Sunday 2 June 2019 at 5 p.m.
KS THE MAN WHO SMILED TOO MUCH
A concert-lecture especially about Kurt Schwitters
Steve Natterstad piano • Pasquale Polidori narration • Tianyi Xu stage action
choir: Luigi Battisti • Simone Compagno • Claudia Melica • Jacopo Natoli
assistant and stage projections: Arianna Desideri
Transcription of the conference-concert.
[the choir enters reciting Schwitters-Rosary, in three acts, each time changing their positions on the scene ]
he understands something • he begs for redemption • he transmutes • he sings • he trills • he whispers • he gurgles • he rejoices • he teaches us something • he sets out to work • he changes his clothes • he wears a shirt • he takes his dentures out • he puts the dentures (in a glass) • he covers his head • he merzes • he needs a grand piano • he keeps the jars • he places a little house • he manufactures a little house • he merzes the building • he lives in a building • he erects the columns • he discovers the meaning • he rejects something • he lets himself be contained • he is contained • he fills the places • he catches somebody • he chases the clouds • he sweeps away the concepts • he falls off the pedestal • he does something • he keeps himself serious • he interrupts the poems • he feels fine • he knocks over a jar • he works • he calls something like • he works hard • he pastes his works • he asks something • he creates something out of a mass • he looks at the mass • he declares something • he knocks over a mass • he glues a nose • he writes something • he is a magician • he is a creator • he walks into the room • he looks like a farmer • he presents the panels • he opens his mouth • he pulls out a cardboard • he puts the cardboard upon his chest • he reads a poem • he screams a poem • he whistles a poem • he shouts a poem • he maintains something • he does something • he introduces himself • he curtsies • he is well known • he declines something • he comes to see me • he covers the walls • he covers the windows • he covers the doors • he uses some glue • he is active • he keeps himself busy • he does something • he makes a sign • he jumps off the tram • he responds to the protests • he shows the plate • he unscrews the plate • he brings a screwdriver • he takes with him an arsenal • he uses the plate • he stands upright on the stage • he begins the Ursonate • he whistles • he screams • he screeches • he is filled with consternation • he freezes • something disturbs him • he keeps doing something • he recites something • he covers the whirlwind • he calls art art • he creates the image • he creates the appearance • he plays with the argument • he plays with the object • he extracts the materials • he is an individuality • he is dada • he is dada • he joins Dada • he creates MERZ • he collects scrap metal • he collects cogwheels (from clocks) • he picks up objects • he uses objects • he has fun with glue • he works miracles • he brings something back to life • he explains something • he makes a sculpture • he cuts his hair • he puts his hair aside • he takes a pencil • he takes a lace • he takes a cigarette • he takes a nail • he takes a bowtie • he takes a feather • he takes some objects • he takes a bridge • he takes a vial • he explains something • he goes around • he adds something • he is obliged to do • he adopts a solution • he is the owner of the house • he dismisses the renters • he pierces the ceiling • he carries on with the column • he finishes the column • he starts again the column • he abandons the column • he makes the column • he forgives something • he identifies himself with a piece of art • he lives a piece of art • he believes in a piece of art
he stays in England • he gets a passport • he goes to the United States • he meets the artists • he creates Merz • he needs something • he creates pieces of art • he builds his past anew • he is loved by the New Yorkers • he knows Germany • he is longing for Germany • he gets away from Norway • he arrives in Great Britain • he is interned • he writes to his mother • he listens to conferences • he paints heads • he signs a petition • he fills a form • he is exhausted • he goes to the church • he is incapable • he believes in kindness • he knows something • he suffers from fits • he goes on with his activity • he is stimulated • he is known • he paints by heart • he has his eyes on something • he has the privilege of something • he obtains the wine • he obtains the cigars • he transforms the barn • he benefits from the advantages • he shows his talent • he stands out as an artist • he has knowledge • he uses the dust • he obtains the paint • he grinds the minerals • he grinds the colourants • he mixes the rations • he mixes the gelatin • he boils the bones • he mixes the flour • he mixes the leaves • he destroys the trunks • he tears off the linoleum • he studs the fabric • he frays the fabric • he sprinkles the fabric with stains • he glues the sole • he fixes something • he stores the painting • he has a problem • he has a history • he is between two worlds • he writes poems • he is a prisoner • he uses the image • he translates the bewilderment • he is busy doing something • he is allowed something • he overcomes difficulties • he utilizes talents • he writes in English • he writes in German • he recreates the past • he is alone • he is misunderstood • it is the experience • he lives in Bayswater • he lives with Ernst • he lives with Esther • he meets Edith • he is released • he feels something • he looks for a job • he waits endlessly • he makes an exception • he comes into relationship • he becomes a member • he exhibits one of his works • he meets Ben • he meets the intelligentsia • he evokes a world • he anticipates the sentimentalism • he pricks up his ears • he opens his eyes • he is soaked in the environment • he is heard • he does a reading • he has fun • he is illogical • he meets Stefan • he meets Stefan again • he takes account of something • he makes a collage • he is the master • he is stubborn
