SACI’s Body Archives class visited a psychiatric day-center in Florence, Centro Diurno “Fili e colori” yesterday. This is a colorful recount of the experience of the student and patient interaction within their creative and theatrical environment, by Instructor Dejan Atanakovic:
The SACI group arrives on time: Ana Lia, Hana, Molly, Christina, Danielle, Lola, Morgane, Michael, and we are soon comfortably gathered in a room dominated by two large prints, showing “Pippo’s diaries.” These are enlarged notes, names of people, random feelings, memories, thoughts, by Pippo Bosè. Alessandro Fantechi, theater director, has gathered many of these pages, and as he talks about it Pippo walks into the room wearing a red jacket. He is a star, and he dresses like a star. He speaks like a big child, but he is also a great old-fashioned gentleman. He asks for the permission to “greet the girls,” and then theatrically presents himself and kisses their hands.
All rooms are named after artists, and we are now in the room “Frida Kahlo.” Vincenza speaks English fluently. She shows us her watercolors. These are her “obsessions,” she says proudly: a double portrait, one larger than the other, apparently the same face with long blond hair, suspended in a field of color: a mother and a son. They are drawn and painted with childish simplicity. The motif reappears in many variations. Dozens of watercolors show patterns of colors, circles, lines, surfaces: all these watercolors, she explains, are made after Rudolf Steiner’s color theory. Are these landscapes? No, just colors, she says.
The room is full of works on paper, among them two interpretations of Warhol’s Marilyn. The first one is more “truthful” though beautifully distorted. The second, compacted into a sort of a smeared box-shape, is an interpretation of the first. We observe the passage from one to the other, and the outcome that, as Paolo says, now resembles more Bacon than Warhol. Paolo is an art therapist, one of the activists of this center. He tells us about the method of mutual criticism: each patient defines a work of another by using a single word or a phrase. Then he shows us a notebook where these words are gathered. To me it seems much more efficient than most critiques we do at art schools. Free of technique, knowledge and vanity. There is a table full of art catalogs and art history books that patients can use as a source of inspiration.
Alessandro is now standing in front of a wall filled with red painted words: the smell of hay, flat pillows, toasted bread, raw salt… He tells a story, and I have no idea if he is talking about a person or about an invented character. There was a man, he says, that kept forgetting all that he believed was important. So he started writing lists of all important things. This wall was his memory wall.
Vincenza is greeting us in a room dedicated to medical meetings and theatric rehearsals. Theatrical medicine, medical rehearsals – this inevitable intertwining comes to mind. We are all bipolar here, she says. We all have the “bipolar disease.” Disorder, I correct her, as if I could possibly know anything about it more than her.
We are having a coffee break and the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, students are now talking to patients, everyone seems to be involved in learning about the other. It’s beautiful. Vincenza passes a flyer with the program of their performances: Anthology of Nothing, March 20th, Teatro L’Affratellamento, Florence.
Then it’s time for some theater. We are all back to the “medical rehearsals” room. Vincenza stands in the middle of the room, she is reciting two of her poems in Italian, and then she translates them out loud in English with amazing ease. Adeguarsi, adeguarsi, she repeats. Adapt, adapt. The next one is all about medication. A chemical straightjacket. It’s a world full of images of control, social requests and exclusion.
Andrea is very young and rather tiny physically. He is interpreting Hamlet. To be or not to be. He is a little reluctant about it, but then he begins to speak in verses. An outstanding, difficult improvisation. Verses come out as if physically extracted, in a struggle. He goes on forever, delivering images of distance, infinity, deserts, landscapes… Every image begins with a stressful inhale, and ends with an exhale, as a relief.
Dario, a big, strong guy, like a wrestler, checks out the time on his wrist watch. He does that often, as if he is in a hurry. He is wearing round sun glasses that he takes of as he is invited to perform. He does for us his Adriano Celentano imitation. Then Alessandro asks him to do Rocky Balboa, and so Dario is now playing a double role, a journalist interviewing Rocky, and Rocky himself, who just returned from the Soviet Union. Rocky, how was it in Moscow? Well, I did my best, my opponent was tough, and if I can change, then the world can change. Rocky, how is your Russian? Great, I speak Russian in all languages.
Then comes Pippo. Alessandro presents Pippo by making a connection between a showman and a shaman. The two words even sound alike, though there is clearly no etymological connection. It is the role of the shaman, as well as of the showman, to take upon himself the collective madness. Pippo Bosè created his character by doing street imitation performances of a pop star of the 80s, Miguel Bosè. But it was more than imitation, something of a transformative process. So, Pippo became Pippo Bosè. He was even more famous in Florence after he jumped on a stage and sang with David Bowie. Unthinkable nowadays, with all the security issues. But Pippo became a star, and remained so for years now. Last summer he did his Super Super Man performance in front of two thousand people at the Cascine Park. And two thousand people played their roles, just like Pippo played his. They were the audience of the legendary Pippo Bosè. Alessandro presses play on his I-pad, and the musical base of Super Super Man begins. Pippo is already in his self-choreographed pose: his left arm raised, his right hand resting on his hip, sort of like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. And so, Pippo sings and dances, like some relic of the 80s, shaking his hands, moving his hips, raising his arms in triumph. He is, as he defines himself, a “qualified star.” At the end of the performance he comes to me to hug me and kiss me, and he offers me his autograph on the flyer Vincenza gave us. I accept most gladly. Alessandro passes around a framed full-page article from La Repubblica, all about Pippo, with a great picture of the Pippo-clown. Then we all gather for a group picture, and it’s already time to leave.
But then, as we are almost leaving, Alessandro says to Giovanni, an elderly man seated in the corner, to present himself. Giovanni surprises us with his perfect English. I wanted to be a teacher or sports journalist, he says. But nowadays it is hard to find a job. His brother insists that he finds himself a job. It is not an easy time for the young, says Alessandro. Giovanni asks me if I would like to have his autograph too, and he signs his name on the flyer, next to Pippo.
As we are leaving we are introduced to Dr. Filippo Piras, a member of the medical staff. We all express mutual gratitude for this visit. Then I walk with the students to the bus stop, and we talk about the next step. We all agree that we should host the whole group at SACI, Pippo, Vincenza, Dario and others, and show them our work. The visit has caused great enthusiasm, like these visits always do. In our world, we are not used anymore to such sincere expression of emotions. But we can always work on it. If Rocky can change, we can change too.