Ekphrasis of a Window: a radio play by Silvia Costa and Umberto Sebastiano
Ekphrasis is the literary description of a work of art – the translation of a sensible experience of a vision into beautiful words. But what happens if the object of this ekphrasis is a window, a place on the borderline between the outside and the inside, between us and others? Can reality be treated in the same way as a work of art? Is vision a composer? And how does vision compose? How does it choose to link together individual strands of reality and turn them into a story? Some of these questions had long been discussed in our correspondence, resting on the blank pages of our computers, waiting for the right moment to take centre stage, while others remained in the shadows, ready to surprise us. Last spring, the invitation from Triennale Milano Teatro to come up with a contribution for the Magazine inspired us to put some reflections down in writing and put them to the test.
What we were interested in was setting out shared rules that would define the act of writing. We didn’t start from the content, but from the rules. And we added more limits to those already imposed by the pandemic. We chose two unalterable points of observation: two windows five hundred kilometres apart – as the crow flies – one in Rome and the other in Casalpusterlengo. We established a timeframe and actions to be performed in unison: looking, describing, and sharing our words. We wanted to see if our visions would resonate. And indeed they did, in an unpredictable way that we had had no interest in predetermining. Breaking the sleep-wake cycle, standing to attention in the face of reality, and opening our eyes wide: these actions turned us into soldiers, standing guard every day. We developed a particular, obsessive attention, and then we realised that the more we went into the detail of our sensible experience and the more we broke it down into its constituent parts, the more we found ourselves in the realm of indeterminacy, where imagination played a key role. Not one of fantasising, but rather of making sense. Our restricted freedom of movement assisted the process: the images took over just as nature took over during the lockdown in the spring.
The words of ecphrasis, which would and should have taken the place of images, ended up producing other images – images more powerful than reality, beyond reality. Images that gave life to other words in order to be described and contained. We could say that a rather particular form of ouroboros took shape, in which words were eating the tail of the images, and vice versa.
A theatrical dimension came about spontaneously, capturing us first as spectators and then as performers. We hadn’t thought of doing a work on the pandemic, but rather on distance and on the presence/absence of the other. Because when we are alone, closed in our house/box, we are like those superposition particles in quantum physics that we cannot tell what state they are in. Without contact with others, without them looking, we cannot say whether we are alive or dead. And so we naturally tried to get closer, without moving, because it was forbidden at the time – it was not possible. To bridge the gap, we let ourselves be guided by the images as they emerged from the depths and took the place of those cut out in the window frame. We built a bridge and made it passable.
We established a timeframe and actions to be performed in unison: looking, describing, and sharing our words. We wanted to see if our visions would resonate.
It was not just some playful activity, but rather a nocturnal journey both inside and outside of us, a transformation into something else, into someone else. A rite of passage, a journey of learning.
Once the ritual of writing was over and we had left our homes and were once again together, with our text and the images it had generated, we felt the need to give our words the immediacy of a voice, to give them a sound and a rhythm, and to accompany them with presences, noises, and excerpts from melodies. Not a soundtrack, but a third voice, a non-human voice, at times inhuman, at others capricious, persistent, and rough, coming from another possible world. A world that was no longer in front of our eyes, but in an elsewhere from which only a distant echo could rise up into the air and fly, reaching and touching us. And this is how the idea of the radio play came about. The sound dimension created by the musician Claudio Rocchetti brought out and highlighted the sensibilities, the flights of the imagination, and the way the words and images of both came out of our bodies and intertwined.
Broadcast for the first time on Thursday 26 November at 11 p.m. as part of the Il Teatro di Radio3 programme, the radio play Ecfrasi della finestra is now coming home to the Triennale Milano Teatro, to be performed on its virtual stage. Enjoy the show!