Vittoria Soddu: The Relics of a Clown, a parallel study of two apparently incongruous subjects

Mentor: Alena Alexandrova

Independent reviewer: Maria José de Abreu

Arnhem, February 2012


This thesis is a comparative research between the subjects of 'Relic' and 'Clown', taking as starting point the case study of a collection of eggs held by the society of Clowns International, which functions as an archive of clowns' make-up. The first chapter on the theme of Relic is structured in two parts, where the first half is an analysis of the nature of relics, their origin and characteristics, while the second half is a study of Tacita Dean's work The Martyrdom of St. Agatha and Other Stories, in relation to questions of authenticity and fiction explored in my practice as an artist. Here I draw a connection with my recent work Biscotti di Vento, which explores the legend of a disputed biscuit. The second chapter is divided in four sections, the first of which is dedicated to the figure of the modern clown, operating as a healer in hospitals, prisons and war zones; it was inspired by a project I coordinated with hospital clown trainer Smilzo, which was aimed at the investigation of his job. The chapter continues with a journey into the death, birth and resurrection of the clown, with particular attention to the Joseph Grimaldi memorial service in London (a liturgical celebration of clowns), and the finale of Federico Fellini's The Clowns. The two subjects progressively come together in the conclusion of the paper where it becomes apparent that both relics and clowns base their existence upon a form of recognition on the part of the communities that form around both phenomena.V.S.


With great pleasure I read this manuscript. The way the author intertwines personal experience, intuition and theory is both intelligent and shot through with tenderness. Connecting such apparently unrelated worlds such as relics and clowns, we are invited to enter several alleys of conceptualization. These are: 1-visibility (relation between surface and background, persona and make-up); 2-appropriation (the agonistic relation between original and copy); 3-portability (detachment from, and subversion of, an original). Throughout the text, these aspects enter a kind of dance that becomes ultimately reflected in the form of the writing itself. The peak of the argument, however, comes with the suggestion that both relics and clowns share a subversive potential that can be articulated in terms of a humiliation or debasement of the sign. This suggestion carries deep political, aesthetic and theological implications. Reading the phenomenon of incarnation as a parody that, like in the humiliation of saints (see Gurevich 1990), or indeed, the clown, implies a subversion that has to happen in order to "retain the original aim"(31), recalls the theological principle according to which, Christ is a broken image of God; God's humiliation; Christ as a stand-up comedian.(see Boris Groys "Medium Religion", available on the web). Some loose ends: the idea of the use of the synecdoche to stress the relation between fragment and whole on 12 & 15. Yet, isn't the whole equally always and already fragmented? On 16, the author suggests that 'devotees never question the provenance of the it is believed to represent the body of Christ". However, of all things, "provenance" is exactly what is being acknowledged in the ritual of transubstantiation, not discursively, but in the ritual itself, through which, moreover, "a body" becomes not "represented" but "presented--the height of parody in the spirit of this excellent project. M. J. d. A.

Maria José de Abreu has worked on questions of embodiment, technology, and movement in the context of the Charismatic Catholic movement in contemporary Brazil: a religious movement for whom notions of breath (as pneuma, or spirit, but also as a force of decentred subjectivity) are quite central. Her work is both grounded in ethnographic research as well as engaging with a range of anthropological and philosophical debates