Theatre as Landscape: Boris Yukhananov’s Pinomythology
4 September 2021
Pinocchio. Theatre. Photo by Andrei Bezukladnikov published Gordei Petrik's interview with Boris Yukhananov, dedicated to new processual projects and, in particular, Pinocchio. The director talks about his film, The Mad Angel Pinocchio and “Pinomythology.”


In recent years, you have been talking a lot about new processualism. Is Pinocchio a new processual project?

I’ve been working with what I call "new processualism" for at least 22 years. My Garden or my video novel The Mad Prince, if we perceive them as a common organism in development, were new processual projects. MIR (Yukhananov’s theatre institute, the Studio of Individual Directing) is itself a new processual project, not an official place of education. The Golden Ass was a new processual project, as was Orphic Games, although they are of very different types. There was also the LaboraTORiAH project, a very large project in which Golem, a self-developing project came about. Both the performance and LaboraTORiAH itself are new processual projects. They are different aspects of new processualism, embodied in practice, which are difficult to compare. Each project is a separate beast of its own authentic breed, but each belongs to the wild reserve of new processual art. To some extent, Andrei Vishnevsky, the author of the play Pinocchio, is the first new processual playwright in the true sense of the word.

Pinocchio is a rigidly made performance, but at the same time there are zones where this rigidity both disappears and remains at the same time. The intersection of these territories is achieved with the help of a special kind of practice that I developed especially for this performance. There are moments in it, placed very precisely, that must have verbal improvisation. Some scenes always assume the form of a free etude, and there naturally may be verbal improvisation there. But this is precisely improvisation, that is, structured free speech. I distinguish between the improvisational and the spontaneous. There always must be a structure in improvisation – with free zones, clearly defined nodes in which we meet performance, speech, energy or movement. These are all different layers on which play-acting occurs. Spontaneity does not imply movement within the structure. That is, it is an unstructured manifestation of words, energy, and movement – different manifestations of the technique of movement. Improvisation is possible in Pinocchio, but not spontaneous movement. Including those zones of improvisation that appear alongside the performance – the verbal utterances and expressions that Pinocchio uses in his journey through the performance. He has this freedom, and this gives the actresses who play him – both Sveta and Masha [Pinocchio is played simultaneously by two actresses – Svetlana Naidyonova and Maria Belyaeva] – the possibility of a certain style of movement. The fact that this is a new processual project manifests itself not so much within the performance per se, as in its fate. Andrei has been working on this play since he was young. We discussed Pinocchio when we were studying under Efros and Vasilyev. The text itself began appearing in the mid-nineties. I did not participate in Andrei's work as an author and playwright, but I was there when the text was written. I read all its variations. It has developed over the years, as a new processual text should do. It finally reached the stage when I realized that I needed to stage it, and so I brought it to the stage. After that, during the stages of producing and directing in the theatre, the text changed somewhat. Whole scenes were added, other scenes were cut. I staged just two acts, and there are three more to do. That is, it is open-ended, the play itself, which is a sign of a new processualism. Yuri Kharikov created some 80 variations of scenographic images of the play – a whole laboratory was created. Ultimately, in July last year, after the production premiered, I shot a whole film which, generally speaking, is an independent work. This is not a film-play, it is a film that I made as a film, a five-hour triptych. Perhaps I have not mentioned everything yet, but I am trying to bring up in my speech all the signs demonstrating that this is a new processual project. For example, there is another new processual project created not by me, but by Ilyusha Khrzhanovsky – this is DAU. In general, I consider DAU a masterpiece of new processual art in an area where the source was not theatre, as is usually the case with me, but, let's say, the area of film, which, it seems to me, was handled impeccably by Ilyusha as he developed the DAU project.

Tell me about the film of Pinocchio.

