Entering the stripped-down space of the Sophiensaele theatre, the audience is immediately confronted with La Ribot’s nude figure, lounging lethargically in front of a circular mirror in the corner of the room. Slowly rolling the mirror backwards and forwards, La Ribot sets the premise for her three-hour durational performance ‘Panoramix’, consisting of 34 of her ‘Distinguished Pieces’ (1993-2000). First performed 25 years ago, these audacious, provocative and varied solo-snippets are revisited, utilising movement, photography, film, paint, props and costumes in a genre-defying exploration of the expressive capabilities of the human body.
”The body says so many things. It is huge. There are many ways of reading and interpreting it.” La Ribot’s words, here cited from Luc Peter’s 2004 documentary on the artist, ring true as ‘Panoramix’ unfolds. Returning always to her basic state of nudity (adorned only with her signature orange pubic tuft) she moves through a diverse range of interpretations of her body and playfully seeks ways of defining it. In ‘Cosmopolitana’ (1994), she names certain body parts as countries and in ‘Capricho mío’ (1994), she pointedly (mis)measures them with a measuring tape. In ‘Narcisa’ (1996), she takes polaroids of her private parts and hangs them on the wall, hereby broaching a genuine investigation of the female form with good humour and wit. Counter to her theatrical tendencies, she also explores the body in relation to everyday objects with a minimalist and more intimate approach. She unravels a long row of plastic toys and cardboard notes and lies down at the end, inserting herself as the last, and largest, link in the chain. (‘Sin titulo I’, 1993) The spectator is compelled to compare her body to the objects she has placed herself next to, and as she lies there, inert, she is silently transformed into one of them.
The objectification of the body is a theme that is deeply woven into the ‘Distinguished Pieces’. La Ribot explores sexual objectification with her provocative and most well-known piece ‘No. 14’ (1996), in which she climbs into a wooden fold-out chair and pumps it back and forth as if being violated. The body as object is explored here in its most typical sense, and although arguably one of her strongest pieces, her depictions of objectification notably continue into the philosophical realm. In ‘Outsized Baggage’ (2000) she packages her body like odd-shaped luggage and in ‘Chair’ (2000) she tapes pieces of a dismantled chair to her limbs and balances on her tip-toes, perhaps embodying the experience of the world from the point of view of a man-made, wooden object. In ‘Manual de Uso’ (1997) she alternates between the role of ‘the unit’ and the user, shifting between both states as she performs the listed instructions on her body as if detached from it.
The ‘Distinguished Pieces’, in this way, challenge how we differentiate ourselves from our material world, and by surrounding herself with cheap, found or stolen objects, La Ribot cleverly brings the grand significance of human existence down to the level of the everyday. With tongue-in-cheek mastery and a knack for continually performing the unexpected, she continues to amuse, perplex and intrigue us. 25 years after their initiation, the ‘Distinguished Pieces’ are, as ever, fragments of endless possibility that have not yet lost their ability to excite.
Beatrix Joyce is a performance artist and dance writer based in Berlin.