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Quim Giron. Photo: Ben Hopper

Ritual that Brings Us Together with Death 0

An express-interview with circus artist Quim Giron

Māra Pāvula

Contemporary circuses are growing in number around the world. And Animal Religion is one of those young circus companies that transform the meaning of what a circus can be. Founded in 2011 by Quim Giron and Niklas Blomberg, Animal Religion has become one of the most avant-garde, as well as one of the most successful, circus companies in Europe. They promote the idea of encouraging the wild and illogical within the audience, and explore the weirdness of the routines of our modern life.

Shortly before Quim's second visit to Riga, he sat down to share with his artistic vision, the importance of political statements in circus art, and his greatest passion – astronomy.

Animal Religion performance Indomador. Publicity photo

So why the name Animal Religion?

Basically, that is where we draw our inspiration. We wanted to somehow connect to nature and feel ourselves – not as being wild, but connected to our roots. It all comes down to the fact that we love animals and their behavior, and we consider ourselves animals as well. When you believe in something, it somehow becomes like a ritual – an entire philosophy of life. And we wanted our company to be, in a certain way, a holy project. We like to talk about religion, or the power of religion. The combination of these two words appealed to us: animal and religion. It is like we create our own religion in the circus.

It seems as if your company makes a strong statement from one show to the next. A sort of message that you want to give to the public, as a company.

Well, the first shows that we did were very connected to the animalistic side and basic instincts, but in “Indomador” I talk about myself as a human being. Of course, there is the social message about civilization, about other humans like me. I reproduce images from my lifestyle and I put them on stage to be judged by the audience. There is a lot to watch, and a lot to observe. Maybe those are the images that not everyone regards as I do. I like to provoke the audience a little bit, and hopefully, make them question how they behave, how they function in society, and what they blindly follow in order to be a part of civilization.

Animal Religion. Tauromàquina. © Photo: Manel Sala “Ulls”

Is that something you ask only in “Indomador”, or does this have an important place in other shows as well?

Its strongest presence is in “Indomador”, but it also appears in subsequent shows. I wouldn’t say that in “Tauromàquina” there is a strong social message; rather, it is more the experience of getting connected to the surreal world of machines and animals. There is a strong connection to the tauromaquia (in Spanish - bullfights) here in Spain.

Bullfights. Is that something that is close to you personally?

Not really, but I have been watching bullfighting ceremonies since I was a child. And it is something that fascinates me. I don’t go to bullfights anymore. But I have a theory of why people like them. Because they experience death. What happens when you die? It is a big mystery. Where do you go? Do you feel pain? You feel pain throughout your life, but perhaps after death there is another type of pain. No one knows, because those who die are not able to tell us. And I believe human beings are constantly seeking answers to these questions. We are attracted by death. In the bullfight we see an animal being killed. It appalls us. At the same time, that is the moment that everyone is waiting for. We want to discover what the bull is feeling.

For example, when you are five years old and you see this little bug on the floor, you know you are going to kill it; you know you are going to cause it pain. But you just want to step on it to see the effect. It is something that goes from being alive to being dead, instantly.

To enjoy suffering. I think this is certainly something that people want to experience. That’s one of the reasons why action movies are so successful. Because you can see a variety of ways to kill people. That’s also why the photographs of this one Brazilian/French photographer (whose name has slipped my mind) are so compelling. He was in an Ethiopian camp taking photos of people who were dying because they had no food or water. Those photos are so strong that you are mesmerized by them. I think that is the same principle at work in the bullfight. It is mesmerizing to see something die.

Is “Tauromàquina” about this?

Benet Joffre proposed to me the idea of doing acrobatics with a forklift. He comes from the machine world, and I come from the performance world. It is somehow a meeting between him and me. We started to work with this circus and the machine, and afterwards we did a residency in which we explored even deeper the tradition of the bullfight. We found something interesting in the confrontation between the animal and the human, as well as between the machine and the human. We are living in a century where everything is about machines. What a machine can do is always better than what a human can do. They are so resilient, they can work forever, they are a human substitute. We want to talk about that. We also wanted to create a machine that has thoughts and feelings. We wanted to get closer to robots.

Animal Religion. Tauromàquina. Photo: “Ulls”

Is the fact that you represent animals through humans linked to the circus tradition of using real animals?