I want to talk about the music. The music in the film is all-encompassing, it plays a huge role in the film. Mitya Kourliandski, who created the score specifically for the film, did not write a single note. Moreover, Mitya Kourliandski and I were curators of the musical structure of the film. But something completely different was needed, and we chose the excellent composer Oleg Troyanovsky, with whom we agreed to move in the direction of Hollywood-style music. I quite deliberately introduced this important layer – the creation of Hollywood melodism – and thus we introduced into the cinematic field a type of story that is impossible from this point of view. This pairing is important to me because it is a radical, defiant act in relation to today's cinema. I destroy the formats of art-house, author's cinema, or cinephilic cinema. I destroy these formats, and absolutely deliberately go in an opposite direction, even from myself, in order to make a film triptych. I am aware that today this will not even be evident to people who know my previous work in cinema, because I have broken the formats of perception. Making a movie based on a performance? What the hell is this today?! Quasitheatre. Moreover, to emphasize this with Hollywood music, which is designed for quasi-history... But this kind of interbreeding, in my opinion, is a sign of the time we are just now entering. I am a pioneer, I am taking the first steps, which will be implemented by other knights and travellers. It is precisely in the film Pinocchio that I take these steps, dealing mercilessly with time and exceeding the boundaries of established tastes, for I am creating a triptych. And a triptych today cannot be exploited.

It remains outside of the formats currently in use.

Yes! This is an absolute non-format: this is not for festivals, or for rental, and I cannot do anything about that. That’s just how it is. In principle, you have to watch three films at once. It is not clear how to show it, where, or to whom.

Also, in your film – unlike on stage, where two actresses play the character – just one actress, Maria Belyaeva, plays Pinocchio.

There are karmic things at work here, but in principle the main thing turned out to be that when I conceived the film, I realized I could not convey the image of the duality of heroes by means of the cinematic tools that are accessible to me today. Neither time nor a financial framework allows me to do this. When I realized this, I decided to make this film with one Pinocchio: after all, Andrei's text does not contain two Pinocchios, his is a story that suggests one performer. I returned to that, because there is, apriori, a cinematic essence to Andrei's text. In the cinema it was necessary to return to an unbifurcated character, who is, however replete in this duality. Because, having lived a whole life with her twin Sveta Naidyonova, with whom the two have performed this role on stage for some time, Masha already contains this duality.

Why was this duality necessary in the theatre?

In the theatre there is an interaction between the two Pinocchios, inside of which the entire performance fits. It manifests itself in reactions, in their constantly doubled dialogue, in these doubles, into which the plot and each of the other characters’ lines fall. The fact that they are diametrically opposed to each other as individuals, Sveta and Masha. Initially, today my theatre requires not only professional actors, but also individuals who are constantly evolving. These two actresses, externally and in texture, are very different. At the same time they are surprisingly synchronized. One point unites them: both Masha and Sveta can assume an angelic nature according to the circumstances of their personalities.

Let’s talk some more about the play and your production of it. Were commercial relations among people originally built on lust and the body in Vishnevsky’s play? The heroes scrape coins off their bodies and stare lustfully at Pinocchio, but this is not in the spoken text.

These pseudo-taboo zones – corporeality and lust – are the toys of life for me. In this sense, they are one among many other toys. Pinomythology itself is something else entirely. The kind of mutations that are at the heart of Pinomythology – their nature and their roots – they are something else. In this sense, other taboos mature under the influence of Pinomythology.

What do you mean by the term Pinomythology?

