TALKS TUPI OR NOT TUPI An Ancient Encounter
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An Ancient Encounter

A slight, gaunt man in a dark green threadbare suit disembarks from a coach at Praça da Sé in São Paulo. He has a bright red beard and a broad straw hat pulled down firmly on his head. Someone comes to greet him with a handshake. This person is a similar height, though somewhat broader, and is wearing an airy tunic and European leather shoes. He has a smooth chin, bright eyes, and a black plait peeking out from beneath a Godfather hat. Together they stroll to a nearby warehouse.

The space is empty aside from a wide desk made of jacaranda wood in the far-left corner. It is flanked by two low three-legged stools. A fruity odour with a hint of decay emanates from layers of palm oil. The two men take a seat. They first met online.

The traveller pulls a small package out from the inside of his green jacket. It's wrapped in greaseproof paper and held together with string. He cautiously places it on the wild intricate pattern of the desk. He pushes the package slowly across the worn surface towards his counterpart, leaning so far forwards that his stool begins to tip.

The indigenous man, who goes by _devourerofangst online, has warmth in his eyes as he reaches out to touch the traveller's concerned animal expression. Methodical as an excavator claw, he takes the package, lifts it, brings it towards himself, places it down. As his name suggests, _devourerofangst feeds off the fears of others - not like a modern-day insurance company, but rather as one of the last people to practice an ancient anthropophagic ritual. As though playing a game of Mikado, _devourerofangst unties the tightly knotted string with surgical precision using just the nails of his index fingers. Pleased that he has yet to utter a word, the traveller watches and waits patiently.

_devourerofangst leans over the package and prises it apart with his fingers. He regards the contents for a few seconds, before slowly shaking his head. It is a clear signal that the traveller has made this journey in vain. Twenty-five hours on regional trains from Arles to Le Havre via Paris. Four weeks on the S.S. City of Paris II from Le Havre to Rio de Janeiro. One day on a coach from Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo, and now all the way back again.

The traveller is disappointed at the instant rejection of the package and its contents. But this feeling is outweighed by an electrifying sense of having gained new insight. _devourerofangst pushes the package and string back across the table. His face bears a contradictory expression, a smile paired with furrowed brow. The traveller silently tries to put his thoughts into words.

A true encounter is possible only in death. There are two causes of death where this may occur: through drowning or by being devoured. One is the inglorious death of the hero, the other the glorious death of the anti-hero.

He feels no remorse for having strayed from his almost all-consuming digital asceticism to travel across the world to meet an online acquaintance. The traveller returns a look of slight defiance, as yet unaware of the two possible fates - adventure, or suicide.

A roll of thunder - or rather, a procession of wheeled suitcases - emanates from one of the shuttle buses and tears the exhausted traveller from his daze. He joins the stream boarding the S.S. Gascogne II. At one hundred and fifty metres long, it's a replica of a steamship that carried passengers across the Atlantic between Europe and South America over a century ago. A French slow travel firm offers travel experiences from times gone by, though the steam power now comes from sustainable new energy sources. The fuel is 100% human biomass. On the French side, the steamer is powered by faecal sludge pellets from a company called Seine Sustain which harvests them from Parisian sewage works. And in Brazil, the ship is fuelled with biogas produced by a company called Bio Breeze Bahia headquartered in Salvador. It collects and processes organic waste from dry toilets in Piauí, Maranhão, and Paraíba – regions with inadequate sewage systems – and transforms this into liquid methane. Both firms belong to a German holding company. Hardly surprising as Germany has always had a special relationship to shit, the traveller thinks to himself as a born Dutchman.

While the other passengers stow their luggage in their cabins, the traveller ascends to the poop deck and looks out to the east. The horizon fills his entire field of vision. The ship is about to set out into a storm brewing on the left. A yacht sparkles on the horizon to the right. The scene matches the painting The Raft of Medusa, he thinks, recalling his last visit to the Louvre a few years ago. There he had gazed at the seven by five metre painting in awe. It depicted a group of people aboard an improvised raft in the middle of the ocean. The lower section of the picture was framed by pale corpses, while a human pyramid emerged to the right from the writhing mass below, crowned by an athletic black man waving towards a ship barely visible upon the horizon in the hope of salvation. A sail attached to a short mast on the left inflated with the wind, pulling the raft towards the approaching storm.

