Today is the last public day here at artsdepot. Ilmė and I have already been feeling somewhat nostalgic about this in anticipation. Soon, it will be all over and the "monster" will return to its sleep once more. Today, Katie, who often works as duty manager, spent the day with us. She is also a dancer - to no surprise - but also a choreographer and artistic director, and told me a lot about her navigation of the dance scene in London. Her company - Tobymoves - is called after her grandmother's nickname - Toby - who was also a professional dancer once. We discovered that we share some experience in leading independent performing arts groups, in that we both know how hard it can be at times and yet, feel it is still one of the most rewarding things of all.
In the earliest hours, as many other children who came with their parents to see "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", little Daniel and his father came to visit PROBLEM as well. After having succinctly checked the room around, flying over all the prints, the father asked me, incredulous and a bit confused: "how come are all these problems in Portuguese?" That's how I figured out they were Brazilian. The caterpillar was waiting for them, so Daniel had to go without having punched any problem. Many children, up to a certain age (but some adults as well), are magically attracted to this strange hanged cylinder. The bright yellow, orange and red stripes really pull them out of their parents' confounds, and ask them to risk touching it. Uncertain, sometimes cautiously, but always drenched in deep desire, most little ones come to realise that the colours had tricked them into believing in a much lighter object. The bag does weight some thirty kilos indeed! At times, it has even swung back and knocked some of them down… but it's all part of it.
After the first rough contacts children establish with the colourful monster, an archaic kind of volition comes to incite them to further experiment; to test and to play with it some more, to tacitly learn by physically trying the weirdest shit on it. This is - I have noticed - the moment when parents freak out the most. They worry that their children might be doing something wrong; that there are invisible laws they are breaking. For adults, a sudden enthusiastic glow in the young ones' eyes means perhaps that there are cultural conventions - typical of spaces such as art galleries - which become threatened, or readily breached. I tell them that "it's ok!", that "there are no rules!". Many still doubt the openness, yet everyone eventually comes to fully enjoy their five-minutes hardcore accomplishment.
Five minutes is a lot. Most professional fighters only endure intense routines lasting no more than two minutes. In relation to their capacity, those three hundred seconds make anyone struggle, and not just a little bit. People sweat like pigs, they scream, they think of giving up and announce an early defeat, they blush and get red all over their skin. The blood pumps as many cannot remember the last time it did so. And that is all part of it: to be put in a position where the only way out is to develop a deep relationship with your problem; to come to think of abandoning the fight, but not doing so; to suffer and to feel good for having transcended - even if just for the last ten seconds - an insurmountable impossibility.
Just before lunch time, a very interesting group appeared. Matthew and Chaise - two friends from school - came with their mothers - Marta and Tanya - and all did it! First, the young ones joined forces to address the fact that they both dislike "being chased around the playground by the girls all the time". Then the mums fought the "ignorance of relatives"… There was a decisive moment when, after some intense discussion about whether or not they should include the "relatives" part, they thought it was important to properly open it to the public and to confront it directly, which I highly approved.
Doing it "properly", means that you put your whole body and soul into it, that the entirety of you life gets implicated in the act of throwing a single punch, that there is nothing safe beyond the performance. Nothing is hidden, nothing untold nor forgotten. It means that you trust the time, and that in such moment you see an opportunity to change something about yourself, and the world you live in. Of course, not all people do it equally, and I cannot project an ideal experience, extrinsically into people's bodies. However, at the same time, a powerfully positive transformation was achieved by many (in many different ways) and such can neither be falsified nor simulated, and that is the true nature of this project; PROBLEM it is never a simulation, it is real life, happening inside you, before everyone's eyes. So far, the environment has been right, and along, the mood of this place, its vibrant life and its community made most people to feel that they were allowed to be simultaneously vulnerable and strong for five strenuous minutes, and trusted me to help them doing so. Thank you!
In the end of an exceptional performance, Marta and Tanya could not help but to effusively emanate this primordial animal life from within them, that everyone could feel. It turns out that they both work for leading charities that deliver activities related to well-being (such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga and other spiritual practices) to youth in debilitated socio-economical environments and yet, both agreed that a space there must be, not just to suppress the noisy anger of contemporary urban societies, but to teach it how to remain violent - yes - yet in a non-destructive way.
Everything is violent in the world: being born is violent; dying is violent; having to partially consume the world - bit by bit - in order to sustain a physical metabolising body is violent. However, this condition of ours does not need to necessarily be aggressive or irreversibly destructive. Violence is a given, yet what one does with it is much dependent on how it is socioculturally coded. Additionally, to many people's surprise, the public aspect of doing it before an audience is, indeed, a key aspect of conducting violence towards its non-aggressive realisation. People nowadays speak of non-violent direct action a lot, but most often - in my own terms - I think that they are actually thinking of non-aggressive/destructive direct (and often violent) action. [Thank you Marta and Tanya for the very nice review!]
Since Kacper was not around today, Little Lellie naturally assumed the role of "The Challenger". She fought three problems, the last of which was "when people say no to what I want"… Along the learning curve, and with much enthusiasm, so much attention she paid to the whole procedure, that many of my facilitator's tropes she ended up writing down on her little notebook, in such a cute, typical primary school naïve way. Somewhat like a haiku, it read: "punch nicely, kick as well, laugh at Rodrigo, breathe, do not lose your breath!".
Alexandra, a dear dancer friend of mine who is writing down her Phd in this very moment, managed to find some time to come an support the project [even if she told me "This place is far! Feels like going to bloody France!"] and, at the same time, confront the fact that she sometimes does not trust her own ideas. Ali started punching the core of the problem - nice and steady - and, seemingly untouched by fatigue, finished with such gracefulness, one can only envy. Most dancers have been touched by some sort of celestial dust for sure. Before closing, Liv came to complain about her boss, who had underpaid her by £217 exactly, and then little Niko released his anguish from "going to nursery". His mom then finished the day with "Daddy spending our holiday money to go to Madrid for football".
When someone says that they have a problem, you imagine perhaps that they are stuck with a complicated situation, that something is tricky, sticky, or even 'funny'. We feel as though life stops before a problem, as things get entangled and cease to work. It is a blockage, a barrier, an insurmountable impossibility!
However, the idea of a problem is actually based on an action and, in fact, a quite physical one. The Greek verb probállō is composed by pro- (forwards) and bállō (to throw). So, in PROBLEM, Rodrigo challenges you to rescue the proactive nature of what problems should be. Throw some punches at your own problems! In this interactive audiovisual installation, name any problem you may have: "My tea is cold", "Brexit gives me headaches", "Loneliness", "Sneaky pesticides in my food", "I can't find my socks", "Social inequality" etc.
Problem is a call to action, and a reminder, for we often forget we have a body; one that is simultaneously physical, biological, animal, social, cultural, political… From the smallest to the biggest, from the simplest to the most complex, abstract or unfathomable, every problem is welcome to be thrown forwards, towards a sense of unity.