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Re-Membering the Mountain: Grotowski's Deep Ecology

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A cascade of images hit me like warm rain when I heard that Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowski had died of leukaemia on 14 January 1999. A water pump at the edge of a pasture, wild blueberries, flames illuminating faces, a brass key, spires of a castle against grey sky, blisters. In 1977 I participated in the Mountain Project at the Teatr Laboratorium in Wroclaw, Poland. The countryside outside the city provided a sensuous container for a journey that was personal and communal, material and metaphoric. Walking day and at night, sometimes in pouring rain, participants were lead on a silent trek through fields and forests; then up a mountain to Grodziec castle. The ‘work’ continued in and around the castle: night walks, running in the forest, improvised movement, silent vigils. Each exercise was designed to interrupt self-conscious, everyday behaviour and thus provoke unmediated, ‘direct’ experience of the world.

Like the Laboratory's other paratheatrical experiments (1970–78), which shifted the company's emphasis from public performance to participatory experiences, the Mountain Project resisted analysis, defied observation, privileged exploration and process, and produced no discrete artistic product. In 1978 Grotowski himself quashed all attempts to theorise about paratheatre, saying, ‘when there is no division between actor and spectator, when every participant of the process is a person who is doing, then a description ostensibly from the outside, […] one that tries to grasp what is happening and why, […] can only lead to misunderstandings […] Only a description “from within” is possible here’ (Kumiega 1985: 86). Consequently, all discussion about what the paratheatrical experiments were meant to achieve and whether or not the work was ‘successful’ became suspect. Yet to omit the paratheatrical projects of the Polish Theatre Lab from scrutiny and analysis is also to abandon what they can, through reflection, continue to teach us.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2005

More about this publication?
  • Performing Nature
    The essays in this volume explore the borderland between ecology and the arts. Informed by psychoanalysis and cultural materialism, contributors to the first part, 'Spectacle: Landscape and Subjectivity', look at ways in which particular social and scientific experiments, theatre and film productions and photography either reinforce or contest our ideas about nature and human-human or human-animal relations and identities. The second part, 'World: Hermeneutic Language and Social Ecology', investigates political protest, social practice art, acoustic ecology, dance theatre, family therapy and ritual in terms of social philosophy. Contributors to the third part, 'Environment: Immersiveness and Interactivity', explore architecture and sculpture, site-specific and mediatised dance and paratheatre through radical theories of urban and virtual space and time, or else phenomenological philosophy. The final part, 'Void: Death, Life and the Sublime', indicates the possibilities in dance, architecture and animal behaviour of a shift to an existential ontology in which nature has 'the capacity to perform itself'.
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