Yvan Etienne/ETANT DONNÉS
interview April 4, 2000
La Bérarde, Pace des Ecrins
Etant Donnés, through your name and its spelling you refer to
the work of Marcel Duchamp: what connection, in your view, is there
to be found between the contents of this work and your own work ?
We have chosen the llame Etant Donnés in obvious reference to
the piece by Marcel Duchamp, as we believed a lyrical and dramatic continuation
could be developed from the plastic potentialities of this work.
Indeed in our shows the spectator is placed in the same position as
the onlooker in front of Marcel Duchamp's work, like a voyeur, an abyss
keeping him cut off from the action going on on the stage.
Beyond this interpretation, do you think there
is any other meaning to the phrase Etant donnés ?
The second meaning might be that of being and giving,
ETANT DONNÉS ; I am, I give,
I can give only what I am, considering the "I
am" to be the Whole, considering the universe
to be included in the being of man.
The third meaning is that of a name that does not mean
anything in itself apart from an introduction to what ensues, a name
that sets us free from the predestination of the name, and leaves us
free to fin it with our works and our work, free to give this name its
What does this separation from the audience
mean to you ?
We are not interested in communication. What we are
interested in is inspiration rather than expiration. To be able to inspire,
you have first to be able to expire, so it means expiring a certain
state of the body to create a vacuum, this vacuum creates an aspiring
tension that enables an "I-don't-know-what"
to fill in this vacuum, this "I-don't-know-what"
then takes the shape of the envelope that contained this vacuum
and thus this vacuum is then filled with this "l-don't-know-what"
finally becoming a fullness, yet different from the previous fullness.
That is where the polarisation between us and the audience is created.
If we consider spirit to be matter and matter to be spirit, then it
becomes possible to experience and actualise processes that classically
come within the category of "spiritual
sensations", in terms of shapes, surfaces,
volumes, tensions, pressures. Nature abhors a vacuum. Any vacuum tends
to be filled in, that is the great physical and spiritual law, the pneumatics
of love. We only comply with this law.
What do you mean by a certain state of the
This state of the body is a warming up session that does not take place
before the show but during it, that is to say that the first words shouted
out are a kind of magical key, as the word is regarded as a sound concretion
of the being of the real world, a sound aggregate of meaning. To some
extent the word is meant to reveal the hidden and ultimate meaning of
the world, the latent meaning, that can be unveiled only by the word.
The first words of the poem are the magical key that creates this evacuation
of the full state of the body, of the thinking and rational body, of
the ancient body as determined by memory, that is the moment when there
is an aspiration of this "l-don't-know-what".
is something that can't be named because we do not want to know its
If I ever should name it, it would be something dead that could no longer
operate as a principIe of no-knowledge, for the key to everything is
mystery, a pit of mystery.
In a pit, it is difficult to catch sight of the bottom, but one knows
that, however, there lies the source. That is what this power amounts
to. Mystery has to remain mystery.
When I speak of aspiration, I aspire the spectators' soul, that is to
say I expect their souls to come and fill in my own vacuum. When I say
their soul I do not mean their spirit. It is their shape I attract to
come and fin in this vacuum.
Evoking life is to evoke death, to create an area of existence within
the film or the show, between us and the audience, which is the very
space of poetry, an unveiling that sets man free.
Then, contrary to some other contemporary theatrical
experiments, you are eager to preserve, as it is done in classic theatre,
this abyss in that it is the place where you lose yourselves and the
audience lose themselves ?
This abyss marks a distance. In a church, there is always a threshold
between the nave and the choir. This threshold marks a difference in
states, the world on one side, the sacred on the other. There is the
space of poetry, which is sacred, and the space ofthe audience. We do
not want to come clown to the audience's level, what we want is to fly
up, then it is up to the audience to join us in this flight.
What is it that determines the sacredness of
First one must distinguish poetry from the poem. Poetry is what the
reader experiences when reading the poem, its unfolding, its physical
The poem is speech restored to its sovereign role,
to its role as a world creator.
Speaking, not to communicate, but to exist and to bear to existence.
