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Anaïs Héraud: Ritournelle (2015)

A long wooden table sits adjacent to a pile of scrap lumber stacked in a conical formation, atop a glass floor suspended over exposed brick and stone of the Vanha Viinatehdas. A smaller pile of wooden planks leans against the wall. Héraud sits on the far end of the table, looking over at the pile of lumber, speaking intermittently, “rain… rain… rain…” She picks up a bunch of long wooden skewers, holding them up in the air in front of her. A few at a time slip out and fall to the floor. In the programme notes, Héraud talks about the ritournelle as a repetitive form found in children’s songs, emphasizing action over narrative through its use of repetition. Here, the rhythm of the bouncing skewers echos her earlier words, but also resonate in their own way: wood… wood… wood… building a connection with the other materials in the space.

From the pile of lumber she pulls out a few pieces until the entire stack tips over and crashes to the floor. Taking three pieces, she constructs a tripod structure on top of the table, leaning and supporting them against each another. She constructs several variations of this, at one point climbing onto the table, causing it to shake, which knocks over all the structures. She continues to build and rebuild these structures, experimenting with different lengths and arrangement. It seems less a struggle than an improvisation with her material, negotiating with it, trying to find a way for it to stay in place. Taking two bricks, she stacks them on the end of the table (knocking over the other structures yet again), balances one of the thicker pieces of lumber on its end, and constructs a sort of see-saw across the top with a couple more pieces of wood.

On the floor she repetitively marks short lines in chalk, speaking again, “rain… rain… rain…” This time, her ritournelle is punctuated occasionally with a dot, “drops,” and eventually crossing some of her lines, “cross,” gradually growing and changing. Taking more chalk, she balances them on one end of the see-saw. Just as it starts to tip over, creating the expectation of yet another collapse, she rushes to the other side and balances it out with some more chalk. Equilibrium achieved, she leaves the room. The ending is ambiguous – there is a moment of hesitation before the audience applauds. Like a ritournelle, there is the possibility for these actions to loop back on themselves, continuing endlessly, but her sense of timing is good and she chooses wisely when to stop and move on to the next part.

In the next room, a small grey tablecloth lies on the floor. Nearby sit four glasses, and at the far end of the room is a live video projection of some pieces of movable type on the floor. Starting in the far corner of the room, Hérnaud hums a four-note phrase, repeating it in a loop as she walks towards the glasses. She drops pebbles into them one at a time, which resonate in matching tones to her humming. Once again, voice and material join together in a ritournelle, which also reiterates some of the materials from the previous room: the glass of the floor and the stones underneath.

On the tablecloth, she spray paints the phrase “this statue” in cursive writing. Standing on the sheet holding a long metal pole, she bounces the end of it on the floor, allowing it to ring out in different tones depending on where it is held. She presses the end of the pole firmly into the centre of the tablecloth and twists it, causing the cloth to wrap tightly around the pole, revealing an orange floral patterned tablecloth underneath. She leans the tablecloth-wrapped pole against the wall, leaving it as a sculptural object.

She slides a bowl under the orange tablecloth and presses the down into it, leaving a shallow imprint into which she pours some water. Slowly and carefully, she pulls the tablecloth, so that it slides out from between the bowl and the water. The water stays in place, finding its way into the bowl in the end. It’s a small and subtle action, but one which displays her attention to her materials and what they can do.

Taking some more glasses, she shouts into one and stacks an inverted one on top, as if to trap her voice inside. Then she repeats this process, each time shouting for longer as the stack gets higher and higher. At one point, a glass falls, bouncing once off of the floor before exploding, sending pieces of glass flying in all directions. One of the most striking things about her performance is the way that Héraud allows her materials to express themselves in their own way. Like the collapsing wooden structures from the previous room it is a surprising moment, but by no means jarring. It feels perfectly natural within the context of the piece – a glass suddenly expressing itself, as if issuing its own response to Héraud’s shouting.

Taking some more glasses, she breathes into one, inverts it and stacks it on top of another, trapping her breath inside. She repeats this process, creating a second tower of glasses. Finally, she takes the few remaining glasses over to far end of the room, places one on top of the pieces of type, breathes into it, and places an inverted glass over top. Taking the camera in hand, she zooms in to it, the fogging from her breath visible in the glass. Then she scans over the pieces of type, zooming in to extreme closeup and back out again. In the end, there are several sculptural elements remaining in the room, including “this statue” and the towers of glasses. Their repetitive forms function as ritournelles as their own, helping us to recall the actions we just witnessed. Walking around the room and looking at these arrangements, I imagine that I would be able to hear Héraud’s voice once more by lifting up one of the glasses, releasing the shout trapped inside.

Héraud’s choice of materials was strong, and her work playfully and imaginatively explored their materiality in relation to the spaces she was working in, building a world with her materials and actions and drawing the audience into it. She performs again on 6 October, 7pm at Tiivistämö, Kalastajankatu 1, Helsinki for the New Performance Turku Festival Mad House Spin off. It’s well worth seeing her work, and I would be very curious to see what new forms and actions will emerge.

David Frankovich
is an artist working in performance and experimental
media. They are particularly interested in bringing attention to
marginalized artists and art forms through their writing.