“The space that opens up before you . . . where everything turns . . .” Encounter with La Ribot.
La Ribot: Before I talk about Still distinguished, I would like to briefly sketch out the project of Piezas Distinguidas (Distinguished pieces). For, what Blanca Calvo says about Desviaciones (Deviations), namely that they aren’t an event, but rather a project, can be perfectly applied to Piezas Distinguidas. Since I first started to work on the pieces, although they have been arranged into series or performances, I have seen them as an idea which has been thrown into the the air, which I must follow. Still distinguished is the third series. The project started at the University of Salamanca, in a workshop organized by Alberto Mart’n, head of the Service of Cultural Activities. At the time, I was looking for a change of scale. I had always done work at a large scale. And I was determined to reduce the scale to find a more accessible dimension. This is how I first came across a distinguished piece, which required nothing, nobody . . . It was essentially a question of reducing the problems of production and performance in dance, so that I could take them in hand. I set myself some rules: I determined to work naked, in order to get close with the body, and to be able to show such closeness; I had to depart from silence: that is, no sound could be introduced before it; and I set myself a time, from 30 seconds to 7 minutes. What was being sought with working in a smaller scale, was a change in the line of work, regarding the body, as well as dance. A smaller scale enabled me to work, almost daily, on a single piece, that I could define and conclude, and eventually understand. It was a question of making everything small so that it could be taken in hand. This gave me the idea for Piezas Distinguidas (Distinguished Pieces) I have been creating pieces since 1993. The last one, which was shown in 2000, is number 34. The fact that everything is handy, that I can control the whole thing, has caused changes, both in the production and the distribution of pieces. Everything changes. And, in fact, this is what I was looking for. Next, I decide to imitate the methodology of painters. I inspire myself in visual arts, in the most classical sense: a painter with his little painting, a manageable object. This thing with painting also inspires the way in which things are arranged, and the idea of the distinguished owners: I can sell each piece to a distinguished owner. Therefore, the selling scale and the exhibition scale can also change. Everything revolves around the tiny nucleous which is created in a completely fragmented way and enables me to understand little things. During the last eight years, I have produced three series. The first one is titled 13 Piezas Distinguidas (13 Distingished pieces) The second series, Más Distinguidas (More Distinguished), was first shown in the first year of Desviaciones. And at present we can still see Still Distinguished, that completes the series of three pieces. The first series works on theatre related aspects. The second one has more to do with fine arts, in the sense that I work on the body more directly; it is transformed into a canvas, onto which I stick, paint or hang things. Its vision must be totally frontal, otherwise it doesn’t work. I think that in Still Distinguished it is as though I had pressed that body against the floor, that is: it expands on the surface and needn’t be looked at from a frontal position. Space becomes more important. I have different feelings about my three pieces: In the first one I feel as though I was inside a bucket, which is the theater; in the second one I feel as though I was playing within two different levels: my own body, and vision; and the third series could be described as something that is completely spread on a surface. This is very important in order to begin to understand something. The departure point in Still Distinguished is to work on the meaning of the adverb still: On one hand it designs statism, stillness (in the sense of tranquility), and on the other, it refers to the continuous aspect of words such as still, being, not yet: the continuity of passing time. For this reason, if in the past I used to play with briefness, I now play with being. I have managed to extend time even further. Therefore, every piece occupies the established time almost completely; they all fit in the seven minute lapse. It feels as though they were expanding towards the surface that I imagine.
Blanca Calvo: You could tell us a bit more about the general theme in your pieces, if you believe that there is one, of course.
