Performance by Elcio Lima
Text by Elcio Lima and Raphael Andrade
Translation by Danielle Cascaes
Metaphors are often used in an attempt to explain life, even though the use of this tool makes the art of living more understandable. But after all, who can understand everything about life? Would a performance have that power? Perhaps yes, depending on the subject’s theoretical-cultural framework. Regardless of a person’s knowledge base, a performance will always cause some kind of questioning, impact, discomfort, reflection, or any other synonym that best applies to the results obtained behind the eyes of the viewer, even if the result is pure indifference (yes, it’s possible). The fact that art has many facets allows performance to assume an extremely subjective, abstract position, almost like a Salvador Dali leaping from the canvases, generating numerous interpretations or doubts in someone’s subjectivity.
If life is a metaphor or daydream, it doesn’t sound so good anymore, ever since humans started to overthink in rational terms and left fantasy behind. We can pretend that life is as colorful and joyful as a Disney movie and all of its dangerous subtextual representation when, in reality, its vibrant (or you might prefer, glaring) colors are more akin to Almodóvar, with the same gray blur on the alabaster wall, a small red drop of blood on the cold surface of some generic construction.
If it is possible to fantasize existence, we create the “blur” – sometimes red, sometimes gray, or occasionally even transparent – and we give it the name “depression.” This monster clings to (and always lurks) in the heels of the four hands writing these lines when they were still children. By haunting these bodies distressingly, the blur with multiple (and inconsistent) aspects whispers and echoes the pressure of “having” to be the best at everything, the example, the first, the perfect and almost genius person. All of this seemed more important than paying attention to the fear and the fatigue resulting from maintaining this position. The smile on the somber face had to be constant but restrained. Football had to be a priority, but it was an unattainable goal (despite attempts to like it). And speaking of liking, there was no need to know the result of the Bhaskara formula or the Brazilian capitals (not as priorities), but rather the colors and their mixtures, rhymes, dewdrops, the contrast in the twilight, dark clouds and their strange shapes. There was a need to be much more than the formulas and paths they tried to indicate, push, and force to follow.
It is these monsters/blurs that the performer Elcio Lima anchors his performance called “Submerged.” For the artist, the literality of the actions of the metaphorical signs that constitute the mentioned performance is based on the concept of autofiction, a term coined by Serge Doubrovsky, which originated in literature but also finds a place for reflection in theater and performance. However, the idea of autofiction should not be understood as a kind of autobiographical scene, as Martins (2014) states, “in autofiction, the author does not necessarily write about their life following a chronological line” (2014, p. 24). It is also relevant to consider the performer’s action in bringing their experience, unveiling their becoming, their pain to the surface, and performing a painful segment of their autoethnography, capable of “guiding a reflective path about and from corporealities, to understand the body and its (re)performances as a powerful territory for the production of epistemology,” as advocated by Andrade (2023, p. 34).
On December 16, 2022, the audience was able to immerse themselves in the psychological universe activated by the performance art “Submerged.” The Room n03, at Escola de Teatro e Dança da UFPA (School of Theatre and Dance of UFPA)/ ETDUFPA was chosen to evoke the signs present in the performative act. At the beginning of the performance, the audience is intrigued by the underwater sound sensation, and they see the poignant figure of the performer sitting on a black chair (the so-called “comfortable place” mentioned by many). The artist’s face was covered with a transparent bag (indicating a lack of air and desperation), a thick red satin ribbon (symbolizing a noose and suicidal thoughts) tied around the neck, disappearing from view under the spotlight on their back. This was meant to project the shadow of their body and the objects in the image, challenging the idea that people with depression are negative, pessimistic, and without light.
The body movement reveals an attempt to escape, after a brief moment of paralysis and real suffocation caused by the plastic bag. The silhouette of the vulnerable, partially naked body (fragility and vulnerability) was surrounded by a tangle of red-colored ropes (a sense of helplessness, paralysis in the face of fear, and panic about facing life) binding hands, arms, and legs to the chair. In front of the performer, there was a table with a cloth and, on top of it, several containers of psychotropic medications, a glass chalice with water (quenching thirst or “swallowing” the situation?), a small yellow glass vase with a decaying rose (the sensation of the perishability of beauty), a fallen blue plastic butterfly (a metamorphosis never truly fulfilled, artificial, never taking flight), an empty needleless syringe, a personal notebook (repeated echoes of an anxious mind in an endless cycle), and under a bench next to the table, a wooden box containing a mirror, white masks, and a black and white checkered beret. Around the action, there were sheets from this notebook with the following phrases: “This is nonsense!”, “Pray and it will pass!”, “You are beautiful, there’s no reason to feel this way!”, “Is it true?”, “He’s strange!”
After minutes of struggling to break free from the restraints and the plastic bag (crisis), the natural search for breath was followed by searching for medication in the numerous containers on the table, eventually finding one and swallowing it with the help of the water from the chalice. After this relentless movement, the next action was getting dressed. In tears, the artist buttoned up the black shirt, put on the gray pants found on a second chair to his right, along with the boots. Once that was done, he proceeded to choose a mask from the many with identical smiles and placed the beret on his forehead. The next action was to look in the mirror (is this how they want to see him?), straighten everything on the table (a reference to OCD), and before leaving, after one last gaze at the red ribbon above, he turned off the light.
Was it the end? Yes, but only of that daily cycle, as a momentary purge (much like the ephemerality of the performance), from the tedious, necessary, and exhausting routine. After all, the sound of the bottom of the sea continued in the darkness. However, at that moment, the same intimately tormenting sound turned poetic! And the mesmerized eyes of those who witnessed the action would keep in their memory the noise of the ever-lurking monster!
 According to Denzin (2005), performative autoethnography enables a critical examination at the most fundamental level of relationships, challenging oppressive structures in our daily lives. It is connected to our biographical, cultural, and historical experiences, and it serves as a form of critique of social structures as well.
ANDRADE, R. DINAMITES DISSIDENTES: CONSTRUÇÃO (RE)PERFORMÁTICA DE UMA AUTOETNOGRAFIA.2023. xf. 205. Dissertação (Mestrado em Artes) – Programa de Pós-Graduação em Artes, UFPA, Belém, 2023.
Denzin NK, Lincoln YS. Introduction: the discipline and practice of qualitative research. In: Denzin NK, Lincoln Y, editors. The SAGE handbook of qualitative research. 3rd Ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE; 2005. p. 1-32.
FAEDRICH, Anna Martins. Autoficções: do conceito teórico à prática na literatura brasileira contemporânea. PUCRS: Porto Alegre, 2014.