Anita di Bianco, An interview with Discoteca Flaming Star’s Cristina Gómez Barrio and Wolfgang Mayer (2010)

Discoteca Flaming Star is a collaborative art group who, since 1998, “present wonderful songs of love, consumption, fervour and feminism, carpets that help to cross burning bridges, fragile essays as drawings, and things that go together even though they shouldn’t…” Their interdisciplinary practice, entranced performative style, oversized hand-scripted and hand-stenciled banners, photographic series, use of disparate text sources theoretical to lyrical, reassemble musical and sculptural space into durational works evocative of times and artistic situations when politics and decadence indulged each others voracious appetites less suspiciously.

Recent activities in Berlin include the performance Jaccouzi of Muddy Tears at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, and drawings, photographs, banners, installation works for the exhibitions FischGrätenMelkStand at the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, Diskurshexe 1 with Galerie September, and Gruppenbild at the n.b.k.

For the project Valparaiso Intervenciones, in the winter of 2009 Discoteca Flaming Star initiated a workshop with architectural theorist Jose Llano and a group of architecture / fine arts students. The resulting 24-minute video performance – El valor del gallo negro (Buthe – Turm – Börse), performed and filmed in the 19th-century stock exchange building in Valparaiso, Chile – draws on Mayer’s Poema de la Bolsa de Valparaiso, the artists’ drawings, and other literary and musical sources – exploring abstract processes in the financial world, the (in)visibility of the collective, and the spatial presence of bodies.

About the video performance:
El Gallo Negro (The Black Rooster) is a dancer from Valparaiso who surveys the inactive floor of the stock exchange and directs the camera with his gaze and movements. The performative elements – architecture, costuming, body movements, soundtrack – mark the starkly-encoded, anachronistic space of the stock exchange as a site of social and economic contradiction. The voice track includes the collective poem written during the performance’s actual 5-hour duration by the Board of Poetry, performed [in the English version] by Dagmar Gabler.

ADB: I’m curious about the soundtrack at the start of the film.

CGB: It’s called Wallfurt Pulse, a two-layered sound collage: one recording was done at the stock market in Frankfurt, the other on Wall Street. Over that is layered an inverted pulse. The image of people on the trading floor is no longer the reality; only 8% of stock transactions are done via trading floors now, everything else happens in contracting tables and by internet. Nevertheless, these places are undergoing a re-signification process but are nevertheless kept as a symbolic reference, a backdrop for broadcasting – as somewhere to place the action. We wanted to interfere in that process from a perspective of critical thinking.

ADB: The video suggests actors in rehearsal or writers working out a play; moments of creativity or negotiation that aren’t necessarily proposing or leading to success. The looks on the faces seated around the cluttered table suggests long duration, everything spilling out into the space in the centre. One senses (without the benefit of hearing the discussion, or seeing the texts you were reading) that something is being dealt with, slowly. You’re not building or solving something in that optimistic, responsible way of so much current seminar-based art practice but you’re also not tearing at each other or staging familiar or recognizable conflicts.

You also mentioned the importance of having no audience [during the performance] because of the presence of the cameras. The applause that occurs at a certain point in the soundtrack is interesting – raising the question of what it is to perform without an audience, in this ghost-shell of a building with, as you mentioned, the security guard, this solitary invisibly-laboring visitor. The people around the table and the dancer’s movements and the camera’s gestures … it has a very enclosed, circular structure.

CGB: I’ve been thinking recently about how to protect the performance from the document, and how to protect the document from the performance. How to prevent a video coming of a performance from this compulsion towards evoking the performance. The impulse of the video should not be that of idealising one moment that is gone; the captured moment is only one element among many in the film. How to free the medium – video, photograph or audio – from this obligation to ‘please show me what it was, what it felt like,’ this yet-impossible-to-see performance. The aim was also to protect the participants of the performance (who were not actors) from these pressures of expectation – of both performance and video.

ADB: You mentioned that this is only the second time you’ve performed for a camera. So the camera in this case is not a form of documentation or an outsider to the workshop, but part of the choreography.

WM: With the exception of a few colour shots where you see the dancer very clearly, and one where you see the Board of Poetry, everything appears as a consequence of the dancer’s movements. You never know what will be next. The glance is very important. His eyes are part of the dance so that he could return the glance of the camera.

ADB: The movements of the dancer have a revealing quality, as an interpretation of the proceedings of the Board of Poetry, whose activity is centered around the table but spills over to the surroundings, engaging the viewer with this whole complex orchestration going on in the background.

