Scenes from an Execution
Water, Blood, Paint, and the Stains of War
"Wo es war, soll Ich werden: in the real of your symptom, you must recognise the ultimate support of your being." - Sigmund Freud
I am a site-specific theatre director, usually creating theatre in found environments. These are often places that have been abandoned, so they’re inexpensive or free to use. But the delight of a rent-free performance space is often tempered by the decayed state of the building: the plumbing or heating doesn’t work, it smells bad, there may be a mould problem, and so on. While some artists may avoid working in such environments, I am drawn to them. There is something real in the decay of such spaces that at once challenges and sustains the creative process.
Galactia, the central figure in Scenes from an Execution, has a similar approach to painting. She chooses to paint the Battle of Lepanto in a disused barracks; claiming that the space has “absolutely the right smell for the subject” and “[i]f you are painting soldiers, you should live among soldiers.” Her daughters, who are working with her on the project, protest that the barracks are unsafe, cold, lacking in light, and generally unsuitable as a studio, yet Galactia persists in her approach to the creation of the painting.
On the surface, Galactia could be seen as obsessive at best, or psychotic at worst. But delving a little deeper into her motives and behaviour, a more meaningful perspective may emerge. Drawing on the psychoanalytic work of Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, would say, as he did of other artists, that Galactia doesn’t just try to represent the battle, she embodies the traumatic reality of what she is painting. Further, her passion to do so – Lacan would call this her perverse, problematic enjoyment, her jouissance in doing so – is the experience of the real for all those who engage with her in this task. It is this experience, beyond words and beyond the conventions of most painting and most theatre, that we encounter the real of both the artist and the battle.
In this production, we have endeavoured to engage with the real phenomena of the play through an exploration of paint, blood, and water. As resources for the creation of design, video, lighting and action, these materials have inspired the shape and effect of what you will experience this evening.