A visitor in an exhibition can walk in the space while in the theater a spectator seats on a chair.
Zofia Cielatkowska: At the beginning of your path as a dancer and choreographer you didn’t really want to indicate that you are a scientist, but finally – with a little bit of story – you have used this information in your bio. Then, for the next following years – to a certain extent – it has became a ‘label’. How do you look at it from today’s perspective?
Xavier Le Roy: In the first work [The Product of Circumstances, 1999 ] I decided to use this information in order to give it a discursive quality. It was a way to give a form to that question of “label” and make it a question about construction of subjectivities rather than the reduction to an identity. Looking at it from today’s perspective I hope I have done many other works, which are beyond this reductionist idea, information or phantasms that ‘a scientists becomes a dancer’.
Especially in the first reviews one can feel this ‘science lens’ of interpretation, which might be a bit limiting.
Well, sometimes it is still like this… Quite recently there was an article saying something like: ‘the work was performed with such a precision, that for sure it was created by a scientist’. Why not? But at the same time, this kind of thinking looks for a solution, a reason or an explanation to the perception instead of observing what perceiving can do. The fact that I come from science plays a role in different situations with different proportions, but it is just a role that is given. The role, which is not the only one – there are many others.
Let’s talk about reasons why you left science. In science there is this specific dynamic of ‘product producing’. The dynamic related with late capitalist or neoliberal thinking characterized by amount above quality, profit above research, ‘publish or die’ etc. You had critical approach to that. However, the ‘dance world’ is not far away from this dynamic…
Yes, of course, it is the same in the field of arts and in the field of science, and I have been a bit slow to understand that because my involvement in art had hoped for something else and has hidden the reality for a while. The difference – at last for me – consists in the fact, that in the arts I could find for myself a place of resistance to this dynamic. A place that goes beyond using, or serving the imperative of it. I think that the practice of arts gives more possibilities in this respect then science does. You can develop a work of art in which this issue of producing becomes a subject for discussion and critical reflection – like in the case of E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S (1199-2000). The moment of escaping from this dynamic is temporary, but – nevertheless – it is possible. In science I couldn’t even see this temporary possibility of escape. Or maybe I could, but I would have to wait another 30 years for that! I was impatient. I feel more comfortable with the possibilities given by the arts. The other thing is that in the field of science, especially in biology or chemistry, you can’t exist without institutions, machines or laboratories. It requires the whole infrastructure of equipment. You are in the net of dependence. While in the field of arts you can actually work independently – you don’t need always institutions, machines and expensive equipment to make art. Since I worked in the field of arts I had the luck to be able to oscillate between working independently, working with institutions and not find myself too often trapped by institutional expectations.
Talking about arts and forms of arts. In your practice you deconstruct certain formats. What I mean are things like ‘concert’ (Mouvements für Lachenmann, 2005; Le Sacre du Printemps, 2007) ‘exhibition’ (Retrospective, 2012; Untitled, 2012; For the Unfaithful replica, 2016), ‘lecture’ (Product of Circumstances, 1999) or ‘theatre performance’ (Untitled, 2014; Low pieces, 2011). In a way you treat these forms as point of reference to build a new structure of the work.
Yes, because these forms condition how you relate with the public and the mode of encounter between the work and the public. There are potential of relations in each form you listed in your question. I’m curious to use these forms and look for ways of transformation when that is necessary. I’m using the conventions of each of these public situations as a tool to produce specific exchanges, trying at the same time to avoid to reproduce what the conventions tend to consolidate. I think that working on similar concerns but in different forms and situation allows to produce different kinds of meanings and understanding, than the concerns one is busy with.
The space plays also a crucial role in your practice. For instance in the Temporary Title (2015) an exhibition ‘made with performers who are forming and deforming groups or assemblies while composing a landscape in perpetual transformation’. It is important that people can come and go whenever they want to.
The exhibition comes with certain set of rules shaping how the public would encounter the work. These rules allow certain kind of relations between the work and the visitors (and also between visitors themselves) – these rules are different in the theatre or in a concert hall. There are things, which you can do in one space, which you can’t do in the other – like for example a visitor in an exhibition can walk in the space while in the theater a spectator seats on a chair.
And visitors in different spaces usually have different expectations and models of perception or behavior…
Well, if you don’t think about the public, the public will remind you of its presence. I have been reminded this when we were working on Project (2003). Using the questions on rules, working with game and the notion of play, that work was questioning the relationship between process and product with the desire to make this separation disappear, or at least, trying to move or change it. It was developed with a repeated and regular presence of the public during the whole rehearsal process. When some spectators would come several times to our working sessions they were, somehow, rehearsing with us. For the official premiere we wanted to approach it like each one of these sessions, but it didn’t work, it occurred to be a complete catastrophy. The premiere has its own expectations as premiere, and it comes with implicit conventions that have been stronger then our attempt to transform them because we haven’t taken them into account. When I work on the piece I’m thinking about the public, not in the sense of looking for ways to please, provoke or control but, to make it part of the work with its unknown parameters. It is important to be conscious of what you don’t know. Not to complete a lack of knowledge but rather to let this ignorance work, recognize it and give it the possibility to teach you what you can learn from a work within what’s unknown of a public presentation.
Yes, and again the space has an impact on the interpretation.
When you work on the theatre piece you always do something about the theatre. When you work in the exhibition space, you always do a piece somehow relating to or about an exhibition. You can do it more or less and work with this aspect more or less consciously, but you can’t escape from the context and what that context can do to the work. I think that most of the time I’m trying to embrace it with a critical approach and, at the same time, as much as I can, I try to get rid of the pre-conceived idea I have, or each one of us, can have of it.
The project Still Untitled (2017) with Scarlet Yu for Skulptur Projekte Münster is somehow connected with the sculpture?
Yes, it is in relation with sculpture as the title of the event says and with questions about public space or – more precisely – what is understood as public space. We have developed a work thinking about space that are accessible 24 hours a day 7 days a week like streets, parks or a gardens. Or for spaces, which seem to be public, but in fact are private – like a shop. When you open your house to a friends for a party, it is private, but in a way it becomes public when people you don’t know come in… In other words, this work has been conceived specifically to answer the invitation of Skulptur Projekte Münster to make: “An art work for public spaces made by and with human being actions addressed to others”. Still Untitled produced encounters and has diverse ways to be experienced by the public. Rather than being addressed to a public produced by spaces such as theater or exhibition rooms, or any space and time offered by a public institution, this work produces its publics while it perpetually developed itself. Rather than being announced at a certain place and a certain time, it can take place anywhere at any time and can be addressed to anyone. It is going to the public more than the public goes to it.
The public is not only space, but also conversation – talking and discussing things with others. Low pieces (2011) and open rehearsal (2017) begin with the conversation with the public. As a critic I can read this act as an element of dramaturgy and meaning, but as an individual taking part in the conversation, I’m not sure what is the meaning of my outspoken words. Is it about me – as a subject, or my words – as a tool?
Both situations – Low pieces and open rehearsal – are staged. I think the spectators can understand that the frame we give shows that we can’t control it – it just goes. We have to improvise conversation but our introduction makes each one aware that not only what takes place on stage, but also your voice, your gaze, the way you sit and talk to your neighbor will be part of the performance. And yet, at the same time, there is a strong separation between the public and the performance. The situation and the conversation are staged, but at the same time the conversation reveals the situation we are in. It gives the time to reconstruct this experience of the public space we are all sharing.
There is an interesting dynamic of conversation within the group you work with. A lot of time you spend on discussing or rather arguing with each other…
The possibility and the practice of disagreement at work is necessary. Discussion is a good tool to put that at work.