In Mexico, as in other cities around the world, during the 1960s the art scene lived important movements of renewal; a significant presence during those years was that of Alejandro Jodorowsky (Iquique, Chile, 1929), who reached Mexico City by featuring controversial stagings and developing a multifaceted career that would transform him after a while in a cult artist of the twentieth century. Jodorowsky’s theatrical proposal was characterized by frontal criticism of traditional theatrical patterns, he directed more than fifty shows such as pantomimes, musicals, puppet shows, staging of avant-garde theater texts (Beckett, Ionesco, Tardeu) and texts of his own authorship such as: La ópera del orden (1962), El juego que todos jugamos y Zaratustra (both 1970). But it was in “The Ephemeral Panic” in which Jodorowsky carried to the extreme his scenic proposal. The influences and interests of this creator placed him as a contemporary artist of his time and his thoughts found important similarities with rupture movements that were developing mainly in the United States, such that the ephemeral panic closely corresponding to the American happening. Practitioner of Eastern disciplines like yoga and meditation, esoteric scholar, avid comic reader, connoisseur of avant-garde European theater, outstanding student of Ettienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau and significantly influenced by Antonin Artaud’s texts, Jodorowsky published the book Teatro pánico in 1965 [1] including the line “Hacia el efímero pánico o ¡sacar al teatro del teatro!”, in which the author, as in a manifiesto, sets forth the fundamentals of ephemeral panic.

The ephemeral panic, owes its second name to the Panic Movement, formed by the playwright Fernando Arrabal and the writer and artist Roland Topor, along with Jodorowsky. This movement emerged as a criticism of Surrealism, and one of its most peculiar features was its own view of the god Pan and its development along the lines of effect caused by this god among mortals who faced him: panic, a state in which contradictory moods such as terror and laughter could be simultaneously experienced; and it is this concept of simultaneity that panics reclaim for the creation of their works. In Alejandro’s text, mentioned above, the author strives to rethink theatrical elements: character, literary text, theater building, stage director, set designer and the public; and in doing so the creation of advocates a scenic work based on chance and the “accident”.

Drawing an analogy between painting and theater, Jodorowsky states that the visual arts have the task of carrying figuration and abstraction toward a concrete manifestation: “In this new plastic attitude, the concrete one, the boundaries between painting and sculpture will be ambiguous and the painter will produce a ‘plastic-object’ made not only with traditional painting materials but also with bits of reality”. Consistent with this idea, the ephemeral panic seeks to express itself through specific means, the materials used for this purpose are preferably organic: membranes, eggs, old clothes, gas, rats, etc. The use of sets and costumes are replaced by constructible and destructible objects, ex-players enter the objects and make them explode, they wear collective costumes, use engines, handle lights, in short, says Alejandro, the ephemeral is expressed with real materials and not with objects that appear to be. With respect to the actor (now ex-actor), he does not work in terms of creating a character, but his participation is instead focused on finding the real expression of the individual. To reassess chance and accident as the very essence of the scenic fact, Alejandro proposed an ephemeral theater and therefore a unique theater, generated by releasing spontaneous action from the literary text by means of the performer: “the agonizing struggle that the theater has sustained throughout its history by creating reproducible shows, it has been a mistake, instead of being the temple of order-disorder and improvisation, it has lived enslaved by this intruder and absurd emperor of the scene who is the writer”, the ephemeral panic emerges from not a literary text but from an organizational scheme. In this text he also proposes to work outside the theaters because they determine in advance a torn relationship between scene and audience, on the contrary the ephemeral panic seeks to overflow, the action generated by the ex-actors should actively involve the public, the ephemeral act should become what he called the party –show-, and its ultimate goal is that “the man be released from his everyday molds, and thaks to improvised action, to be able to develop his whole being”. From documents and testimonies it is clear that in all events generated by Jodorowsky the highlight was his great showmanship, in theater as well as in his public speeches and of course in his ephemerals, and it is a fact that although the radicality expressed in his theoretical postulates was not always evident, in his scenic interventions the spectacle was always present.

