imagining miguel bonneville
by jérôme lefaure (2008)

Traditionally, self-portraits were created using convex mirrors. Miguel Bonneville, however, conceives his performances as shattered mirrors, reflecting the plurality of his memories and emotions, embodying them in objects, clothes, actions, as well as in others’ silhouettes and voices. Still, his performances are neither pieces of a grand puzzle composed of memories and identities, nor are they different moments gathered along the timeline of a life to construct a modest and intimate saga. His MB performance series is definitely not a coherent set of pieces whose organization would have been planned so that they fit perfectly into a complete self-portrait. They are, in fact, individual steps for an autobiographical research, which is by essence incomplete and patchy. In that sense, Miguel Bonneville’s work is connected with an ethereal conception of identity, as something scattered outside of the subject and, for this reason, impossible to reconstitute as a whole.

Miguel Bonneville is thus a montage of objects. Fashionable shoes. A table. A blonde wig. A bear in disguise. A microphone. The audience. And a person. Presence and embodiment are essential in the autobiographical work Miguel Bonneville primarily constructs through his performances, but also through photography, texts, and video. In his actions, the audience doesn’t encounter a narrative, but a person, eliciting questions about the presence on stage: who is he? What is the relationship between the character he portrays and himself? The audience expects comfort, definitive explanations, a nice tale that they could listen to while they keep quietly seated, a meaning that they could be applying to every detail, actions, and words. But Miguel Bonneville just offers the precarity of an action he never rehearses, the violence of his own presence on stage without hiding behind a character and, sometimes, the mystery of some terse sentences. In summary, the ambiguity of a performance which is definitely partial and unachieved.

The performance, despite being an art of participation, maintains an unequal relationship between the artist and the audience. While Miguel Bonneville claims to be shy, the performance is like a low-angle vision that would convert him into someone else, obviously different from the social character his friends may know. On stage, we might witness the character he has always dreamed of becoming one day, or perhaps someone he’s actually reluctant to be. By staging evocations of his childhood, feelings, or reminiscences of an idyllic love story his parents are supposed to have lived, he embodies a melancholic vision of existence and transforms his performances into an emotional reconstruction of intimacy turned towards a public exhibition. This ongoing investigation places the audience in an uncomfortable position, observing intimacy from the outside without the keys to empathize easily with the performer. It’s a stagecraft of the efforts we make, mostly in vain, to understand our feelings as well as to express them.

Marguerite Duras used to write about love and its failures, about the enduring frustrations it creates. No room for sentimentality. Her straightforward writing style has undoubtedly influenced the understated elegance of Miguel Bonneville’s works. Marguerite Duras used to say that «acting doesn’t bring anything to a text; on the contrary, it detracts from it, lessens its immediacy and depth, weakens its muscles and dilutes its blood». Miguel Bonneville deals with that strength, this ability to express love as an endless research. Connected to the power of words as well as their limitations, his performances aim to transcend descriptive and incomplete speech by using objects and actions to convey nostalgia, identity, and melancholy. With unexpected resources, Miguel Bonneville talks to himself and we’re invited to witness its wanderings.