I’m a collector. In 2014, I started collecting people. Collection of People is a long-term project made up of four collections: lovers, collectors, artists and spectators. All my collections are about the ephemeral, things that are impossible to keep, and finding ways to collect people. For my collections, I create theatre shows, performances, books, exhibitions, workshops and films. My first collection is of lovers. I set up meetings with strangers in their houses. We have to take at least one photo that demonstrates intimacy. After the first meeting, I realised there had to be a second meeting, and after that a third and so on. Today I count 230 lovers. All of them are of different ages, nationalities, genders. To date, I have collected lovers in 24 cities, from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, Bergen to Cincinnati, Buenos Aires to Geneva. I never knew who I was going to meet. No one else is there besides us, the camera and the tripod. It is the lover who suggests what picture is taken. The question central to the work is: What is intimacy for you?
I decided to collect lovers for ten years. I thought that a decade would be the minimum amount of time needed to see what ends up changing within this question and how this question changes me. I’m in the fifth year now and have around 7,000 pictures. In every city I pass through, I collect more lovers.
“Collection of People is my way of participating and inviting others to participate. It is my participatory life."
The second collection is the Collection of Collectors. It is a collection of people who share their obsession of collecting with me. How can you get to know someone through their collections? What memories can an object carry? It all started in 2016, in the north of Portugal. So far, I have collected 36 collectors in Germany, Belgium and several cities in Portugal. I have spent hours with each collector and recorded everything on video. I do not leave any of the collectors’ houses without bringing an object from their collection with me: something to tell their story, that reminds me of our meeting. Something to remind my memory of the experience we had together.
My other two collections are currently in progress. One of them is the Collection of Spectators. In all the projects of collecting people, I collect spectators. The spectators are invited to start a direct relationship with me, which generates visual, textual and object archives. They send me photos, objects, letters, magazines and videos. This collection initiates a conversation between the work and its witnesses, who let themselves be affected by it. And it never stops accumulating. In the collection, I show people reading the book Collection of Lovers Vol. 1, watching a TV version of Collection of Lovers, visiting the Collection of Lovers exhibition at the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Centre and more than 600 objects from 40 performances of Collection of Collectors, which spectators had given to me during the show. This is the archive for a performance to premiere in 2021.
Right now, I’m working on the Collection of Artists. It is possible to access the artist, their story, in a moment of a creation. In the question of artists, my proposal is to use my own body as an archive. How can my body memorise someone? Collection of Artists is about each artist. There are different practices, conceptual perspectives and different working tools. It is also about their personal desires and lifestyles, showing the relationship between what they do and who they are.
To date, I have collected 17 artists from different nationalities, among them a contemporary dancer, a musician from a classical orchestra, a painter, a sculptor, a hip-hopper, a theatre director, an actress, a performer, a circus artist, etc. This is only a glimpse of my collection of people, my collection of ephemeral things, my collection of things that seem impossible to keep.
Oscar Wilde once said: “It is not art that imitates life, but life that imitates art”. I believe in the possibility of living artistically. Collection of People is a way of doing that. If it were not for this artistic project, I would not be able to meet these people, I would not be able to get into their homes, I would not be affected by them and their stories. In the last five years, it has become my way of approaching people and places. And to turn it into my work of art is a privilege and a great pleasure. But most of all it is a way of being. In Living as Form, Nato Thompson starts by quoting Foucault, who said: “What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals or to life, that art is something which is specialised or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art?” I say the answer is yes.
Collecting people is a methodology for artistic composition, a way of writing and telling stories. For me it is a question of perspective, yes: we are all lovers, collectors, artists and spectators. Because we all have a story that draws us closer together; that, in all its differences, and peculiarities becomes a narrative. And it is a great compositional tool and source of content creation for the theatre. Claire Bishop wrote the following about delegated performance: “This type of performance in which the artist uses other people as the material of his or her work tends to occasion heated debate about the ethics of her presentation.” Everyone who I collect consents to being collected. Everyone knows that our meeting is an artistic meeting. They all know that the show will be based on the meeting. And they all get involved until they have understood what their limits are. I invite these people to have an experience. An experience to which they consent.
For me, the meetings with the collected people are themselves performances and artistic work. We both attempt to collect what cannot be collected, believing that it may be possible to collect someone as part of an artistic work. I am collecting people to make a work of art, so right now it has become my way of living and a part of my history. Collection of People is my way of participating and inviting others to participate. It is my participatory work and history. It is my participatory life.
Artist, Teatro Nacional D. Maria II, Lisbon/Portugal
From early on in her artistic career, Raquel André has had an interest in collecting – especially in the idea of how to collect in the performing arts, about which she wrote a master thesis at University Federal of Rio de Janeiro (2016). In 2014 she started the ongoing project Collection of People, a work with four collections: Lovers, Collectors, Artists and Spectators.
This article was published in the ETC Casebook Participatory Theatre – A Casebook in Spring 2020. It was given as part of a panel talk on “European Formats of Participatory Theatre”, during the ETC International Theatre Conference, Dresden in May 2019.
Read all published articles of Participatory Theatre – A Casebook here
Top photo: Collection of Lovers by Raquel André (Lisbon/Portugal) © Susana Neves