As if the End Were Not Quite Near cannot be called a classical performance, or a performing act. In the description, it reads “art installation”, but I’d rather use the word “experience”. How do you feel about that term?
- I would even call this life here at Bajloni green market a theatre experience, so yes, this could be called an experience, even more so for not being typical. It’s not an installation, it’s very hard to say what it is, but it definitely is this time you take (an hour) to spend in that enclosed space with four more people, some of whom you may know but some of whom you probably don’t. What else you get from that time is, actually, the experience you are talking about, and which could make your life slightly more interesting, something which can speed it up before that final change that we call death, which I consider the point of art; to prolong the moment of the encounter with ourselves at the end of the road.
In the performance/experience, we have text by Maja Pelević, video by Filip Mikić, music and sound by Anja Đorđević and Mina Strugar, without performers or people, if we exclude five people in the audience. How did the process look like, what did you start from?
We started from watching movies and reading literature out loud, and with trying to establish external borders, trying to establish how we can make a statement, how we can express our attitude towards the world and life, without actors, without any mediators, simply through images and sounds. And ideas, of course. And then we started from scratch, from an empty space both within and without. Then we started filling the space with ideas, some of which were very fresh, and ended up with our six author ghosts. Each of us presented what they wanted, and all together were completely non-egoistical but in terms of authorship completely cooperative. And that’s what’s interesting: although I’m considered the author, I can’t really say I directed it - all of us did. Just like all of us agreed on the final version of the text. Maja wrote it, of course, but then the composer and the sound designer edited it. That is what director and actors usually do during the rehearsals, but here the two of them did it because they realized that if the text is too long or if there is too much of it, then it might suffocate the sound as an equally important element of the stage meditation, which this performance is. The only thing that was very different from other jobs and took more time, is what Filip Mikić did - video design and generic programming of the images that are seen in the performance; that was more complicated and demanding. But this is, essentially, a collaborative structure which each of us signs as one of the authors and it is hard to say who did what exactly.
The five people in the audience wear hazmat suits and masks, which takes away their identities. Plus, they are in an enclosed space, and on their own. How does that relate to a traditional concept of theatre audience, since theatre is considered a meeting point and a collective act?
- The idea is for the five people to enter the space and try to create their own vision of a community. When five people who don’t know each other enter the space, it is probably a different dynamic than when three people who know each other buy the tickets and come in together. But at any rate, whether people know each other or not, they must create an intimate organisation of space and time within that one hour. The space contains some mobile elements that can be used in various ways, you can sit on them, lie down, they can be moved away. We have already seen many ways in which those mattresses can be used. It depends on how curious a group is and the dynamics they establish. So, it is possible to be completely free, act any way you want, but in agreement with that mini community. We had static groups that lie down at the beginning and stand up at the end, then awfully active groups that dance, touch each other, kiss and hug, we had versions that they remain separate but active, or in a heap but passive. Various sketches of social interactions are clearly visible on a sample of five people who can attend at the same time.
When asked for their impressions, many people use the words like meditation, relaxing, enjoyment. My impression was very similar, and I thought that life in a virtual reality and with machines is maybe not such a bad option as it might seem. Is that the message you wanted to convey?
- We didn’t want to say anything, we simply offered. We don’t have a firm thesis that we support. Naturally, we open an opportunity to communicate and establish a dialogue. Whatever you say is correct, and I liked it what you’ve just said. It’s even more interesting now that images have been updated, so videos are much different and better for many scenes. So, what I see as particularly interesting about this performance, is that it keeps upgrading and getting better, since we have more time. We offer to ourselves, who already know everything, and to the audience, some new challenges and a new mental image of the topic - the fictitious cloud in which our souls go once they leave this world.
Ivan Medenica described this performance as one of artistically most radical ones at this Bitef. Do you think there is enough of radicalism and courage in our theatre?
