Numax-Fagor-plus

Cinéma Marivaux

16/05 – 20:30 FR
17/05 – 22:00 EN
18/05 – 20:30 NL
20/05 – 20:30 FR
21/05 – 20:30 FR
22/05 – 20:30 NL
23/05 – 20:30 FR
± 1h 30min

History repeats itself. In 1979, the workers at Numax, the Spanish manufacturer of household appliances, learn that an experiment of collective self-management to save their business has failed. Aware of the defeat, they decide to capture their last days on film. In 2013, the cooperative Fagor, one of the largest manufacturers of household electronics in Europe, were forced to close their books. Catalan artist Roger Bernat invited the workers from Fagor to restage the last deliberations at Numax in the style of re-enactments of historical battles. In 2014, the Brusselaars take the floor! For over fifteen years, Roger Bernat has been developing work that assesses our involvement in society and in the arts. In 2009, he left an indelible impression with the theatre play Domini Públic . This year, at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Bernat creates an original presentation that revives a real moment of collective crisis through a collectivisation of the discourse. We have the last word.

Numax-Fagor-plus is a piece by Roger Bernat with a different performer for each show. At the Kunstenfestivaldesarts it will be performed by XXX in French, YYY in Dutch, and ZZZ in English. The project takes as its starting point the film Numax, presenta (1980) by the director Joaquim Jordà, in collaboration with the ex-workers of the factories Numax as well as Fagor-Electrodomésticos. The dramaturgy of this piece is by Roberto Fratini, and Pablo González Morandi performed the historic research. The programming of the visual set-up was done by Matteo Sisti, the sound by Cristóbal Saavedra Vial. Txalo Toloza is in charge of the technical direction, and Helena Febrés Fraylich takes care of the production. Ricard Terés is the production assistant. I would like to thank Ramiro Ledo Cordeiro for his constant concern and attention for the project, as well as Ahots Kooperatibista and the newspaper Mondraberri.

Presentation
Kunstenfestivaldesarts

Production
Elèctrica produccions (Barcelona)

Co-production
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Elèctrica Produccions (Barcelona), Grec 2014 Festival de Barcelona

Earlier version co-produced by
FRAC Basse Normandie (Caen), Temporada Alta (Girona)

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HISTORY: TRANSITIVE TENSES
by Pablo González Morandi

NUMAX, 1979

Labour amnesty / Return of sacked workers / They stifled us, now we stifle them and they leave the workplace to us / Solidarity with the workers / Amnesty, freedom, autonomy / For an outcome to the crisis that favours the workers / A people united will never be defeated / No to hiring and firing / Unionization, the right to strike / No to the Moncloa pact / Up the workers

In this setting, the film-maker Joaquín Jordà created Numax presenta… (1979), a documentary covering the experiences of a group of workersover a period of two years, who collectively took over and ran theNumax domestic appliances factory in Barcelona. The documentary wasmade at the request of the Workers’ Assembly, which decided, almostas its final act, to invest the 700,000 pesetas remaining in the fightingfund in order to leave a record of the struggle in which all had taken part.Since the workers were also the producers, during the week of shootingthey formed a censorship committee responsible for checking the filming.Jordà recalled that “fortunately, as we were filming at night, theylay down very soon on the ground and fell asleep, and we roused themonce we had finished.”

The final scene is a party, at which some of the workers explain theirlongings for the future: train to be a teacher, go to live in the country,never go back to being exploited by bosses, never enter direct employmentagain. These desires meant that the film was not well-receivedby unions and Labour parties, who considered it did not sufficientlyexalt the workers’ struggle. Hence, the film lay forgotten for manyyears.

FAGOR, 2013

True democracy now / We are not merchandise in the hands of politicians and bankers / Stop dismissals / No, no, they do not represent us / Take to the streets / They call it democracy and it is no such thing / All this sausage but not enough bread / 600 euro a month is violence / No to wage cuts / Democracy 2.0 / Young people with no future, no home, no job, no fear / System error, reboot / We are not paying for this crisis

In this setting, on 13 November 2013, the Fagor domestic appliances factory came to an arrangement with creditors that put 1800 workers out of a job. Founded in 1956, the Mondragón Corporación Cooperativa (MCC) is nowadays the biggest cooperative in the world, bringing together 110 co-operative businesses involved in many different sectors, and employing over 80,000 people.

The fall of Fagor, the flagship business of the MCC, caused a huge personal and social drama throughout the Mondragón valley. Talking to the workers, one gets the impression that they have woken up from a long dream, and are still in a state of shock. For many of them, closure of the plant represented not only the loss of their jobs, and the capital they had invested as cooperative members, but also the defeat of a social model in which they all firmly believed, as an alternative to the capitalist system. “There used to be ideas here, a spirit. Now we are just one more business, like McDonald’s”, bemoaned a worker.

