Blue, sweat and tears


Yann Marussich has been  performing Bleu Remix worldwide over the past 12 years. In each country he invites a local musician to provide a live soundscape for the show, which he hears for the first time during the performance. James Webb was the perfect choice to accompany Marussich in South Africa.

Webb was enticed by the brief to create a sound score which would confront the performance. His instructions included making use of sounds made by the body. Although it would have been difficult to overtly detect them, the recordings mixed live during the show included the sound of blood and other body fluids, as well as of glossolalia (speaking in tongues).

Webb was reluctant to tell me too much about the origins of the sounds he’d made, since he felt this might make them too interpretative and he didn’t want his score to create a narrative which overwhelmed the performing body. Webb says he tries to stay clear of interpretation since “that’s the audience’s domain”.

He hopes, rather, to create sounds that can be experienced in many different ways. The choice of his subtle use of glossolalia, which he introduced into the performance, felt appropriate since Marussich appears to be overtaken by a strange inner presence. During the course of the hour in which he remains immobile inside a narrow glass cubicle, a mysterious blue liquid begins very slowly to seep out of his body.

At first one dark blue tear escapes, and then a thin tendril dribbles from one nostril, and then from his mouth. Next, faded blue stigmata appear on his feet.

By the end of the hour, his skin has taken on a blue-grey pallor and the entire surface of his body has been draped in streams of the same thick dark blue liquid.

The etiquette of polite society frowns on the expulsion of liquids in a communal space. Generally, we’ll accept substances going into the body, but not emerging out of it; but here this taboo was overcome by the construction of a beautiful, living, breathing statue.

There are innumerable ways of understanding this deeply moving performance. It’s slow for a dramatic piece, and yet, in terms of seeing visible transformations occurring in the body, it’s like experiencing speeded-up, time-lapse photography. In the space of just an hour we see a body turning blue, corpselike, ashen – a reminder of the impermanence of our beings. The performance also represents a rite of purification, as the body is purged of its inner excesses. After the show, Marussich is drained from having sat immobile in a constrained space heated up to 70°C.

Similar to a Butoh performance, there is an emptying of the body and mind, rather than a fixation on a specific role. He takes time to recover, and then we meet. Marussich is a gentle, kindly presence, a calming influence on the space around him.

I present him with some of my interpretations of the show. He smiles and says that’s all fine, but he insists, as Webb did, that it’s not really about interpretation. So I ask him instead about his interest in immobility.

“Immobility is a powerful position of the body, whether in terms of social position or as an artistic position”, he says. For example, in Turkey, performance artist Erdem Gündüz stood silently in a square before a statue of Ataturk for hours in protest against the law forbidding public gatherings. This simple gesture was picked up by hundreds of people all over the world who’ve dubbed him “the standing man”, or Duran Adam.

Simply standing still can be revolutionary.

Marussich also points out that immobility draws attention to micromovements of the body; one begins to pay attention to skin, heartbeat, sweat glands, eye blinks. Small things become important. I noticed during the performance that he’d became a still point amid the moving crowd, his immobility helped them settle.

Asked what goes through his mind during the show he says – nothing. He tries to let, go of his thoughts, describing a process similar to Vipassana meditation (a meditation on emptiness). Marussich is frequently asked to explain how he achieves his mysterious effects. He’s not necessarily secretive about the process, but he says it doesn’t really matter, that’s not the point. I suggest that if it’s not about interpretation and it’s not about technique, is it about presence?

“Yes”, Marussich replies, “Always.”

-Anton Krueger-

Photo video by Robynne Peatfield