Palestra apresentada por Mário Caeiro e Nélson Guerreiro
This is what makes the myths originally plural,
and this is also what makes them, in the same movement,
which they are, both for the men who invent them as for those who listen to them,
‘thought experiences’ of thought.
Vicente: reinventing a dead myth at Lisbon
“VICENTE” is an urban culture festival dedicated to mythical public space. Held in Lisbon annually since 2011, it is a cultural experiment where historical, legendary, aesthetic and spiritual aspects of an ancient narrative – the foundational arrival to Lisbon of the relics of St. Vincent in september 1147 – is performed as a cultural concept. Promoted by Projecto Travessa da Ermida (at the parish of Belém), an international programme, focused on Contemporary Art and Critical Thought, fuels a reinvention of Lisbon’s identity by means of artworks, urban interventions, performative walks and the regular publication of visual and textual material. In this framework a specific model for operatively connecting literature and urban culture was developed, under the designation of “Situated Literature”: a tool to renovate a city’s narratives from past trough present to the future.
For the curator, Mário Caeiro, the project might be understood as a highly specific contribution to the place branding of Lisbon, re-agending culturally and artistically the place of the patron of the city, reinventing and renewing the symbology of the city: the crows, promoting storytelling strategies, in particular around the production of the artworks and urban interventions, and of course the literary adventures we are here also to speak about as a way of create new narratives experimenting site-specific ways of writing.
Vicente the one who always wins
It is important to underline that the legend of Saint Vincent is a highly rich and dense narrative, despite forgotten by the population and completely unknown to tourists, at least the major part of them; it is this context that the project aimed to interpellate through the public art of telling previously written stories in the captivation perimeter of the initiative.
Another crucial aspect of this project is its origin. The mentor of the initiative’s idea wanted to remind the meaning of the crows at Lisbon’s symbol; so what Mário Caeiro did was to depart from the performativity of a medieval martyr to create a series of situations, in the spirit of Thierry Davila’s concept of cineplastik. In the sense that the artist, mobile by definition, allows his/her pilgrimages to be the convivial set for open-ended realizations of all kinds. Starting of course with conversation. In this process, one could say, with Davila, that a vast process of creation of a set of velocities leads to a sort of pedonalization of the city.
The VICENTE project was and is also a gesture where the curatorial meets strategic socio-political objectives: to acknowledge the local as the stage of a glocal awareness of immaterial heritage. The whole of the programmes were designed to create impactful urban images – urban aphorisms –, lasting memories – narrative thinking –, and most of all a new rhetoric for the cityscape of an european capital currently struggling against the decharacterization of mass-tourism, gentrification and other overwhelming phenomena threatening the connection between citizenship and (a true experience of) art.
Me, Nelson Guerreiro, the writer through him, Mario Caeiro, the curator: we as the parents of Vicente, the (re)new(ed) kid in town
What is proposed in this paper is then a critical retrospective of two dimensions of the project, and of how they interact: the curatorial script vs. the literary texts and the performative actions based on the activation of the words and on their performativity. Both promote intense dialogues not only within and between themselves but also with the everyday-life of the places physically reached (mainly the district of Belém, but also and most recently the neighborhood of Mouraria), their architecture and urban form, and of course specific urban elements of the city of Lisbon. The intertextuality fostered by the texts, while an answer by the writer to the curatorial leitmotiv – the contemporaneization of the myth of Saint Vincent – became with time the ground for a truly lived and shared narrative scape, with intertextualitlity – here a means for citizen autonomy – in the center of a specific literary practice.
The paper thus also tells the history of a cooperative process between the curator and the only author in the project who has been continually developing the reinvention of a contemporary (St.) Vincent, as a self-fashioning modus operandi – powered by readings of Michel Foucault at his History of Sexuality (specially the volume three: The Care of the Self published in 1984) – since the first edition (2011): Nelson Guerreiro. Me.
