Walking into the set of We are lichens is like an immersion into a languid version of Children of men. Still dark and unkempt to dirtiness, but without the structure and the drama. Precisely what the title advertises. Although, there is another layer built into it. All, we are all lichens, but more on that in a bit.
Textbooks probably call that performing action unconventional, as in put together outside the typical convention of an audience to whom catharsis is served in the given theatre geometry. Indeed the setup turns out to be a pretext for both the actors and whomever ventures in, and catharsis is a private matter. Needless to say, there are no applauses, no stage, no seats.
I walk into the dim lit lobby of Omnia Hall, where behind a curtain of 70’s looking decorative pillars, lies an underground colony of the lost to purpose. It’s cold and nightmarish. In fact, it feels like entering somebody else’s subconscious.
Captive to computer screens, vacuum cleaner hoses, cables, sheets of tinfoil and other piles of junk, six performers lie in wait and activate to gestures without apparent end. My first thought is they are entangled, but unable to process a request for help. Bruegel’s Children’s games comes to mind, the partnerless version, all nuclei of action, parables of ineptitude. From the outside, it looks terrible futile and lonely.
One sits on a high table top and plays with a rubber band. It’s too dark to see any trace of enjoyment on Andreea David’s face, but it would be the exception to a pre-existing neutrality, neighbouring the debility. Another brings bulbs from all over the universe and lays them on a piece of carpet. It creates an accidental spot of light that goes unacknowledged, let alone celebrated. Then decides to move all of it with no apparent logic. When they move, the inhabitants of this world move their junk with them. I catch myself auditing the contents of my house, all of the sudden motivated to downsize.
On the cold marble floor, another builds minuscule fort like strings of cement, which will lay abandoned until, burdened to a yolk of junk, yet another performer will crawl next to it and observe it emotionless. There is no soundtrack to this, with the exception of a brief groan-like female song, in fact there is no audible dialogue.
I am flooded with film comparisons. It’s Micmacs a Tire-larigot, but without the humour and composed aesthetic. Boxtrolls without the sense fuelled action. Because, we have been told, they are lichens. All of them, objects and humans alike. In fact, we are all lichens, spectators included.
“I’m not sure like/no like applies here. At first it felt like organised chaos, but then, when one of the performers came close, as I was able to move around them, I wanted to go in and do the same. I can’t really compare it to anything. I was not overwhelmed by emotion, rather I felt a short impulse, a timeless in-between, like when you take a picture or watch a movie and something just happens, instantaneously,” says Mirela Țîrlea, for the second time at a performance during the season.
Nicoleta Enache “entered a desolate, found space, where I had to find my place. I could have been a being or an object. I let myself hypnotised by the installation, without any explanations.”
On the run to her next show, Andreea David recounts her lichen tales: “it’s a fusion, a contamination, you give up authorship, being the human who acts, and let things infect and inform you. It’s a horizontality, not a hierarchy between humans and objects. New meanings emerge, other than those we are used to. How do you spin a ball differently? How do you take the roundedness, the quality of being able to spin and use them differently? How does this piece of information lead you? How do you factor in gravity? What qualities does a ball have other than that we know from football?” I smile discreetly, triggered by her inquiry into the functionality of things. I can’t refrain from musing how Andreea’s profession of origin, architect, informs her creations in the realm of contemporary dance.
“The performance very well illustrates a reality of mutism, perhaps a contemporary reality. There’s not much use of the eternal mechanism of music, other than to emphasise an unbearable atmosphere, a dull suffering we do not express and live with moving objects, or somehow arranging the ordinary. All is reduced here, emptied of drama, all moves in circle, Brauninan like. Byung-Chul Han, a German philosopher of South Korean origin speaks of a disoriented world, a society of fatigue and of performance, at the same time. These are two sides of the same coin. Mutism is not silence, is the incapacity to speak, neighbouring ineptitude, oblivion. Gilles Lipovetsky explains, in his work “La Culture-Monde,” how culture has descended into the ordinary, which is very hard to transcend, we sink into it, are stuck. The vibe [of the performance] was of adhering to objects, to things, to not being capable of letting go of,” says philosophy professor Ștefan Vianu.
Depressing as I find it, the action is therapeutic in consequences. The next day I reach out for warm gloves, I take out the trash, I spend the sunny afternoon with mom in the park.
*We Are All Lichens is a performative framework designed by Farid Fairuz, with performers Maria Baroncea, Mădălina Dan, Andreea David, Rui Catalo and Farid Fairuz; it is a project co-produced by the Solitude Project Cultural Association, the National Centre for Dance in Bucharest, Colectiv A Cultural Association in Cluj, and co-funded by the National Cultural Fund Administration (AFCN).
**This text was written with the occasion of the Contemporary dance season CNDB – Bucharest in movement, 2017.
The Contemporary dance season CNDB – Bucharest in movement, 2017 cultural project is supported within the cultural program Bucharest participatory city, by the Bucharest Mayor’s Office through the Bucharest Cultural Centre ARCUB.