LR: I don’t think there is a them, although there must be. The thing is that each series catches me in the same period of my life, with the same kind of preoccupations, the same intention as regards work. But I would not call this a theme. It’s as though I focused on some general themes, but rather vaguely. I always think about them, but they never take a particular direction. There is one thing which I concentrate on, and that is still, and the flat surface; in more technical and specific things, I would say. The more general themes, such as women, violene, sex . . . are present, but they are looked upon in a more humourous way: don’t you think so? What I mean is that they aren’t actually themes: rather, they are things I am carried away by, because they’re in my mind. But, in fact, I don’t concentrate on such themes: that is, I have no narrative intentions, I don’t mean to narrate anything in relation to such themes. I actually want to work on particular tasks. If the project is to be continuous, I have to reflect upon tasks that I will do in each series. It is more to do with this, really, than with seeking particular themes. For, in fact, going back to what I’ve already said, the theme is always the same: bodies of women . . . sex, violence.
José A.Sánchez: Your still, I assume, has to do, not only with the definition of the pieces, but also with the continuity of the other pieces. Elements and structures emerge, time after time, models repeat themselves . . .
LR: Well, yes, you’re right. It always happens that when I finish a series, I have the feeling that I can’t go on with the project. It’s as though I had come to a limit. But in Still distinguished the sensation is more beautiful, and even more real: Not only have I come to a limit: the limit has widened and has become that surface which I told you about. Therefore I have calmed down. And, the elements: something occurs to them, too For instance, my last piece: Easily Killed, almost turns into my first piece: Muriéndose la Sirena (As the siren lay dying); it has other mechanisms, but it is the same. The chair in Se Vende (On Sale) is now broken and I put it on me in a diffrent way, but it responds again to the same violent chair. I see that chair appear in many of my works, and it always does in a violent way: in Oh! Sole we stuck it into our arse, in another piece, it beat me up, and in this one it fastens me with splints . . . It is quite the same with wigs: Oh! Sole, the siren, Bloody Mary . . . Being a fish . . . It’s like a jigsaw spread on the space and the time of my life, my work. They are interrelated. I realize, every day, what objects are like: they stick onto things in a different way, but they are the same, over and over again. What I mean is that the theme is always the same, yet it is narrated in different ways. And, my work Distinguished Pieces is essentially the task of picking up those same bits and pieces to arrange them in different manners. It’s like playing with prisms: It is the same all the time: what actually changes is the point of view. This is why I feel that with Still Distinguished I have understood something: In fact, the objective of my work on this series was to try to understand the pieces in space, to avoid them from being isolated from one another. For this reason, I thought that they should be put on a surface, and that the audience should not look at them from a fixed position, because I wanted everybody to experience the sensation of a prism, rather than only me. That is, in Still Distinguished I try to work in this limitless space which opens up, where everything is moved and stirred continuously. And this is related to El Gran Game (The Big Game) that is also understood as a surface. And the objects of the pieces . . .
JAS: I feel that each piece has a nature of its own: the first one is more theatrical, the second one more pictorial, and the last one, more sculptural. But then, one exception within the chain: the first piece in Still, which is a video.
LR: Well, it is a total exception to the rules of the other pieces. I actually thought that it wasn’t a piece at all, and that for this reason, I would not include it. In fact, to me it felt as a kind of exercise. I was bored and had nothing to do. Yet, when thinking about the project of the Distinguished Pieces, it always struck me that at some point, one of the series should be filmed, because my body could not endure more work. But I always thought that I would feel this need later on. But all of a sudden, it is already there: it has been filmed. It sometimes happens this way: you have an idea, it is materialized suddenly, and you don’t have the time to assimilate it. And that is exactly what happened with the video. And then it exceeds the limit of time (it lasts eleven and a half minutes), and doesn’t relate to a lot of things that I once thought pertinent to a distinguished piece. But it is an important part of the whole thing to make exceptions. In fact, restrictions serve the sole purpose of analyzing: they never close a work. If suddenly, this has happened, then the resulting distinguished piece, will be a distinguished piece with exception.
JAS: And why is it placed at the beginning?
