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Both Sides of the Canvas: An Interview With Doris Mirescu

Technicians can also be actors. Technology therefore becomes a human-gestus, the locus where life is articulated. It is not an outside object, it is a subject as well as an object.
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Doris Mirescu is an accomplished director and experimental multi-media theater maker who uses live video feed to create three dimensional, ephemeral, metaphysical films. Her company Dangerous Ground Productions is the first resident company at Williamburg's award winning experimental theater, The Brick. As part of a three part series, Mirescu recently staged multi media adaptations of Jacques Rivette's L'Amour Fou and Paris Belongs to Us. Next year she embarks on the task of creating the third Rivette installment -- a 12 hour live adaptation of Out 1. For more information on Doris and her work please visit:

Jody Christopherson: Where did you grow up and how did you begin making art? Do you have a first memory as a child of being an artist?

Doris Mirescu: I was born in Bucharest, Romania and I grew up in Geneva, Switzerland. I started directing shows in my room when I was about six years old. I was making Snow White and I was playing all the parts. I loved fairy tales. Which is probably why I went on studying French Medieval Literature later on. The importance of signs, traces, the quest, transformation and the ability to marvel at things and people and colors and the sky... One of my very early memories is of David Lean's Doctor Zhivago. It was the first film I saw in a movie theater. My father took me to see it. I think I must have been seve. I still remember what if felt like to see Julie Christie's face, her eyes and the slow dissolve into a field of yellow jonquils. And I remember thinking I want to do that!

JC: You have a love for French film, can you talk about your experience with France and why French films are important to you?

Doris Mirescu: I spent many years in Paris studying French Literature. Paris is a part of me, of my heart and soul. So is French language and of course French films. I love films, not only French films, but for me French cinema is a poetical experience. The new wave experimented with form and fragmentation, duration, time and space and I am inspired by that every day. The ability to defy logic and go against narrative rules. Francis Bacon used to paint on the back of the clean canvas. For him, that particular surface was rougher, in a way dirtier and the paint stuck better to it. Went deeper into the fibers. What a beautiful essential gesture. That of turning it all upside down. Looking behind the surface, or even better endangering the surface. Looking at what the surface is hiding. The surface therefore is made richer, fuller. More complete. And before the new wave, there were others searching for that, you know, like Cocteau and Duvivier, Marcel L'Herbier and Abel Gance. I am a huge admirer of their work.

JC: In your work, live film and live theater co-exist. How do you make this happen (technically) and how do you rehearse it? What does live film lend to a live theater performance?

Doris Mirescu: The act of seeing implies the use of technology as a means to uncover and unveil and reveal what hides behind the surface. To expose the surface as an experience of hyper-reality as well as of an abstracted and enhanced reality that can be perceived only because it is isolated and projected. The integration of video/cameras is an essential part of the discovery process. The mind and the body are touched. The technology of images becomes an integral part of the theatrical event, the ultimate experience of reality as it is invented and re-created in real time. The event imprints itself onto the mind and in the eye. The tension created by the dichotomy of the live stage event seen both in the space and projected on the screen becomes a new axis of perception; the axis-mundi that Mircea Eliade talks about. A new timeline is created. A new living system that combines the physical world and the world within. The Body and the Image. The camera as Deleuze would say becomes a mechanical consciousness in its own right. It acts, it inter-acts with actors/ space/ time / audience. It is a presence that manifests itself, at times framing itself, revealing itself as character. It moves. It goes where the audience cannot go. It sees what the audience cannot see. It looks at us while we are watching. It sees us see. I am interested in close-ups. Details that reveal life. I want to be able to see things in relation to others. On stage and projected.

Making multimedia theatre means using media and images in order to multiply the levels of entry into the real. Into the emotion that makes reality happen. It means multiplying reality itself in order to see it in motion, in multiple places at the same time. Outside as well as inside. It means playing with time, allowing time to expand. What is static about film, meaning lack of movement, meaning it's edited and therefore done with at the moment it is shown, is reevaluated and reinvented, because it all happens on stage, live and in real time. None of it is pre- recorded and in that sense controlled. All of it is vulnerable, because open to the reality of what happens on stage. Open to mistakes also and therefore to change. Film critic Serge Daney wrote about how images must be able to look back at us. Far too often, multimedia theatre means projecting images that illustrate and therefore are redundant and therefore non existent in their lack of significance. I am interested in tension and dialogue. Contradiction. Multiplication of levels of perception and understanding of time and space. Revelation. Of what's most secret about the self. And about the making, the very process of performance. Film in relation to theatre and theatre in relation to film. Archeology of perception? The search involves the very essence of how to "make" an image in relation to the event that happens on stage. But also how to make the stage event happen in relation to the camera/image. Godard says that "the movie is the reality of the movie moving from reality to the camera." This is central to the work at hand. To the discovery process.

