Roaring at the Rafters Oct 8, 2011
Te haré invencible con mi derrota is an intense and abstract conversation between the Spanish artist Angélica Liddell and the deceased British cellist Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987). Liddell converses with the dead, because as she explains in the performance program, “I did not want to talk with living people. The living had defrauded me, deceived me, terribly.”
Liddell begins the performance with the listless indifference of a burnt-out flamenco performer who has just been called back on stage from a smoke break. She teases a cello centerstage, then finally begins playing the intrument in earnest, paying homage to du Pré (or perhaps attempting to summon her spirit). After this brief musical prelude, the rest of the performance cycles through various stages of mourning—both for the dead cellist as well as for the living artist’s own self-perceived demise. The work culminates with a violent fit of rage directed at a life-size image of du Pré; Liddell ultimately rejects the burden that the cellist’s life and death have come to represent. Along the way the artist delivers several supplicatory monologues and carries out series of repetitive actions that recall important work from the 60s and 70s: the cutting of her own flesh, drinking, smoking, shooting guns, pacing around the stage in some stylish shoes, and microwaving popcorn. All this takes place within the context of a highly produced, theatrical setting replete with projected images and text, music, and an amazing selection of props.
Growing up I studied ballet, spending hours in the studio working through prescribed movements to shape and train my body to move in very controlled and precise ways. Meanwhile my older brother and his death metal bandmates spent hours in my parents garage roaring at the rafters, violently channeling their rage into some painfully strong music. For me, watching Liddell was like witnessing a classically trained dancer stumble into a death metal performance where she finds that, she too, can scream at the rafters.
Liddell projects an unbelievable amount of raw emotion. Her seemingly out of control rage made me nervous and uncomfortable. And while any physical acts of violence were carefully controlled, I was captivated by the anticipation of things that could go wrong. Not unlike a circus spectator, I oscillated back and forth between being concerned that Liddell was in real danger of seriously injuring herself or the audience, and trusting in the skill and professionalism of the artist to avert disaster. While I recognized that Liddell was working within the boundaries of a finely choreographed routine, those boundaries were not always clear. The acute tension this elicited is what made the biggest impression on me. I am amazed by the fine line Liddell is able to walk between life and art; ritualized performance and staged spectacle; her own true emotions and rehearsed melodrama.