contemporary art, philosophy, theatre of cruelty

Nancy Spero, Maypole: Take No Prisoners II (2008)

March 21, 2011
Nancy Spero Maypole: Take No Prisoners II 2008 Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 2 May 2011) © 2011 Jerry Hardman-Jones

Antonin Artaud only wrote one play, said to be impossible to restage. So we might now find the best example of the writer’s so-called Theatre of Cruelty at a Nancy Spero show

Certainly, the only performance of Spurt of Blood which this blogger ever witnessed would be difficult to review. Shouts, cries and physical convulsions don’t bear much repetition.

Spero’s fascination with this French writer is well known. Her current show at Serpentine features some 25 works which quote from him or name him in their title. This work, however, does not.

But Maypole: Take No Prisoners II does come to mind after reading the following quote from French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in which he calls for festivals with nothing to see:

“Plant a stake crowned with flowers in the middle of a square; gather the people together there, and you will have a festival. Do better yet, let the spectators become . . . actors themselves.”

So perhaps a gallery, where the visitor is surrounded by the action, where Artaud’s writing is screamed from the walls, is in some ways the antidote to classical spectacle Rousseau proposed.

Both writers seem keen to get away from theatrical representation. And Spero, while providing theatre in the above work, gives voice to her muse’s radically incomprehendable scream.

Btw, the quotation is from Letter to M. d’Alembert, which is briefly discussed by Jacques Derrida in his essay The Theatre of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation in Writing and Difference.

For a more in depth discussion of Spero’s use of texts by Artaud in relation to Derrida, there is an interesting essay by Lucy Bradnock available here.

Maypole: Take No Prisoners II can be seen in Nancy Spero at Serpentine Gallery until 2 May 2011. See gallery website for more details.

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