In a world in need of change, but apparently frozen within an inert political system, interest is growing in alternative forms of social engagement. In Barcelona, Simona Levi and her Conservas theatre group highlight this need for social transformation in humorous and provocative ways.
Levi has been a presence in Barcelona’s underground theatre scene for over a decade. For years she used her space, also called Conservas and located in the heart of the barri xino at Sant Pau 58, as a dynamic, always-packed arena for her own performances and shows by unknown, local and international talent. Following a major renovation, the space will reopen in March.
A native of Turin, Italy, Levi has lived in Barcelona for 15 years. She studied theatre in Paris with the late Jacques Lecoq, a master of mime and physical theatre who “always got his students to ask themselves ‘why’. Why are you acting in this or that way,” Levi recently told Metropolitan.
Politics, meanwhile, has formed a part of her life since she was young. “I grew up in a politically active family in Italy,” Levi said. “Being socially involved is second nature to me.” Among the family members who have influenced her she counts the writer and concentration camp survivor Primo Levi.
Since being in Barcelona, one of Simona Levi’s projects with Conservas was the staging of the summer performance festival Inn Motion at the CCCB. This coming July, the group will replace Inn Motion with a new festival, also at the CCCB, which plans to test the boundaries between entertainment and politics.
Teasing boundaries is one of Levi’s specialities. Her most recent work, Realidades avanzadas (Advanced Realities), involves the show’s audience in a mock political process that questions the idea of theatre as merely a form of entertainment. The show uses cutting-edge technology to stage an absurd political overthrow in which a gleeful audience participates in turning the world upside down. The show has been presented at the CCCB, and in numerous cities around Spain and Europe, most notably at the Transmediale Art and Media Festival in Berlin.
“We’re looking for ways to get people involved, even if what we do is a grain of sand in the bigger picture. The content of the show focuses on themes close to the bone of modern European life: real estate speculation and the resulting lack of affordable housing, recent urban laws against uncivil behaviour, and the curtailment on and commercialisation of intellectual freedoms.
“The material we’ve put together for the show, including videos of street demonstrations, interviews with city housing officials and bankers, and an exposé of new tariffs related to intellectual work, discuss how the application of these falsely democratic and restrictive laws limit the rights of people in favour of private property,” Levi said. Despite her rather dry description, the show itself is hilarious.
One thing Levi feels strongly about is that art should have a political function. “At least it should have, although in today’s world it’s lost that function, either that or else art functions in reverse by acting in the service of capitalism to ensure that nothing changes.
“Most art today is elitist and doesn’t assume any social responsibility, not even in terms of its quality. What interests me, however, is using the tools I have to create transformative experiences. The same can be said about politics, which has to find new ways of involving as many people as possible so that real things change.”
Unlike other cultural figures with a penchant for politics, however, she is adamant about her desire to stay out of the official side of politics. “Politics takes place in the street,” she said. “Not in an office.”