Currently, the hope of being re-employed in other companies of the MCC group has encouraged a certain individualism, which, together with a lack of any union tradition (as the worker-members own the business), seems to have disabled the protest. Only a minority, very critical of the management, has maintained its action in defence of jobs.

PLUS

A gap of 35 years lies between these two experiences of struggle. Along the way, while the country was experiencing one of its best periods of economic growth, many things have changed. The factory as a place for political struggle has gone, hardly anyone dares to use the word proletariat in public, and workers’ symbols only retain their meaning for a few nostalgic souls. In fact, the workers are not seen in the streets now, as the writer Pérez Andujar says, perhaps because they are hidden and disguised as consumers. Despite the radical alteration in the discourse, factories still exist, work on the assembly line is still work on the assembly line, and exploitation… yes, is still exploitation!

THE THEATRE: EX OPERE OPERATO
by Roberto Fratini

Historical recreation – Gettysburg, Waterloo and all the rest… – in some sense offers a democratized version of the plentiful panoramas and living tableaux that, in the 19th century, helped the multitudes emerging from the industrial revolution to reflect their own unrest back onto these images. Since the motive of 19th century historicism lay in finding ways to make history an object of entertainment, it was inevitable that the only possible consummation of the consummatum est would be to update and reformulate it, and at the same time to ensure that a constantly widening public had the chance to identify itself within history.

It was no accident that the century of the living tableaux was also the golden age of figurative painting: offering the anonymous citizen the chance to appear in the artistic fiction of a historical event.

It could be said that political silence, the inaction of the multitude still at some remove from the prospect of organising its own discourse and modulating its own voice, offers a sublimated reflection of pure action, of pure appearance and imagination, throwing itself into the effort to disguise the present with all the paraphernalia of the past: the past itself being converted into an inexhaustible source of trashy epic, participatory heroism and period horror.

The great eternity of History is rewritten once more into the records of repeatability. After being paraded on review in the tableaux of the masses, history was no longer a teacher, it was a subject to be taught. It is not surprising that now, as then, the most misused model within historical re-enactment is the battle scene: no other subject is so far removed from any dialectic, so similar to the charisma of a pure action, a frenetic absence of speech; in no other subject is the multitude so active on the one hand, and so anonymous and expendable on the other; no other scene offers the same generous opportunities for bringing the ugly slaughter of military history into the present, through aesthetically appealing scenes of heroism.

So now let us imagine a re-enactment whose definitive theme is a more explicit, political agenda of conflict, in that the action suggested may be organized, structured and decided through discourse. Discourse and dialectic meet, in public speaking, in the diametrically opposed fields of order or command, on the one hand, and on the other of an active and obedient silence. As it applies to the protocols of the unionised labour struggle as action, dialectic itself manages to avoid the situation where the only synonym for action is armed conflict. We would then be light years ahead of this docile silence, this decorative passivity of the crowds in the historical painting. That said, the main challenge for the struggling working class was always to develop a collective voice that was not at the same time anonymous or onomatopoeic. So the workers’ meeting becomes a linguistic and autodidactic reflection of the working condition; that is, the place where awareness of one’s own condition in turn allows “creation of conditions”. It could be said that this form of the discourse, based on a pragmatic solidarity, is already a re-enactment per se: no longer the charismatic modern presentation of a battle, won or lost, but the development, continuity and non-consummation of a battle that clearly never finished.

The workers’ struggle was able to discover, organise and lexicalise its voice in protocols, and at times in dialectic rituals so it could continually reinvent itself as new. The dialectic truth arising from the urgency of the fight enlarged its potential for objectivity, its public common sense, its intemporality precisely in the moment when it renewed itself in an alien voice: a voice that gathered in its heritage and simply “bore it”, “delivered it”; whose strength lies not in provoking the text with a convincing interpretation that alone would ensure it was revitalized, but in underlining for the present that the words remain valid precisely because to say them was already, in due course, an act of separation, emancipation or estrangement between body and speech, between contingency and generality. Or, perhaps better, a liturgy.

Long before early Christianity linked this work to cultic practice and its own particular conventions of gesture and word, the Ancient Greek word leiturgia meant any type of action that promoted public activities and benefit: a service that was specifically for the community and for which the citizens had to take responsibility according to a rota system. The tasks represented a need or benefit beyond the specific interest or identity of the person undertaking them. Within the religio-cultic context, the liturgy, which is the re-presentation of a mystery, disregards entirely the identity or sincerity of the presider: the ministry is not invalidated even though the worst of pastors carries it out. The sacred gathering does not lose its worth even if all of its members are inveterate sinners. What is more, the ministry is only conceivable as the action of the mystery already accomplished, of salvation as already obtained and at the same time present in the operative or operational forms of gesture and word that tirelessly re-enact the scripture.

