Sergi Selvas: "Have you ever seen yourself from the other side of the wall?"

Sergi's 20 minute presentation for Maelstrom Slow Dance - DAI's 3 day performance lectures marathon that took place in Theater Oostpool in Arnhem,  June 2017

Speculative narratives of a de-colonial thinking


Sergi Selvas begins his lecture performance by inviting people to the stage, immediately setting up a question as to whether he is establishing borders or deconstructing them. It is a theatrical staging of a conversation between two bodies who do not have much knowledge of each other. Meanwhile, a video projection runs in the background, showing what is happening on stage as it happens. The audience members who have come to the stage are loosely grouped and Sergi reads a text to them, inviting his colleagues to take a role and think and speak freely. One student reads a paper describing a hypothetical future world where an alien pathogen has inhabited dead human bodies from the North; now these people are trying to survive by crossing the border to the South, where soybeans are grown. There is a red line on the floor, a kind of border, and microphones on either side of line on the floor. An informal dialogue between the people on either side of the line begins according to the roles described, aliens (those living on a soy-based diet) and humans. The screen is doubled, and there is a small screen on top of the main one. One person speaking moves forward slowly on the line, towards the seating area and people are swapping spaces and walking across the line. “We are here to propose that we want to move to the south. It’s better for us because we are not really wanted in the North.” Each gives a first-person account, addressing the people on the other side of the line, inviting and compelling them to think together. As one person says towards the end, “there is so much anger and history between the people across these two borders.”

Ray Brassier answered Sergi’s question with a resolute “yes, in Palestine”. The dramatization of the narrative struck Brassier and made him curious about why Sergi chose to dramatize the narrative in the way he did, given his initial statement describing his work. “By staging it as a dialogue aren’t you undermining some of the radical potentialities encoded in the narrative?” Brassier continues, “[...] this pathogen converts the living to dead to reanimate the dead - to what extent do the “soya people” [alien beings] think of themselves as individuals? Some of the details need to be sorted out because they impact the structure of the narrative. How do living creatures relate to creatures which are undead? You could speculate further on the nature of un-deadness about how they relate to each other and other living creatures.” For Brassier, this would have made a more interesting confrontation, “instead of this dialogical form which has its own shortcomings”. Brassier also had reservations about the relationship between the dramatization of narrative and the audio-visual representation and was not sure about the reasons for it.

Gabi Ngcobo enjoyed not being certain about what was going on. She “appreciated the ‘mess’ - decolonization itself is a messy project.” To answer the question Sergi posed, “yes, all the time. Everyone who can is building the wall.” This caused Ngcobo to think of Sun Ra’s quote, “there’s other worlds that nobody told you about”. She also enjoyed the humor because “it exposes the horror of it all, and it also kind of disturbs the idea that decolonial thought could be turned into a metaphor - this is also happening.” Ngcobo enjoyed this disturbance because for her it shows that “we are kind of like zombies of history” and there is always a strong need to document as a way of creating witnesses.

Rachel O’Reilly reflected on Sergi’s lecture performance by saying that “the pathogen ruins everyday business as we know it. The dialogue is the joke of assuming that we are talking about the same space in nominal political languages as a result of the eventualization of realizing [we] want to switch spaces in deep histories.” She remarked that there is currently a lot of institutional-led impetus to decolonise and this positions cultural workers in a specific way. The “turn of politics into policy is becoming an institutional project.” O’Reilly praised Sergi’s work for taking the risk of “thinking in public as you go through difficult terrain”. This “brave experiment” made her think of Gil Scott Heron’s poem “whitey on the moon” and she enjoyed the improvisational aspect of it.

Marina Vishmidt remarked that the role-play scenario created “successful pedagogical implications of sci-fi as staging of decolonial methodologies.” For her it showed the “domestication of narratives as it evoked them”, and was “a kind of envisioning of an inter-planetary epidemic.” In this way, it appeared almost as a model UN or Brechtian learning play. Vishmidt questioned “how these structural historical ontological violences turned into a practical administrative problem.” For her, the ending highlighted the irony: “How many of you are there? In this question the practical meets the ontological.” Sergi’s lecture performance also addressed ideas about surveillance, and sparked her interest in the choreography happening on ‘soybean side’. She was curious about which parts of the script were improvised and which parts were scripted, and concluded by saying, “I thought it was a really ambitious dramatization.”

About Sergi Selvas