Eyewitness Joana Braga, about Câmara Municipal de Lisboa

Joana Braga is an architect and researcher. She is currently a Phd candidate in Architecture of Contemporary Metropolitan Territories at ISCTE-IUL. She is an associate researcher of Baldio, “a space where an interdisciplinary approach is rehearsed to which the name Performance Studies can be given”. She wrote the following text after having witnessed ‘Lecture For Every One’ at the Lisbon City Council.

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We meet at the theatre: me, Edith and Joaquim. Sarah is still having a coffee nearby. But this performance will not happen in the space of the theatre; instead, the ‘Lecture For Every One’ will be presented at a working meeting, a context foreign to artistic practices. We walk to the location of the meeting together, talking about different things, like people who have just met.

We get to the Photographic Hub of the Lisbon Municipal Archive, where the meeting will take place, and go directly to see the room assigned for the meeting. A long rectangular room; on the white walls a series of photographs form a horizontal line resembling a frieze, with its visual story written horizontally along the space, forcing us to walk around it in the reading. It is an exhibition room. Several chairs are disposed in a long ellipse with two rows. Sarah and Edith knew that something needed to be changed. They start moving some chairs.

Then we sit in a sofa in a small nook in the lobby, waiting. On top of two small tables are two photographic albums. I start leafing through one. Photos picturing everyday scenes of a bourgeois family in the first half of the twentieth century, all the images with detailed captions. And I wonder whether I am somehow intruding into the private life of another person, or at least her private memories…

People start to arrive for the meeting. They are talking loudly, laughing; they seem to be in a good mood.

Sarah goes through the text, concentrating, while waiting. I question myself about my position here. I am waiting with Sarah and Edith, they seem close. I met them just a few minutes ago. They invited themselves into this meeting. Sarah will give a performance/lecture. Me, I’m an outsider, a foreigner who will observe the ones who will listen to Sarah’s words.

People enter the room and soon after, someone introduces Sarah.

We enter the room. Sarah walks to the opposite side, and standing, she starts: “Good morning. Thank you for giving me the next 15 minutes of your time.” Actually, they didn’t. They didn’t know that a lecture/performance would happen in their working meeting. Sarah invited herself. She is an intruder. This condition of being an intruder is important, it allows for an interruption of a familiar context, creates an uncanny moment, an exceptional moment. I sit in a chair, near the door.

Though this is an unexpected event, I can’t see a visible reaction on the part of the audience, or at least their reaction is not quite obvious. I can’t decipher which thoughts and emotions are wandering in the minds and bodies around me. I think that this might have to do with the fact that we are intruding into a meeting of the culture department of the city council. These people are familiar with artistic projects. Sarah becomes a guest, a surprise guest. They accept and listen to her words.

Sarah addresses us, the people in the room, she is trying to invoke a possible “us”. “Living alone. Living with others.” She speaks to the faces in front of her, the bodies standing before her at that moment. The rhythm felt in the room starts to slow down. Another space is being opened inside that room, and a different flow of time. The agenda of the meeting is substituted, or delayed, by a lecture about living together. “A lecture for every one.” Is it possible to address each and every one of us with the same words? Is it even desirable?

Sarah is before us, exposing her vulnerability and fragility. This open nakedness of the performer makes me sensitive to her words. I am now someone who listens, not an observer of others who also listen to Sarah’s words. She is exposing herself before us, she is not above us, she is just there, before us, exposed, sharing her concerns, not leaving them unspoken.

And she goes on asking us some questions. These are violent questions. A silence fills the room. A gap opens between the performer and the people who listen. A man on my right stretches his neck. Is he uncomfortable? Or is he really concentrated?

Sarah tells us two stories, fragmented stories, intertwining her personal considerations on ethics and politics. Are they personal stories? Did she meet that taxi driver last night? Has she been in love with a boy who felt a strong desire for Persian carpets?

She returns to another kind of text, explaining her intentions here. She tells us that she can’t teach us anything, she also has nothing to sell us. There is nothing that she is going to ask from us, except 15 minutes of our time and the will to listen to her, to these words that she wants to share with us. “My words are not meant to anyone. They are meant to every single one of you.” Can these words address everyone and still address each particular one of us? Maybe not.

The performer’s words spoken here address people as individuals, individuals together for some common purpose. There is already an energy of sharing, a focus to listen. The performance feeds on that energy, but displaces it into another context, an unexpected one. Her presence and her words create a moment of strangeness. She shares these words in places where they might have an impact, the words spoken affect us, and in turn, our behavioral reactions affect the performer. Our interpretations affect the words that are being spoken. These words are the same everywhere to everyone, but they have different connotations each time they are spoken, in the space between the performer and us, in the way we perceive them, relating them to our experiences, to our memories, to our ethical concerns. We are experiencing a moment, an unexpected moment together, a moment of affection.

“We are condemned to live with each other”, says Sarah. Condemned seems to be a negative word, I think. Perhaps the word condemned is correct. It isn’t easy to create a moment and a space for an “us” to emerge.

We now listen to more aggressive words. Words told in the first person, but violent words. Ethical considerations about the system we live in, about us, the others in the room. Considerations that intrude into our private space as beings. Are we all living catastrophes? Are the words linked to together always empty? Can we care for each other? Are we aware of others around us? Can we live together? But could we live alone? Could we live without caring for each other? “The politics of care, the smallest political gesture”, says Sarah. I think about the photos exhibited, the exhibition presented in that same room. Images from family photo albums, showing a personal perspective of a family every day, picturing private and closed environments, now exposed to the public. Sarah is addressing ethical concerns of hers, of our own, that usually stay in private. This lecture intrudes into our private ethical spheres, bringing these private concerns to the public. In this room, at this moment, we are bringing intimate private worlds to the public. Like the photos on the walls of the room.

I think that the fact that the lecture is composed of different kinds of texts, intertwining fictional (personal?) fragmented stories with personal ethic and political concerns is of major importance, for it prevents a linear reading, demanding a more associative one, allowing for multiple interpretations to emerge. Can this lecture provoke a temporary emergence of a common sphere in that room?

Sarah shares her last word: Power. A word left for the people of the meeting, to think and debate together afterwards. She appreciates the time given, these 15 minutes of shared time, and we leave immediately.

Joana Braga