In other words, there was an initial challenge – a kind of impossible writing task whose heaviness the ‘writer in charge’ had to overcome. I did it disobeying the Catholic narrative protocol, reconverting St. Vicent to a man, after seventeen centuries of holiness.
This went in the same direction of the curator’s decision to call the Project ‘VICENTE’, and not for instance ‘St. Vincent’ – in a discursive gesture aiming to turn the mythical figure into a sort of accessible empty signifier to be filled by the actual socio-cultural interactions of the project.
In this sense, the writer’s work in the first years was mainly about experimenting with the crossing of the dimensions of reality and of “réverie” (daydreaming) echoing Gaston Bachelard, without jeopardizing the important potential of the whole project – and in particular the properly literary contribution – to generate historical consciousness across diverse publics.
So what I (NG) did was to let my Vicente – now so much more, but also much less, than a homonym of Saint Vincent – come ‘back’ to the actuality of Lisbon. In the process, I somehow let ‘him’ – thus also inevitably me – relive his biographical past (in an oblique way letting a layer of everydayness cover the hagiographic narrative).
Since a relation of trust between me and the curator (and the organization, the Projecto Travessa da Ermida) progressively became more solid, every new year led me to create new narrative possibilities and urban adventures of my radically open character. In a dialogical way, not only Mário Caeiro but also various participants (specially the Portuguese actor and performer João Abel) became my collaborators. This was particularly the case in my Performative Walks, realized between 2011 and 2013. The first was based on the principles of psychogeography, ironically actualizing Situationism; a second was inspired by the “Spaziergänge” of the German Romantics; a third was led the participating public to walk with myths, translating notions of Antiquity into Contemporary situations of interaction.
A story of surviving
In fact, a few times, Mário even tried to ‘kill’ my/our Vicente, for reasons not exactly just related to the literary dimension – but for instance because of the fact that in a specific year he had less budget for the writers…We share this “fait-divers” – or not so much! – to say that this experiment is also about a very radical relation between Art & Life.
One that goes deeper than the obvious fact that a good part of the persona’s adventures could of course be very close to my own experience as a person, a writer, a performer, a teacher, a cultural agent, a citizen and as an human being and so on, for existential identities come from my personal-fictional relation to contexts and sites as production of space (to remember Henri Lefebvre), places and non-places (to recall Marc Augé), heterotopies (to recall Michel Foucault) – they make what I am and what I could be. This has been always the enchanted power of literature. Let’s say the possibility of lived democratic reception.
(Let’s talk about) Situated Literature
Situating literature thus became for us, at some point, a way to situate – in the urban sensespace – the potential for literature to fuel a project’s will to touch people, and of course to create a meta-level of meaning openness where each reader has the last word. This has been always the power of literature.
Vicente as a persona – in the sense of an in-between identity, somewhere between me and a critical notion of character – was created by me as a performing writer and also by Mário Caeiro as the co-author of an innovative type of cultural situation-context aiming for the exploration of new narratives. It is in this framework that I became a Contemporary Vicente. Like a good part of the target public or unexpected attenders, ‘just’ a simple man of the 21th century.
Always answering, year after year, to the curatorial themes and questions as: the sacred and the profane, “Eros” as lever of life, the notion and the practise of the game, to play but also “la joie de vivre”, life as a tragic party, the rebirth of the myths, the interactions, transitions and transactions, the exchanges of animality to humanity and vice-versa, I wrote until today seven texts. I must confess I’ll write more.
All took literature and a specific cluster of critical and aesthetical topics to relate to specific streets, squares, gardens, parks, monuments, underground corridors and passages, many of those spots and places (and contexts and people) existing in reality, and of course many not – my creativity oblige.
To sum it up, Vicente might in one text could listen lovers fucking in a hostel in a church, on the other invade a kitchen of the oldest cream pastries factory and in the other take over the dance-floor of the best club in town. LUX, by the way.
All this implied a literary and a specifically urbanistic cartography me and Mário always developed in great excitement; my writings communicated with his ideas and concepts about an implicated writing which is trying to reinvent the protocols we work within when we speak of myth.