I think in the beginning speech was only poetic, each word generating
and establishing an erotic relation with the objects of the world, since
they were consubstantial with it, as sound concretions of the being
of the world.
(It is worth noticing that the being addresses men in
a plural way.)
With the advent of nihilism, which founded the "epidermal"
separation of man from God, the latter staying in
the background from then on, becoming the object
of a quest and of a conscious will, no longer revealing itself as a
permanent grace, illuminating and determining each action in men' s
lives ; in a world in which the issue of God did not have to be raised
since it was definitely irrelevant,
speech, which used to be movement within the movement, was then uttered
in the form of communication.
The advent of the latter combining with the appearance of the idea of
human freedom in front of God's law.
Poetry, which had been invisible until then, like water in water, had
to be able to respond as a body resisting the poet's thirst for reconquest,
that is to what is called "poetic
This coagulation corresponded to the opacification of the real and "be-ic"
meaning of words, this meaning lurking in their heart from then on.
The poetic act is based upon an "idyllic"
belief in a Golden Age, a permanence of the sacred order that is supposed
to lie, in some sort of way, in the counterpart of the world.
It is an act of faith, thus an act of violence.
So your work tends towards a communion ?
A catharsis, a magical communication is established with the audience
and there is a communion, an integration into the One, through the artist
who is on stage, towards the existing
oneness, between the artist and the audience. The
artist is the boatman, the smuggler, the intercessor, a wing-footed
Hermes, and the distance which may not be delimited physically, but
in any event, in our theatre, marked by the extreme violence of the
lights, sound and action, which can initially create repulsion and an
impulse to run away, enables a territory to be marked, and we occupy
this territory. We have conquered a poetic fortress and in the process
we unveil, through the donjon loopholes, a body of beauty, that people
from the outside wish to capture. Shouting out poems that only speak
of beauty but in a terribly violent form, as if to say "I
love you" I threw a stone at someone's face.
Then it is up to the spectator to get over the wall to catch sight of
this beauty. If the audience do not commit this act of infringement,
if they do not react, then they run away and the fortress escapes their
notice, because nothing is given.
There is no knowledge without effort, without work, thus we create the
conditions of this work.
What is this act of infringement supposed to
This act enables the "I am" to be evacuated in favour of the
that takes on the shape of the
that has been dismissed. The closer you come to the being, the more
it veils itself. The being expresses its presence only in fragments.
It is like life, which is only a spark in the duration of the universe,
and the last thing
I want is to know what is behind
So there is no wish to master this mystery
We do not seek to figure out the mystery, it is the mystery that possesses
us and prompts us to act.
I do not believe in God, it's God that grows in me.
You are supposed to act as recevers/transmitters of this mystery
Yes indeed, a medium, that is to say in the middle.
We establish the
Then this link can be found in all the things
that surround us ?
Yes, we do think that things are not isolated from one another, and
that the world is just a network of interference, of vibrations from
more or less subtle matters, from the stone to the air and ether. A
kind of global ecology, in some sort of way, within which shape-wave
inductions, the forces of gravity as well as voices, words and sounds
are all linked together and meaningful.
But what is the substance of this link, of this universal factor of
interactions ? It is Spirit, seen as an absolute separation.
Hegel produced a magnincent definition of it: "there
is nothing separate about spirit, neither from matter, nor from nature,
from the body, from contingency, from the event, because it itself is
nothing else than the separation".
So it is a whole that takes on different shapes
Yes, it is, because forro is independent from matter and it is not the
molecules that make up the form.
Then what is this form made of ?
Soul. It is the shape. St Thomas Aquinas said that: "the
soul is the shape of the body". It means, I can
see your shape, I can see your soul. The most intimate essence, what
belongs to you as your own and yet does not belong to you on the other
hand, for it is nothing, spiritually speaking, but the polarised reflection
of the divine white light through a prism, which is the body ; thus
the shape, as an intermediary surface between the polarised inner light
and the outer light ; this envelope is your essence. The essence, the
blood. Content is form, and things cannot be fixed. Then the concept
becomes an evolution, a dialectic evolution that goes back to the mystery.
Mystery is this known knowledge, known but not seen, that prompts you
to go towards.