It is important to recognize several fundamental conditions. The fact is, mythology is always expressed in some manner of oral story. A myth cannot become a text. Just like a fairy tale, which can only become a text for failed novelists like Hans Christian Andersen. It must be performed every time as an oral manifestation in the territory of an individual. That is how Pinomythology exists. In this sense, a myth has a special kind of responsibility – to tell its story. As such, I would rather give hints than say it directly. Angels as such – that is, puppets – are actually inhabitants of a heavenly theatre. This theatre has its own characteristics. It is arranged in such a way that a person attending a performance emerges as a participant in this performance in all the fullness of his sensors and consciousness. Naturally, all puppets are originally angels. Angels who play in the light of the Creator. Much can be said about the light of the Creator, and in particular one may quote one of David’s psalms: "in thy light shall we see light." For some reason, the Creator hid himself, thus hiding his light. This, in fact, is the starting point of Pinomythology. Light is nothing more than a metaphor, in fact, but the fact is that the Creator hid it. As soon as this happened, the so-called middle world began taking shape, that is, a certain reality that we take to be our reality. Various notions arose, such as, “God died,” and the middle world found itself lacking this light that comes from above. It began growing and developing, confident that there was no Creator. Naturally, mutations began occurring at that very instant. The middle world began seeking opportunities for its own existence, but the lower world arose – the so-called world of insects – simultaneously with the middle world. It arose precisely at that instant when the light of the Creator ceased to shine from on high. And so a whole manner of life arose. As did such ambitious intentions as seizing the middle world in order to subdue the lives of insects and beasts. The insects ascended, and the angels, having lost the light, began, as it were, falling down to the middle world. The Creator’s act of hiding was a complex one. He created a forest – a place in Pinomythology that is essential to the play and the film. And the angels emerged from trees whose roots rose into the upper world. And through these trees, as if through birthing machines, the angels fell and arrived in the middle world. Thus, the Creator instructed Gepetto and his assistant Vishnu to receive these angels in the forest and send them to the middle world. This is Gepetto's mission. He receives angels from a tree that is pregnant with them; they are born as puppets and enter the middle world. There is another place in the middle world that was created not by the Creator, but by a brilliant individual named Mangiafuoco, who, seeing angels descending, decided to employ this energy directly. Mangiafuoco aligned himself with the heavens and began forming angels into actors. He plucks out each angel by placing a special structure named Raflesia up against the sky, catching them as soon as they appear. Since the heavenly theatre has infinite properties, in principle he employs the energy of these falling angels – his future actors – to create hit shows in his theatre of the middle world.

Pinocchio may be called the Prince of the Apocalypse. He was chosen by the Creator. But he does not know that. He has no mind, and his mind is formed along a path of horizontal movement within the middle world, which is what we see unfolding in the play. He is born without reason, almost an idiot, a pure angel. His perception is absolutely angelic. He accepts everything: this is what is angelic about him. After all, an angel is essentially a creature deprived of the right to choose. As they say in the ancient sacred books, he is a postman. But along the way, as the angels enter the middle world, a personality begins to accrue to them, within which choice may ultimately have a place. This consciousness, which appears gradually in Pinocchio, is the topic of the story in the narrative of the production and, to some extent, the narrative of the film. The Apocalypse – which is expressed quite carefully in both the play and the film – comes about because Pinocchio has nothing left whatsoever. The resetting of this world of mutations – the middle world – is ongoing, and this is what further tellings of the Pinocchio project will involve, should they occur. Therefore, the figures that appear on the clock on stage are, if you look closely, figures of the Apocalypse. The rose, which everyone talks about, is that property left to Pinocchio alone, a special kind of secret protection, inside of which his mission is located, unknown to him, for he is devoid of consciousness, which means he is devoid of any news about himself... He receives news from the middle world, but at the same time it is transformed in a special way within the rose that is constantly present with him. Of course, Mangiafuoco knows about the rose, but he has never encountered it. He has banked everything on the fact that there is no Creator – there is nothing to fear and nothing to suffer. He has discovered his oil deposit, the energy, thanks to which he built his theatre. He is an engineer who discovered the ability to harness an incredible, magical energy from the heavens. This is how everything works here. As for society, those hops, skips and a jump with the help of which we formulate our life’s reality, which is not formulated in principle, we simply impose on it this or that format of perception, and it conceals innumerable possibilities of perception... I call them worlds... Therefore, if something is unreal in our life, this is our reality in itself, along with those hops and skips for which we take it – society and all the nasty things and joys that we accept in order to perceive it, and distinguish our own life in it... Pinomythology makes it possible to perceive life differently. Hence, I speak of both body and lust.

What, then, is the essence of Pinocchio’s journey?

By participating in a new processual project, you break through the facade of reality and see it in all of its non-existent glory. It amazes you and then you move on. A reality keyed on sex, violence and drugs turns out to be completely non-existent. That is Pinocchio's journey.