Might then the extra-disciplinary concept of ‘Situated Literature’ be a modality, not a model, for audiences to participate and engage, individually and collectively, in an incremental public sphere, grounded in aesthetic co-experience and spatial co-existence? Myth in that case would becoming actual, lived and challenged, towards the creation of the city and its stories as a shared text on the spots where was written or imagined when the text was written. Who knows? You never know. Neither me, just because I’m not a GPS kind of persona-writer. And it’s also here and there, where me and Mário Caeiro usually meet: in a space-time totally transfigured by our free-style complicity and abetment, where we are living on places only could be addressed and located after answering to the result of our dialogues. Those inhabited places will be lived by each person who attend the exhibitions and read the texts.
Excursus in the name of interactivity or interpassivity
Dear listeners-performers, are you still here and now?
Allow me to share with you a brief performative-literary moment, in order to produce closeness and to involve you all and put us all in the same boat – as we say in Portugal when we want to define a situation in which a group of people live the same time-space situation.
Please engage in this as in an imaginary walk. Actually, we’re already there because these words – which were previously written, projecting myself as an author – and as a writer and a performer – are already an experience of it.
Interpassivity means anything to you? Shall I define it? Quickly? Standard-Wikipedia-definition? Or do you prefer I go deeper, toward some uncharted territory?
Take your time, but I’m sure it won’t be more pleasant to have a coffee-break now if you’re in this situation. I’m starting already to define it… interpassivity!
The notion of interpassivity was defined and explored by Robert Pfaller at The Aesthetics of Delegated Enjoyment’, considered is the most authoritative source on the topic. Robert Pfaller has developed this theory twenty years ago, applicable to both art and everyday life the concept allows him to tackle a vast range of phenomena: culture, art, sports and religion, where delegation of consumption and enjoyment stands central; answering questions such as – Why do people record TV programmes instead of watching them? Why are some recovering alcoholics pleased to let other people drink in their place? Why can ritual machines pray in place of believers?
Other example of interpassivity, given by Žižek, in his book How To Read Lacan, uses the VCR to illustrate the concept. The VCR or the box records a movie (presumably to be watched later). However, Žižek argues that since the VCR can record, people who own them watch less movies because they can record them and have them on hand. The VCR does the watching of the movie so the owner of the VCR can be free not to watch the movie. Žižek uses the VCR to demonstrate the big Other’s role in interpassivity. The VCR, like canned laughter in a show, functions as a tool interacting with itself so the viewer cannot watch the show.
Žižek also describes a form of interpassivity where substitution takes place; all kinds of emotions can be moved from a subject to an object. To illustrate this substituted interpassivity, Žižek uses the example of a television-show with ‘canned laughter’ to indicate that the object can influence the subject before interaction can take place. The subject’s laughter is pre-mediated as it where. The subject can experience the same emotion without laughing, because the laughing is substituted by the television. In this case Žižek would call the subject’s interpassivity ‘laughing trough the Other’.
To sum it up, interpassivity is a state of passivity in the presence of the potential of interactivity. The purpose of the concept is to explain how works of art and media, as lectures performance, sometimes seem to provide for their own reception.
That way, interpassivity it happens when we’re in a place together, by other words in a co-presence situation with someone who is communicating to someone, let’s say an audience composed by individuals, but because of many reasons: lack of attention, failure of empathy, the power of the reality each of you came before entering here, also post-its came to your mind to remember to do one or two tasks or even shopping list which compete to an entire deliverance from your body to this situation.
It’s not your fault.
Pfaller could help us when he criticises dominant assumptions as offers an escape from prevailing ideologies and exposes how cultural capitalism promotes commodities with the promise of happiness.
An example with a question mark: why people needed a Tamagotchi?
Look! It´s not the moment to text your boss, lover, child, mother or father, or the newest friend who accept your facebook request (maybe not knowing you in person)… no, not the time to check the stocks or the latest football results. Or the situation in Catalonia.