Water and waves were far less interesting to the painter Theodore Géricault than the aesthetics of the dead. He made still lives of body parts procured from a hospital just as others might sketch fruit or pheasants. For several weeks, he studied the changing hue of the decaying skin of a severed head before disposing of it on his roof because of the smell. At the Beaujon hospital, he sketched the facial expressions of dying patients and the position of bodies in rigor mortis. The Raft of Medusa would become his life's work. It also proved controversial for its depiction of an event that the French navy would rather have erased from history. In 1816, after the British had returned the colony of Senegal to the French, a ship was sent there: the Méduse. Its captain Hugues Duroy de Chaumareys hadn't used his sea legs for twenty-five years and only got the job thanks to his royal connections.

The ship ran aground off the coast of Senegal under his command. Chaumarey ordered that the Méduse be dismantled so the recovered wood could be turned into a large raft. It was intended that it would then be pulled to shore by the six already overflowing lifeboats. The raft wouldn't budge. Eventually the ropes were cut. One hundred and forty-nine people were left behind on the raft. Once the drinking water had run out, the crew were left with nothing but brandy and rum. Intoxicated and desperate, they turned to mutiny and cannibalism. Fifteen survivors were rescued, five of whom died shortly after.

Géricault's preparatory drawings indicated an interest in three motifs: mutiny, cannibalism, and salvation. Despite having a deep fascination with corpses and severed body parts, he ultimately chose to focus on salvation rather than cannibalism. He placed a black sailor in a prominent position at the top of the human pyramid. The raft would become the dual symbol of ruin and revolution. Equality for all was the nightmare of the ruling class, and it was on the cusp of becoming a reality. The European order was condemned to entropy. To reverse this fate, it would need to feed on energy and resources from the tropics, as dictated by the second law of thermodynamics. Europe imported manpower and raw materials from the colonies to counteract its inner disorder and uncritical siren choir which counted for half the population. Géricault depicted the last survivors on The Raft of Medusa as strong and muscular, not emaciated and weak. They braced their solid steel bodies against the sea, against an element which is soft and malleable, and also chaotic and deadly. As Linda Nochlin argues, the painting depicts the absolute collapse of masculinity. The entangled mass of helpless male bodies is completely disempowered. Their loss is a victory for women and a victory for cannibalism. It marks the rapid decline of a patriarchal world order that has failed to stabilise itself through colonialism.

The cannibal is a friend to women. He bites through social structures, chewing up the patriarchal order. He cuts through the outer skin of the devoured, cleaving him apart, digesting him in a forcible act of unsurpassable sensual encounter. Flesh is irreversibly transformed into heat. The devourer and the devoured are both cannibals. Destructor of the social order and the destructed social order itself. The encounterer and the encountered transgress their boundaries.

It would be interesting to see this poop vessel sink, leaving everyone to drown, the traveller thinks to himself. He returns to his cabin, strips naked, and lies down on the floor. He presses his temple to the carpet and tries to calculate how much steel lies between him and the Atlantic. He feels his body vibrating when he wakes. The engines have started. He is hungry. He has a headache and probably sunstroke too.

Once he took part in a conference about new masculinities in Essen. He had booked himself into a shared hostel room with six bunk beds and eleven other men. He picked the top bunk but the young man below, a philosophy student from Greifswald, tossed and turned all night. The traveller felt as though he was woken up every twenty-five minutes. He slept longer than the others, until his lungs slowly filled with the emissions of eleven cans of Lynx, signalling that the rest of the pack were done showering. Half asleep, he found his steroid inhaler in his wash bag to ward off an impending asthma attack. Still on the floor, he pulls on his linen trousers with great effort.

