Grotowski's Bridge Made of Memory: Embodied Memory, Witnessing and Transmission in the Grotowski Work by Dominika Laster
Each of the four chapters of Dominika Laster's Grotowski's Bridge Made of Memory is dedicated to [End Page 128] examining a key facet of Grotowski's work in assisting the actor in a practice of self-development. The first chapter is concerned with "embodied memory" and its relationship to the notion of essence; the second with the theme of "vigilance and witnessing"; the third chapter is concerned with "vertical connection"; and the fourth focuses on the question of "transmission." The discussion of each of these themes offers a way into exploring what Laster considers to be at the heart of Grotowski's work: the "intricate and multifaceted" process of "coming into (one's own being)." The work on oneself, however, takes place "with and through the other" (1) and is not self-centered or narcissistic.
The book does not aim to provide a genealogy of the four key terms: essence, transmission, witnessing, and verticality. Instead, Laster critically examines how these concepts and phenomena were developed and refined in the Grotowski work, leading to a more intricate, technical understanding and usage of the terms themselves. Given the intricacy of craft language and practice, Laster elects not to impose an external critical frame from the outset, but attempts to establish exegeses of the key elements of the work before putting these into relationship with other theoretical and disciplinary frameworks.
The heart of Grotowski's Bridge Made of Memory is an attempt to unfold both a coherent perspective on the Grotowski work that is grounded in the work itself, as well as reflections on the work provided through formal interviews, conversations, public documents, and even private archival materials and translations of texts not yet available in English. For example, in the second chapter, titled "Czuwaj (Be Vigilant): Vigilance and Witnessing in the Grotowski Work," the concept and practice of vigilance is explored, with a particular emphasis on two projects from the late 1970s: Night Vigil (1976–77) and Vigil (1978–79). Laster notes the paucity of documentary materials relating to these projects, listing only outlines, letters of application (sometimes simply postcards), and testimonies from project participants. The latter reveal that details have faded from memory, even where the participants acknowledged the impact of the projects on them. From the available information Laster constructs a narrative that locates the vigils within Grotowski's attempts to disrupt the actor/spectator relationship, and to create a more active role for those attending the works. In the sessions that comprised Night Vigil, audiences were required to actively participate in them, whereas in Vigil this was relaxed and attendees were allowed to witness the work through "vigilance." Laster locates vigilance within Christian, Jewish, and Islamic ritual traditions, and she employs the term in the sense of "keeping a vigil." It is this process of mindful attention that transforms the spectator into a witness and transforms the actor/spectator relationship without turning all attendees into doers. This chapter is particularly successful in providing a bridge between the earlier and later phases of Grotowski's work.
Laster opens the book with a preface in which she establishes her relationship to the subject. Her earliest encounters with members of his Laboratory Theatre were through her family, only later becoming aware of Grotowski's work, participating in workshops and other events at the Grotowski Centre in Wrocław. In 1995 Laster, while a student at the University of Kraków, decided to hitchhike across the Alps to join Grotowski in Pontedera. However, the book is not a personal account of her time with Grotowski and others within his circle, nor is it a first-person account of the experience of her training and self-development as both an artist and human being through the work. But eager to avoid the accusation of being too close to the work, she errs on the side of caution and, to my mind, separates herself from her own experience. This means that her account lacks the balance between the first-and third-person positions, such as to be found in Lisa Wolford's Grotowski's Objective Drama Research (1996). While this does not undermine the excellent and original scholarly research that is amply evident in Laster's book, it does raise a question about the place of the personal voice in discussing the process of working on oneself, which she acknowledges as an "ethical and political practice" (14).
Throughout Grotowski's Bridge Made of Memory, Laster reflects on the ethics and politics of his work. She is particularly concerned about correcting a perception of Grotowski's work as being apolitical, and several pages of her introduction discuss his involvement in politics. While this is useful, Laster does not dig deeply into aspects of Grotowski's work that raise political and ethical questions, such as the politics of race and gender. That said, Grotowski's Bridge Made of Memory is well-researched, thoughtful, and engaging; it provides additional insights into the work and is a valuable addition to the literature. [End Page 129]