by Joanna Zielińska
It is sometimes difficult to experience art, especially contemporary art, which is the result of a foreign culture. It is even harder to understand it. The notion of time, movement, dramaturgy are constructed on the basis of a different mentality and aesthetic. Simply there is a lack of a conceptual alphabet to interpret it and because of this as we don't know how to react, we are laughing, leaving the hall or manifesting our boredom. For myself, I became emotionally involved in the by last few minutes of Alex Cheung's „Being in and Out” . It's true that the thrill arising from participation in this ritual was neither natural nor easy. However, the final impact was so intense that everything I'd felt earlier was erased from my memory and lost its significance...
Let us come back to a hall of Szombierki Power plant, where the performance took place . We entered to the space lit by hundreds of candles, placed on the floor, platform and steel sculptures. Monotonous drum music slowly brought us into a trance. On the large screen hanging from the ceiling we saw a rocket launching, then exploding and falling. At the same moment next to the steel roof beams, where a rope ladder was suspended, we saw the small figure of Alex Cheung dressed in the costume of a traveller.
Slowly the actor descended a staircase and sat, now dressed r in a kimono. In the presence of sounds of a tropical forest he put himself in a state of meditation. Suddenly the music changed to a contemporary, even industrial composition, with the vibratiions penetrating the audience. At the same time, the artist moved smoothly to the left side of the hall, casting aside his black toga, to reveal thee uniform of a contemporary yuppy: well-cut suit, tie and white shirt. Cheung danced and balanced among the candles, and described a circle around a railinged opening, from where he finally pulled out a statue of a contemporary idol, which could be imagined as a symbol of money controlling our souls. He placed it in the middle of the hall and during his whirling dance, he dethroned this green god, striking it with a long pole.
During this year's festival it was the first time that the space of Szmbierki Power point hall was so completely and creatively arranged. Mobius Strip Theatre in a touch of genius used the perpendicularity of the space, with the performance moving from the ceiling, down to the lowest levels of the opening, as well as on the horizontal level, where we saw circles described by Cheung and his musician - Kima Dae Gun. The lattermoved behind the audience playing on the dram, gong, bricks, pipes or flute, and described a ritual circus around the hall, enveloping all the space into a mystic sphere. In combination with music floating from the speakers, this composition of sounds penetrated the interior of the spectators, triggering tension and anxiety. Cheung's movements, which were slow and focused in the beginning, finished with an attack of energy - an epileptic fight between the artist and the green idol which had captured his soul.
The performance was a mystery based on the collapse of our civilization., which was announced firstly by the disaster of the rocket. It was a diagnosis for our culture, where illness is manifested by the disappearance of spirit and faith, and the substitution of intellect. This condition is a result of rational European philosophy, which relativised the notions of truth, beauty and goodness, and replaced them with post-modern notions of accidental values, accidental beauty and temporary truth. Our uniformed world is ruled by the yuppy, in a well-cut suit, stiff and brusque.
To decode this performance, we can refer to the aesthetic model of Jerzy Grotowski - theater as a vehicle. In fact, Alex Cheung worked with the Master during his cooperation with U Theater on Taiwan. Grotowski believed, that art could be a ladder, which brings an artist as well as the spectator to achieve some kind of enlightenment, by carrying them into unusual dimension of experience. Such a concept of art, as a vehicle, allows artist and audience to experience themselves and reality deeper and more truly. It is also directs our attention to archetypes, which actually rule the world, although usually hidden.
The performance “Being in and Out” was such a vehicle. On one hand, it doesn't need spectators, it was a meditation for the artist himself, and we were merely witnesses, as in Grotowski's theatre. On the other hand as time passed, the presentation also began to become the vehicle for the spectator, who began to be included and absorbed by the music as well as the action inside this ritual circle, sacred space. Cheung's performance is a realization of the notion of a stripped actor, who, referring to myths and archetypes, in this case of western civilization, unites what is collective and individual; reaches the deepest layers of our experience and psyche; finally uncovers and releases emotions, which usually are deeply hidden.
For many it will be only symphony of boredom and high decibels. For most of the performance I balanced between bewilderment and fascination, but by the end I was totally absorbed.and convinced of its truth and subtlety.