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ARTAUD: LENGUA ∞ MADRE (publicación)

Artaud: lengua ∞ madre is a collaboration between Emilio García Wehbi and Gabo Ferro for the Bienal de Performance 2015. Together they address the complex relationship between art, culture and market. It is a four-hand writing process based on the premise of altering each other’s writing over and over. It is a procedure that becomes the text’s politics and a new way of leading the concept of author to a crisis. The book is composed of different materials: poetry, lectures and an "Abraham Method Counter-manifesto", where they expose the consequent difficulties of being groundbreaking within a system (the artistic and cultural system) that bases its survival precisely in the art of unlimited expansion"

Book foreword by Federico Irazábal:

“How else could life have been borne
had not their gods lived it
crowned by a superior halo?”

Friedrich Nietzsche, "The birth of tragedy".



To approach a history of theater means sneaking into a brief but typical history of reason in culture. In it we would inevitably find an actual periodization system structure linked to the development of the word on stage. To verify this hypothesis, it would be enough to focus on its composing variables and we would see that the structure is determined by the history of playwriting, never by the history of the scene. Stages, directors and theaters fade out behind what seems to be the only thing that endures: text (misnamed dramatic) and their authors. In this sense, theater is motorized by playwriting, and not by the scene. Today, this powerful process constitutes an ideological line in theater that involves makers, researchers, critics and public. Theater has been reduced, not to its ashes (unfortunately) but to a representative grimace of itself.
That triumph of logos, of reason, of word over scene, rhythm and body, has made theater the place of mere recognition for the bourgeois, away from its ancient ritual values. And it would not be a farfetched task, although complex, to rewrite theater history attempting to unravel that skein. But it would not be an entirely original task. Someone already initiated it, someone who tried to think about the inherent aspects of this discipline, aiming to understand what were the lines in tension and how the "spectacle" (he did not use that term, but we could) gradually took over the rite.

In The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche glances how the Greek tragic suicide takes place because of an imbalance of forces originally equalized, although in permanent tension. Apollo and Dionysus, two forces as contradictory as interrelated, experienced a course in which one started to take over the other, and that inevitably led to the end of an era. Traditionally it was a struggle with brief periods of reconciliation. Moderation and immoderation, reason and madness, control and lack of control. Each of these dyads are not detached from the symbolic practices of a people, among which of course the arts are included, although this word does not designate exactly the same as today.

The Dionysian dithyramb, the origin of theater before theater itself, was losing ground to representation and morality. Participation point became a point of view. Socrates, and to greater extent, Euripides, devoted to a task that eventually expanded, virus-like, throughout the future of theater. Rationality embodied by the evolution of the text (and morality) over the scene, eventually would end up converted into different types of aberrations of which the climax would be the so-called "performance text", by which the academy captures the intangible, turning transmissible what it is not, replacing the event for a script.

From that standing place, a silent war can be thought where contendants would not explicitly compete but, as it happens with any kind of war, the future would bear its consequences.


Antonin Artaud is one of the names of that eventual battle, and it names defeat. It names oblivion and remnant. Artaud cannot be thought from hegemony because the battle he undertakes has no chance of winning. His powerful opponent will develop, from Moscow to the world, a celebrated acting method that bears his name, the Stanislavsky method, in perfect dialogue with certain conception of the scene and certain type of dramaturgical practice, along with a clear idea about theater and its social inscription. Two profiles, one triumphant and powerful; another defeated and imprecise.

Artaud is to Western theater -the one whose first step is killing Aeschylus- what leftovers are to the feast: the remains of a splurge, but also weariness. In Artaud’s indeterminate and imprecise work there is a sort of meandering that avoids capture, eludes reason, evades the pursuer. There is no model, no logic, no style. Artaud cannot become adjective without the expense of murdering him. Artaud is unretrievable and nontransferable. Artaud is thought negatively because he remained anchored to his shade. But he is not diminished for being a shadow. He optimizes the shadow and knows how to move independently from its matching figure. Artaud is the wandering and fetid artist; but his plague is not his own but rather that of his counterpart. In this sense, Artaud drags a heavy stone tied around his neck: tradition imposes on him, tuning him negative. Artaud is anything that is not a system, Artaud is anything that operates as break, as a slip, as displacement.

