arno gilles cuire performance antigel festival geneva switzerland plural masculinity virility harness power tenderness bodies connection scenography
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Arno Ferrera and Gilles Polet
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March 27, 2023
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Cuir: A Face-To-Face With Plural Masculinity

We set out to meet Arno Ferrera and Gilles Polet, the two artists of the contemporary performance duo Cuir. Through our discussion, we explored the concept of virility and plural masculinity. During their show in Antigel, we had the chance to witness a beautiful body-to-body connection between them, characterized by both tenderness and power. Enjoy!

Dany: They present you as a very virile duo, but I have to admit that I haven't seen the performance yet. There is this duel face-to-face, and what I find also interesting is that you are presented as two men of equal strength.

Arno: That's not necessarily how we would like to present ourselves. In our duo, it is very important for us to question this virility. The way this image is suggested is through the way we behave on stage. We are almost exclusively dressed in leather harnesses that cover our bodies, and we are scarcely clothed. So, indeed, this does showcase the male body with which we were born and the harnesses amplify this masculine representation. But it is important to us, that the performance reflects questions that can be universal, beyond gender. People can recognize themselves in one or the other or in the relationship we put on stage. 

Gilles: In this show, we propose a desire for tenderness but also an invitation to the versatility of roles. It's about being able to abandon a role that is attributed to us to better understand what we are exercising on the other. It's a bit monolithic as a relationship since we are almost one.

D: You spoke about a plural masculinity with a lot of tenderness and power...

A: We seek to maintain a relationship of person to person, which does not call for a conflicting confrontation, nor a win-lose relationship. One may want to subordinate the other, to force him to follow, to impose a situation on him, but the other may also be in a state of acceptance, in a willingness to follow this obligation. Both men then enjoy their positions, with consent, without any hierarchy. With power dynamics that are sometimes very tough and direct, moments of tenderness are amplified.

D: This is a consensual confrontation, a fight within the scenography. The audience is also divided face-to-face. Is this a game of mirrors to confront ourselves?

G: While you are watching the show, you also see how the spectator seated in front of you is watching it, and that will greatly influence how you interpret. The gaze of the other is part of the performance. The audience is sitting in a face-to-face configuration, mirroring what we do on stage.

A: It's also a desire to put the audience close to the action, both with each other and with what's happening on stage. We don't have control over the spectator, and depending on where you are sitting, you have a different perspective and view. And indeed, what Gilles was saying is interesting, because the spectators are also spectators of themselves. The scenography is a neon lighting device, so everything is visible all the time.

D: Masculinity is often represented by domination, taking power over others.

A: We don't want to reject domination and violence. Submitting can be a form of domination. It's done in a way that allows each to revel in their posture. So, there are still clear roles in the show. At first glance, you think it's a dominant being, with the other constantly being dominated, but the roles can change and intertwine very quickly. And there is still a very strong listening element to performing this piece. That's what allows us to play it without ever hurting each other. You can push the limits, but always by being attentive. We don't go too far for the other, but also for ourselves.

D: It's a connection between the two of you. How did it all start?

A: At the very beginning, I wanted to work with harnesses because it's an archaic, primitive tool that has a lot of connotations, including BDSM. But that wasn't the original thing that interested me, so I tried to understand why I got there. What interested me as a starting point was questioning the roles of domination and power, particularly in the agricultural context. There are fewer and fewer people working with animal power there, meaning plowing fields with horses, for example. I went to interview people who still work in this way in France and Belgium. I realized that the common denominator of people who practice this is paradoxically not a form of domination as we imagine it. It's a form of cooperation that requires listening, respect, and observation of the animal. You have to know the animal and make it understand that you're working together. I find it very interesting to present a relationship that approaches it as a metaphor for plowing a field. Obviously, that's not what we want to highlight in the show, but the starting point was to create this cooperative relationship inspired by the human/animal relationship in the act of plowing fields. It also inspired the listening we have between us.

D: Do you have any other ongoing projects?

G: We're going to do another piece together called Armour. It's a follow-up to Cuir, going from two to three male performers. We continue with questions around manhood, but we want to go much further in this spectrum. Armour is a play on words between armor and love. With armors created with sports protections, we're gonna work on issues of protection, overprotection, abandonment, and how to share this with an audience. The project proposes a representation of a free and generous love, universal and plural, a straightforward threesome.

A: Recently, with Gilles, we led a project in prison. We had to be very sensitive on how we bring the subject of touch to prisoners. Not used to touching each other, it was very difficult to overcome the role of masculinity and dare to create and intimate and caring space in between men. So, the way we did it was by exhausting them very hard at the beginning of every session. Then we gradually introduced the idea of touch as a cooperative tool, but without talking about it, just by doing straightforward body-to-body exercises, and then little by little they opened up. They were very generous in sharing this intimacy with us, but also with each other. And it was a very beautiful project. Touch, which is still fundamental in our work, happens without us emphasizing it. We grab each other, hold each other, let go, catch each other, lift each other, throw each other. There is something very concrete where, by force of circumstance, it passes for very close, intimate touch, and that's how a door opened with a group of detainees, it's very powerful. It inspired us in the work of Armour, to further our questioning on masculinities and the desire to change.

Images courtesy of Quentin Pidoux and Wannes Cré


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