What about the path to the absolute, the transcendental, the eternal?

Pinomythology says nothing about this. On the contrary, it is not about the transcendental or the eternal. We are talking about the fact that there is no reality. At the same time, it is full of possibilities of perception. I don't like these words – metaphysics, eternal, transcendental. They are nothing. They all implies something mutilated vs. the eternal, something permanently horizontal vs. the transcendent, something physical vs. the metaphysical. Once again, that’s just a hop and a skip that tramples and shuts off from us all the variety of possibilities that, in fact, swirl around and inside us.

Let's continue our conversation about new processualism.

I believe there are several approaches to existence. The first is art therapy in a broad sense. This includes socially-oriented performances, politics, criticism in its essence, all the works of our conceptual artists, a large number of Jung-Freuds, Žižeks, Marxists, and fundamentalists – this is all art therapy. They try to cure the disease by striking at if sincerely and directly. They live by a Hippocratic oath that no one takes. Naturally, it is very difficult for them to hear that something different and higher exists. The person of knowing also exists in a variety of types. Among the common examples we have Guattari and Deleuze, Badiou, and Althusser, but they cling to cognition, straining like mad to dissociate themselves from art therapy. Alongside, between healing and knowledge, we have Object Oriented Ontology and all speculative philosophy which attack Kant (who, in fact, is pure cognition), but they attack him from the same place that art therapy would attack him. In this sense, cognition becomes not cognition of truth, for everything about truth has been clear since the time of Plato's Republic – it is impossible to assert truth; that is the beginning of fascism. Cognition, then, emerges as an endless path of cognition. As Badiou says, the place of truth is not occupied, but it exists, and we simply cannot seize it. That is, he attempts to assert the truth and, passionately fearing its presence, simultaneously speaks of its absence.

To extricate yourself from this mess, you must rise to the next level, which is called creation. This level includes cognition and naturally defines its boundaries, as well as the boundaries of the whole mess. In the same way, this level includes healing. For on the path of creation, you join the non-existent Creator or Truth, and, if you succeed, you really do achieve it in the very form that you achieve. And if it doesn't work out, you understand that you still have work to do. At this moment, you are healed, because you need not do anything special, and that which prevents you from moving along your chosen path toward creation will not allow you to become totally self-absorbed and thereby stop your path of development. This is the path of creative development, in contrast to the knowledge that the Holy Scriptures offered us. Knowledge is also included here, but it is not unlimited, it participates in the experience of creation. You seem to embrace or manifest your knowledge on the paths of creation, and by the same token, healing occurs on the paths of creation. This is where thinking begins: what are the experiences of creation? Is this connected with such a concept as completeness, emerging from the depths of antiquity? There, in fact, in the cosmos of creation, you involuntarily join the demiurgic practice. And in this practice there are incredible exhalations of consciousnesses that have experienced all the temptations of sophistry and scholasticism, and essentially are distinguished rivers of the world construct. As, for example, Thomas Aquinas speaking of the "Grand Architect of the Universe." So why should we now break spears over what is collective or non-collective? How many angels can you seat on the end of a needle? When you are dealing with completeness, you are dealing with the unlimited. Completeness is a statement about potential composition, not limitations, this is what a young man deals with as he moves rapidly toward his own self-development. He deals with completeness. This is the only reason why it develops. It develops completeness, not stagnation, cognition or experiment. In general, I hate being called an experimenter. For me, the word "experiment" rhymes with the word "excrement." It's not bad. Recycled traces of life. The hope for some trace as such – it is beautiful, as an invention, but absolutely insufficient, like the whole philosophy of Derrida, although he achieved a number of deliverances. You can get stuck on tastes like my underground friends. But that rather sticks you with a pin as if you were a butterfly. You can no longer spread your wings towards creation – that is the danger of taste. The fact is that any taste, as Deleuze might say, is the "enchantment of hate." Or of what yesterday was hated, but loved today. Or what will be hated tomorrow, for you are developing, which means that you completely change all your tastes.