Jodorowsky made several ephemerals in Mexico City, one of the most representative being the one staged in the courtyard of the Academy of Fine Arts of San Carlos, where a large number of simultaneous actions took place including the intervention of a barber who was hired to shave an actress, the making of a mural –in situ- on the body of a model by the artist Manuel Felguérez, , and also central to the performance was the use of several organic materials such as offal, blood, milk, eggs, live animals, etc. Another prominent ephemeral took place in 1967 when Jodorowsky with the help of a rock band broke a piano on a television program, an action that was seen by thousands of spectators. However in some of his most memorable ephemerals his presence as stage manager is much more evident, such as in the works performed in collaboration with the renowned visual artist Manuel Felguérez. In 1961 Felguérez used scrap metal to build a huge mural in the building that later would become the cinema Diana, which can still be seen despite the destruction it has suffered from cinema managers. At the inauguration of this mural, Jodorowsky presented a scenic show entitled Poem inmóvil para un mural de hierro, where a group of actors recited texts, written by Alexander, while a drummer improvised a beat on the metal mural. In 1963 Felguérez made another impressive mural, this time for a spa. On this occasion ideal production conditions allowed Jodorowsky to make an impressive show with the participation of more than 40 participants, including dancers, actors and mimes, lighting, audio, film and even a helicopter that, during rehearsals, accidentally dropped into the pool and thereafter become part of the unusual scenery. Art criticism by Raquel Tibol recalls moments of this show: “Everything revolved around Los Cantos de Maldoror de Lautreamon: a sense of indifference pervaded the big show. To embody in a multifaceted way the idea of meeting-mismatch among humans Jodorowsky simultaneously used all dressing rooms, which were many. (…)At one point all the doors were opened and in each illuminated dressing room, a couple’s situation or scene of lonliness took place; discord couples, couples in harmony, couples having intercourse… Alejandro was a genius at taking advantage of chances; for example, with the helicopter in the middle of the pool it was impossible to set up a large platform for the dancers, all that remained possible was to use a small platform that flapped and filled with water, so that the performers slipped and fell into the pool while dancing. It became the dance of instability. Another highlight were the two large plastic tubs with mimes inside barely emitting guttural sounds, and some submerged in noodles and others in ketchup. At the same time as burning fireworks and big judas were moved from side to side, music sounded and a voice read the text Lautréamot”. Another memorable ephemeral took place in Paris during the second Festival of Free Speech in May 1965; this time Jodorowsky and his team conducted a series of extreme actions for more than three hours. Music was an important element in the ephemerals and this time Jodorowsky employed a rock band. Actions happened in permanent state of chaos, sustained by the strong presence of a tireless Jodorowsky, who went from one project to another without further ado; one minute he was seen painting the naked body of a participant, the next wearing a suit of raw meat that was torn apart by the other participants, now being flogged with a whip, or destroying a car. The primary objective of the ephemeral, which Jodorowsky outlined in the text quoted above was to free people and to develop the whole being, this was the underlying premise of his artwork, and ironically this premise removed him from the art, leading him to therapeutic fields; and thus situated in the psycological, he created the psychotherapist in order to reclaim his concept of ephemeral action, and today as psychotherapist he designs strange actions for his fanatic patients, which they realize without artistic desire and in the privacy of their own spaces. “He was a man who completely despised himself, he did not love himself, he humiliated himself, he was a musician who could not create, he asked me to help with him art. I told him it would be necessary for me to lead him to an extreme situation. He was especially despised by women, by his mother. So I put him in a tub and I had thirty women urinate on him. He had never been so humiliated in his life. It was like an electric shock. Now he has wonderful records, because he bottomed out”. [2]

[1] «Teatro pánico», Alexandro Jodorowsky, Ed. Era, México, D.F., 1965. [2] «Entrevista con el psicomago del arte», Una Pérez and Andrés Ramírez, Revista Viceversa, 29 October, 1995.