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Katherina Zakravsky on reconstruction of "Pupilija" in Documenta magazine, No.3, 2007

Rike Frank in Artforum, April 2007


Blaž Lukan: Reconstruction of Pupilija, Three Performances in One

The first one is the original that no longer exists; the second one – today’s performance – has contemporary performers who are more than mere substitutes for the original ones; the third one is a reconstruction as a whole – further stagings in November

What do we see when we watch the reconstruction of Pupilija by Emil Hrvatin in 2006? What we actually see are three performances, and possibly even more Pupilijas, and in this – but not only in this – is where her relevance as a theatre performance, which surpasses the naked formalistic theatre experiment, can be found. The first one is the original Pupilija, Papa Pupilo and the Pupilceks as staged by Dušan Jovanović in Križanke in Ljubljana in 1969 with the theatre group Pupilija Ferkeverk and now reconstructed by Hrvatin from various sources.  

There are at least two performances hidden in this one: the first one is the original which – paradoxically – can no longer be found anywhere; it is partially kept alive by means of filmic and photographic material and fragments of reports and newspaper reviews or comments of those involved in the making of the performance.


So it is about memory as such which is practically the only source of theatre history since everything material that remains after the performance is actually of secondary importance: the act itself has sunk into time once and for all. And Hrvatin ‘renovated’, revived, called back into life this ‘memory performance’ with archaeologist’s or anthropologist’s precision, but only as far as it was possible; thus, we can describe his process of reconstruction with two extremes: namely, that he constructed a performance which is actually identical to the one from 37 years ago, or that this is a completely different performance which is in no way connected with the original. Both statements are at the same time right and wrong since we do not have any evidence to prove or disprove them.

Today’s performance

But there is another performance, today’s one, with contemporary actors who are more than just substitutes for the original ones. They are taking part in the cast partly because of their ‘resemblance’ with the main protagonists from almost four decades ago (as for example Kralj, Svetina, Jesih, Kocbek, Levstik, and others), but they are now also Dragojević, Pikalo, Zorc, Tomažin, Toman and others. And they invest into their Pupilija a similar, if not identical energy as their ‘models’, and individualize completely on some places (as for example in adds). The result of this is a topical performance with the same title as that of its predecessor; however, the connection with it has become totally irrelevant.


And the third performance? The third one is a reconstruction as a whole. It combines the two  performances already mentioned and adds comments, i.e. the accompanying theatre ‘text’ or apparatus which we watch and listen to parallel to the live happening on stage: these are the sound records, clippings with excerpts from newspaper articles of that time, interviews with those ‘survived’ who were involved in the making of the performance, but also the documented process of the making of this, of today’s performance, or individual scenes which function as a ‘substitute’ for the live happening on stage through which they get incorporated into the ‘documented’ or commented context and at the same time enable live dialogue with the current performance. This whole seems like some kind of a superstructure, supra-performance which upgrades both (or more) of the others and establishes itself in front of the viewer as the only possible performance ‘based on the model’, as performance as such which no longer is an imitation or something that feeds from imitation while is seeks its own mechanisms and effects. It needs to be said that an ‘objectively’ restored Pupilija, if it was at all possible, would not be watchable and that Hrvatin found the ideal way for its theatre ‘resurrection’ and thus gave it the very status of a predecessor of Slovene theatre avant-garde of the second half of the 20th century which breaks away with the legacy of Stage 57 and gives an entry visa to contemporary performing events which were continued right after that by the Glej Theatre and Pekarna. 

                The effect of Hrvatin’s reconstruction is multilayered and multidirectional; but here only a few cues. The theatre aesthetics of Pupilija does seem rather naïve and comical at first (children’s games, parodies on various folk themes, consumerism, advertisements, sexual revolution at its height, etc.), but it is at the same time ‘logical’ and topical in relation to the youth of the cast and its latent need for ‘liberation’, and constantly essayed ‘background’. And of course there is (was) also Jovanović’s ‘merit’ with his undisputable theatre invention which would, however, no longer be there if it was not for Hrvatin, or it would linger in the memory as mystification, or become reduced to a series of well-meant comments which in fact would be ironic.      