LR: It is located at the beginning to get you moving. As the screens are on the walls, the one possible way of seeing them is standing in front of them. In doing so you, will find yourself in the center: you will have occupied the space in a nontheatrical way, for you are placed in front of the screen. In Arteleku I didn’t have that piece yet, and the spectators had to press against the wall. If there happened to be few people, the piece could be seen from a distance. However, the space I sought, was not created. What really interested me, is the fact that you, the audience, moved, and that is something I had already tried to achieve in El Gran Game, although I didn’t succeed, because the space in which we played was too limited; it was so comfortable just to sit there and watch! As there were four fronts, and you knew that I would always come back to you, there was no need for moving. I never managed to achieve that spatial effect in my work. This is why I am so determined to find it in Still Distinguished. And in Arteleku I was again disappointed, because the people didn’t move either. I believed that the minimal tiny objects of the second piece would cause people to move, but, to be honest, I think that it is still very difficult for an audience to break that code of behaviour which makes people feel terribly embarrassed, when asked to walk across that space. And during this summer, I have been thinking about this, over and over, in order to cause this to happen, without having to force things. That is, I didn’t even want to have to explain or comment anything. I believe that both the video, and the sculptural character of the piece have contributed to make the piece work, more or less, and the audience move. Besides, it didn’t enable me to use the power of the performer. That is, with the video, you (the audience) are left on your own for twelve minutes. I am the last to arrive. Thus, when you are more unsuspicious, more trustful, our relationship is not based in power. For, if I was more powerful, you would be uncapable of moving, and I would have to become sweet and lovely, and use all kinds of strategies in order to make you feel at ease in this space. In this sense, I do think that the video, indeed works, because it gets you moving. And when I walk into the space I just adapt. In Arteleku, I used a point of reference to start: the wall in my first piece. My son Pablo had made a tiny wall like that, one day, at home, and I copied it. My point of reference was the wall, and I was so stupid in June, that although some people were sitting in the space, I moved about, placing my miniature wall here and there, where people were seated, without realizing that I was actually forcing them to leave . . . a very violent thing, indeed. This created a completely false tension, because it wasn’t being caused by the object itself, but rather because of my own demands: “You should move out of here because I’m going to place my little thing in this precise place”. Basically, the whole thing wasn’t working, because it was like saying: “Yes. There in no direction, you can all do whatever you wish to do, go wherever you want to go, but I’m going to put my tiny thing in here, so could you just move your tiny bottom somewhere else?” It wasn’t right, I was positive, so I decided to play the video in the first place, although it is the last piece, and in my mind, the exception to the rule. And the thing is, that it breaks the rules in many other ways. An example is distribution. A video can be distributed very easily and I am not required . . . The process accelerates. I had planned to make a film in two years time. Besides, I have no idea of how films work, and I believed, that if I really got myself into it, I would learn a lot, and absorb a lot. But due to the acceleration of the process, not only have I been taken aback by the whole thing, but I also feel as though everything had changed. And when this happens, I don’t know what to do: either I leave the piece, as an exception, and continue working on it without worrying too much about it, or I let myself be carried away by it. I have to revise all the concepts again: what is a distinguished owner, what is a distinguished piece? . . . For these concepts crumble in my mind, and I ignore which way to go. I have also thought that, even though Still Distinguished could be considered to be a sculptural series, it is nonetheless theatrical, in spite of the fact that I’m into the theory of presenting, rather than representing, and that stuff with the present, according to which I am not representing anything, for I am nothing but the body you see before you. There is an extremely powerful component of spectacularity, which I relate more with the theater and the circus: with physical virtuosity. This can be clearly seen, for instance, in my drinking a litre and a half of water in one swig.
JAS: I agree wiyh you: However, I observe a clear difference as regards time: you have the time, but I can also have my time, go out and come back in again. And such time is, by no means, theatrical.