I’m guiding you through an imaginary geography. One inhabited by persons-characters. As an author, I have a specific power, to suspend anything which is not part of the universe I am creating, so you enjoy a ride my words create with your capacity to let go.
Do you need something? A coffee? A water? A glass of wine? If yes, it will be red, for sure… A bite in fruits of the season????
Don’t be shy!
Now it’s 5am and we’re at the international train station of Santa Apolónia, at the heart of Lisbon. The station is closed. Cleaning ladies started to work, bacteria are being removed, but we got in. We love to see people working without regrets, even they could feel it, just because they are the firsts to come in order to clean the mess of others. The first train will come at 6.am. and it goes to Madrid.
I’m not anymore at the station. Because I’m not at interpassivity mode. I used this little autofiction inside the text as also a mise-en-abyme moment to start to define what is interpassivity, which as you, I’m sure, got it to be here physically but not totally speaking about 100% presence, I mean all of you totally implied here and now, not here but also at the next moment, on the wishing list of a bookshop, clothes shop, on fluttering and landing post-its on our foreheads and, for sure, to people who we must call, answer and typing.
So I just shared and practiced interpassivity with you.
Are we now clarified about interpassivity?
Sensação de estarmos muito activos e não estamos
(Pause more long than all)
Back to a genre?
Situated Literature is an emerging genre born from a both real and imaginary emplacement of the writer-performer-body of Nelson Guerreiro through time and space at the cultural programming context: the project “Vicente”, curated and co-authored by Mário Caeiro – “l’agent provocateur”, who, just to remind you, challenged me to contemporanize the myth of Saint Vincent.
We had had a first meeting during the Light Festival Luzboa, which a first set of texts appeared, under the title of Light Fictions, texts produced from the connection with the light but also to play and to mock with the genre: “Light-Literature”.
We see Situated Literature as a model for discursive production. We ‘discovered’ its potential during “VICENTE”: as a possibly innovative artistic and specifically interpersonal communicative modality, it explores the relationship between place, architecture, urban landscape and the activation of the “reverie”.
That’s how my texts were and are born, not forgetting the craft of meticulous revision and ongoing amplification of all sorts of initial impressions, in order to reinvent the places without disidentifying them, even when dreamlike dimensions take the center stage.
These aspects could be related to more conventional concepts such as site-specific literature or place-specific literature. But let’s, for now, get away from those notions. (I’ll go to them at the real-time of the lecture-performance). Because for us what matters is how literature becomes a situation, or words get situated in the experience of the city and of the urban form and landscape – obviously echoing Situationism as a mindset for cultural production and urban communication.
But first let me explain my drive as writer. The civil, institutional and private-residency architecture for me is always dissolvable in my imagination, because I rebut it to enter into what happens and does not happen inside of those spaces. I like to feel it during the day, but at some no one is there either, so I change my sensitive location through the night.
To make ourselves clear, and for instance, when I go to bars and to nightclubs it’s exactly the contrary, although I also like to witness all kinds of occurrences, for instance when I see them open doors to let the enter unexpected and astonishing people, but it’s very rare to use what I see as I was documentary filmmaker.
Although I must confess: “Situated Literature” depends a lot on those informal and basically everyday-life contexts, where words and expressions as: freedom, eroticism, beauty, desire, modified states of conscience, humor, good, bad and trashy flirting occurred, tragedy, political conscience, paradise, heaven are floating as inhabitants of empty comic bubbles in the writer’s mind just waiting an expected or an unexpected fall and for fulfill the reality of happy and sad party people on the texts.
I could give an example from one the texts (warning we’ll quote more texts):
Through doors and alleys, Vicente sees himself at the entrance of a club where there is a party that promises happiness.
Vicente goes in and finds himself in a magical territory.
A place which did not exist previously or after its celebration. It’s a space where he realizes that codes change, where the rich and poor can have the same drinks.
