The project reveals some body control devices and the construction of imaginaries linked to femininity, subverting the cinematographic and choreographic language of the Hollywood musicals produced by the Ziegfeld / Berkeley tandem.
Busby Berkeley always claimed that there was no intention in his choreographies beyond the ambition to make each one better than the last. This eagerness for “progress”, linked to the notion of modernity, and the supposed apolitical component contrast with the comparisons between his precision chorus lines and the monumental street parades loved by Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin. Marches whose tradition is venerated by the current top leaders Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin or Jair Bolsonaro.
It is evident to find common ground between both expressions such as the cult of a stereotype of white and athletic youth, the magnificence of big events, the choreographic elements or the use of flowers and garlands to emphasize the “feelings of joy”. Also other hallmarks such as the uniformity of the outfits, the geometric compositions and the kaleidoscopic effects of dance and gymnastics exercises.
Faced with the depoliticized vision that has been offered of the musical genre, we must argue that glamor and romantic nostalgia in the form of escapist fantasy to distract citizens in difficult times were not exempt from ideology. Like fascism, they promoted the implantation of a single model of masculinity and femininity, the separation of roles, promoting a racist, anti-intellectual, anti-feminist and LGBTIQ+-phobic environment.
The starting point of Harmony of Senescence was to generate, through misrepresentation, a parody that evidenced the heteropatriarchal conception and the political contents of the visual codes of the history of cinema and audiovisual propaganda. A remake to tease and also celebrate some camp aesthetic values with an egalitarian look. The protagonists of the project are not figures waiting for a subject to appropriate them, their bodies do not operate in the imposed objectification, they are women who relate to each other, who look at each other and also direct their gaze to the public, questioning the male desire , fundamental engine of that industry. Among the models to be analyzed would appear Strike Up the Band (Harmony of Youth in Spain) (Busby Berkeley, 1940), which has served as inspiration for the title of the project.
The piece is a multi-channel installation on three screens, which include the body of the viewer as one more element, forcing him to walk through the interstices of a non-linear narrative. We go through the rooms and sets, participating in the recording and its ins and outs. The stages, corridors and stairs seem to offer us different transits between reality and the afterlife. The subversion of narrative structures uses the tools that were persecuted by totalitarianisms: avant-garde cinema, atonal music or expressionist dance, generating different levels of reading in which the verisimilitude languages of the making of or cinéma vérité coexist, along with the idealizations of the musical and architectural scenographies that hide their minimal schematization, embracing the theatrical, the anthropomorphic and the sexual.
The (in) connection of the different cinematographic techniques leads us from the concrete to geometric abstraction. The studio flashes of a photo shoot take us into a strobe trance. The performers go from stepping on the ground to intervening in cosmic voids, transfiguring themselves in mathematical forms that throw us into a trippy fantasy or a mandala that seems to want to reveal some truth about the structure of the universe. The hallucinatory through the scopic sensory suggests a door to a timeless reality. The union of the body with the transcendent in a mystical but pagan ecstasy. A secular esotericism starring dancers who are too undisciplined to be able to perform the sacred dances of Gurdjieff.
The lighting, costumes and makeup give the protagonists a spectral quality, in some scenes they dance but in others they are shown taking time to enter the scene or professing gestures that would manifest their intimacy. They seem to be having fun, dancing seeking their own satisfaction. The laughter and lightness of the characters undo any dramatic tension. These behaviors are set in contrast to the expectations of discipline linked to the examples from which the project starts. Sometimes the eyes are directed to the camera and in others the interpretation is so affected that it reminds us at all times of the nature of the artifact. The cinema grants eternal life to people who are not materially present. This strange feast of ghostly-looking women displays a moving-image float that we cannot encompass. The flash light that could allow us to retain them is what activates a new transformation, referring to the genesis of the cinematographic. They seem to show themselves but they always run away. Its absence is what gives them content.
This constant sequencing of tensions, which goes from the plausible to the illusory, from pleasure to displeasure, is enhanced by an abrupt edition, heir to the historical avant-gardes, which avoids narrative closings and closures. The coexistence of different points of view, of general and detailed shots, leads us to think of a critique of representation based on the need to distinguish between the object and its image, between the true and the simulacrum in the cinema.
Harmonies of senescence does not pretend to reproduce the past because it acts with the awareness that its matter is inhabited in the present. The faces and gestures of the actresses, dancers and performers that appear are the faces and gestures of the veteran cast of women that signify them. Women who with their professional positions challenged the context of Francoism morality during their youth. It is not intended to erase that historical dimension, the past on which the work is based, that recent past of the local context and the present. Sexuality is a critical place from which to examine our current social system. The architectural and conceptual environment of the project is activated by the naked and sexual movement of its inhabitants. Some rules of that Hays Code that dominated Hollywood from the 30s to the late 60s are now reflected in the morality imposed by the almighty North American digital platforms with their prohibitions on sexuality, nudity, religion, dance, clothing and other issues “Reprehensible.”
Work carried out with the MULTIVERSO Grant for Creation in Videoart 2018, Fundación BBVA – Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao.