From 17 to 21 December 2019
Fabra i Coats – Contemporary Art Centre and Art Factory of Barcelona
Waiting for Godot is one of Samuel Beckett’s most emblematic plays and one of the most representative of contemporary theatre. So much so, that Godot now forms part of our imagery, without having even read the book or been to the theatre – in fact, without him even existing –. Because everyone knows that Godot never actually arrives. His name is the announcement, the excuse, the character that has no role, around which all the others revolve (we revolve), an absent main character who makes us star in his absence.
We may not know that it is the story of two vagrants who are waiting for him beneath a tree; that the pattern of the first act is repeated in the second with a few differences; or that one of its most important successes was the performance given in 1957 at the San Quetin California State Penitentiary in front of 1400 prisoners but Godot is the unknown person everyone is waiting for. He is a metaphor for our horizon of expectations and Beckett is the cryptic writer who refused to provide any explanations so as not to close the door on us.
Since the conclusion last May of the public tender to select the management team, we at Fabra i Coats – Contemporary Art Centre and Art Factory of Barcelona have been working on the new programme for next year. And whilst we wait for this new phase to begin, we decided to create a short series on Beckett. In light of the 30th anniversary of his death, we will look at the influence he had on the contemporary arts and conclude with a critical and ironic reflection, with or without him, on subjects that the future programme of the Art Centre will look at, such as authorship and representation – or their absence.
“Beckett, read through contemporary art, tends to become curiously Duchampithised: both Beckett and Duchamp teach us to resist the noisy external world of the trivial and of communicative saturation through the progressive silence of the work of art, even of the artist himself”, wrote Marcelo Expósito (Cultura/s, La Vanguardia, 16/3/2011). Beyond theatre, Beckett wrote pieces for radio, television and cinema and in each one of them he heralded a minimalist vagueness, where the marginality and resistance of the story, based on reducing or directly suspending the action, allowed him to expose the limits of the narrative structure – of the image or the discourse –, from the words to the body. A way of observing the messages inherent in each medium, and also a way of involving the audience. Because, with Beckett, the author ceases to be the inventor who gives meaning to the work, opening it up to drifts and readings of each context.
Paradoxically, his omnipresence in artistic theory and practice since the late nineties has ended up enthroning and idealising him, whilst the current shielding of his work in the hands of his heirs who manage his legacy and authorise adaptations has relegated him to almost untouchable fetishism. But if Beckett is contemporary it’s because he still awakens questions among the public and creativity of today. As a good pretext and driver of many contemporary artworks, for the arts, Beckett is like Godot: he is there and he is not there. And what we learnt from him is no heresy – or maybe it is.
Over the week that this series will be held, we will discover how artists from different generations and contexts adopt and adapt Beckett through all the arts and media that he explored, from cinema to television, from book to stage. We will see how artist Dora García makes a revision of Beckett’s Film (1964) in a hotel in Brussels, which will be screened every afternoon at Fabra i Coats. The reinterpretation by artist Lúa Coderch of the mouth that says Not I in the eponymous film by Beckett (1973) will be broadcast on Betevé. Based on the new Catalan translation of Waiting for Godot, author Josep Pedrals will talk with artist and activist Marcelo Expósito about translating Beckett and appropriating him, which will be held in the bookshop La Tribu. And finally, we will return to Fabra i Coats for the close of the series by actress and dancer Alba Sanmartí, who has created a choreographic interpretation for the occasion, where two actors will stage the didaskaliai, never before seen for this mythical theatrical piece.
In these three works, representation rejects what is typical, the meaning, and the account arises from a series of narrative effects that draw on our imagination, where Beckett and Godot already co-exist. Erasing and replacing the voice and look that the author gave to his characters, as García and Sanmartí do, or expanding the arena but blurring the face, as Coderch does, the leading role falls to a figure as anonymous as it is collective: us. And this is the legacy of Beckett, to understand authorship as an exercise of appropriation and translation, an act of generosity open to variations, like the desire to share without influencing what waiting for Godot actually is.
Joana Hurtado Matheu