Programme Notes: Franko B’s Because of Love

  1. Diana Damian (2014)

On excavating memory

A show that begins with silence; the silence of recall: Franko B’s walk, brief shifts in his body, interludes of movement. The silence that allows you to inhabit its deepest corners; the stillness that begins to open you up to movement; he is here, in front of us, ready to be looked at, ready to be loved, navigating emotional states, excavating memory. There’s something unsettling and unstelling about this long interlude of silence and distilled movement; in part, because it never arrives, it’s always in process. The duration is an opening as such; as time passes, we project, reflect, engage, consider. This strategy is testament to the artist’s own work: a practice that’s always personal but also public, shifting and never located within one parameter. This is also what allows Franko B to investigate artistic practice, to construct images, moments and actions that speak of appearances: those that are his own, and others that are appropriated. Here, the artist is an archaeologist, transposing images into fractured memories, or perhaps the reverse. In this ritual of recall, in this stillness, against certainty, our gaze is no longer transfixed by the poetics of the body.

Because of Love: Volume 1 is an archive at the crossroads between the real and the imagined, the personal and the encountered, laying itself bare like an internal desert. We’re not voyeurs following a dance with history, engulfed by the repetition that seeks to constantly recall (action: Franko B falls off a table, repeatedly, until the movement exhausts itself, until all the affect has flooded) These memories are neither inscribed on the body that has carried them here, nor have they fallen prey to a nostalgic encounter. The agency is no longer palpable: are we encountering the trauma of memory’s vestiges, or occupying a liminal territory? With Franko B’s body now bathed in darkness, backlit by an overwhelmingly rich red wall of light, we’re unsure whether wounds are unearthed or healed.

Located somewhere between presence and absence, suffering and recovery, Because of Love appropriates, opens up and flirts with memory as a cultural and personal act, investigating not only its agency, but also its overt sentimentality, its poetic control. It’s less an autobiographical engagement – though this certainly provides its scope and shape – but, in a decidedly collaborative nature, a ritual of remembrance as well as an offering. With Othon’s dense and moving piano score, Nigel Edward’s iconic lighting design, Gilles Jobin’s choreography toying with continuity and verticality and Thomas Qualmann’s animation, Because of Love is an interdisciplinary performance of emergence and shifts. Grounded in the theatrical, playing with the conventions of the stage, and developed across a range of collaborations that also include dialogues with Tim Etchells and Ron Athey, and prop work by Nina Berclez and Samuel Kennedy the show moves past the potency of image and action so embedded in the artist’s work; it flirts with the narrative of cultural memory and openly questions notions of appropriation, authorship and history.

It is not unusual for performance to flirt with authenticity, excavating memory in this poetic anthropological ritual, but Because of Love approaches it altogether differently. It doesn’t fall pretty to the demands of representation on stage. In fact, in its process of iteration, Because of Love has been stripped down to its bare minimum, and all the more evocative and nuanced for it. It resists working with anything but strategies for communication and exploration, engaged in actions and rituals. It’s inherently wild, flirting with sentiment in a romantic rhapsody both appropriated and personal. In its liminality, it engages with a process of recall that navigates from the body outwards, diving through chronologies social and personal; in its collaborations, it sketches out and makes visible layers of meaning across an entire affective landscape, both a gaze in the past and a breath into the future.

It might seem unlikely for an artist like Franko B to inhabit the territory of the stage, teasing representation out of theatricality, playing with a humorous poetic and an overly sentimental subject matter. Yet Because of Love is not solely a formal incision that brings together the body politics of live art with the languages of dance, light, projection and sound; it is a significant departure towards continuity, towards bringing together a range of aspects of the artist’s practice into an archaeological and cultural excavation. This shift from aesthetic representation to theatrical embodiment externalises instances of cultural memory and the encounter itself; it enacts the experience of looking and feeling, conflating the artistic with the personal in the remit of the stage. In that way, it belongs naturally in the artist’s own timeline, as it engages with processes of meaning making that capitalise on the visual.

Because of Love is a piece of work that, in some ways, engages with elements central to Franko B’s practice: love, consciousness, absence, boundaries, vulnerability. Its negotiation of image and action and its understanding of site, geometry and symbolism are testament to the artist’s long standing relationship to a diverse practice that encompasses painting, photography, sculpture and installation alongside live work.

