The House of Illusion by Marion Vasseur Raluy
In I will set a stage for you
Co-directed by Ana Iwataki and Marion Vasseur Raluy
Published by HoloholoBooks, 2018
Lucie Meyer’s The Balcony is loosely inspired by the play Le Balcon written by Jean Genet. The video follows a prostitute played by the artist—also holding the camera—who successively dialogues with three men: a judge, a bishop, and a general, all figures of authority and the established order. They meet in a brothel called the house of illusions in which they can freely explore their fantasies of domination and perversion with the prostitute. In placing these characters at the heart of this house of illusions, Luzie Meyer interrogates the borders of reality and illusion. These men come here to satisfy powerful desires and progressively realize they want something other than the established schemas. Between homage and re-adaptation, everything in the video brings us back to the theatrical stage. Everything refers to this, and makes allusions to it in the actors’ playing, in their allegorical characters, in the dialogues, the scenery or the non-scenery. Meyer’s The Balcony offers a specific reflection on the notion of illusion and of reality inherent in the worlds of art, whether that of theater, contemporary art or cinema.
The video is divided into two distinct parts, which Genet called “tableaux.” First, the viewer observes three scenes during which the men literally read their dialogues in the rehearsal space of a theater, mimicing the gestures indicated in Genet’s stage directions. If in Le Balcon the dialogues are spoken, in The Balcony, Luzie Meyer makes her actors read, making them less sure of themselves and disqualifying their attempt at authority and power in speech. Quickly, their acting is derailed. There is discordance in the voiceover as the sounds are never coordinated with the mouths’ movements. Moreover, their speech is regularly masked by singsong chanting, which lends the video a falsely naive air and sometimes preventing full comprehension of what they are saying. This kind of chanting might traditionally be called the choir, explaining the intrigue to the audience. The choir is a commentary of what is unfolding before our eyes. This feeling of a plural lecture is underlined by the presence of two cameras. The director who is also the prostitute is also filmed. In Genet’s piece, the character of Madame Irma, the brothel-keeper, spies on scenes of perversions in which the characters are engaged. To a certain extent, this second camera is the eye of Madame Irma, but is also the eye of another possible judgment and a supplementary commentary on the action unfolding. Meyer proposes multiple interpretations reminiscent of the multiplicity of the real, often hidden under layers of illusions. By confusing our capacity to listen and in multiplying the ways of reading what is unfolding, the first act prefigures questions that will be further revealed.
In the second act, Meyer moves the characters from the house of illusions to an outdoor amphitheater. Although the bishop, the general, and the judge wear their identifying uniforms and seem to thus more closely incarnate their allegories, the actors stray and become further distanced from their characters. They wander without ever really acting out their respective roles and want to go beyond what has been written for them. They want to surpass the script imposed by the director. They then engage in a discussion of reality and how to recognize it, drawing closer to human doubts and questions. They seek to construct their human identity. The allegories are progressively deconstructed and implode, much like the scene they had been placed in: the house of illusions. They break the fourth wall. In liberating at once their emotions, the complexity of their characters, and their speech, the actors allow the viewers a kind of catharsis and assuage a desire for freedom.
In transplanting a theatrical play normally performed on the stage to the format of video, The Balcony implicitly evokes a fundamental difference that exists between the living character of theater as opposed to the morbid character of video. Theater, in its live representation, is a given moment that cannot be reproduced in exactly the same manner, according to the audience, the mood of the actors, and technical errors, whereas video seems to necessarily incarnate a finished object, produced and finished one time. Yet Luzie Meyer adeptly plays with these boundaries, passing surreptitiously from one medium to another, from the stage to video. The viewer can’t quite say whether she is watching a rehearsal, if certain errors were missed in the editing process, or if this is a finished video. The artist probes the existing line between these mediums to better destroy it; thus affirming the notions of real and illusion that wander through video like in theater, echoing the pulsing of life and the pulsing of death.