Ladies and gentlemen,
We address this statement to everyone who has voiced their objections to the staging of Rodrigo García's play "Golgóta Picnic” during the 2014 Malta Festival Poznań; both to those who felt offended a priori by the play itself (speaking out against a play that they have not, in fact, seen) and to those who have perhaps only heard about the protest.
We respect the the right of all audience members to reject imagery that may offend their sensbilities, while pointing out that this same imagery may be relevant to other viewers. We are aware that not everyone can identify with the form or message of ”Golgóta Picnic” but it is not the intention of the festival nor of the artist to hurt anyone's feelings nor to offend anyone's religious beliefs. The play is an offering, one that we feel is worthy of attention, reflection and cognitive confrontation. Every viewer has the right to decide whether they wish to watch it. The play is not taking place in a public space and we do not force anybody to be confronted with something that they reject; we do not use the mechanisms of oppression against our audience members.
The role of an arts festival is to deal with issues that are crucial to understanding the modern world in all its complexity. The Malta Festival Poznań program always seeks to expand the scope of discourse and to confront its audiences with relevant topics, even if we don't always agree with the artist's approach. All we can do is urge you to view „Golgóta Picnic” as a whole; objectively and on its own merits.
Rodrigo García is known to Polish audiences primarily through his 2009 appearance in Wrocław, where he received the Europe Theatre Prize for „New Theatrical Realities”* where he staged, amongst others, his play „Incident: Kill to Eat” in which an actor recreated an event that takes place in millions of restaurants all over the world – he killed a lobster on stage. This play also provoked extreme reactions – the artist was accused of crossing accepted moral and legal boundaries in the arts. According to a court ruling, however, the method in which the lobster was killed was significantly more humane than the method used in restaurants. There, the lobsters – a luxurious delicacy that only the well-off can afford – are killed en masse and prepared solely to satisfy the refined desires of affluent consumers. In his play, García repeas the procedure, giving it the weight of an indictment – he asks the question of whether we are not offended at the sight of something we allow to happen every day, perhaps even actively contribute to: violence, rape, the objectification of human beings.
In the case of "Golgóta Picnic” we are not dealing with such a radical crossing of the boundaries of fiction and violent incursion into social reality. In a completely artifical world, created by actors, music, video and sound, García presents the pessimistic vision of a Westerner – bored, focused on his own pleasure and comfort. Just as Golgotha is a metaphor for the passion of Christ, the title "Golgóta Picnic” is a metaphor for the passion and suffering of modernity, the exhaustion of the possibility of imparting meaning to the world. Thus, the main theme of the play is neither Christianity nor the death of Christ, but the state of European society, mired down in consumerism, hedonism and a spiritual void. This is a vision of a world in ruin, where people are unable to adopt an ethical stance against violence, exploitation and injustice, choosing instead an ignorance born of egotism, pretending that these things have nothing to do with them.
In this context, the words of the Argentine pope, Francis, are particularly fitting when he points out the Christian duty to reflect upon the reality in which we live. Speaking with Fr. Antoni Spadaro, the pope said: ”those who work in the world of culture to be inserted into the context in which they operate and on which they reflect. There is always the lurking danger of living in a laboratory. Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths. I am afraid of laboratories because in the laboratory you take the problems and then you bring them home to tame them, to paint them, out of their context.”
García makes references to the Church in his play – as an instution and a force that is partly responsible for forming our present world and one that in the past committed numerous mistakes. Rodrigo García's critical stance towards the institution of the Church is a result of his personal experiences. His childhood and adolescence happen to fall on the years of the bloody dictatorship in Argentina. In those days, the Church in Poland was a place of spiritual resistance, of struggle against the communist authorities; a symbol of support for freedom of thought. In Argentina, however, it was a part of the complex system of terror. To this day, many Argentines accuse the church authorities of the day of supporting the military regime responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.
The Church exerts an enormous influence on the daily lives of the faithful, deciding how they should live and what is good for them, yet, as Argentine history has shown, it can be wrong. Rodrigo García is not at odds with the transcendence and essence of faith, but opposes the subjugation of this transcendence by authority and politics, thereby putting it in a state of servitude. In this spirit, the bishop of Toulouse spoke out against the demonstrations that took place in France objecting to the play. In spite of his own critical stance towards the play, the cleric called for peace and an avoidance of aggression: „We wish to prevent the political manipulation and fundamentalism that lie at the root of these demonstrations. Prayer cannot be used by Christians as an instrument of coercion, otherwise it becomes contradictory to that which nourishes it: a loving bond with God and one's fellow man. (…) We understand and share the concern that the play raised amongst Christians. Like them, we're sensitive about anything that offends our faith. But groups that use violence in the name of Christianity also hurt us, as they distort the image of the Church. Jesus never asked for retribution for the harm that was done to him. He didn't answer violence with violence, but with forgiveness.”