As live art often navigates the territory between image and action, searching for that which is changing, shifting, we are witness to affect. One of Franko B’s most iconic works, I Miss You, sees him walking down a long canvas, bathed in white paint, blood dripping down his arms; it’s both an encounter loaded with ethics, and a moving exploration of love’s theatricality. Though embedded in the politics of live art, flirting with the iconography of personal trauma, there’s something deeply moving, affective and operatic about I Miss You that echoes across the artist’s work. The tender and the extreme, the archaeology of love, pain and the body are also explored in pieces that encompass the artist’s sculptural work, such as Love in Times of Pain, an installation that mixes found objects and taxidermy, bathed in heavy, black paint, mounted on plinths in a range of settings. This constant transformation emerging through images and actions that never settle in the abject is always overwhelmed by a classical beauty – and here perhaps Franko B’s roots inhabit the language of his work; his relationship to iconography is a powerful tension in his work. An iconography not only dominates his practice, but it also adorns his body.

Because of Love is, in some ways, mediation on those excursions into the nature of human consciousness; it deals with personal memory, but not always authored memory – childhood, paternity, experience- but it also circumnavigates this history of a practice. From the long moment of contained stillness, to the simple writing on the blackboard, and the ritualistic, incessant, affective repetition of a movement that navigates from lying to standing, from sitting to standing, these past works are recalled without being re-enacted. They are witnesses, presences onstage. In this manner, the whole beginning of the show that makes use of backstage in a way that entirely reconfigures the semiotics of the stage, is a look back into the past; a long, red fabric is dragged behind Franko B’s body, almost endless, yet never linear despite its direction. We’re encountering a certain duration, a certain stasis. And in his structured walk, uninterrupted, Franko B is both present and absent, joyful and mournful. Later, when we watch the artist dance with the animatronic polar bear, we think of both the candid image of paternity, and the confusion of childhood; that beseeched loneliness, seduced but never satisfied; humorous, playful and dangerous. In this sense, Because of Love is rhapsodic; a continuous movement across time that is refracted across the cartography of the artist’s own body.

Amongst these shattered and scattered memories, recalled without representation, different contexts begin to flirt with meaning, to entice it, to tempt it. These are stitched into the performance itself, drawing upon fact and fiction, personal and political, authored and appropriated. From the depth of experience of Mark Rothko’s red paintings to the exposition of trauma in Anselm Kiefer’s work, from Laika’s trip into space to Andrei Tarkovsky’s iconic cinematic language that both dilutes and chases time, from the slippery, durational work of Tehching Hsieh to the abject beauty of Gina Pane. It’s hard to tell who these memories belong to, yet the proposition of their inhabitation is far more evocative, and makes these encounters palpable, accessible. Changing perspective, making his way through this historical collage, Franko B reveals the rituals behind remembrance and teases out the authorship of memory and its capacity to inhabit and reconstitute.

These moments are drawn out, shifted and disrupted through the interaction and use of the different mediums; form the stage itself, at times giving agency to the body and at others, stripping its layers away, to the characterful projection that winds and pauses, or the melody that bathes an image only to leave its debris behind. Lighting and choreography are agents in this process too, playing with the body as object, sculpted in time, as well as shaping these semiotic layers. The show’s technical language reveals a particular engagement with processes behind remembrance, and a consideration for their enactment onstage.

In this way, narrative never arrives, nor is it expected. Instead, we spend time with repetition; with ritual; with stage presence; with ellipses and gaps. We travel a dense landscape, evoking multiple temporalities, yet always fixed on the now. Everything onstage, from materials to bodies, animate or inanimate, works within a theatrical paradigm that navigates between seduction and abandon, between struggle and release. Identity, then, travels with them; pain and intimacy are currencies, yet there’s also a dynamism at play that never allows anything to settle. In this sense, Because of Love is no stranger to the politics of Antonin Artaud’s work, recalled in the process. The form becomes engulfed by the performance, changes shape, serves that which takes itself to the Subject; a landscape of states of liminality, moments past, extreme emotions, both personal and appropriated, always returning to the body.

The body here is not an object perceived from an Other, but a lived experience shared, opened, a nomadic wound that never calls for healing. Franko B refers to a questioning of mediated, appropriated experience. In his unearthing of archives, he constitutes memory as public space, shifting its parameters to the theatricality of lived experiences, with all its dramatic nuances and paradigms. Memory as that which fascinates, tantalises, seduces and sometimes leaves you in abandon. Within this landscape, Franko B is searching for dignity. What makes this experience a particular step in his own chronology is the ways in which it opens up to witnessing, to inhabiting; with its particular relationship to time and collectivity, to isolation and relationships, this archaeology is accessible, moving and evocative.


Published in Because of Love: Volume 1


© 2015 Franko B and the contributors