Features Performance Published 12 November 2015

Carrying Stones: Astrology, Body, Poetics

Artist Madeleine Botet De Lacaze talks about her performance Carrying Stones – an investigation into our body’s resilience and survival instinct, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s suicide, delving into the relationship between astrology, writing and performance.
Madeleine Botet De Lacaze
Carrying stones. Photo: Oliver Rudkin

Carrying stones. Photo: Oliver Rudkin

Carrying Stones is an investigation into our body’s resilience and survival instinct. I became fascinated after learning that Virginia Woolf put stones in her pockets as she made her way down to the river before drowning herself, as if she knew her body was going to resist her intent. It’s clear that our bodies will always fight death, even if we mentally take a decision – as Virginia Woolf strategically did – our bodies will resist, rebel and instinctively act to stay alive. “The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal on January 18, 1915, when she was almost thirty-three years old after her first suicide attempt. This phrase and the letter she left to her husband before dying have been analysed and explained in many ways, but I will tell you what they have triggered in me.

Where there is death, pain, unconsciousness (Scorpio), there is also life, joy and consciousness (Taurus). It is in the core of life where the power of death lies. The fusion of them both is an intense creative sense of vitality. The same energy that destroys can heal. Darkness is the unknown, what we can’t see or don’t want to see. Darkness is also Light. And my question here is, what are we doing? What are we choosing? What moves us forward? What are we searching for and connecting with? Are we happy?

Photo: Oliver Rudkin

Photo: Oliver Rudkin

When I was 18 years old I went to see an astrologer for the first time. I had met her by chance one day, and decided to do my astrological chart reading with her, because I wanted to know more about myself.. I sent her my birth details and we agreed to meet up the following week. This woman was able to put into words feelings I had that I wasn’t able to understand, things I was afraid of and didn’t know how to deal with, things I wanted for my life but didn’t know if I would be able to make them happen. It was a mind-blowing encounter, scary but truly fascinating at the same time. I remember leaving her house, I sat on the curb of the street and began crying. The whole experience was so overwhelming, revealing and inspiring. Two years later I began studying astrology.

When I was 28 years old I moved from Buenos Aires to London. I came to do a MA degree entitled Visual Language of Performance at Wimbledon College of Art. Until then, I had been working with film and photography; but I was looking to connect with my body, to make a change in my creative practice. However, the more I read about performance art and the more I learned about it, the less I understood what it was. I couldn’t grasp the meaning of it; why was it so powerful, why did it ignite such strong emotions for the audience?

This was until I performed for the first time. When I put my body out there in front of an audience, when I performed and communicated an honest and raw action, one intrinsically connected with how I felt, I began to understand. This first performance later became ‘Dwell In’, a one to one piece where I worked with real meat and the image of meat; where I let go my fears by embracing my strength. I had this incredible feeling of being totally transformed by the experience. Suddenly, I was able to think, as if through the body I was able to reach and expand my mind. I remember it was winter; I left the college and walked home alone through Dundonald Park feeling like the happiest girl on earth. I knew I had connected with a strength that would no longer leave me, with a language I was long searching for and a new challenging life journey ahead.

Astrology is for me a source of inspiration, a way of understanding who I am. Astrology doesn’t fix anything or anyone – it’s an open system in constant movement. Astrology gives us a sense of perspective and a means of gaining awareness on our lives. It can provide us with faith in something greater than mere ego consciousness and therefore faith in one’s deeper self. It provides growth and development by indicating what one should be working on, the essential meaning of a particular experience or phase in life, what inner patterns one is coming to terms with, and an approximate duration of any particular phase of experience. It can help us gain a greater confidence in ourselves by confirming the intimations, feelings, and inner knowledge that we may have been afraid to express or to trust. It provides a means where our deepest feelings and unconscious yearnings may be brought to awareness and given form. It enables us to connect with our inner powers and to use the power of thought, will and creative vitality to mold a better way of being. Astrology searches for meaning in the sky, as it explores the meaningful connection between the movements of the planets and the inner world of human consciousness and motivation.

Photo: Oliver Rudkin

Photo: Oliver Rudkin

Astrology for Artists happened thanks to the Live Art Development Agency, who selected this idea as part of their DIY series of workshops run by artists for artists. I had been thinking a lot in how I could integrate these two disciplines, how I could communicate to artists the experience that astrology brings to me and its relevance to being an artist. I had the possibility to facilitate for the first time a two day workshop at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last year and it was a very positive learning experience for me. In this workshop I invite artists to explore – through discussions, reflections, physical exercises and visualisations – the links between astrology and the ways in which we express, act, think, feel but, most importantly, the ways we search, get inspired and create work.

