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Pick up & Pass off
by Raimundas Malasauskas (featuring Lucy E. Smith), 2002

"So the guy zooms his video-camera from the street into the room where the dance

rehearsal is taking place. The home video image is shaking, but dancers don't seem

any better: jumping, crawling and cuddling they are engaged in a sort of free-style

warming up. Apparently the director is not present yet. As it is dark outside, the voyeur

follows their petite actions with camera unnoticed until some of the dancers spot him.

They get rather excited, stick to the window, someone is waving his hand, a woman

flashes her breasts. The voyeur feels ashamed and tries to turn his camera away.

However soon after they get back to the usual routine on the both sides of the window.

Even if one may have some suspicion about staging the sound part of the film, the end

credits came as a surprise bringing up the fact that the whole thing is meticulously

staged collaboration between choreographer Alain Platel and artist Sven Augustijnen.

The rehearsal was the performance and the voyeurish act was fictional like porno" I try

to describe one of my favorite films from Amsterdam video festival 1999 to the guy in

Brussels's cab. ''That was my film" he smiles. "Iets op Bach ." 'Really?" I smile too.

Then we talk about Alain Platel and his "real people dance" attitude, about the

impressions of Sven's brother from Lithuania, winters there, until I have to get off. I

guess John Cage or couscous, maybe vegetarian couscous would have followed as

the next topic.


"If I would write a text on the L'ecole des Pickpockets the last sentence would be the

following: "Given the content of Sven Augustijnen's film how one can be sure that the

film has not been stolen from the pocket of another artist" I write my e-mail later to

Sven after seeing his film-instruction where the two experienced pickpockets from

Brussels teach new acquaintance the basic technique of the craft. During the day he

advances so much that his practice on selected citizens impresses the mentors. After

wondering what do I mean with "stealing another artists' video" Sven asks whether I

would like to write a text on the film, to what I reply "Of course, that would be a big

intellectual pleasure!" and never manage to do that.


"Well, if I would write a short review on L'ecole des Pickpockets for Village Voice or

Time Out" replies Lucy E. Smith to my ideas of the possible end of the text. "I would

simply make the point saying that "In this video Adrian Piper meets Alain Platel after

meeting with Sam Fuller and Henri Kassagi."


"I would add a Post Scriptum after your end: "Don't try this at home." I reply back.


"You mean pick-pocketing or those imaginary meetings?" she shrugs and explains that

Henri Kassagi was the professional pickpocket who highly contributed to Pickpocket,

1959 by Robert Bresson. He acted in the main episodes of the film demonstrating the

precise tricks which born resemblance to the techniques shown in Sam Fuller's Pick

Up On the South Street, 1953, "the fact which suggests that Henri could have watched

the American anticommunist film noir before entering Bresson's vision thus picking up

and passing off foreign textual elements. However in terms of instruction and dance

(leaving the racial and gender issues aside) I would like to place L'ecole des

Pickpockets along Lessons of Funk - the 1983 video by Adrian Piper, in which she

instructs a mostly white crowd of UC Berkeley students in the theory and practice of

booty shaking. Even if pickpockets don't teach choreography directly, their work has

the timing, grace and precision of a ballet. Speaking in more general terms a number

of contemporary artists developed significant dancing sensibilities: Gillian Wearing's

dance in the mall, Peter Land's relaxed fertility twist, Rineke Dijkstra's suburban ravekids,

Juan Capistran's breakdancing on a floor sculpture by Carl Andre, not to mention

numerous situations where visitor is invited to dance. As we know this type of the 90's

auto-communicative dance is a self-liberating practice, solipsistic ritual similar to the

reading of poetry aloud in the Middle Ages. However there are certain aspects of

L'ecole des Pickpockets which I find more important than these." writes Lucy.

"Performance in the structure of choreography?" I wonder remembering Alain Platel.

But the dance of Pedro and Pepe - two Latinas from The Night of Iguana, 1964 by

John Huston comes to the mind first. The graceful way they fight the bus driver on the

beach is a complex choreography ending up in the bus driver lying on the floor. Of

course, there are other remarkable marriages of martial arts and dance, such as

capoeira, however the most striking example is definitely the Funk Balls - Brasilian mix

of dance, computer games and fist fight, which resulted in more than 60 deaths since

1996. These examples prove that dance very often functions as a medium for

exchange of fundamental messages about life and death. "So you mean the

performance in the structure of choreography?"


"Well, even if the pickpockets teach us a certain technique step by step thus comforting

the notion of art as arte, i.e. technique, in truth their aim is to teach a complex concept,

which I would call the meta-statement of the piece. This meta-statement is invisible as

well as choreography of the pick-pocketing, but it is about invisibility itself. It's not

coincidence that pick-pockets talk about their practice as art - the film is about art. The

message of the Augustijnen's film could be read as a meta-statement on contemporary

artistic practice whose ideal model it actually offers: the artists is invisible and classless

as pickpocket, he/she creates a situation for everyday-life or live models of complex

social situations, works collaboratively in decentralised team play, involves the element

of game, shares the outcome and aims at a certain social reconstruction. Don't you

think so? Yours, Lucy E. Smith"


"Well, Lucy, art has no bounds. Yours, Bart Simpson."


Anyway, I get back to her in a slightly similar fashion "The ultimate fiction is always

invisible and is created by anonymous authors. It is intended to be life-like as life. Is it

more difficult to believe that the script you live is real, or the reality you take for granted

is scripted? Our experience provides us with an answer - we have to put more effort to

believe that the fiction is real than fictionalise our daily environments. However the

ultimate fiction is beyond of those questions - it's unquestionable as it is closer to

reality than reality itself. How many fictions - grande and petite we participate in with no

being aware of it? Everyday life provides us with many complex narratives where we

act as uncredited characters. Getting into crowd simulated by invisible pickpockets

crew on a subway or making a detour on a cab in unfamiliar town according to the

masterplan of twisted driver. Don't be surprised that you pay extra for your trip - there

are no free fictions, you must pay for it as you purchase the ticket for the theatre. And

don't think that you paid for the extra miles, you paid for the spectacle. By the way,

Lucy, do you think that social ideals of pickpockets are OK?"


"The only solution for the great artist of tomorrow is to go underground (Marcel

Duchamp)" comes her answer. She definitely insists on her notion of invisibility art and

the artist and that L'ecole des Pickpockets teaches not miraculous manual technique a

la Houdini, but more complex concept of artist's dissolution and evaporation aimed

towards revolution.


"What do you mean?" I reply. "That "It's tomorrow already" (Mixmaster Morris)?"


"Use your head instead of hands" she does not hesitate to get back with the line from

her favorite Pick Up On the South Street, to what I could answer only "Oh, Lucy, what a

strange way I have to take to meet you!'"



Source: gallery newspaper 31, March-April 2002