CGB: We are not choreographers. We don’t know how to tell someone to dance. It was more about telling him [Valentin Keller] “you are our body – the body of the Board of Poetry. Whatever is captured or happens at this table is to be translated by your movement. Take the chance to enjoy that there is no audience – you have something to explore. And be aware that you are the guidance of the black and white camera.” So he was sort of a via of access for the camera.

ADB: How did you instruct or envision the shooting in terms of your use of both colour and black and white? The quality of the two alternating images diverges radically in terms of tone, connotation … even speed.

WM: Video generally produces this strange realism, as if you would see on the recording what you have seen with your eyes. It fakes reality into the viewers’ mind. The b/w footage was filmed with a toy camera which just turns on and off and nothing else. It has a very primitive chip that films UV light as well, producing these very artificial images. This camera is also difficult to predict because it does strange things like being in and out focus at the same time. It has its own form of realism. It films UV light, so white clothes could also appear black on the screen. If you film eyes from very close they look very watery. All the things that look so realistic in video, with this camera are the opposite. When working with it, it never feels like you’re documenting. By combining these two cameras it’s almost like creating a third reality. It unfolds between where your imagination – as a viewer – is and where we were.

ADB: As a viewer, the lucid colour image isn’t necessarily the one that you trust; it actually has a destabilizing effect on the hazy, roaming, atmospheric quality of the b/w image. The blank plasma screens [used to display numerical market information] in the sharp colour image – have a grotesque clarity in that 19th century interior – you certainly avoid the nostalgia of the place.

WM: There were two camera persons. Alina Astudillo, a filmmaker / artist, and Claudio Vitoria, a classically-trained cameraman who filmed the colour shots on the tripod. We told them from the beginning that it wasn’t necessary to film everything – that they should get a feeling for what we do, and sense the moments where they are also part of it. So we all shared that space/time, which ended up being 5 1/2 hours.

We didn’t change anything in the stock market, we just added three banners, lights, the sound equipment and the smoke machine. It was very important that it was not a film shoot. There was nothing repeated. And the end we collectively wrote a poem. The actress read the poem back. And that’s it. I liked that this was repeated in the editing. We wanted to bring all the tools we have: intelligent books, not so intelligent books, flowers, dancing, films …

AD: Banners are so often a part of your performances and installations, can you say something about this act of unfurling them – heroism, idealism? And the lettering ‘What kind of passion, Piero’, and in the voiceover text there’s the phrase ‘the compassionate body’.

CGB: We are not performance artists, but we enjoy doing performance. When you arrive in a place it’s always different; you employ a space for a certain amount of hours. We started to want or need our own space to take with us, something that gives us some kind of protection. Textiles are very light; you can fold them into small luggage. So we started making the banners, out of cheap cloth, in 2001.

WM: They are very raw and rough, not elaborate or delicate pieces. We never spend much time installing them. It always starts on an edge and touches the floor. We deeply try to avoid that they would look like images or curtains.

CGB: And the sentences or concepts on the banners are condensations of exchanges between us and other artists, and different sources – books, songs. They are sentences that accompany us. Since they are such a large format, they alter the architecture in a very strong way. When they go around corners you automatically have a curved soft corner. It softens architecture. And it also helps the acoustics of the spaces.

WM: They can carry concepts [with us] in the space, like things you want to have present when you perform.

CGB: [Reusing the same banners in different locations] can be a great fictional pretension, challenging continuity of time/space from the felt experience and from the video. The banners are the element that link the spaces.

ADB: Your style of lettering is messy, an activist aesthetic rather than an official language, maybe mimicking or deconstructing the act of producing a flag or slogan. How does hanging banners relate to a proposed politic?

CGB: We look for a way of writing suitable for each thought. One aspect of this video that I like a lot is that it shows the moment of unfolding the banner outdoors – it’s a moment of struggle. Even though you’ve committed to sharing these concepts or sentences on a banner, it doesn’t mean that everything is done or easy, you have also to decide how it belongs, where is the top part, what is the right way to hang it …

WM: There is a clumsiness in the act. It starts with these two guys unfolding the banner, and of course it’s upside down, so someone has to come into the frame to help. It refers to this heroic moment but it’s full of clumsiness and it takes a really long time.

CGB: Then there is the wind …

WM: It becomes difficult to read. In some moments there are fragments, like ‘la casa es negra’ which pops out. Then it’s hard to read that it is “comunes y intereses y aspiraciones y” (Common and concerns and aspirations and).