Vicente sees himself surrounded by both powerful and oppressed, arrogant and humble, bossy and employee, smart and fool, stylish and bimbo, stretched, understood and not understood, beautiful and ugly faces sharing that place with a name which won’t be visible in the maps, only in the guidebooks.
One could say that Vicente sees himself inside an oasis, an island of happiness and screaming noises, of joy and of colours, where everybody seems to feel good, at least for a certain moment, and at a place that is not managed by the same rules. Not even the schedules are the same. He congratulates himself with the fact that permissiveness substitutes the roughness of social norms.
All this provokes in Vicente a desire for becoming a spectator. Putting himself in that position, he becomes aware of the different ways of living sexuality in that party. He’s disturbed by testifying a sample of a society which is now relaxed, but which hours before couldn’t forget both prudency and contention. Extraordinarily surprisingly was to Vicente to observe how bad a lot of people end up feeling in these parties, given the early stage drunkenness that threw victims to the ground already at the first euphoria moments, or the frustration of so many people that create high expectations, just focused on the party to have all moments of diversion, on an amorous encounter, rupture with the ordinary life and the forgetting of the problems. Not to speak of the tough discussions and jealousy scenes between couples or friends, that seems to find in the party their particular battle field.
Vicente becomes aware that each party, as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, has two faces that cover each other and juxtapose continuously on a game, funny for some, tragic for others. Besides, he observes that there is no joy without risk of pain and in the same party there are those that meet and love each other and those that break apart and suffer. In that moment, he thought that all would have, sooner or later, to return home and that, to some of them, it would be better not to forget that.”
This could be the right moment to say that my writings, especially in a curatorial context aiming for an incremental mythical public space, are not interested in the reproduction of reality. I’m too compromised with and attached to my imaginative powers not to reinvent something in order to show it beyond what it seems. And I want it, at some point to serve a cultural vision, but also to establish a certain creative pact with the autonomy of literature. More, such autonomy comes paradoxically from its ‘dispersion’ and ‘diffusion’ – across press releases, posters, soundbytes, interviews, and, most important, the Performance moments realized.
In this strategy of metamorphosis and the multiplication of ‘Vicentes’, I remind my collaboration with the performer João Abel, one of a kind of a double has been a most important. Also the very special moment when my alter-ego was killed by a Polish performer – a Polish Vicente!, sort of some Slavic incarnation of the sacred, as Mário Caeiro dreamed of – in 2014. But as you know, in literature at least, death is not the end.
To be noted, both the reading of the text and the acting of the characters, partly coming out of the pages which in turn integrate pure ‘images’ or ‘illuminations’ from the urban reality of Lisbon, happen the context of an important urban Festival: “Lisboa na Rua / Com’Out Lisbon” – an intense cultural attended by thousands of people and programming by EGEAC (a semi-municipal organization), whose aim is to challenge social and spatial conventions in order to generate a public for the very city and its fabric(ation). So here literature becomes situated also specifically in the framework of an urban festival where aspects of tourism and public space are the matter.
The post-life of VICENTE
A particularly exciting outcome of this model of reflecting on the city through the connection between literature and space has been the concept of Black Basil with Unpopular Courts (a great example of Situated and Curating Literature). We’ve have so much to say about it, but now, as Bartleby, we would prefer not to.
A kind of conclusion
Our Vicente performed – prolonging my words through acts – in front of Jerónimos Monastery, or on the walls of Cultural Centre of Belém (CCB) or on under “exotic” trees at Tropical Garden, also re-appeared at the Mouraria’s parish. Later he would disappear as a specific character and figure only to reappear maybe in anothers neighbourhoods, to discuss the policies of housing in Lisbon, to describe what tourists do in front of an astonishing views, to remember the mythical origin of the city which now mix Ulysses from Homer’s Odissey trough space-and-time with the arrival of Madonna who after some time didn’t find yet a house: such an enchanted and karmic allegory about nowadays at Lisbon.
