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TBA Series: The Delirious Materialism of Raquel André

James Lee

What is it that's nightmarish about abundance? Simone Weil talks a bit about it in her Decreation notebooks. “Monotony of evil: never anything new, everything about it is equivalent…It is because of this monotony that quantity plays so great a part. A host of women (Don Juan) or of men (Célimène), etc. One is condemned to false infinity. That is hell itself.” Being empty—so goes the neoplatonic logic—evil must repeat itself in an attempt to give the illusion of substance (the trope is everywhere in Western canon, the great example being the fevered enumeration of the Book of Revelations). Goodness is singular, having no need for frequency, at least on earth, where material abundance is always soiled, un-new, redundant.

This logic was in my mind as I sat in for the flamboyant display of Raquel André’s TBA performance Collection of Lovers. The piece chronicles the artist’s tour through a dozen-plus cities in Europe and the Americas collecting short encounters with individuals of all different genders, ages, and nationalities, prompting each one to perform a fictional intimacy, which she records with notes and photographs. As we are shown slides, André presents us with a kind of meta-analysis—e.g., five made me breakfast, two showered with their clothes on, twenty-seven looked me in the eye, one refused to look me in the eye. By the end, she has broken the fourth wall, and you get the sense that you, as audience member, have been added to the collection of intimates.

What do we make of this dramatic disavowal of traditional, monogamous conceptions of intimacy? Religious or ideological disposition aside, the aggressive gesture towards embracing worldly abundance is likely to give many pause—indulgence is usually read as a bad word. Could the experience of receiving pleasure from others be unrestricted, easy, and momentously plentiful all at once? Could each new encounter be enriched by the ones before it rather than sullied? Raquel André heroically challenges these inhibitions, bringing heaven’s real infinites to earth. Watching André’s persistent smile through the show, one comes to believe the only true labor this task entails is in believing it is possible.

Photo: http://pica.org/event/raquel-andre/