he rebels • he includes the scraps • he sees a face • he sells four of his works • he is commissioned to produce three works • he comes up with a new form • he is happy • he is recognized • he learns something • he has the tools • he works on Merzbarn • he gathers the artists • he has a cup of tea • he establishes a relationship • he goes to London • he celebrates his wedding • he is happy • he sells the painted landscapes • he sells the portraits • he declares something • he is isolated • he makes a comment • he lives these years • he renounces a period • he works • he forgets a period • he is an Impressionist • he is Merz • he is ashamed of something • he paints portraits • he goes back to his roots • he moves backwards • he informs someone about something • he omits something • he signs the paintings • he uses vermillion • he writes his signature • he hesitates • he gives a recital • he renews his relationships • he is a correspondent • he sends his works • he pays tribute to his friends • he immortalizes Andrew • he goes to the Tate • he immortalizes his friends • he transforms the correspondence • he is happy • he renews his relationships • he understands evolution • he dreams of a piece of art • he dreams of a project • he exchanges letters with his friends • he writes something • he writes an epic • he is aware of something • he makes an impression • he is idolized • he shows his refusal • he goes beyond the end • he cherishes the dream • he goes back to Hannover • he raises the Merzbau again • he gets excited • he criticizes England • he criticizes art • he is an artist • he exults • he receives the notification • he realizes his projects • he works • he creates • he restores the Merzbau • he confides something • he spits blood • he admits something • he uses the barn • he starts the Merzbarn • he writes something • he obtains the authorization • he applies the plaster • he achieves an effect • he shows enthusiasm • he builds a Merzbarn • he finishes his work • he writes something • he uses the paint • he plans a system • he composes a sculpture • he builds the sculpture • he paints the sculpture • he is poor • he is sick • he writes his will • he makes the necessary arrangements • he is unknown • he is happy • he reads the article • he participates in an exhibition • he feels satisfaction • he writes • he lives • he asks • he gets weak • he writes to Ernst • he recognizes something • he dies • he raves • he is carried • he dies • he asks • he burns • he is alive • he burns • he builds the wall • he tears down the wall • he is available • he helps (someone) • he lends his paintings • he lends his sculptures • he uses the packages • he uses the comics • he predicts the enthusiasm • he predicts research • he finds shelter in the permissive • he finds shelter in the primitive • he spreads his wings • he lets go of discipline • he respects tradition • he returns to primitive • he refuses tradition • he is nourished • he approaches the object • he has a conception • he predicts something
[ piano: THE MAN I LOVE ]
The Man I Love is a romantic song. You probably know it, it’s a Broadway standard, a classic by Gershwin. It is a song about an imagined love, that is about a person, a man, who has to get to a certain point. Certain point is in fact a precise point: it is where we are, and we are those who wait and wait and wait for this man we love to come here. We don’t know where this man is now, but we know that he will certainly arrive here, where we are. The song is extremely precise in describing the arrival of this man, lyrics say: maybe he’ll come on Sunday…
Choir: Isn’t it rich?
And yes, perhaps it’s hard to believe, it may seem crazy, but it is so: clearly thinking about the moment the beloved arrives, the one who will win our heart, this is the center of the song. That person will come on Sunday, maybe not; maybe on Monday, I don’t know; maybe Tuesday will be the day of the arrival, I don’t know; but I’m sure that one day this person will come and take me to a house built just for the two of us. The thing that strikes the most in this song is the accuracy of the description of what will happen.
Choir: What a cliché!
It’s a cliché, it’s a cliché indeed. Romantic love is a cliché, it’s true. Let’s say that love is nothing but a cultural issue, so love, romanticism and language are all cultural issues.
Choir: Don’t you love farce?
It is not a farce, no. It is a construction. It is a construction we see the moment we step inside the language. The moment we apprehend how to speak, we learn how to speak, that’s when we need to create for ourselves some ghosts; and these ghosts are what our mind describes and waits for, and ghosts are also what stands between our mind and reality. So, if it seems a farce to you, too bad then, unfortunately we are the farce! I have lived this experience, as everybody has. But rather than telling it while thinking about my real relationships, I’m going to speak of an image that maybe we can project… [turning to the assistant] Do we have it? Yes, there it is. This is a 1 euro postcard; 1 euro at the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, where I went two years ago and where, while visiting, I saw the work of Kurt Schwitters, to whom this lecture is dedicated; and before leaving the museum, I went to the bookshop, where I found this postcard. And the postcard immediately seduced me; Kurt Schwitters’ face seduced me, I mean: this. Now, finding the reasons why this face seduced me…
Choir: Send in the clowns!
