Gustavo Cirķaco and Andrea Sonnberger: Here whilst we walk
Lisbon, June 2006
Yesterday we attended an unusual event of the Alkantara festival, which puts a new spin on what a performance is. In their enigmatic text about "rediscovering the immediate" and "changing contact with a space that moves and is moved instantaneously", worded in line with the favorite writing style of all performers, Gustavo Cirķaco and Andrea Sonnberger also mentioned in the program booklet that they were going to "take the public for a walk around Alfama". This was indeed a useful hint; the artists concealed from us, however, that we were going to become performers, with the general public on the streets of Lisbon as an audience.
Amazingly, Cirķaco and Sonnberger managed to fulfill three tasks which the contemporary performance craves for, and has serious difficulties to achieve:
Where others need sophisticated hard- and software to encode and convey cues between audience and artists, Cirķaco and Sonnberger used just a rubber ribbon. Let me describe our experience.
When we arrived at the Museu do Fado, it appeared that we would not be allowed to join in because the number of participants had already reached the limit of 20, but eventually we were told that they would "squeeze us in", which was a first hint that this was not going to be an ordinary sit-and-watch event. Ahead of us was a one-hour long walk. Everybody got a bottle of drinking water and the last words spoken - because the event proceeded in silence - was a suggestion that if anyone felt uncomfortable, they could leave immediately. This made us curious, of course.
A five-centimeter-wide elastic ribbon was wrapped around our group at the height of our waists and we headed for the narrow streets and the stairs of Alfama. The ribbon took the function of a zoo cage, making us involuntary performers for people leaning out of the windows on our way. They didn't spare us comments and gestures and some of them obviously enjoyed the show a lot, while we kept silent. Spontaneous interactions of different kinds happened. A girl standing in front of her house offered her hand to us and after someone touched it, she pulled it back with a joyful scream, exactly in the way she would do in a zoo after touching the slippery skin of a snake. The walk itself was beautiful, with picturesque views, winding alleys and underwear hanging from clothes lines so low that it brushed against our heads. It did not feel like a sightseeing walk, however, because of the ban on talking (and photography) and due to actions designed by Cirķaco and Sonnberger around the rubber band. At one ramification of the street they went to different directions and the participants had to vote, by pulling on the ribbon, whom to follow. There was a meditative break at a quiet place with a view of the crucifix fixed on a rooftop. And there was a major action on a hidden square, where Gustavo Cirķaco made the participants to drag loops of the ribbon across the group, pulling the people closer and closer together until we became a tightly bound, essentially immobilized horde which he eventually caused to fall to the ground in a coordinate fashion, before the ribbons - and people - were released. One can see it as an unconventional way to make the participants experience how coordinated voluntary actions may lead to a loss of control.
The walk ended at a river bank where the participants flew a couple of kites into the sky, definitely breaking the boundary of what one might still call a performance due to the lack of a better term.