The Voice of Others (Self-Portrait)

Interview with Miguel Bonneville
by Adelaide Deleite

Miguel Bonneville, born in 1985, works in performance, visual arts and in electronica. Apart from his own projects he has been collaborating with other artists such as Francisco Camacho, Carlota Lagido, Rogério Nuno Costa and La Ribot. His influences derive from works, characters and personas of Van Gogh, Tina Turner, Marguerite Duras, Sylvia Plath, Michelangelo Antonioni, Andy Warhol and Barbara Millicent Roberts aka Barbie. In 2006 he started a series of performances titled "Miguel Bonneville" (MB). The most recent, "Miguel Bonneville #6", was presented on November 13th, 2008, in Galeria Graça Brandão in the context of the Festival Temps D' Images. Miguel Bonneville's performances are autobiographical. They deal with the issues of search for identity and the impossibility of its crystallization. In his performances, Miguel Bonneville constructs and destroys his personal history and the past through the search and dissimulation of identity, gender and body. He looks for new meanings in stage props and materials: wigs, make up, dresses, adhesive tape, animal costumes, the voices of others… 

Adelaide Deleite: In your recent performance, "MB #6", you present the speeches of six women that were filmed during video interviews. The spectators can't hear their voices. Only you can, with headphones, and you repeat what they say out loud. The women talk through you. Who is being portrayed in the performance? Who is Miguel Bonneville?

Miguel Bonneville: That question is always present in my work. I know myself through others, through situations. It's a fragmented way of letting myself be known. Like in the film 'Palindromes', by Todd Solondz the main character is played by different actors. I've been presenting myself like that. It can be disturbing, but it allows different views on what I am. The way we look at each other is often limited. We are timid, boring or narcissistic… we are all that and more. 

AD: Your previous works all last half an hour. In the performance "MB #6" the time was extended to three hours. What was the reason for this time extension? 

MB: I wanted the performance to be exhaustive. The subject also demands that. I focused on my relationship with the women shown in the interviews that were filmed, and on our daily struggle, on the connection that binds us in the search of what we are, the demand and the huge will attached to the sense of "being here". That was central in this work. The intensity of our relationships justifies me enduring a three hour performance. 

AD: A feminine side is always very present in your work. Often, Miguel Bonneville transmutes himself into a blond female. What does this blond figure represent?

MB: The blond is the surviving persona, an embodiment of the women in my family, my mother. Survivors of lost and wrecked loves. All the strong people I refer to are women. I can count on them. The blond persona arose in a moment when I had to recover from heartbreak and didn't know how.

AD: Did you try to create another identity into which you could transfer emotions?

MB: It was not a transfer, but an embodiment. Miguel Bonneville, the blond, the bear, the bunny… we are all the same, parts of the same.

AD: The "MB" performances have a psychological side: the autobiographical content, the symbolic usage of props and materials are examples of that. How do you transpose the personal history into performance? 

MB: The psychological side is in my perception of a problem and in how I work on it within the performance. The performance condenses a thought and a certain time in my life. Or a thought about that time. In my working process I deal with what persists, through writing and drawing. There is a saturation, and the decision regarding the materials I use is based upon what makes more sense at a given time. It might be an object, a suit, a video… In the last performance I worked a lot with symbols, but there is a step towards another kind of search. Symbols will always be there, but maybe less obvious.

AD: Since " MB #1" – or to quote your statement - "July of 2006, the end of love", the subject of love has been constant in your performances. What is this love? 

MB: It is a sickening love. The pathology I suffer from has a very nice name – love addiction – and it is obviously very bad. It manifests through a repetitive pattern of behaviour. In the performances, I act out my obsessive love stories which I saw as great dramas. 

AD: What is striking in the performances is the emptiness left by love. There is a solitary experience of love that "masks" itself by assuming different forms, but all of them express the same. 

MB: Yes, that's it. The experience of the love addict is always cloistered and is always following the same script. The emptiness always remains in the end. I transpose the emotions into the materials I'm working with through performance. 

AD: In your work you also establish a connection with your childhood. The usage of animal suits is an example of that. The animals portrayed are not in their natural environment and are not wild. The bear and the bunny, alike the animals one sees in cartoons and story books, are obviously connected to childhood and domesticity. Is your performance a ritual that brings you back to emotional landscapes of childhood? 

MB: I never thought about it like that before, but maybe it is so. When performing, I go through most recent events and emotions, but they only take place because they are rooted in my childhood impressions. 

AD: Through the ritual you are exploring the meaning and sense of history, not linear history, but the history of personal growth. 

MB: Yes, absolutely. 

AD: The materials and props seem to be an extension of the body and the identity. In the performances, they share the same significance as the body does with the performer. Meaning is transposed to objects that become animated somehow. 

MB: Yes, the objects occupy the same significance as the body does. They could almost function by themselves like in an installation. Their strength comes from the personal meaning that they bear. They too are a persona or a character. 

AD: Would it be possible to have a "MB" performance without props or other identities and without using the voice of others? Miguel Bonneville by Miguel Bonneville?

MB: That already happened to a certain extent in other works that I've been presenting in a lecture format. It depends on the work itself and on what I want to say. It depends on my life at a given moment. But I'm always interested in using other people's experiences, in this kind of relationship.

AD: At the beginning of the "MB" series you stated that "I give up speaking about art, about politics. It‘s not that that matters anymore." Does naming your performance by your own name mean a detour from your previous work? 

MB: In my early work before the "MB" series, I was talking about art and the art world. Then I realized that I was not really into that. I didn't want to talk about art or the art world. That was not important. I don't see my work as political. My work and my life are the same, they simultaneously inhabit the same body. One talks about the other. It is impossible to disconnect life from work within a creative process and that implies that you accept it as it is. 

in (long dead)