Clowns are now coming, be patient. For the time being I am the only clown here. Looking for the reasons why this face has seduced me, I couldn’t… I could list them, they are not quite simple: the memory of the smile maybe of a family member, perhaps my father’s; or, a certain way of introducing oneself, typical of men when I was a child, that is when I stepped inside the language and I created my firsts ghosts; or perhaps the mere fact of seeing an artist who gives an image of himself that is something you don’t expect. In fact if you take a look at this face, what do we see? We see a smiling man whom we could mistake for a salesman, perhaps a street vendor, certainly not a Dadaist artist. He has not, for example, Tristan Tzara’s sharp and severe gaze. We’ll see him… Do we have Tristan Tzara? [turning to the assistant] No, we don’t, okay. He doesn’t even have a distraught look. He has the gaze of somebody who loves to be loved by someone who is looking at him, and taking a picture of him. This photograph was taken in 1926, during one-day photo session, by Genja Jonas. At that time Genja Jonas was one of the most important, if not the most important German portraitist. Let’s see the other photos taken by Jonas on that same day. Here it is, this is the second one. In this picture you clearly see that sense of playfulness which characterizes Schwitters. Schwitters here is forty, and he is in a moment…he is almost forty, and he is going through a happy period of his existence. Ten years later, the disaster; then, the escape to Norway, the war and everything that comes with it. That was a moment of great happiness for Genja Jones too. Unfortunately, it will not end well for her, since Jonas won’t even be able to leave Germany; in 1938 she dies from a cancer, before escaping from Germany. At the time, however, they were quite happy. And we can perfectly see, from the photograph, that she has told him: Turn sideways, and show your cheek. Why has she told him, Show your cheek? Look at his eyes. They don’t look anywhere; it is a docile gaze, of someone that obeys the friend who is taking the picture. The friend knows what the strong point of this face is: the cheek. Because the cheek truly is the sweetest and most kissable part of Kurt Schwitters’ face. And Genja says to him: Okay, we have taken a photo of your smile, like a salesman; now let’s take the picture as the advertiser of the shaving lotion. And he impersonates the advertiser of the shaving lotion. This is the characteristic of Schwitters: to play along with those who stand before him, to try to establish a relation. And this is the foundation of all his artworks. There is a third photo, which is this one, always taken on the same day; the third photo in which he pretends to…, maybe he really does… play the Ursonate, and he acts like, oohoo, a singer.
This is only a tiny part of what I have done for two years after falling in love with a postcard!
Choir: Isn’t it rich?
It is crazy indeed! I fell in love with the postcard. I’ve come back to Hannover three times. I’ve bought all the books I could about Schwitters. I’ve tried to find the way to make sure… that this postcard felt my affection, that this image felt how much I loved it.
Choir: Isn’t it queer?
This is odd; but it is nothing different from what happens every time you enter a museum and you like a work of art and you long for it. So now, since I’ve told you so, I’m in love with a postcard and a face, it seems strange to you. But if I go to a museum and I fall in love with an artwork, why in that case is it not weird? What is the matter? The problem is that we fall in love with an image, a ghost of, as if it wasn’t enough, a dead person — so there isn’t any chance for me to meet Schwitters, to kiss him on the cheek, or to hug him and being hugged; all of this is out of question — what can I do? I can only try to deal with this ghost. And therefore to accept that my love is between me and Schwitters’ ghost, or his name.
This is what we have done during the workshop that lasted a month here at Macro: we have tried to establish a relation with Schwitters’ ghost, in order to get the falling in love some kind of materiality. Obviously, ghosts are not made of matter; so this is not possible. Ghost is an image. Nevertheless, it can be conceived… So here it is the workshop. Here you see… You see us at work, there we go. And what were we doing here in particular? We have taken in consideration some texts written by Schwitters’ friends, who remembered him; so, Tristan Tzara, Raoul Hausmann, or Hans Richter, and others. And then also… These texts have been selected by Arianna Desideri. And we have also taken into account one of the most important essays written on Schwitters, the one by Sarah Wilson, who talks about the last ten years of Schwitters’ life in England. We have syntactically deconstructed these texts, extracting only the verbs which had the word ‘Schwitters’ as subject or object, and subsequently, we have reduced the sentences we had obtained by taking out adjectives, adverbs, all the things that are unnecessary for a minimum and nuclear meaning, to obtain short and elementary sentences. What are they for? Maybe we can see… [turning to the assistant] The short sentences are these ones. These are, for example, the sentences you have listened to… Thank you. These are the sentences you have listened to, and these sentences compose what we can call a Rosary. Considered that we are in May, we were also in May when we worked on this Rosary; May is the month of Rosary, but our Lady was, has been, Schwitters’ face, and Schwitters’ name, Schwitters’ ghost finally. Our Lady has been what I’ll call: a nail/fraction of thought. A fraction of thought is the ghost. This is how the ghost is born, when… The word ‘ghost’, in psychoanalysis as well, comes when the child enters the linguistic universe and realizes that between him, as subject, and reality, there is a symbolic space. In this…
Choir: What a surprise!
That’s the real surprise! In this symbolic space, thought gets its nails done. Schwitters is a nail, like all the other ghosts that inhabit our mind: the erotic ghosts, but not only them; also those ghosts… that are just the representation of something, let’s say, in which we do not participate subjectively … sometimes made of fear… that we make of the world. We have recited this Rosary over and over again during the month of May. And the recital of this Rosary was… and has meant for us having the possibility to climb towards this special Paradise in which my beloved is. And who is my beloved? But it’s Schwitters!
Choir: Isn’t it bliss?
Paradise is Schwitters. Paradise is Schwitters’ face, where I am headed, but I cannot, if not through a litany on his name. It’s not possible! If you love a ghost, if you love an image, you must create something around this image, and make it become a sort of ready-made to which you give yourself a meaning.
Choir: Isn’t it rich?
Yes I know, it is crazy but it is so! Stairway to Paradise!
[ piano: STAIRWAY TO PARADISE ]
What they say is crazy, it is not. Unless we are all crazy. Since the starting point or, let’s say, the belief that I could really copulate with this image and be possessed by it, which was my only aim, comes in part from this book, Babel by Patti Smith [he took a book from the floor]. We are in 1980, I was sixteen, my sister was fourteen; this book arrived home thanks to a neighbour who had bought it for us. In this book, Patti Smith imagines making love to… Arthur Rimbaud!
