Passiflore Incarnée, roue de la fortune.
Roue de la Fortune; Passiflore Incarnée.
Passiflore Incarnée, Printemps été, Automne Hiver
The passing sun, the ticking heart, and the exploding cell,
a tale of three clocks.
On stage, layers of pink and green latex form a carpet, two garden foldable chairs face each other’s, empty. Behind, on the wall, are hanging two wooden boxes containing the herbal tunics worn during the previous iteration of the play. Between their sleeves, are placed two wax masks of the previous performers.
A soundtrack starts playing, a white noise of cicadas, snakes and birds noises. Soon after, two performers enter the scene carrying a large bucket of hot water in which two new silk tunics containing medicinal herbs are soaking. They are both wearing nude effect tights, that will keep their legs warm, as well as a tutu made of tulle and silk muslin. Their entire bodies are covered in a thick layer of white clay.
They place the bucket on the floor and take from it the silk tunics. They wring them, and start dressing each other, adjusting the ribbons so the tunics are held tightly against their skins. (Torso, then arms, then wrists, and finishing with the face masks, containing camomille, bleuets and arnica flowers.) The tunics act like herbal poultices, and by wringing them out thoroughly and then wearing them, they fill the room with an intense smell of lavender, camomille, thym and rosemary.
The two performers then sit, adjust their face masks, and start to read one after the other, allowing each other a time after finishing their paragrapher to either place the mask down on their eyes when listening and up while reading.
Once, during an extremely warm day, I was walking amongst the Calanques near Marseille.
The rocky landscape was bleached by the constant exposure to the sun. Thin passage ways were carved through the vegetation by the constant steps of passer-by, searching for a refreshing swim. Spiky bushes scratched my bare legs, as if actively trying to reclaim these narrow channels. Each scratch, each drop of blood on my ankles, felt like a calling.
The odorant smells expelled by the myriad of oil based vegetal life forms surrounding me went to my head. Each plant displayed gorgeous and intricate assemblages of pointed leaves and seemingly dried branches, crowned by tiny flowers fighting side by side like pale knights, to protect the precious moisture of their body from the bright violence of the sun, while attracting an invisible but loud crowd of insects toward them. I felt ashamed of my inability to recognize and name them. Each plant seemed to have built a delicate system of essences that I knew was a reflection of my own body. I found myself walking amongst a treasure room of medicines, dyes and precious perfumes, but couldn’t seem to appreciate any of it.
They spoke a language of essential oils that I realized I should understand.
In order to exist, a living organism needs to first define an inside from an outside, a soapy drop of oil floating in the sea will be able to contain itself and thus form the primordial self-awareness needed to call oneself alive, thus forming the first microscopic bodies that will later parent all animal and vegetal life.
Astonished by the sight of the maquis while mortified by the rupture that I now realized existed between me and the landscape I walked down toward the sea staring at my own feet, only disturbed by the sound of petroleum snakes rapidly avoiding my embarrassing presence. I went to throw myself in the refreshing sea and washed the crystallized blood on my legs, and while drying in the sun I happily witnessed myself brewing a new perfume of body oil and sea salt, similar to the one I could smell on other naked men around me that was activating my blood and accelerating my heart.
If the experience of time of animals is defined by the speed of their heartbeats, ours as we exist as rather large animals is relative and slow. Disturbed only by a bleak awareness of the passing of the seasons, and a primary sense of a biological clock that tell us when to start producing new generations of offsprings. This peaceful experience of time is only disturbed during the rare encounters of our own images in mirrors, reminding us during short periods of intense self-reflection that our skin is cracking, loosening, thus for a moment only do we notice that we are ageing as a single organism.
But our bodies are an intricate layering of porous membranes.
Our cells pouring in, pouring out substances of decay, named after the many iterations of rot.
These pulsating life forms are each following an internal clock where the cycles of rebirth are taking place at a rhythm, we, large animals, can’t keep track of, invisible and unheard. An heartbeat will always be slower than the many explosions of organisms that together compose the heavy body containing them.
