EDICIONES DOCUMENTA/ESCÉNICAS, 2014, 116 PAGES.
Book including the dramatic poem Luzazul and photography by Sebastián Arpesella.
Book Epilogue, by Federico Irazábal:
DISMANTLING ONE’S OWN VOICE
For some time now, theater in Buenos Aires has turned argumentative. That is, for some time Buenos Aires theater has stripped itself of theater.
If during the nineties we forged the notion of procedural theater was because there we found a ground that arrived to explain a part (never all) of what was going on. And what was going on was that we did not understand. Theater -or more specifically, some theater- took us in a labyrinthine journey in which the topic was the same theatricality. And all that stubborn, obstinate, revolting movement, like nearly everything that is stubborn, obstinate and revolting, ended up submissive and tamed. We were coming from an aesthetic logic in which ideology (partisan, explicit, binary) explained the artifact. An alleged logic-causality relationship operated between the procedures and the world view that those procedures intended to replicate. So much so that when critics forged the notion of "reflection", misrepresenting an endearing Marxist notion, it meant both the critics’ mistake as much as the artists’ false illusion. No need to name names. Enough is to recall theater from the 50s to the 80s. In the 90s the situation was different. A tiny but noisy group of artists brought a different perspective to understand the problem of art in a context as particular as that. They came to emphasize procedures as an elliptical way to report the problem that was afflicting that world. But it all ended with an appropriation. The urban cultural sector forged an idea of how cultural consumption should be, and ‘Hamlet Machine’ became a hit. Probably that is where the battle went mute. A powerful and cryptic piece turned into a "phenomenon" was the prelude to the end.
Since then hegemonic Buenos Aires theater system (Raymond Williams would say dominant) was looking for direct, flat, linear communication systems. Art communicates while Adorno writhes in dusty libraries. Art stands within a communication system that seeks to build a bridge toward the other and make the other believe that together -that Arendtian "between"- we are able to speak a common language, and that the speaker says exactly what he is saying, and the listener fully understands what he/she is listening. Without interference, no noise, no interpretations. We went from a relativistic and textualist postmodernism to an almost ontological realism. That is, we move from a world that was pure text (and therefore, form) to one that was pure content, message. Furthermore, many of those artists who flirted with the metaphor eventually married the crude comparison. Where the elided emerged, redundancy appeared, and the comparative clause was explicit. A terrible fear of polysemy.
But not everything happened that way. Every story can be told from an alternative standing point, changing the characters and the events. In Buenos Aires theater field, that different standpoint has a protagonist who comes from that same theater, who, while being another is the same: Emilio García Wehbi.
LUZAZUL is probably one of the texts that displays more of his aesthetics and philosophy. And this book presents several of those texts.
Verbal language is not thought outside the visual. In his training, in his being, there is a visual thinking walking alongside the verbal, nourishing each other. Anyone who reads this book will be able to see the pictures of photographer Sebastian Arpesella -printed here and used on stage- to what extent they accomplish (not illustrate) what the text proposes. There is a visual thought in Wehbi’s textuality that is not exactly the ability of verbal language to evoke images. It is simply the juxtaposition of two systems letting the spectator -or in this case, the reader- knit the net once recognized the dialectic.