Choir: Isn’t it rich?
Yes, indeed. Because if someone thinks about making love to Arthur Rimbaud… Besides, Arthur Rimbaud, when? Arthur Rimbaud at his first communion? Arthur Rimbaud when he was sixteen and he was the naughty boy we all know him to be? Arthur Rimbaud when he went to Abyssinia, and became a slave trader? And we have some pictures… Do we have them? [turning to the assistant] The first communion. Sixteen-year-old. Here he is in Abyssinia: can we dream of making love to a man like this? This is what Patti Smith writes:
[he reads from the Patti Smith book]
dream of rimbaud
I am a widow, could be charleville could be anywhere.
move behind the plow, the fields, young arthur lurks
about the farmhouse (roche?) the pump the artesian
well, throws green glass alias crystal broken,
gets me in the eye.
I deliver it hard and fast, someone did it. you did it.
he falls prostrate, he weeps he clasps my knees. I grab
his hair, it all but burns my fingers, thick fox fire,
soft yellow hair, yet that unmistakable red tinge,
rubedo. red dazzle, hair of the One.
Oh jesus I desire him. filthy son of a bitch, he licks
my hand. I sober, leave quickly your mother waits, he
rises, he’s leaving, but not without the glance, from
those cold blue eyes, that shatters, he who hesitates
is mine, we’re on the bed.
They’re making love, and if Patti Smith can, why can’t I do it with Schwitters, I don’t understand…
we’re on the bed. I have a knife to his smooth
throat. I let it drop, we embrace.
Careful now, because you’re going to imagine something very, very happy…
we embrace. I devour his scalp,
lice fat as baby thumbs, lice the skulls caviar.
Oh arthur arthur. we are in Abyssinia Aden, making love
smoking cigarettes, we kiss, but its much more, azure,
blue pool, oil slick lake, sensations telescope, animate,
crystalline gulf, balls of colored glass exploding,
seam of berber tent splitting, openings, open as a cave,
open wider, total surrender.
Choir: Isn’t it bliss? And do you expect this to be Heaven?
Heaven is Rimbaud’s lousy head. Heaven is Schwitters’ very kissable cheek. Heaven is the image we fall in love with and that we must bring at any cost into our life and our language. Everybody’s got their ghosts; and everybody’s got their wishes. Schwitters’ face is clearly the most beautiful in the whole Avant-garde. If only I could show you the other ones’ photos… Here they are! [pointing at a projected image]
Choir: Send in the clowns!
These two are indeed two great clowns: Jean Cocteau and Sophie Taeuber-Arp. What has happened… I just wanted to know if… I just wanted to know if my passion for Schwitters could in some way be compared to other Avant-garde artists’ faces. Then, in the second part of the workshop, after reciting the Rosary, what we did is take into consideration 160 photographs of artists contemporary to Schwitters… Among them, we can find everything: there are Matisse, Picasso, Léger, there is Tristan Tzara, also Kandinsky! The aim was to find in each of these bodies one or two, maybe even three, incredibly seductive elements that could light up the desire for the image, which Schwitters’ face had lighted up in me. Here some examples of details, uhm… Now I can’t remember… I can’t remember who they are… I can’t remember all these faces. Of course you can see Jean Cocteau’s knobby hand, which obtained a great success during the workshop; they all said unanimously that this was the sexiest part of his body! Antonin Artaud: there was little to reject; he had a beautiful face, at that age, let’s say, so young, his face was beautiful on the whole. That smile, those soft lips, that you can see there, are Tristan Tzara’s. It seems unbelievable, but it is so. We have got other photos of…We take them… Maybe.. Uh, that pretty little face in the middle… Who is he? The pretty little face there is El Lissitzky’s! The result is that we have obtained a series of… A list… Also here, another list. Why all these lists? Lists are simply a part of… Well… [He takes a huge roll of paper with a long text printed on it, and unrolls it in front of the audience] Here is the whole Avant-Garde! Here is the whole European, and a little bit of the American, Avant-Garde erotism! Now I unroll it here, in front of you… Maybe the other way round… If you want you can… There’s plenty for you to see, and to dream of at night. If you like. There’s plenty of men and plenty of women, ah! Would you like me to read some of them? I’ll do it! Then… Tristan Tzara, a great success: [he reads scattered sentences from the roll] Tristan Tzara’s monocle; Tristan Tzara’s strabismus; Tristan Tzara’s protruding ears; Tristan Tzara’s alluring lips. Hugo Ball’s hands… Let’s move on, let’s change… I don’t like Hugo Ball! Nor Huelsenbeck, because he was Schwitters’ enemy, the one who kicked him away from Berlin dada. No. I’ll continue with Hans Richter: Hans Richter’s cleft; Hans Richter’s hand with the cigar; Hans Richter’s half-smile; Hans Richter’s way of dressing; Hans Richter’s bowtie. But the artist that has proved most attractive has been Kandinsky, whom I personally don’t like very much, meaning that I would never dream of him. However Kandinsky… Maybe we can find his image… There is something unexpected in him, in a man that writes Concerning the spiritual in Art, and that therefore travels towards such high and immaterial dimensions in art… Yet the sexiest part of Kandinsky’s body was his slim ankle! Do we have Kandinsky’s slim ankle? [turning to the assistant] Yes we do! Look at the young Kandinsky in this photo, so elegant; Concerning the spiritual in Art has yet to come; at this point in life he is still among the material things. Let’s zoom on the ankle, but you can see it with your own eyes, not a bare ankle but with a silk sock…
All these details which make us fall in love with the Avant-Garde artists’ bodies have something to do with the fact that each one of them did not have just one body, but two: one… First of all Rimbaud… One is the body that you can see in the picture and that now is there no more, and of which there’s only a simulacrum left; so, you see him and you think about the old grandfather, great grandfather now, how he was, how he lived, which was his world; and you can fall in love with him, if you like the type, or if you like his ankle. The other body is a body which is completely open. It’s the linguistic body of each one of these people. Rimbaud’s linguistic body continues to this day. And while I was reading Patti Smith’s poem, all I did was enlarge Rimbaud’s body; take part in the inflation or the reproduction of his body. In a way — and here it seems less of a farce — approaching the image, approaching Schwitter’s face, is the only way that I have to make love to the second body of Schwitters, to his whole oeuvre. And imagining making love to Arthur Rimbaud in Abyssinia, and with louses on his head, is the only way that Patti Smith had to make love to Rimbaud’s poetic corpus. And that’s probably what Patti Smith was interested in. I’ve got a Crush on you.