The entire underground I came out of was built on desacralization. In this sense, a lot of death and all kinds of nasty things accumulated there. Even in the ’eighties I no longer wanted to play with that. It was a waste of time, energy, and health. As such, I chose to take a path opposite to that which any generation has taken. I decided to sacralize a secular text by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov – The Cherry Orchard. When I started going into it deeply and seriously, having isolated myself for that purpose, something suddenly began opening up. Later, when I began reading the text of the Kabbalah, and organized the LaboraTORiAH while closely communicating with rabbis for seven years, everything came together. You always grow in the guise of an ignoramus. You quickly realize that books offer you little if you shut yourself off from the world. The world gives you something, and you meet your brothers-and-friends in books – that is how it works. Book knowledge as such is meaningless. Where does the world open up? When you move forward, tooth and nail, revealing your craving for the artistic. It can be expressed in anything. Draw something, make a film... When you reveal your own completeness, you can do anything. Theatre is a place where this all provides great opportunity.

This is where the creative space is located, right in its center, the new processual art. It exists because of the craving that comes from completeness itself, it is a playful game, the rules of which outlive their formation along with the development of this playfulness, and will certainly change in an inductive way... The art of removing opposition, the art of experiencing life as heaven, the art of enjoying life. These are the arts that lead us to the gateway of new processualism. The awakening of the creative impulse in a person – besides the fact that, in itself, it is the highest thrill, happiness and joy – is also a sphere where cognition occurs on its own, without overstraining, where healing occurs constantly, for that is part of it.

Induction is a kind of necessary view for balancing the spectacle as a process completed within its boundaries. This is what Mangiafuoco means when he talks about balance. He is not a satirical character. He carries a very important part of completeness, but he does not speak out of completeness. Pinocchio speaks out of completeness – from the fullness that he managed to discover within himself. That is, he speaks not in details but in general. He speaks impulsively, but in his impulse is hidden an uncompressed image of cognition, which, while preserving itself as completeness, is capable of revealing other opportunities in creativity.

We have, for example, the word "metamorphosis." But there is also such a word as transformation. The word "metamorphosis" means natural change. The word "transformation" does not imply naturalness. There is artificial effort in the word "transformation." And there is always a question in this effort. In a creative act, metamorphosis is not enough, an element of transformation is also necessary. And it is present in my plays and my films.

I have always understood theatre as a landscape. For, how is a landscape structured? In the simultaneity of any act, many actions take place. Some will begin enumerating the components of a landscape, some, like an Aqyn, will respond to the landscape with an improvised song, some will talk about what they experienced when focussing in on the landscape. Some will say that they did not notice the landscape. This is all criticism. It is the kind of experiencing a landscape that you can share. But you can't share your experience of a landscape for marketing purposes. This is the paradox of criticism. Why do many critics, outgrowing themselves, go into creative professions or philosophy? If you have the need for a song to respond to the one you hear, that is wonderful. You need not stifle it in yourself. One must sing this song freely. At this moment, you include an act in yourself that does not distract you from the artistic journey, but, on the contrary, attracts the journey to you, for you are performing an act of a special kind of meeting. It is a priori altruistic. And thanks to this, a special kind of light shines in you – the light of the Creator. This is a Kabbalistic practice. Penetrating into you, the Creator's light becomes an inner light, and at this moment you receive the impulse for creation, that is, for demiurgic practice. This is the meaning of criticism as a response, a meeting, a song offered in response to a song. By revealing yourself in texts or in words, you discover not only the word and your texts, or your profession, but you discover yourself in the journey or on the journey. For example, young Rilke, or Andrei Bely, or Brodsky – it does not matter: without departing from the nature of their consciousness which may be analytical, may favor feedback, the song of the Aqyn, sophistication, the desire to generate texts – these writers, trusting their call, or their gift, understood what to do with it. The gift, what must one do with the gift? Give it back. Your very presence in the process of giving the gift will always include many voices of life, landscape, interest, and attempts to influence you. But if you maintain your openness, you are out of harm’s way. Like Pinocchio. No one can do anything with him. That is his angelic nature. How old are you? Ageless.