Gabriella Giannachi & Nick Kaye


Staging the Post‑Avant‑Garde

Italian Experimental Performance

after 1970




Based in a former granary re-named Ramo Rosso (‘Red Branch’) in Bertinoro, Emilia‑Romagna, Masque’s work has addressed contemporary themes of the body and technology through a theatre in which, Gatelli proposes, ‘everything usually starts with space [...] spaces which are inserted in other spaces’ (Gatelli in Chinzari, 1998). From their early work, such as Prigione detto Atlante (Prison Known as Atlantis, 1991), which makes implicit reference to Michelangelo’s  Il Prigione ‑ Atlante (The Prisoner‑Atlantis, 1530‑6), Masque’s performances have articu­lated interactions between the actor and the ‘closed structures’ (Gatelli in Chinzari, 1998) in which they perform. In this context, Masque’s theatrical compositions ‘avoid narrative consequentiality’ (Bazzocchi, 2000), drawing directly on formal and chance‑based modes of composi­tion from the visual arts (Bazzocchi, 2000).

In 1994, Coefficiente di fragilità (Coefficient of Fragility), des­cribed as a cyber‑fairy tale (Audino, 1995), foregrounded this link be­tween Masque’s ‘post‑industrial’ themes and imagery and their work’s close link to visual art and installation. Inspired by Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even or The Large Glass (1923), in which Duchamp parodied industrial technology's rationalism through complex and paradoxical representations of useless machines, Coefficiente di fragilità also drew on Octavio Paz's critical exploration of Duchamp's work, Marcel Duchamp, appearance stripped bare (Paz, 1990). Through a large‑scale reconstruction, incorporating live performers, of The Large Glass and a simulation of Duchamp's last work, Étants donnés: 1 ° La Chute D'eau 2° La Gaz Déclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall 2. The Illuminating Gas,1946‑66), Coefficiente di fragilità defined a labyrinthine structure enclosing both spectators and performers. In this context, Masque's performance offered a theatrical articulation of Maurice Blanchot's notion of `the fortuitous encounter', and so the proposition, Bazzocchi suggests, `of instantaneous intuition' (Bazzocchi, 2000). Significantly, Blanchot's concept of the `fortuitous encounter' is reflected in Duchamp's work, and especially in his selection of `Ready‑mades': banal, everyday objects, signed and dated by Duchamp to be exhibited in a gallery context. At the root of this selection, Duchamp later recalled, was a moment of encounter, determined, like the object itself, arbitrarily. Thus, in Duchamp's working notes to The Large Glass, published as The Green Box (1934), he proposed to create a Ready‑made by

planning for a moment to come (on such a day, such a date, such a moment), `to inscribe a ready‑made'. The ready‑made can then be looked for (with all kinds of delays). The important thing is just this matter of timing. This snapshot effect, like a speech delivered on no matter what occasion but at such and such an hour. It is a kind of rendezvous. (Duchamp in Sanouillet and Peterson, 1975: 32, original emphasis)
It is an encounter echoed, too, for Bazzocchi, in a meeting with The Large Glass. Divided into two parts, Bazzocchi proposes that Duchamp uses this division to suggest `two mirrors positioned one on top of the other' noting that `Duchamp speaks of the effect that the glass has to reflect another image' (Bazzocchi, 2000). After The Large Glass, then, Masque's own `fortuitious encounter' comes to embrace not only the `Ready‑made', reflected in Masque's appropriation of Duchamp's works, but also this mirroring effect.
Masque, Coefficiente di fragilità ( Coefficient of Fragility, 1994) (photo: Masque).
In entering Coefficiente di fragilità, then, ‘the spectator is continuously moved’ (Audino, 1995) through a ‘a ten-metre long tunnel […] a naturalist environment’ evoking the walls of an old hotel (Bazzocchi, 2000). Here, in response to Duchamp's ‘concept of unveiling and anamorphosis' (Bazzocchi, 2000), Masque confront the spectator, in their journey, with a series of distorted images or abnormal transformations on the themes of ‘identity’ and ‘otherness’, to which this work is dedica­ted. On the walls of the installation, bodies and colours are projected and continuously changed; a map, like an encephalogram, is reproduced on monitors in response to sensors applied to the actors' voices. At moments the spectators hear the words of a bride telling them in the manner of a peep show about her lovers and her virginity (Audino, 1995). Here, at a crossing point, the spectator meets an actor, as `walking forward the spectator sees a female body lit by stroboscopic lights' (Audino, 1995). Subsequently, the spectator retreats, walking backwards along the path they came, but, in doing so, `the spectator finds themselves in front of the projected image of themselves in the act of moving forward' (Bazzoc­chi, 2000). Here, where the spectator sees `their own face filmed by a hidden camera and projected over the back wall' (Audino, 1995) so they encounter themselves. `The idea of the work', Bazzocchi notes, was `to isolate the spectator in their vision':
[t]his is connected to the fortuitous encounter, the necessity of letting the spectator meet with another figure with whom they could have a very rapid knowledge [... ] we wanted the spectator to be always alone, but also always with others, to be surprised to be with themselves. (Bazzocchi, 2000)

