by Urszula Dawkins
For the past 20 years, Spanish artist and traveller Joan Baixas has roamed the world collecting stories and translating them to the screen. Not the ‘silver screen’, but a translucent ‘canvas’ on which unfolds a ‘live art’ experience like no other. Originally a visual artist, Baixas’s wanderings have led him to collaborate with luminaries such as Joan Miró, Antonio Saura and Roberto Matta. Now, he brings his staged work, Pregnant Earth, to Melbourne; a complex ‘painting’ which has been made and unmade all over the world, recreated anew for every audience.
Baixas’s Pregnant Earth is an earth that holds countless narratives, ranging from the ecstatic to the abject and everything inbetween. The work’s embryonic moment occurred, says Baixas, when he was living in the Australian desert in 1992, creating a mask parade with the young people of two Aboriginal communities.
“It was there,” Baixas says, “confronted with the lights of the desert, the whites of Lake Eyre, the ochres of the Flinders Ranges, the story-telling around the camp fires, that I decided to bring these experiences to the stage. I did a performance called The Trembling Tree.”
Later, performing the show in Sarajevo during the Balkan wars, he changed the name to Pregnant Earth.
“I always use earth from the places where I perform,” he says, “and in Sarajevo I used the ashes of the burnt library. These were really pregnant ashes.”
Over a lengthy career, Baixas has worked in many art forms, all of which he brings to Pregnant Earth. Painting, puppetry, photography and storytelling all play a part in the work’s “poetic communication”, he says, distilled to their “most simple and primitive state”.
“The audience [sits] in front of a screen where mud and light make strange and intense images which disappear as fast as they are created. The whole thing becomes a powerful symbol of life.”
“It is so sophisticated, our contemporary world, so complex and difficult to understand, that I feel it is good for our health, the sense of simplicity and elemental communication – a bit of primitivism.”
The stories that find their way to Baixas’s transparent canvas are stories of the sense of life, he says: “The joy of poetry, images, stories, the pleasures and pains of life”.
Although a narrative, theatrical work, he describes Pregnant Earth as being “based on the vocabulary of painting”.
“Painting with a roll or a brush, erasing with hands or a bucket of water, spraying, soiling, playing with the effects of the light through the mud, or with my own shadow: this is the dramaturgy of the image. I use the effects of painting like actors use words. I use my whole body, I dance with the image.”
“I’m not interested on hanging paintings on a wall. My work is physical, tactile – and my pretence is creating images that come up and disappear very fast but remain in the memory of the audience … I remain faithful to the most important teaching of Joan Miró, my master. He said that our work consists of planting seeds in the hearts of human beings, so that they grow and develop there. I believe in that.”
Puppetry has long played a role in Baixas’s work.
“At the beginning of my work I did many puppet shows, and the most important [of these] was called Mori el Merma. I did this show in collaboration with Joan Miró – he painted the puppets. It was to celebrate the end of the Spanish dictatorship period; and we did throw out all the bad experiences of stupid power, cruelty, madness. It was a cathartic show and puppets were perfect to do this exercise.”
“Puppets are monsters created in our mind; expressions of our souls. The animation of a puppet happens on the border between life and death, on the edge of consciousness and nightmare. Puppetry gives the possibility to penetrate the dark side of the human being: dreams, myths, archetypes.”
Joan Baixas has worked in Australia many times across a span of more than 30 years, including a stint with Circus Oz.
“I have a special affection for the city of Melbourne … To me, it’s a gift of the gods to share some intense poetic hours with the people of Melbourne, and I’d like to say to them, ‘come with your friends and with appetite – I’ll cook for you the best meal I can’.”
Arts House, Meat Market
Tuesday 16 – Wednesday 17 August
Book online or phone (03) 9322 3713