- Staging Identity through Art
Cuando el arte imita al arte la imitación nunca es exacta, ocurre lo mismo que cuando el arte imita a la vida y muy probablemente también cuando la vida imita al arte.(García Ponce 1982a, 41)
Almost 20 years after his last production for the stage, Juan García Ponce (1932–2003) returned to his first passion with Catálogo razonado (1982a), a play he was commissioned to write by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes [The National Institute of Fine Arts] in 1979.1 Significantly, he took an art term—"catálogo razonado," commonly known as catalogue raisonné—to title his play. In the art world, the French term is used to describe a publication that lists the contents of an artist's exhibition, along with related descriptive or critical material, including titles of articles or literary works.2 The chosen title is appropriate to the extent that García Ponce inserts many of his favorite writers (including Xavier Villaurrutia, Jorge Luis Borges, Pierre Klossowski, and T. S. Eliot) and composes a play that catalogues the five novels—La cabaña (1969), El gato (1974), Unión [End Page 65] (1974), Crónica de la intervención (1982), and De anima (1984)3 —for which the protagonist of Catálogo razonado served as model.4 In addition to scenes from these novels, the play provides a list of artists whose paintings document the existence of Michèle Alban,5 the woman who is the protagonist's referent, no matter how far removed she may be from the multiple copies and repetitions made in her image. At the same time, García Ponce appears to adopt Diderot's aesthetics, which, according to Roland Barthes, "rests on the identification of theatrical scene and pictorial tableau: the perfect play is a succession of tableaux, that is, a gallery, an exhibition; the stage offers the spectator 'as many real tableaux as there are in the action moments favorable to the painter'" (Barthes 1984, 70). This episodic structure, of course, is also reminiscent of Bertolt Brecht's epic theater, which expects criticism, not adherence from its spectators (71), that is, an intellectual reaction to the play rather than an emotional one. It is important to note, however, that the erotic scenes in the play do not allow for complete detachment. Finally, Catálogo razonado has also been classified as a totalizing theatrical piece since it uses various types of technical, mechanical, and audiovisual media to create a spectacle that impacts all the senses (Sotelo 1998, 80).
The entire action of the play—which begins as a dialogue between the voices of the fictive author (First Voice) and the fictive director (Second Voice) planning to stage the piece—takes place in the author's imagination, which is "habitada por las cosas que él pide aparezcan en el escenario" [inhabited by the things that he will request appear on stage] (García Ponce 1982a, 10).6 The time period of the action is described as "el tiempo fuera del tiempo en el que se desarrollan todas las obras de teatro" [the time outside time in which all plays unfold] (10). When the fictive author materializes on stage, he is identified as the "Actor en que encarna la voz primera" [the Actor who incarnates the first voice], and the fictive director is identified as the Actor who embodies the second voice. The main female character in the play is simply "el Modelo" [the Model]; she reenacts scenes from novels for which she presumably served as the original model and has been summoned by the fictive author to play herself. The fictive author suggests that the plot consists of proving that the model may be nothing more [End Page 66] than the portrait for which she modeled because ultimately he invents her. Even as she tries to show her independence, she continues to be his model (12). At the same time, however, he admits to the director: "Me temo que yo nunca he inventado nada. La que inventaba era ella, con la ligera diferencia de que ella sólo se inventaba a sí misma" [I admit that I...