On the other hand, LUZAZUL conceives a way of placing itself in the linguistic network. Following the principles of the linguistic turn, Wehbi accepts that "in the beginning was the word", i.e. he ranks himself as a speaker in an intermediate point, not initial, nor final, of the discursive chain. He knows that his speech will not be read in the void, and he also assumes that he will not fall into the void. His speech is part of a network, and that network is what performs the communication instance. It is clear that Wehbi knows who with, how, and when he is engaging into dialogue. We, third parties, we could become detectives seeking textual references in the textual entanglement. In other contexts we speak of intertextuality. And we would all understand what we mean. But intertextuality, if we wish to use this term, is profoundly unique in Wehbi because it is not assumed either in a modern sense (authority), or postmodern (pastiche, collage). In him it works as a constructive mechanism but also mere quotation and references, and ultimately, as the only possible standpoint for speech. Let’s provide some examples. The relationship LUZAZUL establishes with Sylvia Plath’s ‘Three women’ is structural. The three voices that organize the American poet’s text are present here, although he renamed the notion of "voice" for "bed". So, what in Plath is First Voice, Second and Third Voice Voice, in Wehbi is Bed #1, Bed #2, Bed # 3. There is a semantic difference but it does not modify the structure. Plath is a constructive mechanism. Can we say that it is a dramatic version of a poetic text? Can we say that this is a version, an adaptation? No. It is, in any case, something like a transposition. There is an artist (Wehbi) that engages into dialogue with another artist (Plath) through the work of the second; and the first produces a work that is absolutely subsidiary of the other without being simply a version but, on the contrary, a "critical interpretation", a reading done from desire and drive towards dialogue.
There are also quotes and allusions to tragedies of Shakespeare (Macbeth, Hamlet), Proust, Rilke, Carroll, among many others, among which is Plath’s Ariel. But these are not authority quotes but productive quotes. They seek to establish a dialogue, to recognize its values and set a semantic relationship to stress his own text through the other’s text, aware that the word is the most unbelonging among private properties. Throughout Wehbi’s theater (I include here works published in Bottle in a message) what prevails is a notion of language on which the subject sits. After certain point, sign overproduction allows the subject to drift, and Wehbi’s texts are voices that do not go quiet because they are aware that their existence source lies there. However, that "talk" should not be seen as an original speech, where the being lies in how it says what it says, but in the impossibility of achieving that "original speech". Wehbi’s texts are the result of cultural crossings but not as an author gesture but as the only possibility: we are spoken by language while we build the illusion of speech. For that reason, when Wehbi speaks, he allows others to speak out. Sometimes the operation becomes explicit and sometimes not. He mentions Ophelia presuming that the reader / viewer will recognize the reference and knows where in his text to place the semantic and cultural values representing Ophelia in Shakespearean theater, and Hamlet in western theater. But others are more cryptic references, and depend on the receiver’s possibility of tracing them. When the text says "While my love writes animal poems / I submit to electroshock" refers logically to Ted Hughes’ Animal Poems. What do we do with this recognition? Accumulate and understand the density of the speech system.
And that accumulation operation as an attempt to produce opacity is part of the procedural levels through which this artist speaks. However, undoubtedly, this will never question the standpoint where he, as artist, believes the problem of art and its insertion lies within the social. The issue of womanhood, the stigma of the female body, its social function and determinism are not only highlighted in LUZAZUL, but in other texts as well. And it is not about a "sanctimonious man representing the place of women from political correctness", but rather that part of this duel is taken as the only possible instance of speech. If sense is produced and determined by power (heterosexual, male, white and Eurocentric), Wehbi cannot renounce to belong largely to that group, but he is able to undermine the principles on which sense settles, and so the poetization of language, the breakdown of archetypical rhetorical and conventional mechanisms become political as soon as they are unrecognizable, and prevent, for the same reason, the reading from being done from the very heart of power. Wehbi forces us to stand aside, to look at the other (in this case women, but could be any other) from a standpoint alien to our look. Does this mean that Wehbi’s semantic strategy is a demagogic pursuit of identification with the other? Not the least. The rejection of one’s standing point goes hand in hand with the impossibility of the other’s standingpoint. In this manner, displacing the "performer-self" from conventional systems and reading codes generates a vacuum that becomes the only link with the other: that void is the sense, that gap is the result of an impossible identification .
And there, probably lies one of the places through which Wehbi escapes the notion of dramatic theater. Not for subscribing to Lehman’s postdramatische Theater line, but rather for the way he thinks of theater as a show, of theater as language, and of language itself, forcing the viewer and the reader to become aware of the mechanisms of interpretation since, in the end, that it is what it is about: to stage the how, to in order to dismantle the what.