In October 1983, just south of Barcelona at the annual Sitges Theatre Festival, beneath the railroad tracks in the claustrophobic space of a subterranean pedestrian passageway, La Fura dels Baus erupted into public view with an embryonic version of their first major spectacle, entitled Accions ("Actions"). The performance was conceived along the same aesthetic lines that continue to shape even the most recent work of this Catalan company. Accions consisted of a series of transgressive and, at times, startling exercicis pràctics ("practical exercises") intended to elicit an impulsive, visceral response from audience members. In their program notes, La Fura defined the performance as "a game without norms, a ball kicked right in the face, a noisy racket, a release of light and pyrotechnics; the best way of destroying a car, a sharp thud, a brutal succession of hammer blows, a sonorous execution, a chain of limit-situations, a plastic transformation in an unusual area." Accions possessed a kind of organic, rough-cut, seams-showing quality reminiscent of the work of Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies. Like Tàpies's "matter paintings," which resemble walls made of earth and stone, La Fura's Accions appeared to be in a constant state of construction or undoing. They reflected a desire to return to a primal, prelinguistic, "authentic" reality, beyond the constraints of representation and signification. La Fura began with an empty, undifferentiated space, uninhabited by theatrical ghostings, and there they endeavored to chisel, carve out, and constitute a scenic architecture through the use of organic and residual materials and their own physical, live presence. A hypnotic brand of avant-garde music played as nude male bodies seemed to emanate from out of nowhere, smeared with raw egg and flour, or covered with sand and mud. They hurled themselves into the crowd of spectators, frightening some and enthralling others. In one of the most visually impressive exercises, nude "chrysalid men" covered in plastic placentae were suspended from ropes and propelled toward a huge white canvas covered with bags of colored gelatinous paint. The pigments spewed across the canvas in an ironic recollection of the work of Jackson Pollock and Yves Klein. La Fura's spectacle stressed the process (that is, the performance) over the final product; it presented theatre in the very act of becoming and in the act of fading away -- what Catalan art critic Pere Salabert refers to in his own metaphysical discourse as "Self destruction, disappearance. Ejaculatory discharge of that which is there -- the world -- in the pure making-spectacular of things." When, near the end of Accions, a high pressure hose was used to spray the canvas clean, La Fura's body painting appeared to vanish in an instant, thereby evading commodification as a fixed and permanent work of art.

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Copyright ©1998 The Johns Hopkins University Press. This article first appeared in Theatre Journal 50, no. 4 (December 1998): 447-72. doi:10.1353/tj.1998.0112.

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