After a new stage of another creative adventure with Rita Marcalo I find that, once again, I have experienced an unexpectedly emotional journey during the three hour piece.
As documenter, my role was to man the camera and ensure everything ran smoothly and sort out any technical issues. We had also made the decision, as the camera could not see all of the tea lights, and therefore the participants, I would need to pan appropriately. This in itself created a problem in terms of who was ‘controlling’ the performance. As the previous participant would be viewing what was coming from my camera, I realised, once we had started, that I was subtly weighting how the viewer might read it by what I chose to pan to. As I felt my role should be purely neutral I was concerned that this may compromise the piece somewhat and that in future a wider lensed camera would be necessary. with this in mind I kept it as simple as I could.
This was though and I feel lucky to have been witness to around 9 versions of the piece.
Initially, the participant walks into a darkened room and must surely feel a little disorientated. They are told to not speak and not leave the room until all the candles are out. They are given a lighter. When they leave the room, they enter a third chamber where they realise the previous participant has been watching them on a monitor and has named the piece they were in. They are invited to observe the next piece and name it, creating a continuous cycle.
In the space, Rita is nude, laid on the floor, with a large pair of metal wings on her shoulders. A grid of tealights is laid out on the floor. She pulls herself along the floor to each tealight, blows it out and carefully pushes it aside.
The first two people who moved through the space stood at the edges and observed from a number of standpoints but not entering the area of tea lights. One of them re-lit a couple of candles and watched Rita retrace back in order to re-blow them out.
Initially, watching Rita struggle around the space, slowly and methodically, blowing out each candle and moving it aside, I had a sense that the wings represented virtue and the struggle to maintain this state was represented by the action and the weight and unwieldy nature of the huge metal wings. It made me wonder why I thought virtue could be such a difficult thing to bear. What is it that makes us virtuous – pre-conditioning or something more natural or instinctive? It felt quite mythological, reminding me of how a feather was weighed against ones soul to see if a place in Heaven would be reached. To watch the first couple of people act as bystanders to the piece, made me think we maybe should have given them a card with which they could waft out a candle, therefore helping Rita in her mission but then I wondered if this was too much of an obvious ‘choice’ tool, along with their lighter, in that they could either relight or extinguish a candle. Part of me was disappointed that they didn’t want to help her and I wondered what I would do in the same situation. In some ways, I might think out of respect to the artist (who I might assume wanted to go through this process as they had created the environment) I might not blow out any candles or rearrange them in any way as they were so precisely laid out. I wondered if I would have the urge to relight the candles in a sense of ‘playing’ with Rita as perhaps this is the game she might want me to play, each participant having been given a lighter before they entered the space. I hoped that given the opportunity, I would do something different.
Had it been me naming these first two pieces, I might call the first Virtue and the second Arduous. These were the words which were repeating in my head as I watched.
The third person who came through walked straight into the middle of the candle field and quite quickly blew a couple of candles out. He then, after observing Rita moving slowly around the candle field, got down onto the floor, two rows away from Rita and mirrored what she was doing. To me this was such a warm and moving demonstration of simple communication and empathy, I felt a real sense of joy of how wonderful human beings can be. He continued to mirror Rita, blowing out candles parallel to her. Finally there was one candle left, they both moved toward it and blew it out simultaneously. A really very beautiful moment. If I was naming this version, I might call it Empathy.
Overall, I was surprised at how many people stood by and watched and wondered if it could be related to shyness, confusion or perhaps they felt intimidated in some way. I couldn’t help but feel some resentment toward the participant when they lit a candle far away from Rita. My urge to protect Rita became quite strong as the piece developed. At times there seemed to be an almost cold analytical sense to how the participant interacted, for example lighting a candle that was very far away from Rita and watching her move over to it, then doing the same with another candle, forcing Rita to go out of her way to extinguish. One started to move the candles in her own pattern and relighting them, this appeared quite playful and looked very pretty but as at this point Rita was clearly struggling, it seemed somewhat sadistic although I wonder if the participant may have seen it as playing, not realising how difficult the task was.
I also found myself struggling; when the participant had moved to the next chamber, the lights came on and the room was reset. Seeing Rita flat on the floor, clearly looking exhausted and then when she got up, her face progressively more tired after each version, was very difficult to watch but this is something I have experienced a number of times when we have worked together. Balancing my concern for her as a friend whilst respecting her as an artist, therefore supporting her in what she is doing, I find difficult to reconcile at times. I also became more involved in the piece as the wings broke after the first version so I became wing fixer while they re-set up the room.
The final version had a girl who, after watching Rita for a minute or two, blew out a candle. She then pushed two together, close to Rita’s path. This was very touching and when Rita came and blew both out, the girl started to slowly move the candles closer together, eventually all except one were together, leaving one on the other side of the candle field. Rita blew the grouped candles out at which point the girl walked over to the single remaining candle, blew it out and then used the lighter to guide her to leave the room. A beautiful ending. If I was naming it, I’d call it Compassion. Am sure her soul must weigh less than a feather.