Artaud’s Vision: Balinese Dancers and the Mexican Tarahumaras

Interview with Ros Murray

Dr. Ros Murray has held research posts at the University of Manchester and Queen Mary University of London, where she taught in French and film, before starting at King’s College, London as a lecturer in 2016.

Ros’ research interests lie broadly in 20th and 21st century visual culture, critical theory, queer theory and feminism. She works on avant-garde, experimental and documentary film and video. Her book Antonin Artaud: The Scum of the Soul explored how Artaud’s work combined different media (theatre, film, drawings, notebooks and manifestos) in relation to the body.

Email ros.murray@kcl.ac.uk 

Connections to the GCSE, AS and A level specifications

  • Theatrical style
  • Social, cultural, political and historical context
  • Significant moments in the development of theory and practice
  • Influence
  • Key collaborations with other artists
  • Use of theatrical conventions

PC: Artaud had some very influential experiences: visiting the Tarahumaras tribe in Mexico and seeing the touring Balinese dancers. When did those experiences happen and what inspired him from those experiences?

RM: It is interesting, it could be said that it is impossible to put his proposals into practice, but his ideas were based on something he actually saw: the Balinese dancers and the Tarahumaras. That was what he was trying to write about. In a sense it did exist, but it was very much in the vision of what he was seeing.

PC: When did he see the Balinese dancers because that experience has been criticised for not being particularly representative of Balinese culture.

RM: Yes, the context in which he saw it is obviously significant. He saw the Balinese dance performances as part of the colonial exhibition he saw in Paris in the 1930s. There is an argument that much of French and European literature in the 19th and early 20th century romanticised what they call the ‘Orient’. They explored the white European self through the vision of the ‘other’ (see Edward Saïd, Orientalism). That is relevant to Artaud: all texts that he approached, he approached them through his own perspective.

PC: He was quite open and honest about that though. He wasn’t necessarily attempting to define or represent their culture through his output. It is more that he was using his experiences to inform his ideas about representation itself.

RM: Yes nobody really knows what actually happened with the Tarahumaras because it is not properly documented but he did go to Mexico, we know that much. The writing is about the Tarahumaras: he talks about going off with this tribe and doing the peyote ritual and all these other crazy things that happened. Several people have written that he didn’t actually go at all but it was all in his imagination because he was going a bit mad at this point. I think there are some anthropologists that have found evidence of Artaud having had contact with the tribe. He spent time performing these rituals with the Tarahumaras and they came to inform his theatre.

PC: Is there something specific in the peyote ritual experience that informed his ideas?

RM: The peyote is a hallucinogenic drug like acid but it is a natural herb. The ritual is based on a dance. He talks about the Tarahumaras’ relationship with the landscape and the countryside and how the rocks were speaking.

PC: You can see these kind of dances in videos online. It is a good way of seeing what Artaud saw without fully experiencing it! It is repetitive, it is rhythmic. Rhythms of the body and the voice.

RM: Have you heard Artaud’s recordings on ubuweb.com? http://www.ubu.com/sound/artaud.html

Summary

  • Artaud did experience the kind of theatre that he wrote about when he saw the Balinese dancers and participated in the peyote ritual with the Tarahumaras.
  • All texts that Artaud approached, he approached them through his own perspective.
  • The peyote ritual is based on a dance.

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