Contact Memory

CONTACT MEMORY

AN INTERVIEW WITH ARTIST MARCO PAULO ROLLA

Introduction and interview by Ulisses Carrilho
Photographs by Hick Duarte, Victor Takayama and Victor Nomoto
Monday, April 13 - 2015

There's a noticeable tension at the scene of every accident. Images are the most common language to explain what has happened. But images of accidents usually have no accompanying sound, a very important factor in listening to performance artist Marco Paulo Rolla. The history of his work isn't only about establishing relations, it is a relationship in and of itself. Clearly, Rolla clearly likes collaboration.

He was selected by Paula Garcia, Lynsey Peisinger, and Marina Abramovic for MAI Presents, a section of the larger exhibition that includes seven individual artists and one performance collective, all of whom are Brazilian. Here, Rolla talks about his performance Fulfilling the Space with writer and curator Ulisses Carrilho:

You said that the expressive possibilities of performance, of bringing back the body's memory, are more effective when criticizing capitalism. How does criticizing the system affect your work?

All of my work is critical, including the two-dimensional pieces. My work puts major focus on human emotion in the world right now, within this entire arsenal of capitalism. My generation lived half our lives without the technology we have today. I'm absolutely critical of the use of mobile phones on a daily basis. For example, at dinner. Recently, I was in a vegetarian restaurant, which to me means that people have already reached some awareness of their body, yet the diners didn't look each other in the eye. I noticed that someone was trying to flirt with another person. The object of affection never realized it because they were looking at their phone the whole time. Instead of cutlery, next to their plate was their mobile. This is the kind of capitalist domain [I’m talking about]. Technology serves the capital. There are inventions that we can’t imagine. There are stored commodities. In my two-dimensional work, that is present. Since my return to performance in the 1990's, it's even more present. Unconsciously, I see the same questions reignited by performance artists. They get more time [to perform than in other art forms]. They don't intend to please the audience, unlike, say,  video art, where editing allows for a sped-up more digestible product. Stelarc, for example, does it. This is almost monstrous. Orlan also does it. There's a sort of willingness to review the body. No apparatus, or at least no apparatus serving as speech.

In the actions of your performance, there are times when you do something and then times when you do nothing. Time to play the accordion, and time to be silent. Can you describe this process? Is your discourse constructed from action?

I understood myself as an artist when I was five years old. At age two, I'd cry because I wanted to listen to music. I’d always wake up and ask to listen to music. My mother had a very emotional relationship with art, but she didn't know who Picasso was. She painted copies of still lifes. At seven, all my siblings were taking piano lessons. What's deeper for me, though, is my memory of looking in the mirror and talking to myself. There was a willingness to understand why I was there. I knew cinema but, to me, it was something distant. I wondered why I was so far from art. I was born in a Baroque city, but it had all been destroyed by the time I was born. I had parts in small plays before prayer time in school. I was born at the beginning of the military dictatorship, it was all very regimented.

There are works that were born from those memories. One of the most important, my seminal performance Breakfast, is one example. It was from a text [we read in school] called The Greedy Boy, and one of the performances was about someone eating with their mouth full, chewing with their mouth open. They asked the messiest boy in school to play that role, so he could see himself in it. I was there too, my role was to simply have breakfast. That day I left home without having breakfast, in order to do it in front of everyone. That whole experience for me was nonsense. I did nothing. There was only the displacement of an action. In the 1980’s, it was pejorative to be a multidisciplinary artist. There was prejudice and it made it more difficult for artists to explore. I want openness, so the work can always be possible. The more integration [of mediums], the less simple the jobs need to be, which means there are  more crazy things I can do. I work with theater and dance because I like it and it's a way to make a living. It also has created opportunities for exchange.

You're an artist who has a gallery representing you. To what extent is your performance work a reaction to the commodification of art, a willingness to not produce objects?

I'm very fortunate to have started my artistic studies with music. I was a musician from age five to 22. I didn't want to be a music teacher, I wanted to be a concert musician. I wanted to touch people's emotions. I studied with composer Eduardo Guimarães Alves. He had this group I was in to study Eisenstein, John Cage, Bob Wilson, Bertolt Brecht. This all came before [I studied] visual art. He taught me about the joy of creating, and not to be afraid of creating; the willingness to do something, having an idea, and doing it; not being so analytical. That experience was always very important to me. I learned composition through music. Composition is very explicit in music. In the 1980’s, I became a painter. From 1982 to 1988, I lived in São Paulo and and found myself, in an attempt to be accepted, showing only part of my work.

In Fulfilling the Space, what's the role of space, of emptiness? Is it the meeting place?

I find things, but things also find me. It's impossible not to find certain objects. I quit playing music at 22, I thought I'd dropped [it for good]. When I returned to performance in 1998, there was music. In this work, there's a fantasy with the instrument. One day I went to a friend's house and there was this accordion on the floor. It's the instrument that I use in this performance. It belonged to a family friend who had no place to keep it. I called her and let her know that the instrument had already changed owners. I never even bought an instrument, they find me. I believe in meetings. The energy applied to the discipline returns through meetings. My political action, beyond criticism, is to provoke these meetings. To collaborate and pass knowledge on. For me, politics is also a return to poetry. In this work there is no badge of race or sexuality, but rather a denial, a return to the sensitive and human. There's emptiness. I allow myself to be in a love relationship with the instrument and with the space. The instrument is a companion lying with me in the space. There's the touch. The memory of touch. This body that lies with me touches me and I play it. There's the formalization of the accident, “the accident.” The accident is the time of transformation. All accidents cause a transmutation.

To what extent does teaching performance art affect your relationship with the art itself?

Almost all my friends today come from my classes. They come from [my] teaching performance art. The return to poetry is also a return to the humane. Dealing with the body is about dealing with the emotional and with the psyche. Also I teach painting but, in that class, the relationship isn't the same. The body's relationship with itself is undeniable. Bodies depend on each other. You must have security to have support. Performance has this power to bring people closer. I work with music, with performance, with the creation of images using sculpture, installation art. It's all there in Preenchendo o Vazio [Fulfilling the Space]. People don't have to understand the emblem, the slogan. They don't have to be understood. Rather, they must be felt. There are many layers of understanding. It's always better with more layers. A sole layer isn’t enough. One layer is just obvious.


Terra Comunal - MAI is free and open to the public until May 10, 2015 @SESC Pompeia, São Paulo - Brazil.