In 800 Signs

Jean-Michel Basquiat : of the many facets of the artist, few if any are known to the general public, and yet the latter keeps raving about the prices reached by the artworks of the former. But can Samo be bought? Laëtitia Guédon presents SAMO, a masterpiece in terms both of creativity and esthetics. The live music, clarinet, saxophone, transverse flute, supported by drum machines and a human beatbox, complements admirable video art within the limits of a very confined space. The performers of this picturesque ensemble, larger than life, are staged in La Loge, which for this occasion takes the semblance of a New-York underground venue.

More Signs

Pounding bass and neon lights. On a screen erected in the background, jellyfish move through the stages of anamorphosis on the console of the DJ / saxophonist / multi-instrumentalist, the only white man in the show. Voice-over articulates otherworldly sounds that end in inaudible sentences: “I am American. I will have the patience of a king to rise up to my destiny.” This credo, repeated as a chorus over and over, is the work of “Samo”. Samo as in Same Old Shit, the alias used by  Jean-Michel Basquiat. He would sign it along with a crown symbol, like a king who could have reigned over Slavic subjects in the 7th century.

Samo, a tribute to Basquiat, illustration by Araso
Samo, a tribute to Basquiat, illustration by Araso

The text of the play is exceptional, in that it gives life to this child of Brooklyn, born of a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother, in a society “suckling on the breasts of television”. He repeats tirelessly “it is raining and “i” the child is in the middle of the street”, alluding to the accident which caused his spleen to be removed. His mother, who paints biblical pictures, is at the same time this person who shapes his artist’s vision, and the madwoman who tried to kill her children by driving her car into a tree “because of what their father had made of [her]”. His birth, he sees it both as a consecration and as a burden. When asked to tell stories “from his land”, he retorts that he is an American (!), hammering his prophecy: “I was born the exact moment life puts on its belt of sunlight”.

To embody such a legend, three performers is hardly enough: the father figure, violent, haunting, who “looks like Charlie Parker”; the rebellious boxer with a mohawk; the dancer, an Apollo-like figure with elfic slenderness, who tries to pry the painter away from his demons, showing him a sky “blue and mineral, as if washed of all stains and impurities, primed for the artist”. Ever conflicting, they are at the same time dramatically inextricable, their endless struggle presiding over the tragic destinies of the one who “wanders in the streets of New York like a dog without a collar”, the one who will fight all his life to “get street art and Afro heads inside of the greatest museums of the world”.

SAMO, A Tribute to Basquiat, is a creation 2016-2017 by compagnie 0,10 at La Loge, until April 14th 2017

Translation from French to English by Mathieu Dochtermann