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Here's your chance to read comments, reviews and ideas arising out of this year's Biennial posted by specially commissioned writers, critics and theorists. The Writing Live Fellows have been generously supported by Arts Council England.

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10/29/07 12:11:01 pm
'The Draw of Celebrity and the Opening Night'

Francesco Vezzoli, Right You Are (If You Think You Are), 2007. Photo copyright Paula Court. Courtesy of PERFORMA, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Gagosian Gallery.

Francesco Vezzoli Cosi E (Si Vi Pare) / Right You Are (If You Think You Are) at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Oct 27.

If you have to stand in a queue, make sure it??™s an interesting one. The queue that snaked around the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum on Saturday night may have been long and dispiriting, but it was also one peppered with celebrities from the worlds of art and showbiz. Programmed to begin at 10pm, Franco Vezzoli??™s one-night only adaptation of Luigi Pirandello??™s play Right You Are (If You Think You Are) did not start till nearly 11. The waiting crowd had to content themselves by watching stars appear and disappear into the museum behind a flash of bulbs.

Pirandello??™s 1917 play is a parable about truth. It revolves around the mysterious Signora Ponza whose presence is only described through her relationships with others. Drawing together an all-star cast including Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman and Peter Saarsgaard, Vezzoli??™s adaptation courted this fragility of truth in relation to the nature of celebrity. In doing so he choreographed the audience as much as he directed the actors and ??“ although I may not have appreciated it at the time ??“ that long queue was a fitting introduction to the themes of his piece.

Inside the museum, the A-List actors sat facing each other at the centre of the rotunda. Some were cast in roles that deliberately contrasted with their appearance or gender ??“ Natalie Portman, for instance, as the straight talking (male) Laudisi, and the adolescent Marcus Carl Franklin as the Mayor ??“ and they were all reading from a script, so that even when the play was at its most dynamic we were reminded that it was a constructed fiction. This had the paradoxical effect of emphasising the historical specificity of Pirandello??™s text (it??™s setting in early twentieth-century Italy) in order to free the implications of the play. By never allowing the audience to suspend disbelief, in other words, Vezzoli grounded the existential arguments of the play in real experience.

The A-List credentials of the cast also shed an intriguing light on the distinctions between truth, lies and the possibility of knowledge. By using such well known faces ??“ and in particular, the status and renown of Cate Blanchett as Signora Ponza ??“ Vezzoli exploited our own willing complicity in the cult of celebrity. Signora Ponza??™s denouement (or anti-denouement, as she does little to clarify the story) could just as well have been a description of Blanchett??™s activities on the publicity run for her latest film. In that situation, too, she is a construct of other people's imaginations.

And yet my view of events was heavily coloured by where I was seated. Famous and important people (of a range that included Mary-Kate Olsen, Lou Reed and Cindy Sherman) were seated around the actors on the ground floor, while others vied for their place along the museum??™s ramps. My seat was in a separate screening room, which showed pictures from cameras trained on each of the actors??™ faces as well as on members of the audience. Signora Ponza/ Cate Blanchett, wearing a veiled costume designed by John Galliano, was perched on an elaborate stool in front of the screen.

Just like the gossiping villagers who cast judgment on Signora Ponza??™s identity in Pirandello??™s play, then, I was afforded the apparent luxury of being able to see without being judged myself - there were no cameras trained on my seat. I watched the fidgeting and shuffling of high-status audience members, and I saw the watchful expressions of the actors between lines. The frustration I felt in the queue was long behind me, as I revelled in the privilege of the belief that I had a perfect view. In fact, it was the feeling of exclusion in the queue ??“ forced to wait while others were led into the museum ??“that made this sense of inclusion and knowledge so richly felt.

The programme quotes Pirandello??™s desire to stimulate audience members as opposed to please them, and the shuffling discomfort of the queue certainly did nothing to please anyone. But there was no loud rebellion, no chorus of booing like in the early performances by Pirandello??™s Futurist contemporaries. In the end, were we all sated by the tantalising glimpse of celebrity? Flattered and cosseted in my prize seat, I certainly was.

Cosi E (Se Vi Pare) / Right You Are (If You Think You Are) was a PERFORMA Commission. Produced by Gagosian Gallery, New York. Co-produced by PERFORMA in collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Mary Paterson

10/29/07 12:00:00 pm
PERFORMA Commission: Nathalie Djurberg

Performers in front of the film

If you missed it, you can still see Djurberg's live performance!

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