspiration:
· · Frank Castorf (re//mix: Łukasz Chotkowski),
· · Włodzimierz Majakowski (re//mix: komuna//warszawa),
· · Miron Białoszewski (re//mix: Krzysztof Garbaczewski and Marcin Cecko),
· · Tadeusz Kantor (re//mix: Paweł Passini),
· · Yvonne Rainer (re//mix: Weronika Pelczyńska),
· · Henryk Tomaszewski (re//mix: Leszek Bzdyl).
There are several artists waiting in a line (some masters will be remixed for the second time):
· · Trisha Brown (re//mix: Ramona Nagabczyńska),
· · Oskar Schlemmer (re//mix: Alex Baczynski-Jenkins),
· · John Cage (re//mix: Akademia Ruchu),
· · Lidia Zamkow (re//mix: Weronika Szczawińska),
· · Laurie Anderson (re//mix: Wojtek Ziemilski),
· · Merce Cunningham (re//mix: Izabela Szostak),
· · Henryk Tomaszewski (re//mix: Mikołaj Mikołajczyk),
· · Dario Fo (re//mix: Monika Strzępka & Paweł Demirski),
· · Akademia Ruchu (re//mix: Theatre Strefa Ciszy).
komuna//warszawa’s series in a unique and unprecedented attempt to construct a living cannon of performing arts. This cannon is free of the temptation for hierarchy, because the world of remixes is build on the collaterality of mindsets, coexisting on the basis of the “both” not the “either-or” system. A remix puts in practice the Deleuzean categories of difference and repetition. They reflex the variety of beings that are seemingly the same, but in fact always distinctive and impossible to be unified.
Through the versatility of the art. offered (starting from contemporary dance, through the performance art to the logocentric dramatic theatre) the series re//mix enables us to pinpoint the characteristics not only of the remixed phenomena, but also the stage remix in general, as a phenomena so distinctive from a musical or film remix.
5. One of the most important practitioners and theoreticians of the art of remixing – Paul D. Miller, known as DJ Spooky entitled one of his articles, fundamental to the DJ culture, “Algorithms: Erasing and the Art of Memory”. A DJ is as much the lord and the master of his work (mercilessly cutting, distorting, recombining, pasting) as a medium for intergenerational transmission of cultural artefacts; someone who reproduces and retouches the faded frames of memories. It proves to me important especially in the case of theatre, which exists only in the dimension of memory, its shapes and colours blurring with the passing of time. An artist who decides to create a remix, looks for and unveils the layers of the former work of art, at times purposefully erasing some of its elements in order to provide the viewer with an opportunity to re-enter a structure, which had already be closed up and petrified. A remix is an uninhibited intrusion into the endlessly growing archives or culture, a clash of collective cultural memory with the individual one.
There is a stereotype that accuses DJ strategies of a lack of respect (if not hostility) towards the author. Paradoxically a remix defends the work of art setting it free from the constrains of the language. With time the subject of the work of art fuses with its language to the extent when it is hard to separate them. Remixing means constantly renewing the approach towards the language by the subject of the artistic work, because “I” is most clearly seen in deformations, displacements and flaws. The more complex the language of the work of art, the more opportunities it gives to oppose it, discuss with it or rebel against it.
There is one more phenomenon, reserved only for performance art that explains the special status of remixes conducted within this field. Recording a performance means extending the human body and using the media. A remix provides virtual beings with new bodies, strives to reconnect with the abandoned real, shifts the weigh from the sense to the sensuality, which entirely changes not only the means of presentation but also the mode of reception of the presented works.
6. Dj Spooky described DJ culture and the tactics of a remix as the eugenics of imagination. It is, therefore, not only a method to prolong the life of works of art and cultural artefacts, but also a sort of a positive selection; the best, most healthy, most inspiring bits will be reproduced on a large scale and bear “offspring” that will spread around the world. Whereas, on the other hand, the less valuable works shall be let to die slowly, as there is no authority able to bring them back to life (keeping them alive in an artificial way by putting them in school cannon resembles mummification).
The strategy of remixing resembles, therefore, breaking a twig of an old tree not to destroy it, but to attach it onto another trunk. There, straightened by the juices of a young individual, it will start to bear fruit again. Is the effect of such operation difficult to foresee? Will the fruit have a completely new and unexpected taste? Yes they probably will, but it does not matter. Crossbreeds are healthy, contrary to the inbred offspring.