Gallery: ATEM le souffle

ATEM the breath
a piece by Josef Nadj

From a project I recently did together with the CCNO in Orléans, France. Not something I usually do, but I really enjoyed the experience.


The first challenge in Atem is its scenography: a small theater where the audience is represented by seven rows of seating, accommodating about sixty people, while the stage consists of an elevated “black box” of small size (four meters wide and three meters deep), a cramped parallelepiped whose apparent simplicity masks the presence of escape hatches, openings, passages, niches or false bottoms. A construction both spectacular and intimate, which encompasses the audience and immediately raises two questions. One concerns the relationship between the two dancers, “how to occupy and inhabit such a small space together?” The second is based on the stage-audience relationship resulting from this particular scenography,specifically concerning proximity as a condition of viewing. Which is magnified because the lighting – exclusively by candlelight– forces the viewer to the most extreme attentiveness. From these concrete specifics, these material choices and the reflection they provoked, Josef Nadj decided to focus on “details, objects, clues, and small signs” to revive and extend a few recurring issues from his artistic universe – the exploration of materials and their transformation, the reference to natural elements and the cosmos, and last and above all the question of time, cyclic or linear, whose “inexorable passage clashes with eternity.”

Dürer: Melencolia

Dürer: Melencolia

The second challenge Josef Nadj has launched with Atem is a sort of return to the sources of his artistic inspiration, in addressing for the first time the work of two artists who have always “accompanied” him, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) – specifically his engravings, and the poet Paul Celan, the rereading of whom during the creation of this new work led Josef to catch sight of multiple echoes or extensions in the poems to Dürer’s engravings.
An exercise in lucidity, in unveiling, Atem proposes a reading of one of Dürer’s major works, Melencolia I (1514), a copper engraving of great complexity which has been, and remains to this day, “subject to infinite interpretations” (H. Wölfflin). There is of course nothing didactic in the light Josef Nadj sheds on this work – for him the question is to “gather” elements, isolate them, move them around, recombine and bring them into resonance with details found or borrowed from other prints by Dürer, as well as with the verses of Paul Celan, composing a new image, moving and living, a tableau in which movement challenges vision, while simultaneously revealing it, a guide for the eye.
Myriam Bloedé, translated into English by David Vaughn

(Source: Centre choréographique national d’Orléans)

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