ART AS RITUAL
by Alex Švamberk
In the middle of a dark night, a figure whose face is covered with a black cloth is pushing a zinc coffin out of one of the hospital pavilions. Followed by many spectators, she lights her way with a miner’s flashlight on her head. She goes through the whole hospital area to the remote furnace-room. She stops at a conveyor belt and opens the coffin. A man in a dark leather coat emerges from it. Leaning upon crutches, he crawls up onto the conveyor belt. The figure who delivered him turns on the switch. Driven to the top, the man is tossed down onto the top of a huge pile of coal. After he finally manages to get down, he sets the muslin-wrapped tips of his crutches on fire. He drives these burning torches into the coal heap and then bends down and heaves out a huge iron lattice from where it was buried in the coal. After that, with the help of the figure who delivered him, he turns a huge crank, pulling on a rope which leads into the heart of the pile. As the rope stretches more and more tautly, their faces reflect the increasing strain. Suddenly a huge heavy iron cross appears emerging from the pile at the other end of the rope. But then the rope breaks. Both performers then carry the burning torches out past the hospital fence, where they light several fires.
Whether you regard Scott MacLeod's performance as art or not, you can't deny its amazing impressiveness. Seemingly meaningless actions add up mysteriously. The spectator isn’t sure what is happening but the performer seems to know what he's doing. We have the same feeling as if encountering an unknown civilization that has gone its own way for centuries. Or at least that we are witnessing a kind of mysterious ritual known only to a couple of initiates. One simply can't pull oneself away.
The performance evokes images of times when mankind was not governed by a civilization built on a purely rational basis. When art merged with magic and when spectators were also allowed to experience the ecstasy. When man felt himself in union with others, not uprooted and misunderstood like today.