                The second thing that stands out in the reconstruction is the decisive move of Slovene theatre from rural towards urban and from domestic towards cosmopolitan. Pupilija is in fact the very performance which opens possibilities for this move by – to sum up Primož Kozak’s thought – its anti-literary engagement, by revolt against (Slovene) literature and language. Pupilija’s ludism remains to have a liberating effect and at the same time – to quote Kozak again – gives its own doings ontological dimensions by oscillating between eros and thanatos. If the erotic component appears to be somewhat negligible (possibly because of the actors’ restraint on the stage today who need a medium to express their eroticism) the thanatic component deserves all attention it can get: the famous chicken and its death, which has remained a symbol for the original Pupilija, still have the effect they used to have. At the most recent staging in the Old Power Station, despite the ambiguous ending – it remained unclear whether Grega Zorc in his white butcher’s apron actually slaughtered the chicken or not – there was suddenly painful silence which went on and on; in it we could feel discomfort because it awakened the memory of the ‘slaughter’ from almost four decades ago, and of which we new something about, as well as because of the – not quite provable – death of a living being which happened in front of the viewers’ eyes; but the horror was actually the result of an exceptionally well constructed scene or epilogue, from the point of view of dramaturgy, direction and acting, which concluded the whole performance.

Pupilija hit the soft spot       

                Finally, it has to be said that the field of response to theatre and perhaps also to art as such has changed considerably in these decades. No matter how much we distance ourselves from the reactions of that time or how patronising we regard them, we have to admit there was a certain authentic shock as well as enthusiasm in them. Pupilija has hit the soft spot, no matter how much we laugh at Snoj’s review from the newspaper Delo at the time which was read out loud. What or who – to say this with a certain amount of drastic irony – should be slaughtered today to achieve a similar effect in public?


Rok Vevar: Pupilija, Papa Pupilo and the Pupilceks – Reconstruction, The original, the re-staging and the difference

The Maska 001 Festival premiered two reconstructions of two paradigmatic (Slovene) theatre performances from the second half of the 20th century

The performance Pupilija, Papa Pupilo and the Pupilceks, directed by Dušan Jovanović, was staged for the first time by the Pupilija Ferkverk Theatre on 29 October 1969 in the Križevniška Hall in Križanke, Ljubljana – the reconstruction was directed by Emil Hrvatin –, the theatre performance Baptism under Triglav was premiered on 6 February 1986 in the Gallusova Hall of the Cankarjev dom Ljubljana by the Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre, the author of the video-reconstruction is a young director, Jure Novak; the project was likewise initiated by Emil Hrvatin. Since Pupilija is an example of a reconstruction in artistic practice of an original, I am going to focus on this performance.  

                 Emil Hrvatin might not be the only one today to explore in theatre and dance various aspects and regimes of ‘gazing’, but he is probably one of the first directors in Slovenia who has in his performances systematically engaged the gaze in different roles. It is the gaze that is actually always playing the ‘main role’ in his performances. He has worked on it from several different angles: cultural, sexual, spatial, historical, optical, evental, etc. One of the main structural points of his performances seems to be the tendency to establish an inter-subjective relationship between the performance and the spectator. We might like to believe more often that in case of theatre this is something that goes without saying, but it is not. The vast majority of performances we see today want to remain merely an object that can be uninterruptedly and undisturbed gazed from the beginning to the end. However, in Hrvatin’s performances (particularly the more recent ones) there is always a moment when the spectator suddenly and unexpectedly becomes objectified: this is a traumatic moment when the performance suddenly notices him and he is given back what he as a spectator invested in a condensed way, as a subject. A performance as a subject! For that reason I believe that an ‘event’ (aesthetic, cognitive, etc.) in the theatre (if this translates itself into an Event in Badiou’s sense) is always a parade like structure. Psychoanalysis would define this as ‘I think, only if there exists a place outside of me where the truth about me is articulated’; which means: this is a traumatic place of a gaze which knows more about me than I do myself. This place is at the same time the recurring condition of self-awareness.