I have thought about that, but it is not like “oh, yes, we will talk about animals because in the circus there are animals”. It is true that traditional circuses use animals to create some sort of “moment of risk” on stage. That is something that appealed to us, too – to experiment with animals. We have studied, learned and practiced for so many years for the sole purpose of being interesting to watch on the stage, but no matter what, when you put an animal on stage (it does not even matter what it does), it will always be interesting to watch.

Do you use real animals in your shows?

No, we normally don’t use animals in our shows. We have experimented with that at home, and at a horse farm and other places. If you delineate the space and say that this is going to be the stage, and you place some animals there, you could watch them forever. I mean, it [the animal] is like fire. It is extremely creative and has something that makes you want to watch it. You can’t predict what it will do next. Animals are so good at improvising because they are not judging anything, and they are just present. It’s a strong experience. We are curious about this power. We're always trying to be interesting by doing tricks, thinking about the choreography, constructing a message, finding costumes, composing music, etc. But in the end, maybe it is simpler than that. They inspire us.

Initially you founded Animal Religion with Niklas Blomberg. But you haven’t worked with him on the latest shows. How do you choose your collaborators? Is it still the same Animal Religion?

With “Tauromàquina” it started off as a good idea that I was working on with Benet, so I offered to include it under the Animal Religion name. For this show I am just working with Benet, and Niklas is not involved. Basically, Animal Religion – which means me and Niklas, or just me, or just Niklas – starts with the idea and then we build upon it, choose an artistic group, work with our producer, and then we finalize the show.

Animal Religion. Performance Chicken Legz in Fira Tàrrega festival. Spain, 2014. Photo: Olli Vuorinen

Since 2011 you have made quite a name for yourself in the circus world and have done various things – indoor performances, street shows, site-specific performances – is there something new that you really want to do now? What's your next move?

Yes, I am actually writing a new project at the moment. I think I am going to call it “Sapiens Zoo”. I want to talk about how we, humans, live within civilization. I want to talk about how strange we are, and how strange this world is if you look at it and if you analyze everything. I want to talk about the hierarchies we have in different countries. How it is to be sitting in front, and how it is to be sitting at the back. Why you have water poured on your head when you are born and eat a piece of bread – all of these rituals we have with the intent of somehow being accepted into society. It is the story of people who live in a system that previous generations have deemed as being the best.

That's quite an anthropological approach for a circus.

Somewhat anthropological, yes, but also psychological and political. I think about this whole electronic civilization that we live in. My sister is going to have a child now and she already has a number attached to him. We want to also work with symbols, codes – to bring this aspect out into the light. And also, I want to imagine how the future might look. How are we going to do things in the future?

Are political statements important for you in the circus, i.e., talking about politics on stage and giving a message to society – is that essential?

Totally, yes! For me, one thing is the color, and the other thing is the paint – the symbol, the message. I am greatly motivated to observe humans, and to observe this life that we spend on this planet Earth, floating in space. I really like astronomy. I love it.


Astronomy is my god. I don’t follow any religion, but I observe nature and I don’t understand anything. And this mystery is what keeps me wanting to discover new things. It constantly gives me the nourishment needed for creating new shows.

Have you thought about becoming a scientist?

Sure, I have thought about it. It’s challenging because you have to study a lot of mathematics and you have to understand a lot of codes and the scientific language; I would have to spend maybe 15 years of my life learning this. But I am definitely motivated to have scientific experiences, to go to university and learn something, or to go see the world’s biggest telescope to study pictures of outer space. I should put more energy into that.

Does exploring these themes through the circus help you to understand them better?

Totally, yes. I am not a person who reads, or sits down and does research. I am more of a physical person and I like to experience things. During the creative process I go through a lot of material that is theoretic. That keeps me updating my calendar to find new challenges and to go deeper into the message – so that I can project it to the audience. It keeps fulfilling me.

Is there something you would like to add?

Maybe I could say something. No, I am happy; I am happy we have talked about space and astronomy. I love it.

Animal Religion. Tauromàquina, 2014

"Re! Contemporary Circus and Street" is going to present Animal Religion with their new show, “Tauromàquina”, as part of the Piens Festival at the Ziemeļblāzma cultural center on August 2nd.