One of the most insightful things said at the The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Weekend was by Harvard professor Homi Bhabha, who said, “A great work of art is impossible to forget because it is difficult to remember…..a work of art should be an unfathomable experience, you know it, but you never know it”. I thought yes! – it’s not often that someone says something that seems to encapsulate what it’s all about, describing why
we might be entranced by a Rothko or absorbed in a dance piece by Pina Bausch without actually being able to articulate it.
Later, choreographer Lin Hwai Min had told us about insisting that his company, Cloud Gate, perform new work for the ordinary people of Taiwan. Every year his company travel into the provinces and dance for the rural workers. These performances attract huge audiences only bettered by religious celebration days and the country’s elections, up to thirty thousand people at a time. Mr Lin said once an elderly gentleman came up to him after one of these shows in tears and said, “Mr Lin I don’t understand your performance but I was so touched”. Mr Lin regards this as one of his best reviews ever.
In Norbert Lynton’s obituary of Anthony Caro in the Guardian this week he writes: ‘Caro made sculpture free from any necessity but that of holding and moving our spirits,’ which seems to echo what Mr Lin and Bhabha were talking about. Over the weekend we saw this borne out in the joint works of William Kentridge and Mateo López and even in the architectural installation by Yang Zhao. Taking this formal approach in theatre and film is a little more difficult, as our expectations are bound by conventions of storytelling in both mediums. As someone who dabbled in performance art and the ‘avant garde’ in my youth, I completely understand the desire to hold the lingering shot just for the sake of its own beauty or create an atmosphere with smells and smoke but I gradually learned that narrative forms are not passive and you have to tease the audience toward a ‘meaning’… aesthetic mystery is not enough.
So there we were on a tranquil island of St Giorgio di Maggiore at the Cini Foundation housed in what used to be a monastery. Away from the zombified tourists on their never ending trudge around the ‘world’s most beautiful city’ we were encased in an intellectual chill zone where ideas and insights came at us from all sides. We even had a talk about zombies by Literature protégée Naomi Alderman. Her mentor, literary hero Margaret Atwood, chipped in wittily and then we were treated to some real Zombies lurching round the beautiful library where the event was being held. These made-up zombies looked more purposeful than the ones to be seen rocking up to the Doge’s palace over the water in St Mark’s square.
We were making a film about the weekend, which had to be up on the Internet by Monday morning. Edward Ramsay Frost, Rick Horsfall and myself were accompanied by Ariel Pintor, a multi-lingual, multi-tasking kind of chap who probably hasn’t been exposed to our particular kind of humour before, but he survived dear readers.
I was taking notes to aid our editing but quickly found myself writing as rapidly as possible to keep up with the stream of ideas being shared. Some of what we saw was mystifying, some of it was frustrating but all of it carried lessons and arguments that could be expounded upon later. Eduardo Fukushima’s dance performance ‘The Crooked Man’ was electrifying and as Homi Bhabha said, was unfathomable but at the same time unforgettable.
Monday night’s Rolex Mentor and Protégé closing ceremony was held in Venice’s Fenice opera house. Our films, that tell the stories of the mentoring year, looked fantastic and we had some really wonderful comments from the likes of Mira Nair and Peter Sellars (the opera director).
Sadly, theatre mentor Patrice Chéreau died just two weeks before the ceremony, but for us as filmmakers he said one of the most profound things in a message to his protégé Michał Borczuch, which was read by Marthe Keller and Charlotte Rampling:
“I want to tell Michał once more that it is really a great thing to tell stories (he doesn’t believe this). He mustn’t be afraid to tell stories, because they are an inexhaustible spring. In fact, telling stories is the only thing that links us to the world, and transcribing it into words and images allows us to understand it.”