La Ribot Looks Back

by Lily Kelting, 11 Aug 2017

La Ribot: Panoramix (2006), Credit: Manuel Vason
Swiss-Spanish performance artist La Ribot has been working on a series called "Distinguished Pieces" for 25 years. In one piece, she removes something like forty articles of clothing in a distinctly unsexy strip-tease. In another, she binds herself with a ball of twine and then dons a sash, like a beauty pageant winner. In another, she wears nothing but a cardboard sign that reads “for sale” and stands against a gallery wall inside the hinge of a folding wooden chair. She begins to pump the chair away from her body: it creaks as she presses on it. Slowly, pumping the chair harder and faster, squeezing her body tighter within the frame and squeaking more and more furiously, she slides to the floor, finishing in a heap.

Suffice it to say that La Ribot is a pioneer of live art and a feminist performance art icon. In 2003, she was commissioned by the Tate in London to put all her existing distinguished pieces together into one event—they called it Panoramix”—her first retrospective. This year, Tanz im August’s retrospective of La Ribot’s work—“Occuuppatiooon!”—is a key part of the program. She’ll reprise her six-hour work, Laughing Hole, in which three performers laugh continuously as they work through a pile of political slogans written on cardboard. In a more recent work, Gustavia, La Ribot and Mathilde Monnier use slapstick and burlesque to animate and investigate femininity in motion. Her work has always blurred the boundaries between performance and installation, between the neatness of the white cube and the messiness of performance’s traces and leftovers. So it’s fitting that an exhibition of La Ribot’s films and works runs parallel at Galerie Barbara Weiss.

But, maybe most interestly, La Ribot will re-stage the Panoramix retrospective, a retrospective of a retrospective, after fourteen years. In 2003, it was only performed five times. It’s intense: returning to such visceral, body-based work twenty-five years older. “Of the pieces this summer, Panoramix is the only one I haven’t returned to for fifteen years. To go back to emotions, ideas, ways of working. Now I see things differently. But deeply in me, I think it’s the same. I haven’t changed that much.” La Ribot goes back and forth about how to describe it: “I wouldn’t say excited is the right word. I’m much more stressed. No, I think excited is good.” She points to her goosebumps. There are some obvious physical challenges—the rough-and-ready movements which characterize the explicit body in performance often belong to the young and angry. So some movements will have to be adapted for middle age’s creaky joints and back pain. But emotionally, La Ribot is excited to re-enter this world. “It’s like going back to a holiday apartment where you used to go. You recognize things. You know—like, I remember the smells, you recognize the dresses in the closet. It’s nice to go back. Like when you open an old suitcase.”

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The Bloggers

Lily Kelting Born 1986, Stage editor, Exberliner magazine. Works internationally as a freelance dramaturg, writer, and editor. She holds a Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of California, San Diego. Postdoc at the Freie Universität, Berlin. Originally from New York City, she lives in Berlin.

Nina Branner is a freelance cultural journalist from Denmark, based in Berlin. She has studied at the University of Copenhagen, Berlin University of the Arts and at Copenhagens Academy for Music, Dance and Performance with awarded choreographer Kasper Ravnhøj. She writes about theater, performance and music for publications like Weekendavisen and Gaffa. Writing for Exberliner since March 2016.