At the conference, the act of cutting the umbilical cord from the mother as the most crucial step in becoming a man was the source of constant discussion. The more he heard of this hypothesis, the less credible it seemed. It was absurd that this feeling of having once been whole with another human being could be replicated through Jiu Jitsu or by buying an extra computer screen. He simply wanted to know how this intimacy could be restored without being super weird. Whenever he met up with his mother, they would sit awkwardly side by side, an unfathomable distance between them. He pulls on his white linen shirt and buttons it up.

One thing that he can agree on with Klaus Theweleit is that ninety per cent of all men - at least - are complete idiots. He likes women, even when the feeling isn't mutual. In Arles, the place he chose to make his home, he recently went to Paradis des Sens for the very first time. It was a bit of a flop. The sex worker had no idea what to make of his offering. She threatened to call the authorities on him. He got his package wrapped in greaseproof paper and string back in exchange for one of his paintings, Wild Roses She had been storing it as evidence in her fridge in the meantime. It was a good idea to keep it cool. He should have done that too, instead of carrying it around in his inner jacket pocket for weeks. He plucks his jacket from the chair and has a feel. The package is still there.

He stands, leaning on the bed for support. As he pulls on his jacket, he takes a look in the mirror. His pupils are so large that his bluish green irises are almost entirely obscured. It occurs to him that no one in Brazil really reacted to his bright red beard, at least not in the same way as the Japanese - who are otherwise so reserved - supposedly react to Europeans' large noses sometimes. Inspired by folklore, they may even reach out to touch their noses and declare: sugoi! As though the European nose (and the person attached) are the butt of a joke.

The longer he looks at himself, the more he starts to feel like he is a joke. Quite aside from his excessively long nose, he's just undertaken an excessively long and expensive journey from Arles to São Paulo, all to meet a man who was supposed to devour his ear. He loves Tristes Tropiques and hates travelling and explorers just as much as Claude Lévi-Strauss. He divines mystical revelations from etymological wordplay in the same way that others take refuge in numbers and statistics. Now he thinks about it, the ambiguity of Tristes Tropiques (τροπή) becomes apparent. It's also a tragic turn: frustration at having failed to achieve the objective of one's journey; the tragic fate of the indigenous people; sadness over the lost opportunity to steer infantile, insatiable Europe off its tragic course. And he's already noted the echo between entropy and tropics. If only one had been brave enough back then to allow oneself to be devoured. If only one had been bold enough to give up on order. If only one had dared to disobey one's superiors and streamlined superego... then everything would be better today. If, if, cut through the jungle oh so swift. If, if, dance to the samba if you get my drift. He hums while pulling his straw hat down firmly, obscuring the bandage wrapped several times around his head. Suddenly he feels good. In a buoyant mood, he exits his cabin for the dining room.

He can really feel the movement of the ship as he climbs the stairs. He crosses the deck to get to the dining room and observes that they are now a good half mile away from the coast. The passengers standing by the rail are in costumes that look as though they are from 1888, the year that slavery was abolished in Brazil and Vincent van Gogh cut off his left ear. The dining room stretches across the full width of the steamship. Two rows of marble columns divide the hall in three. There is a soft red carpet underfoot and the walls are clad in dark mahogany. It's like being inside someone's stomach. Several large windows look out onto the sea. The tables are set and spread evenly throughout the room. There's a small stage to one side. A string quartet is tuning up. And then there's a secluded dining area in deep green dappled shade, separated from the rest by a glass screen. The guests at a table over there look as though they have already started to eat, though somehow, they appear to be expelling the food rather than consuming it, scooping it from the mouths of the future to the plates of the present. Their mouths are open unusually wide — likely to avoid scratching their palate with their forks or skewering their tongues. A bell rings. But the traveller has lost his appetite and turns back against the tide of passengers coming into the dining room.