                In his reconstruction of Pupilija the gaze is, among other things, something described by a German literary theorist as ‘aesthetics of reception’. This means that the reception of a work of art (i.e. the gaze of it) is not some kind of an unchangeable fact that goes beyond time; it is culturally and historically conditioned and therefore changes with time and under different cultural circumstances. What Hrvatin in fact had at his disposal were the screenplay of the original performance and the sum of receptions of the event (an edited film record, however not in its full version, reviews of the event, performers’ comments, etc.), but due to the ephemeral ‘nature’ of theatre, he had no access to the event itself.

                And where is the historicality of Pupilija? Let us face the truth and say, unfortunately, that mainly in the scene when the Chicken is slaughtered (it is interesting that we always talk about one Chicken when we talk about Pupilija, although this Chicken has been played by many chickens). Unfortunately, the ‘official’ history of Slovene theatre has never gone further than this poor Chicken. The Chicken is as much the place of the (usurped) memory as it is a place of oblivion. The oblivion of Pupilija as a performance. It is one of the first performances that used ‘empty space’ as a testing ground of latent events, that introduced multitextuality into Slovene performances (different textual genres are joined in one performance: folk songs, modern poetry, horoscope, genre texts from daily newspapers, reference from pop culture, etc.), that did not hesitate to use various forms of performative practices (choreography, dramatic dialogue and monologue, physical actions, performance and body art, etc.), that gave up the imperative of body and acting techniques in the sense of skill and in which the sequence of scenes did not have the function to build unified time (individual scenes could correspond with each other equally effectively in any other sequence). In 1969 all these facts cut into the regime whose official culture had an authoritative view on art and that was the politics of Pupilija.

                On the one hand, Hrvatin structures his reconstruction of Pupilija as a staged exhibition of documentary material where live stage action consistently follows original film records (the spectator simultaneously watches the film and the reconstruction, projections of reviews and comments about the original, Jovanović’s ‘voice of the screenplay’, etc.) – the reconstruction ‘plays the role of the original’ but with Brechtian alienations as it constantly reminds us ‘Here in front of you I am reconstructing an (inexistent) original’ - , but on the other hand, towards the end it increasingly problematizes also the very (in)ability of reconstruction of its eventality, which gradually converts the restored Pupilija into a new performance. When the performance enters the ‘blind’ field of unrecorded parts, simulation takes over. In the scene with the bath-tub Hrvatin simulates the original record with new cast which restages the scene live without props. In this way it gives the records with the original material the status of a merely mediated reality and in this way articulates the absence of the real original.

                The event and the cream of the ‘difference’ (between 1969 when the chicken was slaughtered without hesitation, and 2006) happens, of course, in the final scene with the Chicken. This is when Hrvatin leaves his author’s seal on Pupilija and the audience. In compliance with the changed political context the spectators democratically vote whether or not the Chicken should be slaughtered. They have several options: they can (1) watch the slaughter as recorded on film, (2) listen to the Ban on animal slaughter in public places, (3) listen to a witness talk about the original slaughter, and (4) slaughter. When at the premiere slaughter was voted through, the conditions for the Event were re-established. “If you have voted for the slaughter, we call to a member of the audience who has voted for it, to come to the stage and perform it.” The answer/responsibility of the gaze, what else! What followed was painful waiting and to be honest: democracy has upset the Chicken too. In those painful moments I, as signed below, could not help myself not to think: “Well, well, the Chicken is watching us…” Right after that I was overcome by a thought: “Mother Chicken! Is it at all possible to have a more genuine experience of (Slovene) democracy?”       



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