In our case, reality is the stage event, which becomes film. But then, film also becomes an event on stage, because it is shown in real time as it is being "made". Double movement and transformation. Reality shifts into another reality, which is re-created and revealed. Un-veiled. The event contains another event, which is itself contained into the original gesture. I multiply the levels of entry into the stage world, because everything is shown. The very process of capturing an image is shown. The cameras are seen. The camera operators "act" upon the world they are filming. They are in it. They choose. They make. They participate. We can see them "working". They become "actors", they are as important as the ones involved in the action they are filming. Everything is done live. It is all alive, because I want to look at the disturbance which is the core of things. It takes the time that it takes. The transitions are not edited out. They cannot be. This is raw. What is the nature of the relationship between the moving image and the world/stage and how is it represented? The act of seeing the world/stage is itself framed, because it happens on stage and is seen on stage.

A scene from L'amour Fou at The Brick

I think here of the work of Stan Brakhage, in the sense that it dispenses itself of the idea of drama. What we see is a raw experience of the world as it happens. I think here of the work of Jonas Mekas, as it doesn't try to hide the trembling, the roughness, the mistakes, the scratches, the ugliness, the trash. Emotion comes from it. From being open to what usually remains hidden. From letting reality come into the image. And letting the image be "contaminated" by it. The inter-relation and inter- dependence is necessary. I think here of course of John Cassavetes "What happens is. Everything is strength".The immediacy of the real can only be found if the rehearsal process involves complete openness, absolute collaboration and the willingness to fail; the aptitude to embrace technology, understand it, play with it, scream at it, act with it. What appears to be foreign becomes known only if it is experienced. If it is looked at, used, somehow destroyed. The interference of the machine is forgotten, because it is used and accepted. Discussed, embraced and fought against. Refused. The pathos of movement and time is to be found in the tension created by the presence of technology in the rehearsal process. Actors can also be cameramen/women. Technicians can also be actors. Technology therefore becomes a human-gestus, the locus where life is articulated. It is not an outside object, it is a subject as well as an object. It has an influence upon the environment at the same time that it creates an environment that slightly differs from the one perceived by the audience. Technology should never come last. It is there from the beginning of the making. Not something that appears at the end of the rehearsal process and therefore feels like an intrusion, an outside presence, something that is just pretty to look at. Cameras are inside the room, always. From the very beginning. They signify. Rehearsals are a means to create a seamless world, a continuum of gestures that experiment with reality, with life."If something is properly realized, life comes to the place where it has never been, that is it comes home" says Bloch.

JC: It has been said that your rehearsal process is very personal, challenging at times. What is your method and what do you think comes from working in this way?

Doris Mirescu: I don't like the word "method". The idea that there are rules that we need to follow. That we must obey, somehow and conform to a certain way of making things, of creating. Creation is messy. It can break things. It creates beauty and chaos alternately. One must be ready to embrace the unknown. What is at play in the creation of new work is fissure. Erosion, shattering and transformation. Discomfort. What is it we do together? Life happens, that's all. Emotion. Transparency, intimacy, opacity, tension. Risk. What we do, we do from the heart, from a place of unrest and deep brokenness. The risk is that of life. We follow the traces in space, the tensions within it. The gestures are found. Humanity is set in motion.


A scene from L'amour Fou at The Brick

Art critic Harold Rosenberg compared the canvas to "an arena in which to act". By redefining art as an act rather than an object, as a process rather than a product, he talked about the artist's existential struggle. The essence of the gesture, the necessary action. The repetition, perhaps. What I must do, what we must do together, as artists, as people, is to create the mysterious space where we are welcome and where we see in the mind, where we go inside, into, through and beyond. It is important to be messy. And real. True. Not a manufactured truth, but a vulnerable one. It cannot be indicated, nor imitated. It's naked, it's combustible, it's torturous and simple enough. Making means being together meaning living together.