[ piano: I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON YOU ]
I’ve got a crush on you… And the world will pardon my mush and my sighing. Once we have established a relation between the body number 1 — the now gone material body of the artist, of which there are only images left, and therefore Schwitters’s beautiful face — and the symbolic body of Schwitters, body number 2, I have to move between these two levels. So, on one level, matching my devotion to the body, image, face, smile, events in Schwitters’ life, to what happened to him, to how he lived; and imagining him within situations, trying to drag him… bring him into my life, by dint of thinking about him. On the other, we need a relation with the body number 2, the linguistic one.
Choir: What a surprise!
The surprise comes when… Schwitters is very clear on this subject: if we want to bring reality into our language, reality must paradoxically lose its poison. And what is the poison of reality? Meaning! So, the absurd fact is that, if we want to bring reality into our language, which represents for us the only chance to signify something, we have to accept the fact that reality unburdens itself and loses its many meanings. Could you give me… [asking the assistant] Or maybe we have the… Ah, here it is, good. The poison of things…What Schwitters called ‘the poison of things’, the meaning that things have within reality. That is…
Choir: Isn’t it queer?
What…Yes…Where is my postcard? What happened to my postcard? Where is my sweety postcard? [he seems to have lost his postcard, he looks for it anxiously, then he finds it and gives a kiss to it] Here it is! The world has decided that this is a 1-euro postcard; and you buy a postcard, you put it inside a book, you hang it on the wall, you send it to your friends…This is the material meaning of postcards. If I want to make sure that this postcard enters my language, my life and my chance to desire Schwitters beyond it, I have to make this postcard lose all the meanings that the world has given to it. So, I don’t send it to my friends, I don’t hang it on the wall, I don’t use it as a bookmark, but I do something different. For instance, I organize a workshop and I persuade some people to recite a Rosary all together three times during May. This sounds a much better idea. And this postcard is at the center of it. In the first number of Merz, Schwitters wrote: These objects are integrated into the picture either as they are, or altered, according to the demands of the picture. By mutual comparison, they lose their individual character, their individual poison. They are dematerialized, and are the material of the picture. He is talking about his constructive method, meaning the merzification. What is the merzification, nothing to do with merch, as you know, Merz was the name that Schwitters gave to his way of making art. To merzify meant to establish a relation of language between elements previously emptied of language. Example: a bus ticket. Picking a bus ticket from the street. What happens? Where is the bus ticket… [asking the assistant] The ticket, great. [now he’s reading from a projected text, not by Schwitters] A bus ticket that is now useless, a piece of paper free to be not itself, eradicated from itself, hurray! But there’s more. Does the ticket remind us of something? Does it maybe still maintain the warmth of the pocket which used to keep it, or worse, of the hand that validated it? It is time for it to lose this poison; this very peculiar type of poison called ‘humanity of the bus ticket’. This poison is responsible for nostalgia; and from nostalgia to melancholy is a bit; and from melancholy to the thud of artwork/image against the first obscure floor-quicksand available, is less than a bit…
I should say something. Schwitters suffered from epilepsy twice in his life. The first time was when he was a child, and his epilepsy began when a group of mean children destroyed his garden, which he had built with so much love. Then, two years of depression and epilepsy; he wet himself until he was twelve, so you can imagine how sensitive he was, and how scared he was. This was the cornerstone from which his reflection on reality started. So, emptying reality of its poison meant to make sure that all these negative connections went away, and world lost its weight and the origin of its melancholy. His epilepsy came back in 1941, when he was sent to a concentration camp in England, after escaping from Germany. And there they called him Baby Bitter; this was the name given to Schwitters, who was almost sixty, not a boy anymore. And the fact that he was called Baby Bitter says much about the kindness and the strangeness of this man, capable of accepting such a funny nickname. All this came after a whole life spent taking the poison out of reality. And what was there after the loss of the poison? Afterwords there was the chance to build a language made of pure rhythm. So, a rhythm without meaning, which creates a new language, I’ve got rhythm.
