Yann Marrusich: Artistic blue blood

There are innumerable ways of understanding this deeply moving performance. (Marc Gremillion)

There are innumerable ways of understanding this deeply moving performance. (Marc Gremillion)

Yann Marrusich has been performing Bleu Remix all over the world for the past 12 years now. In each country he invites a local musician to provide a live soundscape for the show, which he will hear for the first time during the performance.

James Webb was the perfect choice to accompany Marrusich 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. 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 (speaking in tongues) which he introduced into the performance felt appropriate, since Marrusich 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. Consider the various sanctions against sweat, spit, snot. 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 certainly 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. After all, it’s only when one hasn’t seen someone for years that one suddenly notices the dramatic changes aging inflicts on flesh, and here we see a body radically transforming in the space of just an hour; turning blue, corpselike, ashen, a reminder of the fragility and impermanence of our beings. The performance also appears like a rite of purification, as the body is purged its inner excesses.

After the show, Marrusich is drained from having sat immobile in a constrained space heated up to 70 degrees centigrade. Similar to a Butoh performance, there is an emptying of the body and mind, rather than a fixation on a specific role to play. He takes a bit of time to recover, and then we meet for tea and cake.

Marrusich 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. Recently in Turkey, for example, 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. Marrusich also points out that immobility draws attention to micro-movements 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 amidst the coming and going of the crowd, a support for the awareness of a group of strangers. By not moving, he’s helped them to settle their restlessness. I ask him what’s going through his mind during the show, and he says – nothing. He tries to let go of whatever thoughts arise, describing a process similar to Vipassana meditation, (a meditation on emptiness).

The most common question people have asked Marrusich is 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, what is his show about? Presence? “Yes”, Marrusich replies, “Always.” 

Bleu Remix will be performed at Hiddingh Hall on July 9. For more details see the official website

This article first appeared on Cue Online

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