And as cells and bacterias exists in a far faster realm, in between each heart beat many cycles of life and death can take place. Cannibalistic wars are fought inside of us, and many memorial monuments are erected in the form of clusters of floating DNA remains, in turn digested or absorbed.
Performer 1 takes his mask down after finishing reading. Performer 2 puts his mask back on, then begins to declaim his text. Performer 1 turns to the audience and pretends to be looking through his mask.
We wish to render ourselves more aware of the passing of time, we wish to pierce through our own bodies and feel the pulling of our inner fluids rendered each month by the moon. Feeling the darkness of our guts that echoes the opaque shadow of a black moon, the eerie shine of the full moon shimmering on the wet membrane of white clay that now covers our skins, acting as a moist sponge forcing our pores to open.
A frenzy of organized life takes place inside of us, each of our organs acting as a pulpous amalgam of information reaching toward the world. Our skins, as the last resort before the experienced void, is a finale and thin layer of resistance, cells organized shoulder to shoulder like an army to feel and grasp the vastness of the world.
They are two tightly weaved containers barely able to block the vibrant pulses of flesh that are thrusting themselves toward the outside. Each of our hair acting as a watch tower, informations circling up and down long and narrow funnels like sloping staircase diving deep toward our nervous systems. Thus, skin is the organ that gives us an awareness of self, while slowly expelling odorant liquids that gather in waves; the putrid and invisible residues of what used to be us, constantly dragged out by inner tides of opaque white liquids. Hairs standing strong amidst a salted and moist swamp of dead bacterias and loose cells. These nauseating fluids have names, putrescine, cadaverine, spermine, spermidine. They compose the mute language that bonds organic life, they are emitted equally by cells and bacterias, used amongst plants and the animal that feed on them to induce death and trigger the spreading of life. Putrescine is the substance that some species of carnivorous plants use to recreate the pungent smell of rotting animal flesh.
Outside and unaware of us, in the darkness, the vegetal world is growing with each passing day, absorbing the moisture from their surroundings, they cover themselves in pearls of water reflecting the pale light of the moon, each drop in turn absorbing the recurrent heat of the sun. They slowly transform day after day into warm crystalline marks, hardening the salt and essence gathered during sensual stroking of leaves and petals induced by the winds. They embody the varieties of essences and hormones that are the language spoken between herbs, insects, eggs and rocks. This language echoes our own. We are reaching towards them as they are reaching towards us.
The volume of the soundtrack lowers for this last stanza.
Hawthorn cures our sadness of love.
Passionflower calms our heart, regulates the heartbeat and sedates heavy minds.
Comfrey solders our bones.
Plantain heals our skins from the marks of stress and the bits of insects.
Lavender relaxes our muscles and orifices, penetrates deep under our skin, and calms our anxiety.
Camomille when applied on the eyes calms the pain induced by the sun and the saddening actions one is forced to look at.
Thus, we speak the same language, a tongue of putrescine, cadaverine and oily essences of life.
The volume of the soundtrack increases for a few seconds, the performers have taken down their masks, and face each other’s. A new soundtrack of rain sounds starts playing. They lift their masks back up, stand up, and walk towards the wall, they sit by each other’s on the floor in between the two wooden boxes. They grab from one hand the sleeve of the used tunics on the wall, and grab their other hand, forming a chain with the dead looking wax masks. They are listening to the sound of the rain; their eyes are closed. The soundtrack fades out, they then stand, walk out of the scene, to then come back and salute, it is the end of the play. They leave bringing with them the smells of the calanques.
Nils Alix-Tabeling (2019)
Invitation made on the occasion of the exhibition Sâr Dubnotal.
Florilegia, sculpture and performance for two actors, approximately 15 minutes. Silk costumes containing medicinal ointments made from macerated plants and white clays (lavender, raspberry, comfrey, plantain, marigold, arnica, chamomile, hawthorn, passionflower, blueberries, white broth and thyme), text, vase, wood and various materials. Originally produced for Jupiter Woods, London, in 2019 with the support of Fluxus, as part of a series of research and workshops on medieval medicine, in duet with Rebecca Jagoe.