[ piano: I’VE GOT RHYTHM ]
Old man trouble I don’t mind him / You won’t find him ‘round my door / I’ve got starlight / I’ve got sweet dreams / I’ve got my man / Who could ask for anything more… Dream couldn’t come at a more opportune time, since it is the only moment in which we are totally part of the language. Our body is not there anymore, we don’t feel our body. When we are on the side of the image, of the language, in the dream, we are on the side of our ghosts. So if I dream of kissing Schwitters’ cheek, my body doesn’t say no, it doesn’t remind me that this is an illusion. I’m peacefully asleep. I dream. I am entirely in the grip of my ghost and therefore of my language. I am at peace.
This is what happens also with the work of art. In what way does it happen with the work of art?… In the sense that… The moment we experience a desiring relationship …
Choir: What a cliché!
The desiring relationship having artwork as its object is not a cliché, it is not a cliché. We could even force us to have a rational attitude, we could also try not to show our emotional enslavement to artwork, but it has to be somewhere! I’m not only talking about paintings. I’m talking about literature and music as well; indeed, in a certain sense, think this through with me, everything is so easy with music. If you say you fell in love with… Beethoven, and that when you listen to Beethoven you experience a strange emotion, and you feel something melting in you, and you feel as if there wasn’t… Maybe you close your eyes because you don’t want to remember reality, you want to push it away from you, immersing yourself into this music. And perhaps you are alone at home and you live an experience made of pure confusion with artwork, namely Beethoven. No one says that this is a cliché. This is what Romantic artists thought about the aesthetic experience: the entire transcendence of my body. So, I have to transcend my body, meet the music, become one with it, become music myself!
Choir: Isn’t it bliss?
This is Paradise! O yes, this is Paradise! Same thing can also happen in literature. Because I remember that. I especially remember at a young age, because then growing up we have less… you become thick-skinned, in a way. When you are young and you read Shakespeare. Or at least I remember, on the bus to the city, coming from the countryside, reading Ibsen. It seems absurd, but that’s how it is; I had seen a play at the theatre, and discovered the existence of The Lady from the Sea, and I bragged about reading Ibsen! Shakespeare was gone. Now there is Ibsen. And for me this reading Ibsen was similar to falling in love. And how did this falling in love show itself? For instance, by leaning your head against the bus window in a melancholy way, while reading The Lady from the Sea. Or at home, when I played its different parts, the husband, the wife.
And what about artwork? Thinking of it, what should melt us the most, reduce us to something liquid, a desiring mush, it is Monet; especially, Monet at the Orangerie. Here they are, Water Lilies. [pointing at a projected image] Why do I talk about Water Lilies? We could actually talk about any artwork, of many more different artworks. Nevertheless Water Lilies at the Orangerie have the extraordinary power of those artworks which place themselves in a moment of transition. Water Lilies are not Impressionist anymore, but not yet Abstract, they can be anything. They could be Expressionist, Impressionist, Abstract works of art. The most important thing is to understand which portion of it you are looking at. When you read stories about Monet at the Orangerie, you will find adjectives describing an entirely catalyzing experience: something that could make you lose your balance, because it’s too beautiful. Can we see a picture of the Orangerie museum? But what’s happening? In this museum nobody is leaning their head against the window, nobody is going crazy, nobody is sweating, nobody is fainting, nobody is dreaming of entering these paintings and totally losing oneself into their dimension. There are reasons why this doesn’t happen. Obviously if you go to a rock concert, you can even make love on the grass, if the music has turned you on. There is a private dimension in music and literature.
Chorus: What a surprise!
And there is no private dimension in art. Because here, even if you liked one of these paintings, so much that it completely activates you and calls you, saying: Come, come, come, let’s make love! You wouldn’t be able to do anything! Because you’d be ashamed of other people’s faces, judging you. And not only that. At the Orangerie there is also the way, the disposition of artworks, the fact that there are the watchmen, the fact that you will never be on your own, the lights, the fact that it is called Orangerie, that you have paid a ticket. All of this means that you cannot entirely slobber over artwork.
There is something more. There’s the fact that… [He takes a pencil] Here I need a pencil to do a sketch; and the sketch is this. If I close my eyes, and I lie on the ground, I can keep on listening Beethoven as long as I want. I can call someone and make him read Ibsen, if Ibsen is what I like. If I want to make love to Rimbaud, as Patti Smith said, as Patti Smith wanted to, I have to close my eyes, exclude reality, and then I can imagine making love with Rimbaud. With artwork I’m not able to do that. [He puts the pencil pointed at his forehead] With artwork, it’s like you have a pencil pointed right here, which is your gaze, and it is your distance but also your relation with these objects. Nobody knows which one is the statue; if it is you looking at artwork, or if it is artwork that is looking at you. But you cannot move. If I do this, [He removes the pencil from his forehead] artwork disappears, it’s already over. I must come back to this position. Position is what art teaches us, what visual art teaches us. At the Orangerie, the fact that you must take a position, stand in front of the paintings, that you cannot move an inch, or return to any other linguistic dimension that absolves us from the daily poison, the poison of things, this means I cannot really and freely experience the work of art. And when you talk about participatory art, you are talking about a kind of art mediated by good taste, relations, ethics. Relational art is an art of the ethics. When we have done the workshop, it was an art of the ethics. I haven’t said moralistic, but related to the behaviour: what do you think? What do I think? Do you want to look at Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s face? What do you like? This is the kind of relation that we establish with the work of art. So, a relation in which our body is like a statue, immobile. Nonetheless, if by any chance we come into contact, into an ultra-statuesque contact with artwork, with a work… It can be Monet, it can be a collage by Schwitters…
Chorus: Isn’t it rich?
