Mathilde Sauzet Mattei: “Is art our ghetto?”

| tag: Arnhem

Excerpt from Mathilde's 20 minute presentation for Speaking Without Thumbs - DAI's 3 day performance lectures marathon at Showroom Arnhem, July 2016

Beyond complexity fatigue


Leaving the lecture component behind, “The Disoriented Cabaret” written by Mathilde Sauzet and composed by Gabriel Mattei took a leap into full-fledged performance territory. This cabaret-opera comprised of singing, spoken and instrumental parts is “a fiction inspired by many articles that have been published between November 2015 and March 2016 and particularly ‘Molenbeek is not a ghetto’ written by Alexandre Laumonier, published in the newspaper Le Monde the 27th of November 2015”. Historically, cabaret has always acted as a form of social critique; costumed and dressed, its accessibility and humor endows it with a remarkable capacity to identify and crack open the most formidable power structures, without ever feeling too serious.

The elegantly designed script, printed out in a newspaper-like format was handed out to audience members before the show began. When fully opened, the back of the paper reads in large-print “STORYTELLING REPETITION SCHIZOPHRENIA STIGMATISATION”. The cast is made up of six players, including the audience as a “generic crowd”, and the stage director, Mathilde. Introducing her role in the beginning she says, “Hello, I’m the director. I’m not part of the show, but somehow a bit because I wrote it. Nevertheless, I want to speak a bit about the context. So the performance happens in the municipality of Molenbeek, in Brussels, where I live, a place where radical Islamist communities are established as well…” The artist asks, “Is art our ghetto?” She uses the situation of Molenbeek to ask “if arts really interacts with reality? Is art a means of inclusion or exclusion?”

Bringing herself into the performance to direct the other players, Mathilde calls attention to the rehearsal mode of this performance: it is fixed in the moment of becoming, never crystallizing into a so-called final performance. This aspect of it critically reflects the political situation to which it refers (in Molenbeek, among other places), itself an unfolding chain of events and process of “systematic disorientation”.

Mathilde maintains that “this play can be autonomous as an art work”. Though her main practice is curating, she did this work “as an embodiment of an artistic exchange between various languages. As the stage director, I play also the curator, trying to find a form of encounter for these four artists…the script is the support of reflection and action.”

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung was impressed by the way Mathilde collaborated and worked with many others and praised her and the DAI by saying he hadn’t seen anything like this at other art schools. When it comes to art and politics, he asks, is it possible to be outside of it all? “You don’t have a choice but to comment on the situation.” With regards to opera and ghetto, he says, as a reaction to the articles about Molenbeek, this is not about Molenbeek but rather a metaphor for what is happening all over the world. This work reminded Bonaventure that we need to be playful [about even the most serious things]. “What keeps people alive is a sense of humor.”

Ekaterina Degot called this lecture performance a success. She found it interesting that it was not about innovation but about keeping a tradition or more stable frame of an artwork alive. Mathilde had a strong professional voice as the director and there was also a strong script and music. She appreciated having the script in-hand, because this removed any potential uncertainty about the performance. She found many interesting questions here related to the notion of yes, journalism, and the Dadaist context (the Dadaists were angry at journalists). Asking whether the statement about Molenbeek was presented as religious, organizational or ethnic conflict, she wonders out loud, “Is Brecht still useful for us (and artists) to read the situation today? I believe he is.”

Rachel O’Reilly wanted to start with the comments Degot made about Brecht. The simplification of “we” seemed tenuous to her. She appreciated the “extremely rehearsed but still clunky scenography” but could not get past the idea that “opera is (where O’Reilly comes from) a colonial art form.” She asked, “Why shouldn’t opera be a ghetto? That would be interesting.” She loved the relationship between the research group members but would’ve liked more clarity in the relation between excess and noise within the protagonisms (I, you, we) that were being set up, because these are also ideological divisions. The mention of the aliens and “we” was thus not set out clearly or critically enough for her.

Bassam el Baroni gave high praise to this lecture performance, calling it “mind-blowing” and saying that Mathilde’s hard work really showed. “I remember our first conversation and it was a question of how a curator could envision Mathilde’s function in society in relation to politics and what is going on in the world. In a short period of time you've managed to come up with your own very articulate answer.” El Baroni elaborated: “The mode or model that you set up is always a rehearsal. It is always a rehearsal, not a play. This is very important because it suggests that we are thinking about what to do, envisioning the action of thought.” In this work, “the curator is recast as a director who is trying to work with the artists/audience in action – that kind of recasting is interesting. I’m thrilled with what you have accomplished. It’s a complete work.”

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