"Golgóta Picnic” is being shown as part of a comprehensive program; an overarching idiom that brings contemporary Latin American culture to the Malta Festival Poznań. The program will comprise theatre plays, dance performances, concerts, art exhibits and film screenings that will show both the diversity and the complexity of this part of the world, and above all, the reality in which over 500 million people on this continent live. The difficult 20th century history of Latin American nations is one of the keys to understanding the present culture and socio-political situation of countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
The history of European culture shows that throughout the centuries many works of art have raised extreme emotions, met with resistance and was accused of attacks on morality and prevailing values – one can mention Michaelangelo's famous „David”, Édouard Manet's „Olympia” or Gustave Flaubert's „Madame Bovary”. Each of these works has become part of the canon of European culture. Cotemporary high and popular culture can also be controversial. Among less obvious works drawing upon the story of Jesus Christ we can cite Roland Joffé's „The Mission”, Martin Scorcese's „The Last Temptation of Christ”, Pier Paolo Pasolini's „The Gospel According to St. Matthew”, Mel Gibson's „The Passion of the Christ”, Klaus Kinski's „Jesus Christ Savior”, Terry Jones' and Monty Python's „The Life of Brian” or Marek Koterski's film „We're All Christs”. Contemporary culture continuously draws from its roots, ensuring that the theme of Christianity remains present and alive. It would be hard to imagine Christianity ceasing to be a source of inspiration and an important reference point for successive artists.
Every artist bears the responsibility for their work and has the right to present their own vision of the world, even if it is incomprehensible, critical and singular; even if, in communicating it, the artist resorts to methods that causes discomfort to their audience. Rodrigo García's artistic strategy is based on the confrontation of that which is serious and lofty with the superficial and trivial. In his work, García shifts conventions and boundaries in his plays, forcing active reflection on the part of the viewer, to undermine the safe limits of theatre, forcing the viewer to engage with what they are seeing, to take an active position. It is worth pointing out that irony and exaggeration play an enormous role in his art. García draws from pop culture and the mechanisms that rule it, simultaneously exposing their emptiness and triviality. In this context, the dramatic text of "Golgóta Picnic” is a precisely constructed collage of linguistic clichés, of provocations that seek to topple the politically correct order and of the artist's own particularly poetic and personal opnions.
The play "Golgóta Picnic” has been performed on the most important stages and at the most important festivals in the world – it provoked criticism and visceral reactions in audiences everywhere it played. René Solis of the La Libération daily cites a ”...parodic dimension to the piece, the willingness to laugh at that which infuriates and hurts us and at the age we live in. This, which has always been García's trademark, culminates in this play.” The French critic goes on to state that, ”'Golgóta Picnic' is one of the most beautiful of Rodrigo García's plays. It is a relentless, joyful meditation and it would be absurd to allow its poetry to be overshadowed by the controversy it provokes.”
While the images presented onstage by Rodrigo García can spark objections, first and foremost, they mirror the world we live in. The problematic and ambiguous relationship between the image and the world is described by W.J.T. Mitchell, a professor at the University of Chicago. He demonstrates that the strength of an image comes from the fact that it is more than simply an object. The image always works in a relationship with its viewer, drawing varied reactions from which it in turns draws its affective strength. He writes: „Images make us anxious. We fight over them, destroy them and blame them for our own bad behaviour, as when we blame 'the media' for encouraging moral decay and outbreaks of violence.” In his opinion, images that offend often hide a history of human debasement, explotation and dehumanization. As the audience, we thus become involved in a relationship with the image; it becomes a mirror in which we see ourselves.
Michał Merczyński and the Malta Festival Poznań 2014 team
* Since 1990, recipients of the Europe Theatre Prize other than Rodrigo García included: Anatoly Vasiliev, Eimuntas Nekrošius, Christoph Marthaler, Societas Raffaello Sanzio, Heiner Goebbels, Alain Platel, Rimini Protokoll, Krzysztof Warlikowski, Sasha Waltz, Pippo Delbono, Arpád Schilling, François Tanguy – Théâtre du Radeau, Katie Mitchell