rob list

In my work a person moves in stillness with their back turned away from the viewer. Though the movements are deliberate, the gestures are ambiguous and unrecognizable; they do not refer to another reality. Instead the movement pieces I create highlight the condition of temporality. On the one hand the realization that the present moment is continually receding into the past; and on the other the continual state of suspense created by expectation - the moment where the present meets the future. The sculptor Richard Serra once remarked that memory and anticipation are the ‘motors’ of perception. The tension between them is also the driving force behind my performances.

I see my work as a critique of the language and ideology of representation, in which the audience must constantly analyze, interpret and make judgments. In the theater every gesture and action onstage seems to provoke the question “What does this mean?” I wish instead to return to a more elementary starting point in the theater: the body alone in space, which through sheer presence continuously actualizes the here and now, activating the space and making it concrete and palpable. My work is a form of research into this ‘quality of the living present’ and how it can develop into a choreography.

This work is also an implicit critique of the mediated eye, which edits and rejects that which is not ‘important’ - reducing the world to a two-dimensional frame and restricting perception of the world around. In the 21st century the virtual has become a challenge to the actual, in which the nature of the ‘real’ is increasingly called into question. In my work instead I wish only to appeal to the direct senses and perceptions of the viewer of the world around them as they watch and listen.

In general I tend to seek inspiration for my work in the visual arts, especially its various discourses and techniques. In a number of my performances I draw or paint as an action. I perform in galleries and museums as well as theaters. My work is often described as ‘minimal’ since I use so few elements – no text, coded gestures or facial expressions; no costume, makeup, narrative or storyline. Often the work is presented in daylight or without theatrical lighting. Although I do not consider myself to be a minimalist, I do see my work as a redevelopment of minimalist sculpture, whose major achievement since the 60s has not been its ‘economy’ so much as its creation of an ‘active space.’ The fundamental perception of this kind of work has shifted from the art object itself to a heightened awareness of the space in which the object is exhibited. The space which includes the form - instead of only the form itself - has become a major source of minimal art’s power and beauty. In my own performance work, where the human body itself is the form, I wish to use the body’s unique status as both a figure and a signifier to evoke this active space in my performance.

Interview Prague: Elena Panayotova and Rob List
EP How would you describe the theatre that you make?
RL I work in silence with minimal movements of the human body. My performances are primarily inspired by topics and ideas derived from art, science and music. In most cases I present my work in galleries or other non-typical theater spaces. Through the help of neutral clothing, silence and natural lighting I create an anonymous figure in space. I tend to perform with my back towards the audience since the face with its expressive character will often dominate the audience's attention. It is also a desire to share the space with the spectator. For example if I am facing you that is generally an assumption of communication between us. But if we both are oriented in the same direction then we both can experience the space instead of my story. We share something together here and now. In that sense I am like a phenomenologist who is interested in things as they are. The world exists because of our perception. I would like the audience to recall the authenticity and the primacy of this perception.
EP How do you situate yourself in the contemporary theater context?
RL My work is a commentary on the theater but my situation and my solutions are unique because what I am dealing with is my own personality and skill. I am interested in the general cultural context we live in now, in films, architecture, music, the internet as social phenomenon as well as resource. Of course with instantaneous global communication we have access to everyone and everything at the same time. But this is a virtual "real time" in which everyone still remains isolated in their own spaces. In this mediated world we live now we ought to protect our sense of primary perceptual experience, our sense of the spaces we do share. My performances emphasize a living quality, a living presence, and real time and space.
EP Are you trying to evoke a source of shared meditation?
RL Perhaps what I am doing instead is to produce a sort of concentration, a pleasant moment of concentration. That doesn't seem like much, I know. Earlier in my career I realized that the better I was becoming in my craft, the less I had something to "say". I believe art does not evoke beauty through a theme as such, but rather through our mutual perception of the moment of the performance - this sensing itself - which can create beauty. Like, for example, an abstract painting, which also has the power to include everything we invest in it, to stimulate our active participation, without having a specific subject. This is why the great abstract painters like Mondrian, de Kooning, Newman or Rothko continue to excite me.
EP The titles to a number of your pieces refer to a more mundane genre in painting - "the still life".
RL I tend to work in series based on certain topics - the figure, the still life, the double and so on. Three of the solos I have made concern aspects of the still life. I'm interested here in the simplicity of the form, the use of framing devices like the table and the close background, the restriction in subjects, and the general appeal to introspection. Of course this introspection is readily available to the viewer of a painting. Often the viewer of a theater piece is to busy trying to follow a narrative.
EP Considering the tempo and the inner qualities of your movement, are you personally influenced by Eastern philosophies of moving, like Japanese Butoh, for example?
RL Butoh was a certain trend in modern Japanese dance created in the 60s, by choreographers and dancers also interested in western theater, especially the work of Artaud. I am acquainted with a number of dancers working in the post-Butoh scene. They seem to work a lot with inner images and the audience sees the result of this in their behavior. There is a quality of someone who is being "possessed" which I sometimes find distracting. I personally don't work with inner images to stimulate my movements. Instead I am interested in being alive in the situation of the performance, concentrated in each movement. My basic acting qualities are those shared with the audience: watching and listening. This purity of concentration in the moment is something the audience imitates in its observance. I believe the audience has a hunger for clarity. They want to be in a situation of seeing and hearing without distraction. It's a desire to return to the simplicity and authenticity of the perceptual animal and the perceptual consciousness. In each performance I wish to embody this literally, in a corporal way.