I am interested in going deeper into the fibers, also. I want to be messy, I want to dirty my hands, I want to interact with the world. With the colors of the world. The emotions, the gestures, the human gestus as I like to call it, following in Brecht's footsteps. I want to endanger myself, I want the actors to endanger themselves. I want us to risk everything. To find the freedom in ourselves, the freedom to use all the strength of our being and come face to face with our limitations. If I were to define the work I make in one word, I would say WOUND. It is key. What is shown on stage needs to bleed. It needs to be alive and bleed.

The work is not and never will be a finished product, a dead object. Performance the way I see it, reinvents itself constantly. It surprises us, me the director, but also the actors, and the audience. All of us. It is much bigger than us anyway. It breaks the rules of narration. It plays with time and space and transforms our perception of reality. It touches our nervous system. Bacon talked about that. The idea that -- I want to quote him here: Painting is the pattern of one's own nervous system being projected on canvas. What is the substance of astonishment? It happens between object and subject, it happens in this in-between, in this tension between the I and what the I needs to accomplish. I am face to face with darkness, with what my eye can see at its blind spot, where the nerve enters the retina. The world is here, precisely at this crossroad. The experience is that of present, past and future combined. A stream of consciousness that is beating with the pulse of the world. A continuum of gestures that can fragment reality, that can reveal what is hidden behind the clean canvas. Something that like Barthes says pierces, wounds the viewer, the punctum as he calls it. A detail capable of generating violence. A detail that reveals life and perhaps more and less than that and as such is able to attack our very sense of comfort. Barthes explains that the punctum has the ability to expand, to signify more than what it shows. One detail becomes a multiplicity of gestures, an explosion.

JC: Your sets are very detailed and really create an immersive experience. In fact when I have seen your shows at The Brick the theater has been reconfigured in very interesting ways. How do you create a world and fill it? How does place influence your storytelling?

Doris Mirescu: At the core of it, there is always space. And by that I mean the necessity to compose within an environment. The place I am in has a life and I need to understand it. I need to be able to unveil what is at the core of it. It needs to be true. I need to be able to believe that what I want to say can happen here. And truth implies the use of everything that the place can offer. Windows, walls, bathroom, hallway, alley, garden, sidewalk. Desire and wonder and like Kierkegaard said, fear and trembling. Awe.All I do is crave, cry out. I do not have what I want. I learn to wait and I look at the foreign land in front of me. The radiance. The dream. I stand on a frontier and I must find a way to venture beyond it. It is mine and not mine yet. It is rough and open. New. It is frightening. It is beautiful. Not formulated. Unborn. A mystery. I need to call it unrest.


A scene from L'amour Fou at The Brick

Everything is to be found there, in that secret chamber that doesn't yet let itself be seen. Yet I sense it. We all do. It is here, just a little further away. And the distance is made more beautiful, because of the unknown. The imagination, perhaps. It all happens in this empty space, Peter Brook said it, in this gap, this in-between. Now is the time to be brave, to be daring. To be willing as Cassavetes said to risk everything to really express it all. I think of Andy Warhol who created an environment with his series of paintings called Shadows that could be both an arena for collective activity and a poetical space for inner contemplation. Warhol brought together aspects of painting, photography, design and film. So I start from the outside and slowly I go inside, I add details, furniture, posters, objects, colors. I paint from the outside in, as I let the play teach me what it wants to say.

JC: Who are your heroines, heroes, muses, adversaries that compel you to make work?

Doris Mirescu: I have so many. And I think of them every day. And making a list is impossibly hard, it would take me a lifetime to name them all. So just for today...
Claude Lanzmann, Orson Welles, John Cassavetes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Arthur Rimbaud, Ida Lupino, Nicholas Ray, Morton Feldman, Herman Melville, Andrei Tarkosvky, Jonas Mekas, Vasily Grossman, Stan Brakhage, Bach, Mozart, Meyerhold, Jimi Hendrix, Philip Roth, Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Antelme, Primo Levi, Jean-Luc Godard, Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, Murnau, Martin Luther King, Dostoyevsky, Soljenitsyne, Alexandre Dumas, Baudelaire, Ossip Mandelstam, etc...

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