He walks across the deck towards the stern. The family from the green glass dining room is now at the starboard rail. It looks as though they have been filmed in front of a green screen with a CGI background added later, just like in Titanic. If they were moving backwards through time, then now they would be just about to have dinner. Soon they would disembark or climb aboard backwards - it's all the same really. He walks past them. A hat comes flying through the air and lands on the head of a blond boy.

The stern is deserted. An armada of seagulls whirls in its wake. Some of them plunge down to fish sardines and mackerel from the spume brought forth by the ship's propeller. He imagines the gulls with large breasts, something he finds surprisingly appealing, more appealing, in any case, than breasts on women or women in general. It's probably all thanks to his weakness for Greek mythology to which he turns - like Pascal Quignard - for the answers to many questions.

Sirens are a strange manifestation of the sailor's understandable fear of drowning. This becomes a metaphorical fear of being devoured. Drowning is the most all-consuming encounter with the body possible. Water envelops the skin before pushing its way through the bronchi and into the lungs. To the sirens, the struggle against this deadly form of encounter - rowing back desperately, shouting orders along command chains, donning all kinds of armour - all this represents masculinity.

Orpheus overpowered the disorientating and chaotic yet uncritical sound of the sirens by playing a masculine melody on a modified lyre to restore order. His tortoiseshell lyre was strung with nine gut strings, and he strummed a strong beat with a plectrum. Set the rhythm and conquer. His music domesticated the noise, sound, and disordered tones and restored order to the ship. No fateful encounter, drowning, or being devoured. But still, one of the oarsmen was compelled to stand, go to deck, and jump overboard. His name was Butes. He would become the figurehead for that ancient form of encounter. He surrendered and gave up his entire identity, he sank into the ocean. The water streamed into his ears, nose, and mouth. Then Aphrodite came to the rescue. She slept with him before pushing him back into the sea to be forever between the living and the dead. Butes embodied the traveller's dream.

Maybe he ought to start making music instead of painting pictures when he gets back to Arles, the traveller thinks to himself. He takes the small package from his inner pocket and hurls it over the railing. Now free of its string, the greaseproof paper unfurls as it is held aloft in the wind. The traveller's ear that he cut off nearly two months ago is exposed to the elements. It has turned dark brown and grey, covered in perforations that let through the last rays of the sun setting over Brazil. Just as it is about to be swallowed by the wave beneath the bow of the ship, a gull swoops down from the heavens, snatching the ear in mid-air. It flies on and lands on the water a few metres away. It swallows half the ear in a fitful start. With a second, and then a third jerk of its head, the ear is gone. The traveller feels at peace. The highest form of anthropophagy is not, after all, the act of devouring. He wants to be devoured. Being eaten by a seagull might not the most glamourous fate, but it still counts.


Nico Sauer with film prop ©privat

Nico Sauer is a composer, videast, performance artist and conceptual artist from Munich, based in Berlin-Schöneberg. He studied composition with Wolfgang Rihm (BA) and Manos Tsangaris (MA). His diverse fields of activity are fluidly connected in his work. He attempts to perforate the boundaries between stage and screen, so that reality and fiction become confused. He creates situations in which contingent events, composed sounds, choreographed movement and staged play merge together. In Monstercall (since 2022), he creates a mythology around the monster Tegli, that is said to live in the Tegeler lake and is regularly at the centre of artistic activities and scientific speculation. Moonbreaker 2121 (since 2021) is the first music festival in almost 100 years to take place on the moon. Over the years the 360-degree multimedia spectacle, which is a regular part of the programm of Belin’s Zeiss-Großplanetarium, has spun breakneck artistic visions and grotesque social utopias. In December 2023, together with Atlantide Acide , Sauer will undertake a journey into the inside of his own body, which will take the form of a monodrama in the hold of a freight ship in the St Martin canal in Paris. Sauer will present the passenger accommodation theatre RÜBER, set inside a limousine moving through a city, at the Biennale 2024 in Munich.

The text An Ancient Encounter was created as preliminary study for the musical Monodrama Atlantide Acide, that will be performed from the 14th- 16th December 2023 on board the freight ship La Pop in Paris Tickets are available here.

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