UNTITLED is a solo for Marc Iglesias and is the third solo by Kris Verdonck, following EXIT (for Alix Eynaudi) and M, a reflection (for Johan Leysen). As in the other creations in this series, UNTITLED continues to develop the phenomenon of the ‘released figure’: the performer that is ‘cast’ onto the stage as if by a mechanical construction. The starting point is the character as it was created with Marc Iglesias in the performance H, an incident (2013). This character was based on the Russian writer Daniil Harms’ short story A Knight, which is about a man that has no opinion of his own. Out of sheer poverty he experiments with different ideologies as possible survival strategies. By effacing himself for the benefit of the common good, in the end, in his delirium, he gives his life for his country. In H, an incident, this man, wearing a lion suit, became the mascot of a political party.
In UNTITLED, the mascot plays a central role. During the Roman Empire, the mascot was an animal that was captured from the enemy and was not only a symbol of victory but also a token of good luck. Today, we are mostly familiar with mascots in sport and the entertainment business. They are important for teams or brands and encourage the audience to express their enthusiasm. The vocabulary of movement used by the mascot is very specific and has similarities to silent film and cartoons. Disney, Pixar, Studio 100 and other animation and advertising corporations continuously produce creatures that feel very human-like, but once they are removed from their context they assume a completely different meaning. In theatre, these two-dimensional figures remind us of Beckett’s search for a completely objectivized actor, by analogy with the human which had according to him, had lost much of its humanness.
The mascot in UNTITLED is emblematic of the unpleasant combination of entertainment and modern slavery. Employees are under a lot of pressure in this neoliberal era. Work is a moral duty that has to be fulfilled, even at the cost of one’s own identity and opinions. The mascot suit is like a straitjacket that forces you to perform; it hides a tired, absent body that would prefer not to be there. In everyday life we see the tendency whereby Europe cannot provide its intellectuals with a position on the job market. Highly educated people work as extras in Disneyland, others make publicity for a brand of chewing gum or instant soup, dressed up like a packet of chewing gum or bowl of soup. The personality and the face of these workers does not matter, but standing there as a consumable image does. An increasing number of people end up in similarly hopeless situations that force them to work in a so-called ‘mini-job’ or under other poor conditions. UNTITLED questions the economic imperative, as well as the compulsive nature of growth, progress and consumption, and suggests a yawning emptiness behind all this ‘performance’.
Kris Verdonck brings the mascot to the stage as an objet trouvé. Lonely, but full of good intentions, this performer puts on his show every night. The emptiness of the big stage is a home for the costume and a prison for the one wearing it. A mascot without a team or goal, which stands for itself and at the same time for anything but itself, wanders around the stage. This figure purely a façade for shallow entertainment and an infantile pop and work culture. De exterior amusement value of the costume comes at the expense of the man inside. In this performance, the void behind the mascot’s façade becomes a sinister superficiality.
As early as 1967, the French philosopher and film-maker Guy Debord wrote in The Society of Spectacle, that the dominance of economics and the spectacular image leads to a general alienation of the individual from his world. The aggression of a neoliberal system reifies those who live in it. In Debord’s words: “The spectacle is able to subject human beings to itself because the economy has already totally subjugated them. It is nothing other than the economy developing for its own sake. It is at once a faithful reflection of the production of things and a distorting objectification of the producers.”
In the spectacle of the mascot there is glitter but no glamour. For the man in the suit it is impossible not to signify. The costume permanently transmits signals, since it is quite plainly present. This constant presence contrasts with the invisibility or absence of the man inside it. The pressure to perform and its pointlessness drive this person to madness. The relationship between man and the object, which is an essential aspect of Verdonck’s work, takes on socio-political layers in the form of the mascot. UNTITLED offers variations on this relationship, until the human is replaced by air in an inflatable shape or by a robot.
Kristof van Baarle