The journey, not the destination | Rebecca Camilleri and Maritea Daehlin

While their collaborative and obstinately ‘fluid’ project THINKDODOC is still going on, Teodor Reljic spoke to Maltese performer Rebecca Camilleri and her Norwegian-Mexican counterpart Maritea Daehlin about the importance of play for their work, and why not having an end product to the experience is actually one of the key points of the endeavour

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
19 August 2016, 9:01am
A collaborative project incorporating artists from various countries, THINKDODOC takes a multidisciplinary approach to explore the process, rather than the end product, of artistic work
A collaborative project incorporating artists from various countries, THINKDODOC takes a multidisciplinary approach to explore the process, rather than the end product, of artistic work
In your description of the project, you’ve said that play was an important part of what you’re doing. How did it influence your work and thought process, exactly?

Rebecca Camilleri: Maritea and me met months before we even started discussing this project. Over cups of coffee and sometimes a chocolate truffle, we went through a process of breaking down our artistic practice and often ended up speaking about why it is important to keep making work, what are the priorities of making life as an artist and defined our goals for the coming years. 

Both of us are driven by the urgency to create, create and create but through our conversations we also realised that a large part of our practice is talking and writing about and for projects, as a well as networking and admin work. 

Therefore, when we started this project, play became a very important term. In order to define the project, we needed to explain what we will be doing, but this contradicts the aim of a process which is purely about playing. By play, we refer to the process of doing something or trying something out of the pleasure and curiosity of doing and not with the intention of finding something or creating something at the end. 

Every day over a period of two weeks, we created tasks which we would do together or separately. An important part of the process was trust. It is easy to start doubting the process of ‘not knowing’ but we made a conscious choice to overcome the uncertainties which arose and focused on respecting the process of play. 

We walked, talked, wrote, made photographs, explored the relationship of words to images, built a map with objects, went on a silent journey to town, interviewed each other, gave each other personalised tasks as gifts and used spontaneous role-play sessions.

This process gave us a lot of freedom and space and led both of us to rediscover interests which we never allowed enough time to discover. In a way, it left us with seedlings of ideas which can now plant!

Maritea Daehlin: I don’t think it is possible to separate performance from playing, particularly not when working with devising that is a process of experimenting and playing. I see playing as moving freely through a structure which can change at any time. After becoming a mum I have become very aware of the way we play and interact with those around us and whilst being alone. I want to find a balance between being open/flexible and present in the moment, at the same time as trusting my beliefs and aims, that can only be achieved with an element of playing. 

Rebecca, what did you learn from your experience with the rubberbodies collective, and what did it tell you about the theatre (and arts) scene in Malta?

RC: The rubberbodies collective was an enriching experience both personally and artistically. I was intrigued by the process of weaving together ideas and abilities to create performance and it gave me a lot of experience in collaborative processes, performing, directing and writing. We worked hard and each one of us flourished as an independent artist. The collective was my artistic womb; it was my family, my heart and my life.

Malta is currently in an exciting phase. There are a lot of practicing artists on the island and also a lot of international artists who are interested in doing things on the island. Welcoming nations of traders seems to be a characteristic of the island and I believe that we must support the local artistic community by inviting visiting artists. 

On the other hand, what was your experience in Mexico like, and what did it teach you?

RC: Like anyone who is growing and discovering, I had the urge to try out different things. After five years working solidly with the collective, I felt my life was stuck on one rock with one family. I wanted to get away from the land, the place and the people which once were part of my playground. So I began moving. First I moved to Gozo, then travelled to India and now I am in Mexico. 

Before coming to Mexico, I knew that I was ready to embark on another project. After working for so long with a collective, I feel it is important for me to find my own artistic integrity. But the shift happens slowly, and I think the act of traveling is a reflection of the searching. In April I had a return flight to Malta but I chose to miss my flight and stay. During this time I was living in Mexico City. This city is surreal, intense and dynamic. At the time I was living in Teatro Lucido, an underground creative space, run by Wendy Ada Moira, who lived in Malta and collaborated with the rubberbodies collective on a few projects. In this space, there was no separation between the theatre and my life. I had no door to my room and my living space transformed continuously from ‘my bed’ into ‘their rehearsal space’ into ‘this theatre play’ into ‘a wild party night’. During this time, I hunted the city; I visited art spaces, participated in workshops and attended performance festivals.

