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Performer as Tourist, the Tourist as Hero (?) ... and vice versa


Mia Unverzagt is an artist whose work, as presented in these ´episodes´ spans a gap between dramatic images spun from the stuff of classical antiquity to contemporary performance and live art since the turn of the century. We find ourselves confronted by curiously disparate figures and images embedded in scenarios which – in accordance with the artist´s convictions – defy linear structure and oppose any kind of blanket thematic interpretation. Of course, this by no means implies a lack of structure but rather leads through various associations to patterns more organic in nature and related to the precursor of much contemporary work: ritual.  As Lévi-Strauß has pointed out, rites and myths take to pieces and reconstruct sets of events, using them as so many indestructible pieces for structural patterns in which they serve alternately  as means or ends. This, I suspect, is what is happening here. A blindfolded performer wanders through the streets of Havanna, an imprint of a child´s eyes over her own. At once we find ourselves transported back to the unavoidable symbol of Sophocles´ Oedipus, who must become blind before he can see what all others have long since seen. Simultaneously, the arcane wisdom of truth being apparent through a child´d eyes can be sensed throughout. Yet the performer and thus the performance, is only defined through the interplay with the public. She is a ´foreigner´, as was the Theban king. A tourist. As surely as Columbus was a tourist – and was not Ulysses the greatest tourist of them all? The delicate tightwire act between theatrical figure, seeker, foreigner and tourist – and ultimately tourist as hero – is wonderfully achieved through photographs of tourists posed on pedestals like sculptures of Greek gods in the Louvre, sprayed in gold. And exquisitely balanced between classical attitude and kitsch. Yet the powers, magical and heroic, of the Olympian hero and adventurer have been replaced by the power of the almighty dollar.


The fact that these works are compositions which require active audience involvement and confrontation posits them firmly in the tradition of the performance avantgarde. The Italian Futurists´ confrontation tactics and antics found them moving among spectators, thereby transforming their supposedly ´immune´ haven into a performance space. The device of direct confrontation with the public was also echoed in the performances of the Dadaists, first in Zurich and later in Paris. And so on and so on up to the experiments of the 60´s and beyond. Yet, happily, these devices are not merely repeated in Mia Unverzagt´s work, but incorporated with a selfless honesty, humor and inquisitive force which triggers association upon association. Questions, questions and more questions – far more important and revealing than fixed answers. The episodic, the Quixotic, the Odyssean – call it what you will – is an ideal form for these seemingly unrelated fragments. Through the combination of diverse elements a structure of a different sort emerges, valid in its own right within the confines of a performative world.


Rick Takvorian