My belief. There is no space in itself, in its physicality, prior to the Human. There is instead a space of people, bent by the tensions of intersubjectivity. Even Uber drivers through the GPS fail so many times on finding you. My literature, better said our literature, as situated in the Project VICENTE, is about letting faces, bodies, sentences, inner-subjectiveness, anything basically, become bented territories, lined for thought to recreate destinies, fate. Saint Vincent’s – metaphorology has been the happy pretext and the rich mythical context which allowed for this experiment to become relevant for a certain area(s) of the city of Lisbon.
Hello again, I’m Vicente. I’m here. We’re here. Sorry, but I’m little bit lost… Where are we?
And suddenly we start to hear “New Kid in Town” by Eagles.
“There’s talk on the street; it sounds so familiar.
Great expectations, everybody’s watching you.
People you meet, they all seem to know you.
Even your old friends treat you like you’re something new…”
Mário Caeiro & Nelson Guerreiro
CAEIRO, Mário, Arte & Cidade, Círculo de Leitores, Lisboa, 2014.
Caeiro, Mário (ed.); Guerreiro, Nelson; et al.; VICENTE’17 Do Silêncio dos Corvos, Animal Vicente / On the Silence of the Crows, Animal Vicente, Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2017.
Caeiro, Mário (ed.); Guerreiro, Nelson; et al.; VICENTE’16 O Jogo da Glória (ou a Vida na óptica do utilizador) / The Game of Glory (or Life in the optic of the user), Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2016.
Caeiro, Mário (ed.); Guerreiro, Nelson; et al.; VICENTE’15. Sagrado Corpo e Imagem / Sacred, Body and Image. Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2015.
Caeiro, Mário (ed.); Guerreiro, Nelson; et al.; Vicente – Natureza, Templo e Abismo / Nature, Temple and Abyss, Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2014.
Caeiro, Mário (ed.); Guerreiro, Nelson; et al.; Vicente – Dito e Refeito! / Said and Redone!, Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2013.
Caeiro, Mário (ed.); Guerreiro, Nelson; et al.; Vicente – Rever para Crer… / Review to Believe…, Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2012.
Caeiro, Mário (ed.); Guerreiro, Nelson; et al.; Vicente ’11. Ressonâncias de um Mito Luminoso / Resonances of a Luminous Myth, Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2011.
GUERREIRO, Nelson, Light-Fiction in Luzboa (edited by Mário Caeiro), Bertrand Editores, Lisboa, 2006.
GUERREIRO, Nelson, Caeiro, Mário (ed.); O eclipse de Vicente e a sua revolta serena: das artes à sua união zoófila como rastilhos do reencontro ancestral de Lisboa com a sua Santidade ((Vicente’s eclipse and his quiet rebellion: from the arts to his zoophilic union as fuses for the ancestral reunion of lisbon with its sanctity); Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2017.
GUERREIRO, Nelson, Caeiro, Mário (ed.); O anti-jogo ou o encanto da serendipidade (The anti-game or the charm of serendipity), Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2016.
GUERREIRO, Nelson, Caeiro, Mário (ed.) À flor da pele, bem te quero (Under my skin, I want you bad), Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2015.
GUERREIRO, Nelson, Caeiro, Mário (ed.), Vicente, 2014 (14,5%), Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2014.
GUERREIRO, Nelson, Caeiro, Mário (ed.), Vicente ao vivo e a cores Vicente live and in colours, Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2013.
GUERREIRO, Nelson, Caeiro, Mário (ed.), Em busca do amor perdido (In search of lost love), Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2012.
GUERREIRO, Nelson, Caeiro, Mário (ed.), Ulysses sou Eu (Ulysses Am I), Mercador do Tempo, Lisboa, 2011
SILVANO, Filomena, Antropologia do Espaço, Assírio & Alvim, Lisboa, 2006.
 GUERREIRO, Nelson, Vicente Live and in Colours, in “Vicente Done and Resaid“ (edited by Mário Caeiro), Travessa da Ermida, Lisboa, 2013, p. 55.