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Competition for comedians and impressionists
Worstward Ho bears witness to Mauro Folci’s eclectic, multidisciplinary attitude towards his work. An open competition for comedians is planned as a performance encompassing all the elements pertaining to a competition: advertising, a deadline for the participants, a selection, a jury and so on. Participation in the competition Worstward Ho (2009) was open to comedians, impersonators, stand up comedians, actors and common people who were invited to recite a stanza of Beckett’s homonimous poem impersonating Pope Ratzinger. At the request of the artist the poem was to be recited in the Latin translation provided by Latinist Giuliano Ranucci. The competition followed only partially the ordinary phases of any competition open to comedians and impersonators. The rules and regulations governing it doubtlessly limited the comedians’ performance, as they were decisively more peculiar than what they were used to. Advertising was conducted on several trade Web sites to which Folci wrote explaining the purpose of his operation. Enthusiastic reception on the part of the Web sites and professional comedians helped the artist disseminate news of this project in the most appropriate channels. The competition was also advertised on the notice boards of schools for comedians, impersonators and actors, at the Sapienza University and on fliers that were distributed in several bars and clubs in Rome. As the controversial project elicited quite a narrow response, the jury decided to admit all of the nine contestants, comprising professional and amateur comedians, to the final show at the Sapienza University in Rome.
The project’s especially elaborate structure makes it difficult to define what in the whole process constitutes the work: the show at Sapienza University was only the final product of several phases and functional components such as the videos uploaded on the dedicated YouTube channel, the Web site, www.peggiotutta.it, created to give visibility to the project, the application pack and the fliers. The artist amalgamated the mechanisms of a proper competition with those of a conceptual, performative work in which the publication of the competition and the videos took on a different meaning by forming integral part of an artistic operation. The final performance at the Museum Laboratorio di Arte Contemporanea (Contemporary Art Workshop) at the University of La Sapienza in Rome consisted in a proper show admirably presented by a professional host who organized the sequence and the presentation of each act in a somewhat incongruous space, an art gallery usually reserved for exhibitions.
Far from casual, the choice of the University la Sapienza of Rome as the place where the final evening of the competition would take place stemmed from last year’s incident involving the Pope, who renounced his intention to hold a lecture at the University for the inauguration of the new academic year. This change of plans was due to protests on the part of a number of students and academics in a bid to defend the secular character of the higher education institution.
The Pope’s appearance and voice with which Beckett’s poems was to be read caused a short-circuit between the determinism of religion, with its provision of a shelter against man’s disorientation, and the indeterminacy of man, deprived of any remedy or justification beyond that of life as a gift and a creation. Beckett evokes the absurd and a particular form of nihilism, which is at the core of the connection that links and separates at the same time the Irish writer and the German Pope. The Pope has increasingly used this term with reference to modern society and our time. What drew Folci’s attention was particularly Pope Ratzinger’s accusations towards Nietzsche, whom he described as a philosopher of Evil and primary cause of nihilism. Only a superficial reading of Nietzsche’s work can give way to such conclusions. More than the cause of nihilism, Nietzsche was a careful analyst of its genealogy. He was a patient, a diagnostician and a therapist of the loss of values: through Zarathustra descent into nihilism he pointed out the origin of the transfiguration in the child, or in the super-man, which are one and the same thing in their assent to life. The first sign of that turning point in Greek philosophy sacrificing adherence to life in favour of its acceptance, Nietzsche retraced it in Socratic thought and its focus on the care of the individual soul to the detriment of other modes of existence concerned with the body. This disparaging of the body was firmly appropriated by the Christian tradition.
If Ratzinger believes that the firm values of faith and obedience can save us from the Nihilist disease, Nietzsche propounds the need to go beyond Christian values, servile and disparaging of life as in the character of the donkey. The metamorphosis of the spirit described by the philosopher in Thus Spoke Zarathustra is well known: the donkey (or the camel), the lion and the child. This triple metamorphosis condensates Nietzschean philosophy: it is only when the donkey, which bears the heavy load of Christian values, changes into the lion, a nihilist though active figure that criticises and tramples on the donkey’s passive values, that the metamorphosis that liberates us from the nihilist spiral can take place. The dancing child who loves life in all its manifestations so to wish the eternal return of each single moment is the last transformation. The child is emblematic of an existence that is freed of the protection afforded by the yoke of absolute truth, preferring instead the tight-rope walker dance on his wire suspended over the abyss. Nietzsche invites us to substitute the necessity of a foundation with playtime, gift and creativity, options authentically available to a life that acknowledges itself as a concealment of meaning.
In Worstward Ho, Beckett’s evokes the lack of foundations and the absurd resulting from the absence of meaning. Beckett translates Nihilism into a poetic form whereby the Pope perorates its containment also through the revival of Masses in Latin. Folci amalgamates the antipodal expressions of Nihilism, the lack of meaning that can also be viewed as a multiplicity of meanings, with the univocal meaning defended by the Pope.
Participation in the competition Worstward Ho (2009) was open to comedians, impersonators, stand up comedians, actors and common people who were invited to recite a stanza of Beckett’s homonimous poem impersonating Pope Ratzinger. At the request of the artist the poem was to be recited in the Latin translation provided by Latinist Giuliano Ranucci. The competition followed only partially the ordinary phases of any competition open to comedians and impersonators. The rules and regulations governing it doubtlessly limited the comedians’ performance, as they were decisively more peculiar than what they were used to.[…]