LR: Everything has elements of everything else. The thing is, that the project of the pieces is the following: approaching the same problem from different positions. It isn’t surprising that in every series I discover, through a window, what I was looking for. This doesn’t imply that the pieces cease to be theatrical. It is a perspective that enables you to start working, which doesn’t mean that you are supressing things. It rather means that you are successively incorporating things, and that nothing is refused. When I finished More Distinguished, I realized I ought to change a couple of things: I wanted to present, rather than represent. And although in More Distinguished I never got to represent much, I did represent a great deal more in Still Distinguished. I wanted to emphasize even more the idea of the present, more to do with action than with theater. I also wanted to get rid of the magic aspect, and work with reality, with what is really going on. I also wanted to get rid of the element of surprise in More Distinguished. Surprise is up to you now, to the work you do. I also believe that More Distinguished was based in a great deal of principles, and now I’ve chosen to be much more ambiguous. For instance, in Bloody Mary, the body could be that of a transvestite, that of a doll, that of an ephebe . . . And there’s still one more thing: I think that Still distinguished is much more stable than unstable. But I’m quite uncertain how this has happened, because I don’t remember having worked deliberately on it. The project of the pieces, viewed perspectively, is an attempt to see the body and dance, from a non theatrical viewpoint, which used to be my only reference point before 1993. That is, I’m trying to forget a number of theatrical codes, to see my work from the codes of other disciplines. This does not imply denial, although it is quite obvious that you sometimes have to refuse things. In fact, it is more to do with accumulating, although sometimes it might seem that you are supressing movement to get to something else. And you do, you supress movement, but dace is always present, somehow. This can be seen in the video, which is this long because it hasn’t been edited. What we have done, basically, is cut, so that they all last the same. But nothing has been altered in terms of order. Babá, the person who edited the video in the computer, said something like: “We could get rid of this”; and then I would answer: “Don’t, don’t, because this is what precisely tells us about dance”. And in fact it is nonsense: as a dancer, I drift towards music . . . I try to slice the tomato but it slips . . . and I believe that, deep down –and by saying this I don’t want to exaggerate– there’s no way we can hide the dancer within ourselves. What I mean is that, deep down, in spite of hearing people say that this isn’t dance, I want to answer: “No. It isn’t dance. And it doesn’t matter”, knowing that the point is to find an explanation that is different from dance. And then I realize that to me, it is dance: I am looking for that body. I want that movement, that image to respond to things. My work is for dance. I’m not that concerned with deciding whether this is or this isn’t dance: I am here for . And in the video, you can see a lot of these little things that reveal the hidden dancer: the ‘one-two-three’ dancer, one-two-three . . . while I am chopping the garlic, I find myself following the rythmn. And although I do this unconsciously, I feel it is right. It’s to do with that nonsense of being a dancer. And I like it. I like to maintain that drift towards music. A very similar thing happened with the tomato: whenever I did manage to cut it on time, I didn’t worry, and went on to the scene of the garlic. I feel this to be rather symptomatic. I think it is down here, deep down, and I won’t deny it. Something similar occurs when I shift from the theatrical version of the More Distinguished, to the white version, which I showed for the first time at the Koldo Mitxelena, at the request of Blanca Calvo and Ion Mundante. This white version still contains reminiscenses of theater: everything is painted black, although it is presented in a white space. Not until a few days ago, did I realize, after three years, that I had to keep those black things, remembrances of the black backdrop. But faced with choosing white or black, I don’t really care, for it has nothing to do with aesthetics. As it used to be black, it must stay black, although it does not respond to that need of being hidden any more. It is similar to the incident of the garlic, and many other things that have to be maintained, so that they are left in their positions, as though they were sediments.
JAS: I believe that in your last two pieces you put emphasis on what you call ‘presentation’, as physical implication is seen differently as regards the other pieces, in which it is seeen more as an execution of movements, or an adoption of poses. Not to mention the pain, which has little to do with the muscular pain suffered by dancers: It has more to do with an anxiety related kind of suffering.
LR: Yes, you are right. It is more internal and it could happen to anybody. Still Distinguished starts with the body of a woman, but it diludes, little by little. It starts as something specific, and it gradually turns into something broader, in the sense that it becomes a body that doesn’t breathe, so that we cannot hear it move, or a body that drinks a litre of water in one swig. It starts being a body, and this is further stressed by what actually occurs in the present. For this reason, it has more to do with action. I would say that my first pieces are more photographic, and are gradually transformed into being more active, into becoming action.