Current and Upcoming
Manon de Boer
Mario Garcia Torres
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
"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