“Nude Laying Down On A Couch, D’Après Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending A Staircase”, performative photograph by © David Pissarra with Rogério Nuno Costa (first residency at Pólo Cultural das Gaivotas, Lisbon, 2017)


A theatre performance by Rogério Nuno Costa in collaboration with Luís Lázaro Matos (PT), Kristian Palmu (DE/Fl), Niko Skorpio (Fl) and Francesca Rayner (UK/PT). With the support of: Pólo Cultural das Gaivotas/Teatro Praga (Lisbon, Portugal), Là-Bas Studio/Kaapelitehdas (Helsinki, Finland) and Museum of Impossible Forms (Helsinki, Finland). Production: Ballet Contemporâneo do Norte.

Starting Point

Following my interest in the field of post-dramatic theatre and dramaturgy in straight connection with visual arts, philosophy and literature, my upcoming theatre work, set to premiere in 2019, will consist in a cross-disciplinary collaboration between artists from Portugal (where I’m originally from) and Finland (where I’m currently living and working). Taking the poetics of the solitary artist as a visual, literary and dramaturgical starting point, the piece will be based in a textual and autobiographical narrative, a “dialogical monologue”, bilingually written in Portuguese and English. Having the text as its central element, the performance will feature contributions from a visual artist (Luís Lázaro Matos), a musician (Niko Skorpio), a light designer and video artist (Kristian Palmu) and a dramaturgist, researcher and translator (Francesca Rayner). The final goal is to create a literary and theatrical experience, by the means of text, movement and projected lighting and video, a dialogue between fields, but also a proposition for the creation of an artistic “buffer zone”, a secluded experimental laboratory where a group of artists may experiment and test the possibility of solitude one may experience while being together. In other words: the building of a “solitary togetherness”, ultimately questioning the primary notion of working collectively. The performance’s text will get its first inspiration from Marcel Duchamp’s “The Engineer Of The Lost Time”, thus speculating on the role of art (and artists) in society and the implications of being a castaway (one that does not conform to the institutionalised narrative). Also about being brave, or brave enough to quit everything and disappear. A very Bartlebyan act of “self-empowerment”: I prefer not to. Just like in Duchamp’s interview to Paul Cabanne, the format of the text will be structured in a system of question/answer, imagining a non-existent interviewer, or rather merging interviewer and interviewee in the same person/artist: a man having a conversation with himself, or with an imaginary “other”. Moreover, a man abdicating his will to “be part of” (society, a specific community, a given historical paradigm…) in favour of a self-inflicted disappearance, or at least a suspension, in time and space, of his own existence. The second inspiration for the text will come from Enrique Vila-Matas “Bartleby & Co.”, a compilation of footnotes for the history of those (artists or not) who have decided to quit, to stop, to shut up, to close down, to disappear. The history of those who have negated, who chose invisibility, the anti-heroes who inhabited the ghostly pellicle of the photographic negative of History. Adding to those references, a third inspiration will come from a group of artists (mainly poets) who have died way too young to even fulfil their artistic missions. Daniel Faria, Portuguese poet dead at the age of 28 after secluding himself in a Benedictine monastery in Portugal, has left a humble yet significant group of manuscripts. His simple but pungent writings address themes of withdrawal, separation, absence and alienation, but also death and oblivion, the tension between being alone and/or being left alone. At last, “1917-19” aims to rhetorically build a literary apology of failure (Jack Halberstam’s “The Queer Art of Failure”) through self-chosen isolation, not a selfish individualism, rather a sort of “conceptual isolationism”. A healing through suffering. An ascetic and mystical experience. The performance is imagined to be presented in contemporary art museums and art galleries (when equipped with a stage for performing arts), but also independent cultural spaces and venues. A conversation with the audience after the performance, with the participation of all the collaborators, may be included upon request.

Further Conceptualisation

In 1917, Marcel Duchamp writes 1917 in an upside-down urinal. In 1919, the same artist draws a moustache in the most important portrait of the history of art, not the original one (he’s not Banksy), not even a reproduction (Pop was yet to be invented), but a portrait he painted himself, copying the “original”, and, by doing so, stating: I prefer not to. One hundred years later, we still don’t know how to deal with those radical endeavours. More than clever attempts to revolutionise, shock or transgress the art world (or to prophesy the end of art itself, some might have said…), those historical epiphenomena hide a more obscure quest for a self-imposed ostracism and loneliness, as if it was impossible to do anything more after having obliterated almost everything. Duchamp spent decades doing “nothing at all”, the reason why Vila-Matas dedicated some footnotes to him in his non-book of negative authors, those who have decided to stop pushing the pen and let their silence do the talking instead. For “1917-19”, I’m interested in reformulating Duchamp’s question, assuming self-neglect and oblivion as an act of resistance. In addition, I’m interested in appropriating Vila-Matas formula for the production of the text: how can one write a “book” that is just the footnotes of an invisible “text”? Footnotes do not just festoon the text of “Bartleby & Co”; they are the text. This strategy of providing the caption with as much importante (if not more) as the captioned image, is probably one of the fundamental operational concepts of my practice, both as performance artist, researcher and writer. In “1917-19”, I intend to amplify and expand that pattern. Ultimately, “1917-19” is an autobiographical statement about how can one perform an exercise of resistance to a commonplace — theatre as a literary, artistic and historical established order —, with the purpose of elevating failure, deviation, disruption, forgetfulness and the “readymade” dramaturgies of everyday life to the status of “main courses”, at the same time avoiding the problematic ethics of celebration and homage.

“Nude Running Over A Couch, D’Après Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending A Staircase”, performative photograph by © David Pissarra with Rogério Nuno Costa (first residency for “1917-19” at Pólo Cultural das Gaivotas, Lisbon, 2017).

© 2018