On the occasion of the 30th year since the Mafia massacre in Via Palestro, the edition of PERFORMING PAC Summer 2023 is dedicated to the relationship between contemporary art and historical memory: the idea is to tell - through videos, photographs, installations, performances and a small "flashback" exhibition with material from the PAC Archive - how contemporary artistic practice and research has treated memory not as knowledge of history as an end in itself, but as a significantly and emotionally charged connection experienced between subjects and events that transcend their singularity.
For this new edition, we start with a rereading of Christian Boltanski's exhibition, ULTIME NOTIZIE. Christian Boltansky, curated by Jean-Hubert Martin at the PAC in 2005. One of the main keys to interpreting Boltanski's work is precisely the analysis of the concept of "time", which inexorably flows and in which memory and remembrance become the signs, the traces, of man's fragile and unstable passage.
This year's title, Dance Me To The End Of Love, is a quotation from a song by Leonard Cohen from 1984, a song inspired by the drama of the Shoah. In an interview Cohen explained: 'The song came about by hearing the stories of survivors from the death camps. Next to the crematoria, in some concentration camps, a string quartet was forced to play while this horror unfolded. A horror that would also become the fate of the musicians themselves. They played when their comrades died'. But in the verses of the song, the drama seems to disappear in the salvific and peaceful mission of art as a vehicle of memory, capable of being stronger than any cruelty.
Dear Mama, dear Papa, the fevers have returned.
Uncle sent for the doctor from Vila Real who brought the medicine.
I disliked him, he was not sociable and didn’t offer me sweets like dad sometimes did for the children sick with malaria.
The good thing was not having to go to school for the last few days (but don’t you worry because I have arranged for a colleague to pass me the notes of the missed lessons).
I have a new teacher who came from Lisbon.
She is a hippie, she’s called Ms. Minda.
She smokes many cigarettes and my eyes sting if I look at the board for too long.
Therefore I rather look out of the window and watch the sawmill in the distance with its roofs white with snow.
But snow is after all not as great as I told you in the last letter.
It never snows quite enough to cover the mud of the tracks.
The cold is so harsh that it freezes the slope outside the school and I have to tread really carefully in order not to slip.
There are kids who laugh at me, the same kids that called me those ugly names that Uncle forbade me to repeat.
I know that they are dumb and poor, that it’s not their fault, because their parents are even worse than them, they drink and hit them.
But I feel no sorrow for them, I think they deserve each other. I miss you both very much.
I know that it won’t be long before mamma comes over and that will be good but I miss being there very much,
I miss our home very much.
I also miss Bolinhas, Ms. Judite and the twins,
and I even miss Cuca…
I think that if he saw me now he would be reminded of how good he had it with us, and would stop hanging around with those evil people who want to kick us out of there, maybe he would even cry and call me ‘sweet little boy’ again.
I am sure there are still plenty of people there who are friends of ours and don’t care for revolutions, people who one can climb trees and have picnics with.
Papa and Mama, I know we must leave that place solely because we are Portuguese and that it is no longer Portugal.
But what does Portugal matter if Portugal is just an ugly bunch of people taking scrawny oxen for a walk, without being able to feed themselves?
Maybe papa and mama have forgotten what Portugal is really like, just like the primary school teacher over there had also forgotten and would name the train stations, the rivers, the provinces and its customs without mentioning the cold, the poverty and the sadness.
Portugal is very sad and it will always be so.
You may all rummage through my biography – journalists, inspectors, policemen and <i>altri buffoni!</i>
But you are destined to fail, you foolish and presumptuous men, because the deep truth of matters is not found in journalistic research or judicial processes supported by false and biased testimonies of those who know nothing.
How could they know if there was no one else there that day, except for three or four other classmates? It was eleven o’clock in the evening, at a barren plot of land in the outskirts of Milan.
I was opposite the factory and my legs were trembling. I was ten years-old and had three stones in my hand.
My idiot friends inveighing against me as they thought my legs trembled because I didn’t have the balls to do it.
But I believe nowadays that, none would doubt that few Italians have them in their place as much I do.
I was not afraid of the police or of the fat drunken watchman who snoozed off on duty.
I threw the stones and shouted: <i>Fuori fascisti!</i>
A week later, the owner put the factor up for sale for next-to-nothing and left Milan for an undisclosed destination, taking with him his wife and daughter – Alessandra, my love. I am an old man. I had a full life and was therefore subject to infamous lies and the envy of others.
I made many friends and just as many enemies.
I loved more than one thousand women and I assume some of them have also loved me back.
Those are public facts.
But those who think they know my story ignore – and always will – the countless nights I woke up in tears calling out her name.
Alessandra, where are you?
Have you ever imagined how much I loved you?
