STELLA BOTTAI: I’d like to begin this conversation recalling the first time we met. You were dead. I don’t mean this metaphorically to say that you were tired. You told me you had died the year before. You do not remember how or why it had happened. How did your own death affect your relationship with the world of the living – and also with yourself? Do you miss being alive? How many times can one die?
ALEX CECCHETTI: Death is nothing, consciousness is the real big deal. The self is the most refined invention of our wicked trickster master, the brain. And believe me, it does not die so easily. Otherwise, there is not so much difference between being dead or alive, even though I feel much more comfortable in being dead. When I get tired I just stand up. I’ll stand up on Tuesday night; I’ll do a stand-up again every time I’ll feel the itch.
To die also gave me the unique occasion to have a solo show in Heaven or whatever you want to call it. They invited me because they saw my name somewhere, they still don’t get what I do, they don’t pay fees or for travel. They have no budget, but they do miracles.
Many more advantages have come from this new situation in which I have found myself. Since my death, I am able to go to Hell every time I want to go and come back. I earn my living by giving guided tours of the Otherworld. If you think that money does not rule here, you are right, money doesn’t, but people keep paying anyhow. Stupid habits are hard to lose.
I always missed life, it runs too fast and I like breakfast.
Everyone has died once, it just happens much more before you can notice it.
SB: Your performance at FAT is titled Tamam Shud and is inspired by an in- explicable, unsolved case from 1948, when a man was found dead on a beach in Adelaide, Australia. His identity is still unknown as nothing could be used for its identification. The labels of his clothes, fingerprints, even the size of his shoes had been carefully removed, deleted, bleached out. A tiny piece of rolled-up paper with the words “Tamam Shud” printed on it was found deep in a pocket sewn within the dead man’s trousers. The text was identified as a phrase meaning “ended” or “finished” from the last page of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a collection of Persian poems from the XI century. How does your work engage with this mysterious history? Is it important for you to understand who this man might have been?
AC: This is a nice story, where did you hear it? All I know is that I do not remember anything and I am afraid the cleaner has done too much clean- ing here. Look: where there must be blood it smells of lavender, where there must be shit it smells of cinnamon. Where is the life we lived? I wouldn’t worry that much about the man on the beach, his name or his life. To die with no history is the unique privilege of our epoch, not so many are so skilful in deleting their traces. Unfortunately the number of detectives is terribly increasing nowadays, and great confusion reigns among criminals as they realise they now do that same job. The only thing I remember about the Rubaiyat is that nothing is what it seems, wine is not wine, bottles are not bottles and especially women are not women and of course men are not men.
SB: When speaking about this performance in the past, you mentioned the Egyptian Book of the Dead – a collection of texts that would assist a dead person’s journey toward their afterlife. For the Egyptians, death was simply a temporary interruption, rather than complete cessation, of life. They also believed that someone’s identity would be highly influenced by the objects included in their burial, which is why these items were selected very care- fully. For me this idea is very fascinating, how the objects surrounding a person may become the makers of that person’s identity. Do you happen to remember what was put in your burial? Or perhaps what was in your own pocket when you died?
AC: As a materialist I am a very spiritual person, I trust things more than objects. Spells are ideas, therefore objects, therefore real, and their task is to preserve a constructed world through the eternity. There is an ancient Egyptian spell that forces a clone of the self to do the labour, the work. The homunculus is made of clay and is supposed to be the slave of its owner. I am afraid that spell was put in my burial and I cannot figure out whether I am the owner or the slave.
SB: Why did you want to be accompanied by a chorus including a Contralto and Countertenor for this performance? The Contralto is the lowest and most rare of the female voices. Historically, this term was also used to indicate a Castrato singer. Likewise, the Countertenor is traditionally known as the male equivalent of a Contralto. As we have been speaking a lot about identity, I find it interesting that you chose to work with singing voices of different genders yet somehow mirroring each other.
AC: In the beginning, in Mesopotamia, long before Babylon, before towers and kings, people, men and women, were having sex without giving too much attention to gender but to what was sufficient for having fun. Then these two guys came, with tablets and all, and they started staring at the lovers, watching and scribbling, watching and nodding and scribbling.
What are you doing? A couple asked.
We are inventing writing, the scribe said while he kept watching and scribbling.
Hun, hun, the couple said.
It’s a system to list down things and remember facts and is good to sell wheat, list kings and know who the owner of the beans is.
Hun, hun, the couple said.
It works with vowels and consonants. Vowels are open and soft, like when you say “Hi!” And consonants are rigid and hard, as when you say “Prime Minister”. We say vowels are female as they look like the female sex and consonants are male as they look like the male sex. This is what the scribes said while watching and scribbling.
Hun, hun, said the couple while fucking.
And we are going to write a book, not now but soon, in which only consonants will be written and vowels will be virtual – as keys to open a code, and this, we swear, will fuck up your brain completely. But it won’t be the end; we have many more plans, the scribes said.
Hun, hun, said the couple while fucking.
We will separate the land from the heavens and the women from the men, and you’ll become so convinced of your differences that we can add more things and facts to our lists. One day we’ll sell much more than just wheat.
The couple kept fucking, the scribes kept scribbling.
Alex Cecchetti (1977-2014) was an artist, a poet and a choreographer. Difficult to classify, his work can be considered as the art of the unpresentable: tactile and poetic, aesthetic and materialistic, it produces situations that exist inside and outside the exhibition system. It is only from this double movement “towards and away from” representation that several of his sculptures, performances, writings and poems take shape. Died for the first time in 2014 for unknown reasons, the artist continues to produce new works, present new performances and publish new poems
Photos by Jon Lowe