It is often said that to be a puppeteer, is to be two, both the one who shows and the one who is shown. For, as soon as the puppeteer is no longer hidden behind his creation, but becomes visible for the audience and assumes his presence as part of the scene, he lays claim on a position that would otherwise seem impossible or at least paradoxical: to show and be shown at the same time, to be both inside and outside.
Inside and outside: this is also what characterizes the particular position of the Belgian company Mossoux-Bonté and the art of marionettes. If Nicole Mossoux, virtuosic in her manipulation of the mannequins made in her image in Twin Houses (created in 1994 and still a part of the company's repertory) manipulates objects and different materials to bring to life strange creatures in Kefar Nahum (2008) she is first and foremost a dancer and choreographer. With her accomplice Patrick Bonté, dramaturge and director, she puts to work a process of creation where different artistic genres meet (pictorial imagery, dance, digital arts, performance...) Each time that the company has directly used the language of puppetry, it is always surprising for the audience and becomes an instrument for artistic research based on the identity of the subject and integrity of the human body, of doubles and monstrosities, of movement as the impulse toward life as well as the impulse toward destruction.
It seems to me that it is within this context that Kefar Nahum is to be situated. Based on a collection of heteroclite objects collected here and there during her many travels and tours, Nicole Mossoux examines the position of a creator in relation to her own creation. Putting her own presence/absence on stage, as well as being the main manipulator, she puts into motion her all-powerful-artistic-demiurge, her failures and the threat of her own destruction. Walking a fine line, between the internal and external aspects of her own creation, she lets herself go, gets carried away by its movements. Thus the displacements and situational reversals and the creator's gesture itself get turned around, the identity of the puppeteer is turned inside out and the audience's perception left troubled.
The creation's movement and its boomerang effects
As with other performances of the Company Mossoux-Bonté, Kefar Nahum is based on two major principles of movement.
The first concerns what Nicole Mossoux calls "the body in its prolongations". According to her the main motors that affect the dancer, actor, performer or puppeteer are of two kinds: that of momentum and that of retreat. Particularly in the case of the puppeteer and his relationship with the marionette or object, the movement gets its impulse from the puppeteer and is thus directed toward the targeted object, as a projection, a prolongation of his own body. But this prolongation of the body functions in two ways, because the impulse is directed back from the object or material to the one doing the manipulating. This moment is thus one of erasure, a way of giving the impression that the object takes the initiative to move.
The second principle (corollary to the first) is what Patrick Bonté calls "antagonistic movement". Through the movement (of a dancer, performer or puppeteer) it's a question of showing a body that is stuck between two opposite intentions, two different rhythms, it's a way of introducing the idea of division, of fragmentation and of constructing what Bonté calls "schizophrenic atmospheres".
It is perhaps in the performances with marionettes that these atmospheres are pushed the farthest.
One particularly remembers in Twin Houses Nicole Mossoux, via five articulated mannequins successively grafted to her own body, in confrontation with her doubles: pushed to the extreme, the antagonistic movement which manifests itself between the puppeteer and the mannequin ends in aggression, almost rape.
If the same principles concerning movement are at work in Kefar Nahum, the technique used here is apparent in the manipulation of objects. In this performance centered around the idea of monstrous geneses, the creative gesture is itself on exhibition.
The demiurge and the creative gesture: animation, predation, contamination
The performance begins with total blackness in which a moving form becomes progressively visible, that of some fabric which folds, unfolds and rotates around itself like matter in a state of fusion, autonomous and self-generating, a kind of Big Bang that takes place amid the shadowy darkness of the stage. Then to black. A silhouette appears, little by little, that of Nicole Mossoux, wearing a black wig, a gas mask and a black costume with a large white ruff. On a table standing before her, one white gloved hand begins to construct a small creature, also wearing a white ruff and large aviator glasses. This creature is the first version, a deformed double of her creator. Then with her other hand, Nicole Mossoux starts moving a unidentifiable mass, hair perhaps, which begins to resemble an insect or rather a sort of spider and which is quickly ingested by the first little creature wearing the glasses. This one also transforms, stands up on her legs (two fingers of Nicole Mossoux) and moves toward the edge of the table, bends toward the void before her, then turns around, moves away backwards and disappears. Only the ruff remains; an object that Nicole Mossoux also brings to life, before turning it onto herself, imprisoning her hands.
For a large part, the performance that unfolds before our eyes is parade of monstrous creatures and cannibals that populate the table. The objets used, often in fragments, are rarely at first glance identifiable and make up a heteroclite collection or reserve of material that the imagination of the demiurge can freely put to use.
The successive geneses and metamorphoses take their affect on the creator; they contaminate her, they swallow her up. If she plays with tricking one of the creatures, by substituting her own knee for his egg, which she makes disappear and reappear, at other moments parts of her body become trapped by the creatures or are taken up in their own monstrous constructions. At one moment her own hand is beyond her control moving on its own; she even finds herself at odds with her own body, suddenly defending one of her own creatures from herself, as is the case with the spider.