And so, from time to time, with leaps that have little to do with the dialectic of history, Artaud is revisited -with the awareness of an irretrievable act-, observed and staged from a tense standing point that leads him back to the shade, but blurring his shape and boundaries.

In Nietszchean terms, Artaud would be the perfect Dionysian dithyramb alternating with the pure Apollonian form throughout history. But in the face of this dialectic look, there is no other way than to accept the profound impossibility of synthesizing Artaud. He does not even constitute the antithesis of a dialectic. He is the remainder, the excess, the exterior of a system that still expands itself, including more and more what confronts him.

It is not about making an abhorrent comparison. It is just understanding to what extent the battle initiated by Artaud was already lost for at least about twenty-five centuries. And every time that battle takes place again, there is no other result to expect but failure.


Theater and arts in general thrive to become culture. And such access carries a mandatory cost: a non negotiable adaptation to the established. Culture deploys a force, an energy that homogenizes differences, adjusts dissidences. It makes the disruptive find ways to be read, and it soothes the user. Perhaps, from this perspective, it would be interesting to start retracing the path that turns the spectator lord and master of the arts, and to understand to what extent the notion of user results more adequate (outside and in contrast with Jacques Rancière’s opinion when he addresses emancipation). The user knows how to behave when dealing with a product to achieve the desired satisfaction from it. The user knows the features of cinema, of theater, of music, of literature. The user, like any good user, knows which parts of the manual he does not have to read in order to avoid ideologizing consumption, in the same way a user also knows how to mute what might irritate or provoke him/her about the product. User is aware that the object makes a subject out of the user as a consequence for being at his/her service. And while the user does this, he/she resigns autonomy and slowly becomes dependent on the object that defines him/her.

Artaud repels the user. Artaud cruises other areas and slips away when he senses he is being captured. But in order to cruise, Artaud paid the price of silence, of exile, and even worse, of promotion to marble status.

Artaud is not alive in the theater that we use today. The energy of contemporary Western theater names life and fears death. And when it deals with life, it represents it as a privileged form of taming it. This is why using the notion of “mother tongue” for thinking this theater is paradoxical, Artaudianly paradoxical, I would say. Stanislavsky constitutes a mother tongue, just like Bertolt Brecht. They are the molds in which the practice of contemporary theater is generated. Thesis and antithesis respectively. And both Wehbi and Ferro are aware of the dialectic operation they are carrying out, and that is why they need to sabotage the concept as such. To remove the tongue from culture and to turn it flesh, prelinguistic-idiomatic matter: "Keep my tongue from all languages as they are worthless. / Crazy tongue, the only part of my body / that does not concur, not-sane, not-winded ". Mother tongue distances itself from its idiomatic sense to become a muscular organ. A tongue unable to reproduce language. A tongue that does not mimic language, that is: a defunctionalized tongue. Tongue that, when it moves, it does not say.

From Artaud, hegemonic theater has to be thought of in terms of "double". Theater, as it is understood, is the art of duplication, of representation of something that exceeds it, able to be treated as the originating "real world". In this terms, theater would be a place where people go to use an anesthetic device par excellence. In this dynamic object, users find a place of enjoyment and recognition, knowing beforehand they count with every safety measure guaranteed by a State that has made sure to check that nothing, absolutely nothing gets out of line. To its legitimate user, theater would be that fully protected place to which the person goes to "learn", to "become a better person", to "purge" fears and ghosts but not fearing any risks. Can we agree that this is theater?


If this theater then theater belongs more to Culture than to Art. And although it is sold as a production resistant to capitalism due to its handcraft condition, theater is one of the areas of consumption that the market provides to satisfy customers. It satisfies, it reassures, it soothes anxieties.

But there was something, I do not know how it should be called, that stood within crisis and radicality. Something that rejected being any of that. And that's where Artaud and his cursed lineage appears.

