In Southeast Asia, white elephants were venerated animals which the monarch could give as gifts to reward an honoured subject. The grateful recipient then had to bear the costs of keeping a sacred animal that could not be sold, given away, slaughtered or put to work, which usually led to the owner’s ruin. Nowadays the term ‘white elephant’ is used to refer to one of those huge, recently built buildings, “dazzling, beautiful, sacred gifts said to bring wealth and prosperity, but which cannot be put to use”. Instead of constructing buildings, Adriana Seserin, the remarkable architect who tells this story, carries out projects that are half-architecture, half-theatre. In her latest action (Una habitación con vistas, 2013) she invited choreographer Anna Källblad to put on a performance in one of those huge buildings. Dressed as white buildings, the dancers danced in front of empty seats.
This project, carried out in Sweden on 16 January, made me think of Anarchitekton (2002-2004) by Jordi Colomer, another artist with close ties to the theatre. Anarchitekton was a series of actions in which a performer walked past impressive buildings while they held up a model of them on a pole.
In both Una habitación con vistas, where the only spectators were in a restaurant overlooking the theatre, and Anarquitekton, where passersby were random witnesses, the action carried out is far greater than the invited audience. You could say that really both projects have an indirect audience in the media or the museums that reproduce them or in this blog that refers to them, but this later audience doesn’t fulfil the action when it is being carried out. The action is fulfilled by taking place regardless of any audience, like a religious act where the temptation of vanity is diluted because God is the only witness. ”The foundations of a hermit’s life are penance and prayer, his adornment is silence, his keeper is his retreat, and his purpose is union with God” read a sign at the door to a Mallorcan monastery. The adornment of silence is the key to Adriana’s and Jordi’s pieces. They don’t call to any god, but both of them take place beyond an audience (probably the most hysterical of the gods). Their purpose lies in the simple fact that affirming, even when no-one is listening – or perhaps precisely because no-one is – is in itself an action.