It may be an exaggeration to conceive of the workers’ struggle as a rewritten lay dialectic of a promised happiness or redemption that for centuries was objectified in the explicitly ceremonial forms of worship, and which now finds its own liturgy, its own public officium in the dialectic itself: the construction of a space of redemption and freedom in the immanent present and in a no longer transcendent future. It is undeniable that, in constructing the theatrical debate, it inherited a prerogative from the liturgy in the classical sense: the idea that the promise of a concrete future liberty only had meaning if freedom was already there, that is, if freedom were an accomplished fact for the worker’s consciousness; and the notion that, just as working class moral and political authority were based on moral ownership of the means of production and the operation that makes them productive, the place where potential freedom was experienced for itself, was realised as already effective, was in the operation of speech, the construction, the shared store of common freedom.

If it is possible for us to hope, through a new concept of re-enactment, that this past might be imagined as still present through the operation of the discourse, it is because it was in its time a future imagined as being already present through the medium of the same speech operation.

Re-enacting the workers’ meeting offers spectators the opportunity to study the speech and the speeches of those who, 35 years ago, were shaped by the debate in a meeting of workers which dialectically faced the dialectic puzzle of deciding if the practical expression of their emancipation could end up becoming a new form of oppression. This act, already a complex act of re-cognition of the self, in which the worker suspected that he or she had been left with the voice, the language and the aspirations of the boss, was played back by the spectators themselves, invited to recognise themselves, that is to listen to words strange to them, incongruous in their remoteness in time and aesthetic, if possible measuring the persuasiveness of these words way beyond any “speaking out”. Collectivization of the means of production is converted to a collectivization of speech, all the stronger because the speakers are not in them-selves persuasive, do not become what they say they are, and listen to themselves with no less perplexity than those who hear them. They are not lying or sincere when they speak: rather they speak the truth. And as normally happens in such cases, truth speaks by and for itself. The speech still belongs to everyone, but as speech, it is no-one’s property. All this radically rewrites the content of the re-enactment: repeating by/for others the work that others repeat by/for us, in the context of the claim made, we do not recall it. It is the word that recalls us to ourselves.

THE PROJECT
by Roger Bernat

About a year ago, the artist Jordi Colomer suggested to me the idea of a piece for an exhibition he was holding at the FRAC Basse Normandie, in Caen. At the time, I was writing a piece for a performer and audience, neither of which had previously met. It would be a historical re-enactment of the Numax meeting, in the style of such re-enactments. Unlike those of great battles, or the famous re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave by the British artist Jeremy Deller, in this case instead of recreating the movements of the protagonists, their words were recreated. In reality, these formed the true action of the factory occupation, the sole act with political meaning that we endeavoured to replay for the audience who were coming to see a performance.

Months later, the crisis that destroyed southern Europe once more brought us situations in factories throughout Spain just like those we had recreated in the museum. Workers thrown out by the system, who tried to take their fate in their own hands as those from Numax did. In November 2013, closure of Fagor, a factory making domestic appliances like Numax, sent us to Mondragón to invite the men and women who had been dismissed to present a re-enactment of Numax. The workforce accepted our call to hold an impromptu meeting that we captured on camera as Joaquim Jordà did in his time. Although it was the largest meeting held since the closure, only 80 of the 1800 workers dismissed 3 months earlier attended.

On our return to Barcelona, we decided to invite the former Numax workers to re-enact the meetings that they themselves held 35 years before, and to witness the Fagor workers’ meeting which we had just filmed. Some of the ex-Numax workers had died, others preferred to forget this period, or were simply too old or living too far away to accept the invitation. Nonetheless, the group was still very united, and in the end about twenty came.

With both groups of former workers, those from Fagor and those from Numax, the project opened up a treacherous abyss ahead of us. Not one of them could recognise him or herself in the words of their predecessor. Those from Fagor did not recognise themselves in the words of the Numax workers. The latter did not recognise themselves in the words of the Fagor workers. Nor did they even recognise themselves in their own words from 35 years earlier. Jordà’s film had made them heroes, they are the protagonists of a group of sculptures from a very unusual epic story, and it is very difficult to see oneself as a hero without being a little mad. Nonetheless, all these words, those from Numax, those from the continuing conversation we had after the meeting with the former Numax workers, are still powerfully resonant today. They are flowing around, we are keeping up the flow, but they always find expression in unexpected places.

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Roger Bernat (b. 1968) studied painting and architecture without completing the courses. He won the 1996 Institut del Teatre Extraordinary Award. In 2008 he began to create pieces in which the audience takes over and takes centre stage. “Spectators enter a set-up that invites them to obey or conspire and, in any case, to pay with their own body and commit themselves wholeheartedly.” His shows include Public Domain (2008), Purely Coincidental (2009), The Rite of Spring (2010), Please Continue: Hamlet (2011), Pending Vote (2012), RE-presentation (2013) and Desplazamiento del Palacio de La Moneda (2014), which have been performed in over twenty countries. In 2009 he published Querido Público, El espectador ante la participación: jugadores, usuarios, prosumers y fans (Ed. CENDEAC) with Ignasi Duarte.

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