Garcia Wehbi and Ferro belong, to some extent, to that descent. And ‘Artaud: lengua ∞ madre’ is a perfect example of this. Not because it embodies any rupture, but because it recognizes the almost inevitable conditions of capture. Objects in the scene accumulate and are displayed, they are used and they torture; in their words, language seems to evade any attempt of communication, if by this we understand the transmission of certain amount of information coming into another, in a similar way to what it was issued. Who speaks? Why do they speak? To whom they are speaking to? What are they talking about? Artaud: lengua ∞ madre has voices, it had bodies that issued those voices, but does not have a clear subject who issues, who speaks, who says. Moreover, we could question whether that voice is speaking or mumbling. Loose, unconnected ideas seem to reach us. But reason fails in its teleological attempt to organize the material. There were phonemes, but they were unable to be anchored to a logical chain of sense. And the viewer, the reader, will have to deal with that opening, aware that neither the structure (the division in scenes and acts) nor the internal organization will clarify anything. The text offers some clues, not of its meaning but of its politics: "I travel inverted / in a coffin of earth / to escape from culture / of this language, / but the current: you . / But the motionless: you. / But the invisible: you. / The embalmed: you". The logic of the oxymoron is precisely not to explain its logic. And from there, from that beginning barely able to guarantee minimum conditions of enunciation (there's an I, there's a you, a transmitter, a receiver), the text continues its course to state that the object that joins us is art itself. Art and its relationship with the market, with industry or, more clearly, with culture. It is therefore likely that the only clarity we had (me, you) is removed when the speaker and the listener become blurred: "Both in soliloquy / and in dialogue / I speak to hear me. / Since I am heard / since I hear / the I that hears itself / that hears me / becomes the one who speaks / and takes up the word / to never cut it off / to whom believes to speak / and is heard on his behalf". Language as an infinite chain of speakers who speak the same speech with the illusory belief of communication (either I speak, you listen; either you speak, I listen). Emille Benveniste is thus thrown into a corner of the scene trying to understand the nature of this battle for the appropriation of the only non-negotiable pronoun: the I. The I seems lost here. Only the evil god would seem to possess it, and, hopefully, hand it over to us whenever he wishes.

And once the "art of the word" is yielded, the artist will turn it into his work field. The artist will perform his work thanks to god (the Pope, the King, the Market) that provided an "I" for him to make use of. And so come the artists who live off their work and those who live off their own selves turned into work. The "Counter-manifesto of the Abraham Method" would seem to work in this sense: to display the difficulties of being groundbreaking in a (cultural-artistic) system which bases its survival precisely in the art of unlimited expansion: capturing what is denied to it seems to be the method art found to leave nothing out, for nothing to be wasted. Panic of the remnant, of the difference, of vacuum.

And this is where the circle begins: Are there any chances of being left out without being turned into marble? Has Artaud managed to succeed, i.e. to fail? His artistic logic did not prevail, it was relegated to the voracious development of a consumer society, aware that art had the power to cleanse the image of anyone who wished to see him/herself in a pristine, angelic way. Artaud is the embodiment of failure but not because of his work being forgotten. Rather the opposite: because his work was captured as that of a groundbreaking artist. But his work is triumphant as long as it could never be systemized and thus concluded. His work, and therein lies the work of Wehbi and Ferro, is a meandering of voices, words, babbling. His chaotic work, unclassifiable, crosses culture evading all checkpoints, and trying to briefly anchor into an art object to immediately leave it behind. His work is tongue; but in the sense of muscle, not as a sense organization system. That is why this text probably ends with these two tongues present in a single body, but located at both ends of the digestive system: "Our two tongues were the two ends of the skein we once were and that we are. They have been center and periphery, city and country, unitary and federal, Catholics and liberals, ‘Gorilas’ and Peronists, blue and red, peso or dollar". This dichotomous system, which refers to the dual Nietzschean mindset regarding theater -Apollo, Dionysus-, allows us to understand where this performance, now text, wishes to stand: the devil’s tongue is the other's tongue, is the tongue that says the unspeakable, that thinks the unthinkable. This anal tongue is the one placed at the digression point, aware that its fate is also dual: exile and marble; marble and exile... Two identical ways to remove the body, two similar forms of taming it. But they say it so much better in their last lines: "In the process employed to tame the poets, a foolish and conventional applause is one of the most dangerous factors. The poet who succumbs to the master’s storm of applause should conclude that he has spoken with a non cannibal tongue. Thus the poet should distrust that master’s applause of which the bars of his prison are made of, which ends up being to him what electroshock is to madmen and Ritalin to unruly children. The un-tongued or domesticated poet thus becomes an example about the futility of being free and sovereign". The poet who is freed from the yoke of the gods, seems to have fallen into that of his user, mostly known as spectator, public, audience. It is, nothing more nor less than the traffic that goes from the artist and his master to his delusional freedom within the market.

Federico Irazábal.

ARTAUD: LENGUA ∞ MADRE (publicación)