When I read someone’s astrological chart it is like seeing the potential of who that person can become and, when we meet, it’s very important for me to perceive in our conversation where their consciousness is within the chart. Meaning how aware this person is of their own core energies – essentially what is it that they love, dislike, are fascinated with, reject, project to others and how they deal with their different sub-personalities. What are the tensions, the emotional mechanisms and the patterns that got established; what are the fears, the inner struggles, what are we resisting and fighting for. But at the heart of it all, for me, the main question when I look at someone’s chart is: what makes this person feel alive?

And this is the same question I ask the audiences who experience my performances.

Three years ago I read that artist Ron Athey was searching for performers for his work ‘Gift of the Spirits: Automatic writing’. We were 16 automatic writers, 6 typists, 4 editors, 1 reader, a piano and a chorus. Ron called it ‘the machine’. Each one of us was essential for this human machine to work. Automatic writing is a way of writing that does not come from the writer’s conscious thoughts. First it is important to get into a state of calmness by induced hypnotic exercises; these allow you to channel and write without thinking, without knowing what you are writing. Once you are in this trance-induced writing, you can’t stop and everything sprouts out from your subconscious. We were induced with visualisations; we had to imagine we were going down the stairs, getting to a basement with three doors. We had to open one of the doors and continue going down to another basement, then opening another door and continue going down… This was the beginning of the atmosphere created, a rhythmic chant of words and numbers that allowed us to open new channels of perception within ourselves. From the beginning I encountered what I was afraid would happen; I went down the stairs and when I got to the basement I had water up to the level of my ankles. I remember feeling afraid because of this image. I continued going down the stairs and on the second basement I had water up to my knees. The deeper I went the more water there was until I had to stop, I couldn’t go down anymore because if I continued I was going to drown. I remember I got totally paralysed by this experience and couldn’t continue with the exercise. Then I realised that that water was myself, my unconscious, my sensitiveness, my fears, my resistance.

The following day we did this same visualisation. I was afraid it would happen again and I would not be able to perform. I tried to relax and said to myself that I shouldn’t feed that image. What happened was very revealing to me: the water of course appeared but, while I was going down the stairs, the water was going down too and, when I got to the basement the edge of the water stayed with me so I could open a door and continue going down. Even though the water (or let’s say my emotions) were still there, I was able to continue to perform.

Photo: Oliver Rudkin

Photo: Oliver Rudkin

This experience was the starting point for Carrying Stones. But it was when I knew about Virginia Woolf’s tragedy that I was able to understand, to bring these feelings out of myself and my own experience and channel them in a piece of work. In Carrying Stones I use my body to create intense physical actions, I use water and stones as a bridge to reach my audience, I use moving images and sound as I’m interested in how the real (as materiality, as body, as presence) by meeting the virtual (as image, as artificial reproduction, as non-presence and ephemeral) can awaken unconscious feelings to the audience. I hope to open up a space for the the audience to connect with what makes them feel alive; to evoke, in a vulnerable and honest way, the light that dwells in darkness.

To conclude and as a synthesis I want to share one last thing. Three years ago I decided to go to therapy and since then I’ve been going every week. I come from a country where nearly everyone goes to therapy and where people talk a lot about their emotions and feelings. So when I began mentioning here in London that I was going to therapy, I noticed that people looked at me as if there was something wrong with me, as if there was some resistance against discussing their emotions. I didn’t know what to do so I just stopped sharing this. Then I realised that I was encountering – in this resistance against emotions – a cultural difference but also a space for change. A space for transformation to occur in this culture which was otherwise so inspiring and progressive. Some days ago someone said to me that ‘community’ means ‘support from the source’. And I totally believe that we are the source of our creative life and as a consequence the source of our society. It’s just a matter of reaching out, of expressing ourselves and facing who we are deep within.

Madeleine will be performing Carrying Stones as part of SACRED at Chelsea Theatre on the 15th of November. Her next workshop Astrology for Artists at Toynbee Studios will be held at Artsadmin on the 27th of November. For more information about Madeleine’s practice please visit her Website.