We often use the phrase “because in Malta...”. I have started to think of Malta as a small dense space which reflects similar situations which happen in other contexts. In my experiences working in Europe and now in Mexico, I have learnt that being an artist is about doing what you love and in the process building relationships with people who can appreciate, criticise and support your work. If you want your work to be seen and shown, you need to get out of the cocoon and trust that what you are doing is important to you and to the world.

MD: I am brought up between Norway and Mexico, and for me to be able to bounce between these so different cultures has been a gift for my practice. Mexico is a country full of playing, it’s a place where you have the possibility to create your own ways of living and creating work within a certain chaos. For me this makes it an ideal place to create work. On the other hand, Norway is a country with a very strong and fixed system, which can be great to create structure during a creative process and a collaboration.

How does playing figure into this particular project?

RC: Playing has been very present in the process. As I explained before, the intention behind the process was to respect the playfulness, yet it also raised a lot of subjects which are connected to the artistic practice: such as life, money, the professional sphere, the daily practice and – lest we forget – the equally important process of ‘unlearning’. 

Presenting the project to the public has challenged us in a different way. We agreed that making a performance out of this process would be contradictory to what the project is trying to achieve. In San Cristobal de las Casas, which is the place where all this took place, we opened our process and engaged others in the thinking, doing and documenting. Focusing on the action of human interactions that happen over the everyday indulgence of teas, coffees and cake, we met in a café around a large table with four other artistic  practitioners. 

We initiated conversations through cards with words. We spoke about the relevance of being “professional” and why it does not work to have a professional email. We discussed the impossibility of separating your life from your artistic practice and how the act of writing can come from a necessity or from an expectation. There was a lot of talking which triggered a lot of thinking. These forms of encounters seem to be a necessity for the artist as it is a place in which you can open yourself and your practice without necessarily showing your work. It is not about the work that you do, but more about the engagement one requires to support the life of your work.

MD: In this specific process playing was at its centre: we played with different roles and forms of thinking, writing and talking. We became our future self, created thoughts while walking in silence, we acted as if we were in a therapy session. We also played with objects, creating maps and giving each other gifts. Rebecca gave me a nude bath (which never happened) and I cut her toe nails. And importantly we spent most afternoons playing with my three-year-old son Rio. And yes, I would say there is a difference between playing with a child and a more “grown up intellectual” way of playing. Both were important in our process, and at least for me in my general practice and life. 

How are you leading up to the final products of THINKDODOC? What shape will they take?

RC: Since we do not want to make a final product, we decided to focus on the process. At Casa Vecina, a contemporary art space in Mexico City, we will present who we are, the project and open the process to allow the public to participate in the tasks which we will offer. There will be walking, writing, moving, creating with objects, documenting and discussing. We are also invited in Procesos en Diálogo by La Mecedora, a platform sharing performative processes. 

MD: The aim was always to not make a final product, to allow us to really live the process, respecting each step that was needed for it, respecting it without it having to lead us anywhere specific. But very early we realised that there was a huge paradox, we didn’t want a final product… but we did want a final product. We could have just left the process as an internal one, but we decided to share it on a blog, and by opening it to others in different venues in Mexico. So I guess you could say that to invite an audience to participate in our process and to hear about it is, in some ways, a final product. But at least there is no performance or art piece created from the project. 

Would you recommend this kind of process – one that privileges play – to local practitioners? 

RC: Absolutely! This process has been very inspiring and has revived something which had been dormant for a while in me. I am looking forward to coming back on the island and exchange this experience.

MD: Definitely! To break away from the way I have been making art and defining myself the last years has been so important. More than anything, it has reconnected me with much I had left behind. This was both thanks to the playing itself and thanks to the fact of living out a new collaboration without worrying about a final artistic product. 

THINKDODOC is supported by Arts Council Malta. To follow the project’s blog, log on to: https://thinkdodoc.wordpress.com/

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...