What happens is that from that moment on this kind of statue melts, and you will experience, we experience: participation, emotion, feelings towards artwork. From that moment all that we’ll do is to wiggle in front of Monet. We want Monet to like us. We want Monet to possess us. Mone-et! I ask Monet to do with my body what he should do! [he pretends to flirt with one of the paintings hanging behind him, wiggling his ass in an exaggerated way] I want the love story with Monet! Do, do, do.
[ piano: DO DO DO ]
What has happened? Once…
Choir: What a surprise!
Once, by chance, the statue, that is the relation of distance and statue-ness with artwork, has fallen. So, at a certain point, we have found ourselves in intimacy with Monet, with Water Lilies. And what we would like now is that Water Lilies repeated this experience endlessly. But this is not possible. It’s not possible to make love inside the Orangerie to Monet’s Water Lilies, since there is no way to do so. What does making love to Orangerie mean? What does making love to Monet’s Water Lilies mean? It means to be carried towards… To accept, let’s say, that this love became a kind of metaphor. I’m talking about love. I say: “making love to Water Lilies at the Orangerie”, but I don’t mean what we usually do when saying: “making love to someone”. I’ve said: “teasing and wiggling in front of Monet”, but I don’t mean… I have to understand that it means a kind of spiritual ass wiggling, an inner, aesthetic ass wiggling.
Chorus: And do you expect this to be Heaven?
This, ma’am, is the only possible Heaven: the Paradise in which we make peace with our symbolic substance.
Chorus: Who could foresee?
We better accept the fact that only on the level of the symbol we may have a sexual experience with artwork, and with Monet, and with Kandinsky’s ankle, Max Ernst’s cleft or I don’t remember whose it was, and with Kurt Schwitters’ beautiful face. So only when I place myself on a symbolic dimension, all of this may actually become a sort of copulation. To place oneself on this dimension means to accept a kind of theatre. Thus I walk into the Orangerie… But I also come in here… I don’t want to mention, let’s say, the context that hosts us, a context full of philosophers, since here they talk all the time, here it’s not just art; there’s a bit of art, a bit of philosophy, a bit of poetry, a bit of this, a bit of that, a bit of everything; because… because… we need to understand a little bit in which way we can deal with art without being swallowed up, and so the philosopher explains to us…
Chorus: Don’t you love farce?
All is a farce, all is a theatre. Orangerie is a theatre. You pay for your ticket, you enter at the Orangerie, you cannot take your panties off, you cannot take your clothes off, you cannot do anything. You can just look at Monet and try to grasp all you can from it, and then, in the distance, when you come to your senses, in a kind of purely symbolic environment, make love to Monet. And try to understand what the indissoluble union between your subjectivity and artwork you have just looked at means.
The song I now introduce to you is a song about two people who are splitting up.
Chorus: Send in the clowns!
It is called just this, Send in the Clowns. Send in the Clowns is a song… All the songs we have listened to were by George Gershwin, whereas the last two, Send in the Clowns and the next one, are not.
Chorus: And where are the clowns?
Clowns are here now, there are a lot of them. Because if you have lived a fusion experience with the work of art, you have been clowns yourselves. What happens to these two people? They are breaking up, and one says: Isn’t it rich? Are we a pair?… Now while I’m reading, please imagine that these words are addressed to… Let’s say… Let’s say to Water Lilies. So, it’s me and Water Lilies: a famous couple of lovers. And we are going to break up, because we have understood there isn’t a story between us anymore, ‘cause there is no way to have a fusion with artwork. Isn’t it rich? Are we a pair? Me here at last on the ground, You in mid-air… Ghost is always moving. In this regard… Yes, the ghost is always moving. Actually, Freud says something else, that the symptom is always moving and the ghost always stands still. The image that you want in your head, this one, doesn’t take a step. It doesn’t move. It’s you that are moving. It’s your disease that moves from day to day. So, one day you’re sad, one day you’re happy, one day you’re excited, one day you’d kiss it, one day you’d spit on it. But the ghost, the fraction/nail that has grown within your thought, is always still.
Chorus: What a surprise!
Actually, artwork doesn’t stand still. So maybe Freud was wrong, I don’t know; sometimes, he has talked nonsense. Anyway: You in mid-air… Send in the clowns! Isn’t it bliss? Don’t you approve? One who keeps tearing around,… — meaning me, walking around artwork — One who can’t move,… — artwork hanging on the wall that stands there still. But where are the clowns? Send in the clowns! Just when I’d stopped opening doors,… — so: Dégas, Manet, Seurat, etc. etc., at one point you arrive at the Monet at the Orangerie and say: No, this is the final door, the door with which I will fall in love, everything else is now over for me, I don’t want to hear talking about it anymore! — Just when I’d stopped opening doors, Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours, in that moment… And I was sure of my lines… — meaning what I have to say in front of Monet’s Water Lilies, and I have to say: W h a t a n i c e d e m a t e r i a l i z a t i o n o f t h e c o l o u r t h r o u g h t h e b r u s h s t r o k e ! W h a t a m a r v e l o u s t r a n s f e r e n c e o f t h e s e n s a t i o n t h a t a g a r d e n o n a c a n v a s c a n g i v e ! These are the lines I say to enter into an erotic relationship with Monet’s Water Lilies. Right at that moment… No one is there … — Water Lilies are gone. So, the more we get close to try to have this relationship, the more Water Lilies fade away. And the song finishes: There’s no need to call the clowns, the clowns, clowns are us — me and Monet’s Water Lilies. No chance of making mistakes, we are reciting a farce, each one has their own script, and thanks to this script — the script is also the language of love, the aesthetics, it is what you have to say when you have to express your taste for something — thanks to this script, we can survive.