After Duchamp, Paolo Ruffini suggests in his review of the per­formance, the spectator, at this moment, `becomes an involuntary voyeur' assisting the `Ready‑made' (Ruffini, 1995). In this `encounter' with their own image, in which they see themselves as the fortuitous object of their attention, and so as other, Ruffini suggests that in `the stroke of an action', the spectator `transforms the gesture devoid of sense, the every­day object, into a work of art' (Ruffini, 1995).

Masque's concern with identity is strongly reflected in their subse­quent work, where it has frequently been transposed towards relation­ships between the body and technology. Nur Mut: la passeggiata dello schizo (Nur Mut: The Walk of The Schizo,1996) is an homage to Deleuze and Guattari, with particular reference to Anti‑Oedipus (Deleuze and Guattari, 1984).

Masque, Nur Mut (Nur Mut 1997) (photo: Masque)..

Recalling Duchamp again, but also Jean Tinguely's mechanized sculptures, Nur Mut evoked scenes of the contamination of the physical by the machine as the performers' bodies are integrated with mechanisms built with found objects, including mechanical skele­tons, dolls, hairdressers' utensils, chairs, tubes, and surgical instruments. As the performance progressed, deformed dolls were offered to the audience as a performer's voice states: `I am my father, I am my mother, I am my son, I am also myself' (Masque, 1999a). Describing their `con­frontation' with Deleuze and Guattari's work, Gatelli suggests that this integration reflects a latent `cybernetic' state, emphasizing that `the only way in which we could give back to the hero, a schizophrenic character, the place of origin was to build around him a grinding machine system to highlight his interior drama' (Gatelli in Chiara, 1999).

Eva futura (Future Eva, 1999) extended the company's address to exchanges between the body and machine through concepts of simulation (Masque, 1999a). Drawing on work by the early twentieth‑century writer Auguste Villiers de 1'Isle‑Adam, Eva futura is performed within a self­contained architectonic structure representing a laboratory, in which four subjects are hypnotized. Repeating a number of exercises, including levitation, catalepsy, automatic rotatory movements, inhibition of volun­tary movement, analgesia, bleeding and conditioning (Masque, 1999a), the piece emphasizes an equivalence and exchange between organism and machine, as if `life' is implied in the actor's performative exchange. At the centre of the structure, Masque set a piano playing on its own. Stressing in the video documentation of the performance that `simulation is not a lie; it's the creation of a new reality' (Masque, 1999b), Bazzocchi reads the machine itself as a new kind of organism, noting that `we see the piano for the keys and we forget that inside there is a body that has its own life' (Bazzocchi, 2000).

Figure 30: Masque, Eva futura (Future Eva, 1999) (photo: Masque)