The creation of this world is subject to failure, incongruity and humor. We sometimes get the impression of an unsatisfied demiurge, who throws her sketches away; more often than not we see the different creatures approach the table's edge, attracted by the abyss, before dissolving into the void that surrounds them.
We could have the following hypothesis: because this demiurge didn't know how to escape Creation, she is condemned at times to see her creatures turn against her and at others finds she is trapped in her own creation. A theological concept borrowed from the Cabala, the Tsimtsoum, affirms the necessity of God's retreat so that his Creation may become autonomous and unfold on its own. Only the emptiness of the Creator's retreat (or retraction) will allow Creation to exist.
Out of the failure of the demiurge emerges an impulse (or is it the opposite?) It is as if she found herself faced with the impossibility of fabricating creatures that would be able to create something other than predation between them. In this "cannibalistic comedy" (one of the possible titles for the show, according to Patrick Bonté) one creature ingests another, thus integrating a part of their form and their essential force, or at least their way of moving. We see take shape throughout the course of the performance an ensemble of impulses: life/death, creation/destruction, Eros/Thanatos, conjugated to various degrees.
Not without humor, the fantasy both convokes and invests in the objects. For example, while Nicole Mossoux's head is planted firmly in an artificial lawn, we see a phallus approach her and touch her face; we fear rape, but he passes calmly on his way, rubbing against her mouth then against her cheek before finally making his way around her head, which was in his way. During the same sequence, a small watering can, before being identifiable as such, is submitted, through a manipulation, to a series of anamorphoses: at first nothing is seen but it's spout (another phallic image that also parades in front of Nicole Mossoux); then it is seen at different angles, before taking on the form of a head with a large mouth that Nicole Mossoux kisses voluptuously.
Patrick Bonté and Nicole Mossoux play as much with the fantastic as with the feminine body. Fragmented, vulnerable, associated in a an incongruent manner with objects that become anthropomorphic and desirable or on the contrary strange and absurd, the body is taken up in the game of some phantasmic process. In effect the phantasm is a scripted desire which focuses on a detail, which crystalizes on a part of the body.
Throughout the performance, the objects and more and more Nicole Mossoux's body, appear fragmented, as the composite parts taken from a greater whole. In this way, the bits and pieces set in motion the imagination of the audience.
The troubled perception of the audience
More than a puppeteer Nicole Mossoux seems to me to assume the role of a performer in this show, that is to say that of a creator of forms and movements who puts to work the creative gesture as an authentic battle-ground: alternately, the body of a demiurge taken up with her creations, a body at times possessed, sometimes victim of a sort of delirium. She redefines the objects' function as an extension of the body, the objectification of internal monsters. She confronts the depths of the psyche and plays with the Biblically forbidden, in terms of reproduction and imitation.
As a function of all the above, it seems to me that it is equally possible to think back to mimesis and illusion. Mimesis understood here as the staging of the crisis of the subject-creator by the two-fold question that it causes and the fragmenting of identity that results. As for the illusion of life produced by these monstrous and aborted geneses, it seizes the audience, becomes engraved in their psyche thus causing a real disturbance. Everything happens as if, in a way, the images get created in order for a game of deformation to occur. The audience is propelled into the performance which unfolds like a dream, as each form glides into another, from one meaning to another.
Following Freud's conception of the unconscious, Mossoux-Bonté strive to produce a strange and unsettling feeling. The figure that Nicole Mossoux constructs throughout the performance is itself polymorphic and polysemic: it is female, animal, monster (head wearing a gas mask), fragmented body, dispersal. Born out of the artist's imagination, this figure becomes, when her turn comes, a marionette for the psychic stage of the audience and within the work itself to many different degrees. Beyond an investment in impulsion and the process of subconscious projection, it is also about how the imagination works and the awakening of cultural references. For myself, Nicole Mossoux woke up a childhood memory: I had assimilated it - even if it resurfaced later- the figure that she creates, with the gas mask, is reminiscent of a comic-book character created in 1939 and who appeared again in 1990 under the name of the detective Mr Sandman. He chases night-roaming villains, wears a gas mask on his face and is armed with a kind of smoke canister that he uses to put his enemies to sleep, plunging them into their nightmares. He himself is haunted by a dream, that of a tarantula - the creature into which Nicole Mossoux transforms during the show.
As mistress of dreams, Nicole Mossoux assembles and animates material, forms and deforms the images she provides for the audience. The strangeness of her presence, surrounded by monsters that she created is also one of the elements that lends itself to the unfolding deep inside our imagination of an ever so powerful force within the shadows of the unconscious.
Carole Guidicelli • 2008