Rui Paixão created “Kinski”, performed in Lyon as part of the France-Portugal Season 2022
Rui Paixão is a highly innovative Portuguese street performer whose work frequently involves collaboration with the public. The ‘Walking Art Performance’ Kinski, created in collaboration with Cristóvão Neto, is being performed at Subs in Lyon as part of the France-Portugal Season 2022, implemented by the Institut Français for the French part.
Updated on 23/06/2022
Revitalizing the figure of the clown has been a key element to your career. In what ways have you tried to do this?
I should say I don’t really like to consider myself a clown. I’m not really interested in the technique of the clown, I am interested in the universe of the clown and the image of the clown, the philosophical point of view of the clown as a representation of what we have lost as a society. I don’t think audiences have the ability to understand a clown anymore. In the last few years I’ve seen clown faces being associated with Trump or Bolsonaro, then there are the Joker movies and the new comic strips. It’s as if we’re being overloaded with images of the clown and I started to think, why are we so obsessed with them? And for me the explanation is simple – they represent something innocent that we have lost as a community. We don’t know how to distinguish between good and evil anymore. We don’t have funny clowns in society anymore.
What I’m trying to do is analyse the key elements of clown language, for example the transfiguration and the laugh, and then place them in contemporary society. I’m trying to figure out why the clown uses transfiguration. Does it give him a green light to do whatever he wants? If it’s a protest can I do it in a different way and keep the innocence? The clown doesn’t have a character. It’s mostly about yourself and your perspective. It gives you a new energy to project from yourself.
How did you join the programme of the France-Portugal Season 2022? And how did you come to collaborate with Cristóvão Neto for the Kinski project?
Stéphane (Malfettes, the director of Subs) is very connected with the contemporary circus world and found it interesting that he had never programmed a clown. He saw something different to other clowns in my work, so he decided to come out to Lisbon to see me. It was the first time someone had done that and then offered me a job. We shared very similar ideas so for me it was the first time I thought I would really be able to do exactly what I wanted to. That was the first step for this project. Cristóvão was a teacher when I was studying theatre, although we never met. When I started to imagine the characters I wanted to create they involved the use of prosthetics and wigs. Cristóvão was the first person I contacted to help me create them and then he became a kind of mentor. He comes from a visual arts background which contrasts with my performing arts background. The two worlds are completely disconnected but I become very enthusiastic about finding a way to connect them. Although I have been creating characters since 2015, I’ve never been able to properly collaborate with other people. The finance for this project has made it possible for the first time.
Roi de Rats has a very unusual story involving an unemployed actor who has to sell vampire teeth to survive and ends up transforming into a rat. Can you explain the inspiration behind the project?
The first step was to come to Lyon and be at Subs for a week and become inspired by the place. The name Klaus Kinski appeared in my mind and I started to think about this idea of an actor who is available to do anything but is also a very complex person and has all these controversial stories surrounding him. While studying him I discovered something very interesting about the film Nosferatu that he was in. The director Werner Herzog says that for him the film is a metaphor for the Second World War and the Nazi invasion, with vampires and rats as the symbols. The second thing that appeared in my mind was Roger Ballen. Cristóvão and I were already studying his photography and then we met him at an exhibition and fell in love with the work. The rat is also an important symbol for him. In his world they are outsiders but also creators - he makes the rats artists. I started to create a narrative around these three elements – artists, rats and vampires with Klaus Kinski and Roger Ballen as reference points. The film “A Pigeon Sat on a Bench Reflecting on Existence” by the Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson, was also a reference. In the film he has these two guys say funny things, but they are actually really depressed. Creating the script made me realise that what I was really focussing on was the precarity of the artist, a subject which is very relevant in Portugal right now. Herzog wanted to make a political statement with his Nosferatu, and I am trying to make a political statement with my version.
Roger Ballen, whose works have partly inspired the project, appears to have quite a negative view of humanity. Do you share his pessimism?
Yes! For that reason, I am an artist. I think the artistic community tries to create these utopic visions for the world, even if we know they will never be achieved. But to believe in dreams, even for a moment, can be a form of relief. And comic relief when it is in the form of a clown.
You describe your genre as ‘Walking Art Performance.’ It involves interaction and improvisation with the public. How do you find they respond to becoming a part of the performance?
People don’t react in the same way all the time. I find it very interesting to see how people act and react to me imposing a change of reality on them. In the end people have the opportunity to disrupt their daily routine with something completely nonsensical and within this they can have a moment of release.
Is the unpredictability of such a way of working part of its appeal for you?
Yes, it’s creation in real time. I allow people to share with me their thoughts about the creation. I give them the first line and then we build everything else together in a collaborative way. I want to make sure people are actively involved with me in the process of creation, this process of walking and building what we are watching. I come from a theatre background but I’m currently involved in in the circus world and their performances have a very interesting way of being viewed – which is in the round. You have different viewpoints of the same performer and I’m trying to achieve this in theatre. If characters can be seen from multiple viewpoints there are lots of possible things that can happen. And it’s more fun!
This project will involve various groups on the Lyon art scene – students from the School of Fine Arts, musicians, street artists and student dancers. Do you often work in such a collaborative way?
Yes, but not as much as with this project. What is interesting for me is to create something that will allow different artists to add extensions to it. So, for me this is about the precarity of being an artist in Portugal, but for someone else it might be about something different. People can film it and change the perspective and then share it with their own audience. It takes away the artistic ago, the idea that it is mine alone. When I put on a performance it starts to be from everyone and everyone can change it. And that is a beautiful thing.
The show Kinski is presented in France in the framework of the France-Portugal 2022 Season, implemented by the Institut français for the French segment.