Space and Sensation: Zoé Degani’s Art of Pluralising Signs Onstage

This presentation assumes that “art thinks no less than philosophy, but it thinks through affects and percepts” (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 66). Artists do not only think the world, but also necessarily create worlds. Analysing the creation process of Brazilian artist and set designer Zoé Degani, whose practice couples her work and life inextricably, this proposal intends to offer an insight into her universe and its many worlds.

Working in the south of Brazil, in a specific context where scarce funds and precarious theatres do not support a profession and from a genuine environmental consciousness, Degani has built a career pinching scraps, as well as necessarily reinventing skills. This particular way of creating and thinking her work, re-signifies objects exhausted by consumerist objectivity, impresses forces upon spaces, walls, floors and structures, thus revealing a molecular theatrical quality that escapes its specificity, composed in a visual and pictorial language. Furthermore, her work presents a proliferation of signs: radiographs, keys, dolls, basins (which are “urban shells” for this artist who grew up on a beach), chairs, flowers, and bandages, among other recurrent elements thought of as a personal casting of pieces. Throughout, from performance to sculpture, from installation art to video, from public space to the stage, those signs impel performers’ bodies to athleticism through scenic objects, most of the time built from materials with no further use. The violence of encountering requires from her audience an action of deciphering. For instance, in The Bath (a dance play deployed from an already plural installation art), a giant tube was both the wave that danced with the performers putting their bodies at risk, as well as the presentification of the dry tubes from a civilisation without water. Although the object sustains a representational role and is what it actually is, its presence is more powerful than its meaning. Spectators (witnesses) sitting on tons of coarse salt experience the feeling of dryness: the lack of water is made actual through spatial sensations, not the representation of an illusion.

Degani’s signs go beyond semiology. Although a reading can be traced, they are a force opposing referentiality. In a complex arrangement of the visual and the manual, coupling the imagery and structural, bodies and objects, the undeniable concreteness of the material and the whole possibilities of its derivations, her compositions have a precise maths, physics, and geometry in their making as well as a thrust of human sensation. Before helping a character on stage, Degani’s pieces make the human figure appear: they are prosthesis or machines to athleticism, they put bodies in a state of becoming. Through manipulating places and creating objects, the “saturation of every atom” is noted as a composing operation. An example is the spatial composition for The Lesson (Ionesco), which works as the student’s suffering, allowing it to fit in a mutilated doll, in a torture chair; the space, more than representing oppression, was its real configuration, through columns dressed in corsets, through the children’s heads stuck inside a blackboard. This material operations cross scenes, resign dancer’s movements, relativise dramatic texts, and pluralise sensations. There are layers of reading, of composing, of signs. Out of the stage, which depicts a public space fixed under an overpass, The Sky, is a visual composition crossing real life, clouds contradicting concreteness. ‘In her “previous-scenic” work, the triad life-death-rebirth was a frequent theme bringing to surface the inevitable passage of time. After all, what this oeuvre do is to take the present from all representation.

References

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 2004. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. London: Continuum.