29.05 — 01.06.2024

MEXA São Paulo

The Last Supper

theatre / performance — premiere

La Balsamine

Please confirm your attendance with a wheelchair during online reservation or through box officeAccessible for wheelchair users | Portuguese → NL, FR, EN | ⧖ ±1h30 | €20 / €16 | May contain nudity

Last year, MEXA was one of the revelations of the festival. Founded in 2015 after outbreaks of violence in São Paulo’s homeless shelters, the collective resides in Casa do Povo, a revolutionary Jewish cultural centre. Over the years, some members of MEXA have gone, and some think they might be gone soon. But when they are gone, what does it mean to see the group as a way to keep their memory and teachings alive? Starting from the structure of the Last Supper of Jesus, MEXA creates a banquet performance about the duty to tell the stories of those no longer with us. Around a long table, the group prepares for the departure of one member – or perhaps the end of the group – while sharing food with spectators at the table and in the tribune. In a dramaturgy of dishes and narration, the lives of MEXA members intertwine with religious references to the Last Supper: the imminent transformation of the body of Christ and the path of gender transition for some; the new presence of evangelical churches in Brazil; the precariousness of life; and the promise we make to carry on each other’s story – as new evangelists – if something were to happen. MEXA distorts theatre into a festive atmosphere at their own Last Supper; an explosive moment of union that renews a vow of solidarity.

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The Last Supper

This evening, you will witness the creation of a painting, a meta-painting that is likely to arouse a disturbing sense of déjà vu, evoking a mystical apparition with which you are no doubt familiar. It is a vision of a meal, with the guests seated behind a long table that extends horizontally within a sober and austere architectural setting. A majestically solemn figure sits in the centre. His apparent melancholic serenity is disguised by the pained clenching of his left hand. The discreet intensity condensed in this gesture seems to orchestrate the contrasting poses and expressions of the individuals flanking him on either side. Tension is at its height in this dramatic moment of the Last Supper, when Christ announces the imminent betrayal of one of the apostles. Once his disciples have caught their breath after this premonitory revelation, and anticipating his own martyrdom and posthumous glory, he reaches for the bread and wine to institute the Eucharist. Each protagonist embodies a heightened passion: surprise, astonishment, suspicion, distress, and indignation are immortalised in this theatre on a human scale.

Between 1495 and 1498, Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper on the refectory wall of the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent in Milan. Despite the tribulations of its history and its deplorable state of preservation, this work is the quintessential representation of that biblical episode, considered to be the first Mass. An image with many lives, journeys and survivals, it’s still an object of devotion, attracting pilgrims from the four corners of the world, all prepared to buy a mug or a tote-bag as a souvenir of the epiphany in front of the beloved painting. Reproductions have circulated in all formats and mediums, fueling the faith of the faithful or the irony of the atheists of yesterday and today. For the MEXA artists, the sight of this dinner is imprinted in their memories and inhabits their imaginations. For one, it triggers a synaesthetic reminiscence of a childhood afternoon spent with her grandmother, who had a copy of the painting in her house. For another, this was the first piece in her print collection that she’d agreed to exchange for a pair of heels, some perfume, and a can of hairspray. By a fortuitous coincidence, a facsimile will even end up on the canteen wall of a shelter in São Paulo, Brazil, where some of the performers shared their first meals in the early days of the collective – which was founded in 2015 subsequent to the attacks on racialised and/or LGBTQIA+ people.

Since then, the group has expanded, creating a range of performance pieces that include theatre, dance, musicals and talk shows. These hybrid presentations subvert and queer Greek tragedy and the history of Western art in narratives of epics and autofictional cosmogonies. By appropriating and cannibalising the canon, MEXA proposes a transgressive scholastic approach that perpetuates oppressive regimes of normality, confronting it with the violence of their own personal histories using ferocious, sly humour that’s unrestrained. In a new forward-looking exercise, the group revisits its trajectory and its still uncertain future, predicting the possible demise of the group or some of its performers. After revisiting Homer’s Odyssey at last year’s Kunstenfestivaldesarts, MEXA uses The Last Supper as the starting point for its new piece, an essay in visceral theology and iconology set to music and taking place at the table. They use the work as the basis for an unholy exegesis of the biblical episode and the mysteries of the transubstantiation of the everyday experience into its representation and transition into a perennial effigy. In this deglutinated speculation on their own destiny as a collective, the aim is to sketch-out and elaborate their future mnemonic and visual presence. What ritual could ensure the group’s longevity or guarantee a promise of salvation? What image, as evocative as the sharing of bread and wine or the symbolism of the crucifix reminiscent of Christ’s sacrifice, could crystallise the collective’s identity and vision for posterity?

Think again, you who have come to pray to icons of a supposedly immaculate precariousness. Your voyeurism is the guest of honour at the MEXA table. Transcend your preconceptions: your redemption depends on it. Thwarting expectations and projections, it’s not scarcity but rather baroque opulence that characterises this danced meditation on survival, a celebration of resilience and abundance in the image of the sumptuous buffet that awaits you. The group raises the question of the agentivity of artists in the face of an audience whose references and sociological profile profoundly diverge from their own, at least in the majority. By making you an accomplice in the ambiguous and insidious staging of its non-normative and non-hegemonic subjectivities and identities, the collective promotes an uncomfortable confrontation – open to unexpected adaptations and possible tensions. And, like the evanescent figures in Da Vinci’s painting, this theatre of the real could collapse or disappear in front of your very eyes, or even be cancelled, before you’ve had a chance to experience its festive extravagance.

Since every meal at the MEXA table is potentially the last, let the implementation of the table in this banquet-performance be a feast for the senses and for the spirit. Share a dinner with the Eves and Adams of the apocalypse and bear witness to the establishment of a commemorative liturgy that guarantees them a part of eternity, leaving behind relics of their memorable tirades, exuberant choreographies, and succulent anecdotes. Receive the flesh and blood so that their image miraculously permeates your hearts and minds. Are you ready to participate in this last supper before all we see is a hint of it on a wall, or a trace of it in the text of a festival brochure?

  • Olivia Ardui, April 2024

Performativity and the intersections between the visual and performing arts are central to Olivia Ardui’s practice. She has worked in Brazil as a curator at the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) and at the Tomie Ohtake Institute, and was also part of the curatorial team of the 12th Cuenca Biennial in Ecuador. She is currently a member of the art history department at UCLouvain, while also developing independent exhibition projects.

Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, La Balsamine
Creation: MEXA | Direction and dramaturgy: João Turchi | Performers and co-creators: Aivan, Alê Tradução, Anita Silvia, Daniela Pinheiro, Dourado, Patrícia Borges, Suzy Muniz, Tatiane Arcanjo | Video performer, video creation and technical direction: Laysa Elias | Direction and movement assistant: Lucas Heymanns | Soundtrack and sound design: Podeserdesligado | Light design: Iara Izidoro | Producer and art director: Lu Mugayar | Executive producer: Francesca Tedeschi | Costume design: Anuro Anuro e Cacau Francisco | Scenography: Vão | Vocal direction: Dourado | Dramaturgical collaboration: Olivia Ardui | Research and artistic advisor: Guilherme Giufrida
Production: MEXA | Coproduction: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Casa do Povo, Kampnagel - Internationales Zentrum für Schönere Künste
Special thanks: Esponja, Benjamin Serousse, Marcela Amaral, Felipe Martinez, Gustavo Colombini

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