Would I ever have had the courage to tell you if I had not thrown those stones that drove you and your fascist parents out of the city?
The only thing I feared in life was your silence, grave and mysterious, even when you did less noble things such as picking your nose when queuing next to me in the rations line.
I whistled the latest hits of the Italian song to you, while my hands in my pockets tried to push down my petite shorts that made me look slightly ridiculous.
Did you get married, Alessandra? Did you have children?
Did you vote for me, Alessandra?
Or, as in my dreams, did you continue to levitate two feet above the ground with the theatrical arrogance of a trapeze artist?
Do you remember the circus, Alessandra?
You, a blonde silent angel, much higher than two feet above the rest of us, walking in slow motion up the street, down the street, indifferent to the crumbled facades of the buildings and the agitation of the <i>carabinieri’s</i> dogs.
Did you descend to earth, I wonder, Alessandra?
Did you look down, in shame and resentment of your father before you left, I wonder?
Did you become bitter and now fall asleep alone in front of the television?
Have you been happy? Has someone else whistled to you again, Alessandra?
My dear baby girl, whatever you become in the future, a ballet dancer, general attorney of the republic, equestrian Olympic champion, astronaut or detective – how would I know – I fear that you are most likely not to have a real dad.
And if one day you confront me with these words I will surely deny it.
Even if then, as today, you may very well notice how absolutely visible my lack of skills are.
Like today, on that day I will postpone changing that bulb in the larder that I promised to do, how many years has that bulb been gone now?
On that day, I will allow the servants to decide what I will have for dinner and I will brush my teeth with one of dozens of brushes that I never bothered to throw away.
My daughter, France decides its future today.
Tomorrow I will abandon my post, the polls are relatively reliable.
But tomorrow, like today, I will continue to be your father.
I will pay for your ballet lessons and law degree fees, I will order the most docile of horses at your request and the wisest instructors.
In due course will introduce you to that helpful director of the European space program.
I will guide you through the door of the library that leads to the classics of crime novels.
You will miss nothing. These will be future proofs of my love. But when you search in vain for photos of me in your past birthday parties, when you are unable to remember me at your side one earlier day in the park, when you realise I have been a stranger because you never knew my favourite colour and my favourite animal, please don’t get angry.
Remember that you never lacked anything, that one suffers less when realising that they lost what they never had.
That for you the end began before you were even aware of it.
That it was for your own good, my daughter, because it is much sadder to lose what one once had, it makes us live in an eternal present in which it matters not whether there is a new bulb in the larder, and it matters not if you throw away useless objects and it matters little what is served for dinner as long as one doesn’t go hungry.
In honest truth, I don’t have a favourite colour or animal, neither do I remember the times when I did and then stopped having them.
I also don’t remember when I stopped wishing upon a star as my dad taught me.
For me, the end started so long ago that I no longer remember such specific details.
Today is the happiest day of my life.
I love my husband.
All the VIP’s from Leipzig’s University came to the wedding.
The party made its presence felt through members of its highest ranks.
The Regional Secretary confided in us his high hopes in the union of such prominent scientists.
Mother seems touched and apparently so does father, as he conducts the ceremony with extreme rigour.
However, in whom can I confide about this discomfort I struggle against,this damned opera that of its own accord imposes itself over waltzes and polkas…?
Stemming from the memory of other surely less happy days…!
For example, when I watched Parsifal with my auntie and cousins ten years ago.
A good day, indeed very good.
The lights of the opera in West Berlin, the red curtain, very imperialistic yet so splendid.
A night that gave me goose pimples!
The lights and the curtain…
The singers were astonishing!
Yet in the end, it was an anonymous day if compared to the importance of a day such as today, so important to me, to my parents, to the Lutheran Church, to the University, to the German Democratic Republic…
Unless Wagner stops playing loudly in my head he will end up making my dear husband ask me for a divorce.
If this fascist Wagner doesn’t shut up I’ll end up being accused of betraying the socialist revolution.
If today is not the happiest day of my life – how disgraceful – then what constitutes a day of happiness?
Why do I remember today – from all days – the futile joy of taking advantage of my father’s special visa on my return to the homeland from the other Germany carrying my recently bought jeans?
It’s not the revolution I betray with these stupid memories, with these small vanities.
The revolution is betrayed daily by the weaknesses and prepotency of the leaders of this sad country.
I don’t even betray the husband I love and always will.
But I know I offend God with these forced grins, with these inglorious efforts to seem so happy when, in truth, I’m drifting off.
I am on the other side of the wall, happy, free, amazed, with no one to be accountable to, with no parents, country nor God.
If I shut my eyes firmly (quickly, so nobody notices, but hard) I wonder if this music will go away and all will go back to normal?