Chorus: Send in the Clowns!
Here they are!
[ piano: SEND IN THE CLOWNS ]
Dracula is Arthur Rimbaud’s second body. He is also Kurt Schwitters’ second body. Also Dante Alighieri’s second body. And we don’t need to have some pictures to have access to the second body. We can do it simply by reading, listening, looking at the works of art. This is how you access the symbolic body of poets, artists, musicians. This symbolic body sucks our blood, and we do want it to suck it, because we want this aesthetic enjoyment. — ‘Aesthetic enjoyment’ is not a word… Also Kant, that you would never imagine saying words like ‘pleasure’, ‘enjoyment’, actually did it. — So, the more we want this blood to be sucked, the more Dante Alighieri, Rimbaud, Virgil become…, keep being immortal. Imagine now this world full of vampires, and these vampires are the ghosts, the nails that have appeared in your brain, in need of pleasure, literature, art, love, etc… And what do these ghosts do? They come to you and they suck your blood, meaning your time, your money, your thoughts, your love, your life. They become immortal, and keep being immortal. And what do you gain, what do we gain? What did I gain from 2 years of love for a postcard? Did I participate in this immortality? In Nosferatu’s story, the one whose blood is sucked dies. He passes over to the other side. And where does he pass? What is on the other side? Where are the vampires? On the other side, there is the symbol, the total separation from the body, the pure language, the pure poetry, the pure painting. You are no longer where…where you took the bus, or smoked your cigarette, you are not those eating in the kitchen anymore. You are in another world, where Dracula has brought you to kill you, to suck your blood.
There you can make love to the ghost. In this dimension. So, I have to accept taking a step so that, the day in which I buy that postcard, I fall in love with that beautiful face, I grow melancholy because I could never kiss that beautiful face, and hug those beautiful shoulders, and take part in the body number 1, number 2… At one point, this melancholy that makes me sick, I have to come out of it, because I have to survive. The only chance is that I can turn all of this into an allegory. This was something that… Susan Sontag analyzed the relations among melancholy artists that used… melancholy literati and writers who compulsively used allegory. What is allegory? It’s a possibility to heal from a deep sadness which comes from knowing thaw we can’t ever make love to the ghost. And we are separated from it as long as we live. This is what leads us to the allegory.
[the choir enters reaching different positions on the scene, then reciting a litany aloud ]
SKIN ↔ MELANCHOLY
NOSE ↔ ALLEGORY
CHALK ↔ MELANCHOLY
BLOOD ↔ ALLEGORY
CLOUDS ↔ MELANCHOLY
BARN ↔ ALLEGORY
DISCIPLINE ↔ MELANCHOLY
TESTAMENT ↔ ALLEGORY
ARTWORK ↔ MELANCHOLY
CLANKERS ↔ ALLEGORY
COLUMNS ↔ MELANCHOLY
GLUE ↔ ALLEGORY
HAIR ↔ MELANCHOLY
DOORS ↔ ALLEGORY
MEMORY ↔ MELANCHOLY
DENTURE ↔ ALLEGORY
DUST ↔ MELANCHOLY
MEMBER ↔ ALLEGORY
SCRAPS ↔ MELANCHOLY
MASS ↔ ALLEGORY
MERZBARN ↔ MELANCHOLY
SENSE ↔ ALLEGORY
HEAD ↔ MELANCHOLY
SIGN ↔ ALLEGORY
WALL ↔ MELANCHOLY
NAIL ↔ ALLEGORY
CEILING ↔ MELANCHOLY
PLACES ↔ ALLEGORY
Over the rainbow… Over the rainbow…
[ piano: OVER THE RAINBOW ]
[he quotes from the Patti Smith book] I fuck a saint who is made of water. When we reappear the birds are chirping. So, I wish you to fuck with your favourite ghost. Dante Alighieri, or Kurt Schwitters, I am not jealous. Good evening.
Intro: choir reciting Schwitters-Rosary
The man I love • Falling in love with a postcard • Ghost is an image • Paradise is Schwitters’ face
Stairway to Paradise • How to make love with Rimbaud • The most beautiful face in the whole Avant-garde • Kandinsky’s slim ankle • Two bodies of Rimbaud
I’ve got a Crush on You • Poison of reality • A new language • I’ve got Rhythm
In the grip of my ghost • Desiring relationship • Especially Monet • Position is what art teaches us • Wiggling in front of Monet • Do Do Do
Orangerie is a theatre • Subjectivity and artwork • Splitting up • Reciting a farce • Send in the Clowns • Nosferatu’s story • choir reciting Melancholy & Allegory
Over the Rainbow • I fuck a saint/birds are chirping