- There are some truly interesting young people, so I’m not worried about the future. The only problem is the use of technologies since technological innovations are always expensive, you need a lot of money to get the gadgets you can play with in non-commercial performances, like this one is. We were lucky to have a man behind the scenes who provided a lot. His name is Sanjin Ćorović, and if it weren’t for him, this performance wouldn’t exist, he really did his best to get the equipment just for us. So, if we talk about the future of theatre and young people who are avant-garde enough, about some new wave, movement, new idea, fresh thought, yes, we do have people like that, but the problem is that again, like one hundred years ago, like always in these regions, institutions keep avoiding them, although one of the concepts those institutions should have, is to promote future of local art. That is why here, innovation is usually an incident instead of being a programme or an idea. I’ve recently read the journal Zenith, which used to be published during the twenties of the 20th century, and in which Stanislav Vinaver complains that theatres in Belgrade keep whining that they don’t have enough money. So, one hundred years ago we had the exact same situation, nothing has changed. On the other hand, I think that people tend to sabotage their own desire to be brave and new, and thinking that there’s no money, they let their ideas disappear too. But I think that true artists will find a way to create under any circumstances because you feel the need to communicate with yourself and the world in a way that is not direct and common, but more intelligent, more metaphorical, more poetical and more interesting. I believe in those forces, and I think that they do exist in Serbia today.
In the media, you often touch upon political topics. What do you think of openly political theatre?
- I don’t talk about it at all, the media take it out of the context. That doesn’t mean I’m defending anyone; I stand by the old saying that every government represents violence over people. I don’t think you need government if you can establish a dialogue with yourself, and only people who don’t know where they are going need a leader. I don’t create openly political theatre - I don’t know how, and I am not interested in it. I leave it to the ones who are, and the grandmaster of the world is Oliver Frljić. If I do it, I do it through mockery, since I find it silly to turn something that should be a need into a trend. What happens is that many recognize a pattern and place actors at the front stage, let them vigorously scream into microphones, play some noise in the background, and that is meant to represent some attitude. That is so easy, anyone can do it, which is why I sometimes decide to do it as well, as a joke, to make myself clear. So, no, I don’t like politically engaged theatre. I like to see it if it’s done properly, but I don’t like making it because I don’t know how.
You are one of the rare professional light designers in Serbia. That is the only theatre profession for which one cannot get a proper education in Serbia. Do you think it is respected enough in theatre?
- Yes, you can. The Academy of Arts in Novi Sad has already educated two generations of light designers, but as far as I know, they don’t work in theatres. The problem is that the structure of theatre institutions doesn’t allow any new employments in the technical departments. The technicians they have, have been with them for thirty years, and they are bored and have no enthusiasm whatsoever. The young people, if they had any initiative, could do great stuff, for the old ones would love to let them work instead of them (or at least I hope they would). But I think that those young people lack initiative to go to theatres and try to find their place but keep waiting for someone to invite them. And so that field is drowning in some kind of lethargy, which is a pity since I’ve heard that that department in Novi Sad is very well conceived, some interesting people work with the students. Some potential does exist but since our system is slow and everyone is just hoping to grab a safe job in government department, no one is ready to experiment. Or some people are, but they are not visible enough. I think that if you don’t have a job, you should do what you need to do to feel good, so someone might notice and you will find a job. And light design is good because it doesn’t ask for a lot of money; you should be imaginative and ready to experiment, so you can learn through your own experience.
You have made various performances, for children and young people, for adults, then puppetry, with actors, without actors, in Serbia, in the region, in Europe. If you had a magic wand and you could do whatever you wanted, what would you do?
If I had a magic wand, I’d make myself a building like this one, I would employ architects of my choice and make one scene for children, one scene for puppet theatre, one for dance theatre, and one for drama. Or I would somehow link those genres in the same building. I would employ the people who prove to be the best for a certain task. That means that you could always apply, present your ideas to me and my team, or some other team, it wouldn’t have to be me at all, and the one who tried hardest and was the most creative would get a chance to work, while others could still apply for next projects. It means that the ones who are most inspired in that moment would get a chance to work. And if I had to choose what I would do, then it would be Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen’s novel Simplicius Simplicissimus. That is something I’ve been dreaming about for years and I hope, at some point, I will manage to do that.