Eve Sussman, 89 Seconds At Alcázar, Rufus Corporation, Madrid, February, 24, 2000, Museo del Prado, Super 8 film stills
«I entered the Prado with the same wariness I reserve for other museums. Wandering into Gallery 15, the astonishment is profound. SeeingLas Meninas for the first time is an arresting experience. It is a work of art that exists in opposition to its surroundings, an inanimate object that defies its own lifelessness and the lifelessness of its environment. Standing in front of the painting, as Eugene Blume put it, “one becomes immediately and every respect a prisoner of the picture. If we are forced as observers to become part of the picture – completely by Velàzquez into a filmic sequence – we want to know who appears with us and how the scene actually came to be”. This desire to see the “coming to be” and its unraveling as a seamless, endless lopp was the impetus for 89 seconds at Alcázar.
Las Meninas is full of suggestions. The picture communicates less through its subjects – whose Baroque lives we will never fully comprehend – than trough the ordinariness of their gazes and actions. The figures are depicted in mid-gesture. They seem real, psychologically arresting, physically frozen in a snapshot that predates photography by almost 200 years. It seemed obvious to look for all the other snapshots.
Standing in Dan’s garage on North 4th Street in Williamsbourg, trying to figure out how to force the perspective and construct a sloped ceiling 20 feet above my head; contemplating the multi-faceted ridiculousness of creating Las Meninas as a moving picture, a piece of choreographed theatre, the realization of the task was as dauting and awesome as the first view of the painting.
There is another view, the perspective of Velázquez and the Infanta; the view out from the painting. This is the invented view: the side of the room that is not depicted in Las Meninas .
Here we had the liberty to improvise and the actors were able to invent a psychological space.
Jeff and Helen, as Philip and Mariana, created characters with shifting gazes and implicit turmoil. We invented a simple story of the King and Queen being visited by their entourage, in which gestures, supported by Jonathan’s sound track, insinuate the narrative.
When Eugen Blume introduced
89 seconds at Alcázar at the premiere in Berlin, he described the invented action:
«… the choreography relates itself to the 17th century experience of distance- essentially the distance of rank and etiquette. At the outset it shows the Queen alone and the royal couple as a symbolic pair, a romantic ideal; simulated, ritually practiced, arrested in an ideal form. Every movement with this pair in front of their courtiers or vainly eyeing themselves in the mirror becomes the scene and segues to the young generation of the princess, who likewise finds in step with her maids and attendants».