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Michail Vlasopoulos (M, 35)
Athens, GR
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    The Concrete Circus



    THE CONCRETE CIRCUS
    The circus as ‘the ghost’ of its structure.

    'Burn it every fifty years...' Antonio Sant’ Elia


    The circus is a thing that strongly resists definition. Since the very depths of its etymological roots, it has been a signifier for an abstract animate vitality, later to incorporate “frenetic public activity” under its umbrellic term. In the following text I will try to link its intricate ontology with a construct, so as to metonymize its meaning even further. To help us denote its diachronous function, the circus can be ontologically defined as an intense field of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic entities; the elephant stands on two legs and humans walk on four.

    Originated in the ancient world, the Circus has a history of a ritualistic performance -mostly of a nomadic nature- and functioned as a proto-theatre where the distance between human and animal nature was under examination. Since the performances were held in the open, its architectural typology remained open-ended and it was only for this circular space, suitable for the interweaving movements of man and animal to give the birthmark of its etymological significance. The roman kirkos (from greek κίρκος, κύκλος= circle, arena) retained the very basic organization of the performance, surrounded by a crowd, until the time that circus intoxicated the nineteenth century american public as a theatrical laboratory for the exotic, the whimsical and the monstrous, unconsciously continuing the ever-occurring theme of men, animals and the combination of those two on the stage, fighting against each other for their lives or collaborating in an interspecific choreography (among different species) . This factory of travesties topped by a tensed fabric has been located in the fridge of architectural typology since the nomadic lifestyle of the performers and the circus, have not being accepted as a valid form of entertainment so as to be included in the spectrum of the urban architecture, it took the form of a caravan on wheels traveling from town to town to feed the curiosity of the agitated public and learn from its peculiar taste.

    From excavating relics, a transient stage of civilization was manifested in fables, epics and other primordial records of an allegedly collective unconscious, a time often described as “Distant Time” or “Dream Time” where, according to several animistic religious beliefs, animals were able to take human form. According to folklorists such as Charles L. Edwards, these ideas were evolved out of a memory of a previous evolutionary stage of the human species: ‘non-verbal fables’ of apes passing on to humans. Such a residue of our anthropological past can be also linked to Indian spirits and proto-gods of greek antiquity such as Dionysos, where the divine (closely related with) and inherent to the physical world and its phenomena refused to take an anthropomorphic form and remained a ubiquitous invisible force immanent to nature itself. These cultures started using masks and other paraphernalia of camouflage to disguise the human form and came up with rituals and initiation tests to mingle and re-establish the bounds with nature’s laws, expressed in the form of ‘spirits’. These beliefs cultivated a range of metamorphoses, where dancing and mimicry provided ways of becoming an animal.

    Once one with nature, the circus, just like with the history of ancient greek theatre, needed no structures, since its unification with nature didn’t necessitate architecture as a landmark; no stronghold, no threshold whatsoever. Later on, newly conceived dualities gave rise to apparent architectures, and consequently to divisions between nature and civilization, man and animal. Walls, hedges, embankments, prisons carefully started to crystallize an interiority. That what stays in and that what is left out. The rest remained in the fringe of non-materiality. A specter hovering above and across, refusing to take a form. Hidden in the woods. A place where mythic assemblages of human and animal proliferated. And while these combinations once constituted a way to praise nature, in the middle ages they represented an incarnation of the demonic.

    The circus has been served as a factory of monsters. The ‘elephant man’ was one of them. The traveling circus fueled people’s unconscious and haunted their dreams. The circus in the famous classic novel Pinoccio acted as a prison for the little boy’s soul, much like the soul in Boudist beliefs is trapped into different animal vessels on its way to nirvana. A ‘circus’ was enclosed into the Egyptian pyramid, and a circus was manifested in the technique of a chinese monk mimicking the animal with his martial art. Overall the circus can be described as a theatre of reciprocal corporalities and a factory of organic assemblages. And these exact properties of this wondrous cultural artifact have been inherited to our modern culture capturing our imagination and nurturing our childhood, included in the machinic circus of Disneyland.

    (To be edited and continued...)




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