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SIFA 2023: An Interview with Andrea Salustri, creator of ‘MATERIA’

The star of Andrea Salustri’s show MATERIA is not a person, but a material – polystyrene, one of the most common forms of plastic. Under Salustri’s manipulation, he allows it to come alive, and questions how we engage with objects, and to consider the life behind the ordinary.

MATERIA also explores the balance between being a facilitator and being a performer, as the focus gradually shifts from the person manipulating the objects, to the act of manipulation, and finally to the object being manipulated. Before its premiere in Singapore, we spoke to creator Andrea Salustri, and found out more about his history as an artist, the concept of ‘object theatre’, and the idea of experimentation and the avant garde in theatre. Read the interview in full below:

Andrea Salustri. Photo courtesy of Arts House Limited

Bakchormeeboy: You’re an artist who’s been educated and trained across a variety of art forms, from dance to juggling and even fire manipulation. How do you feel your unusual education and training has shaped your artistic practice today?

Andrea: I have not studied circus in any schools. I am self-taught, both in juggling and fire manipulation, and I’ve been performing as a street artist for a number of years while I was in Rome. I studied philosophy in Rome and then moved to Berlin to study contemporary dance and choreography. I must admit it is a bit of a strange combo, but I feel what I am doing is exactly the result of this slightly strange path.

Photo Credit: Eike Walkenhorst

Bakchormeeboy: In MATERIA, you perform solo as you manipulate polystyrene onstage, with no set narrative. How did the idea for MATERIA first come about, and how did you go about planning the sequence of events for the performance?

Andrea: The idea for MATERIA actually came out from experimentation. When I transitioned from circus to dance, I somehow hold on to my juggling practice. Then the two emerged together when I started playing with common objects I could find around myself, and I started applying dance methodologies to objects. In the beginning, I start experimenting with the movement of different objects trying to pursue movement research. When I encountered polystyrene, I found so many possibilities that I decided I wanted to keep discovering, so the performance really came out from a personal interest in the material. The creation itself was let somehow by the polystyrene and the surprises it would offer me. Following that, then it was my job to put together, select and give a dramaturgically order to all the results I have found.

Bakchormeeboy: How did you train and rehearse for this performance, and what was the process of experimentation with polystyrene like?

Andrea: Something I really care about sharing is that I did not produce the performance having a clear idea of where I wanted to land. It was really constituted after a process of playful discovery, that was very important to me. This has kept the motivation and interest alive, and I have found myself experimenting around in places I could have never imagine before. This was the case with sounds experimentations or with chemical experiments. The polystyrene revealed itself to me during the years, and I had to put all the pieces together, and that’s how the performance has been created.

Bakchormeeboy: What is your own relationship with polystyrene like after creating and performing this work? Is there an emotional element or attachment you develop to something as seemingly non-living as a material?

Andrea: I do believe we can empathize with non-human objects. It is the case when we become very attached to things that accompanied us for years or have a particular significance concerning a person or an event. With polystyrene, it has been quite a journey. It has been somehow ironic, funny, and strange that now I find myself connected to this material. It keeps me surprised during the show, which is nice. Then it’s a bit strange when I find it in my daily life, in some packaging I received. Obviously, doing the show, I have to take care of it, I try not to waste it, and I believe it is a very interesting element. So this relationship with polystyrene now has become a long-term one!

Bakchormeeboy: MATERIA seems like a relatively avant garde/experimental work that doesn’t easily fall into any categories. Do you feel that the art scene in Italy is resistant to such innovations, or welcoming of such new practices?

Andrea: I am Italian, but I am not based in Italy, at the moment. I live in Berlin, Germany, a very welcoming city for experimentation. Here, I think I have been very lucky in finding a lot of support from family, friends and the environment I found myself in. I also believe that somehow it is also possible to shape your own environment, with your attitude, interest and enthusiasm.

Photo Credit: Eike Walkenhorst

Bakchormeeboy: What kinds of questions do you hope audience members reflect on as they watch this work?

Andrea: This is the Asian premiere of the show. I’ve never performed my works outside Europe, so I’m curious to see how the audience will react, and I will be open to every question.

Bakchormeeboy: How does this work tie back to SIFA’s theme of Some People?

Andrea: I believe that in exploring the spectrum of human experiences, we must take into consideration the environment we are placed in. We lived in this object-based environment. We are surrounded by objects; we are related to objects at every moment. I related to objects every moment I answered these questions. There are different objects and different ways in which we relate to them, and very often this is a relationship of use. We consider objects in terms of functionality and economic value. Being able to give value to objects that we usually discard, throw away or somehow attach to our lives or to our environment, damaging it, I think is a crucial point for our history going forward. MATERIA tries to re-think and reflect on our relationship with polystyrene and try to see beauty in waste, so I feel very strongly connected to this year’s SIFA theme.

MATERIA plays from 20th to 21st May 2023 at the SOTA Studio Theatre. Tickets available here

The 2023 Singapore International Festival of Arts runs from 19th May to 4th June 2023. Tickets and full details of programme available here

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