Interview with Rodrigo Labarca, performance artist.
Performance art, disassociated improvisation, avant-garde fringe theatre: multi-talented Rodrigo Labarca is an intriguing figure. His appearances are often acted out unexpectedly and captivate an audience with their obscurity and boldness. Serendipitously, we met on the street, while I was out photographing for the style blog.

Istanbul Street Style: Give us a brief background...
Rodrigo Labarca: I started to perform in Chile at the age of 17, while Pinochet was in power, and as you can imagine it was quite challenging for me. At the time, I felt the need to express myself, travel and gain experience. I began to explore the larger South American region (Argentina, Bolivia, Peru...) and pursue the way I saw the world and define the way I saw myself in the world. The desire to continue a path in performance art led me to Amsterdam, where I reside now. I was lucky enough along the way to meet many talented individuals and theatre groups. We were free to experiment, influenced each other and this is where I really started to develop my skills as a performer.
ISS: Finally being able to express who you are without boundary.
RL: Yes, Amsterdam at the time was a place where there was such a climate of creative collaboration. For me, it was also a period of survival and I decided to make the choice to follow the path I am on now. I connected with the legendary SupperClub, who are renowned for their entertainment and performance theatre showcases. There I began to apply myself seriously to my art and actually began making a living doing it! I also gained a lot of confidence about what I was doing and realized that I was becoming very good at it.
ISS: Others did as well, I'm certain. SupperClub also has a San Francisco venue. In what other cities are they located?
RL: Rome, and they also have a concept restaurant here at Sortie, which is on the Bosphorus. That is how I was introduced to Istanbul, when SupperClub sent me out here to perform last summer. Initially I was apprehensive about doing my act, about how it would be interpreted in the setting of Turkey. I was a bit worried that the culture would not understand it and my intentions as a performer. I was afraid that I might have to restructure my acts, that I might be perceived as too weird or too graphic or confronting.
ISS: As outsiders, we all have misconceptions about the culture here... until we are introduced to it!
RL: That was my perspective at the moment. So one of the managers convinced me that I really should do this, that Istanbul was ready and needing this type of creative expression. SupperClub backed me up and gave me the strength to go forward with it. Through these performances I began to realize something about Istanbul and what I was doing within it: what I had at first perceived to be a challenge became more interesting. I could actually become more expressive because I was working with essentially a blank canvas. To see where the boundaries are and develop ways that I can surprise people, and leave an audience with something to think about, even to inspire. This idea I found exciting.

ISS: I'm happy that you say that. The energy that you get from being here and doing something that you enjoy. That is really what Istanbul is all about. The potential that you feel everywhere.
RL: It's still true! During this time, I became connected with 360 Istanbul. This was a great step because 360 cater to a very international clientele and they are not also afraid to support eclectic forms of entertainment. It also gave me a platform for interacting with the crowd during my routines, as opposed to performing on a stage. I enjoy that kind of connection that you can form with an audience by doing this. One of my fundamental goals as an artist is not necessarily to entertain an audience in the classic sense of the word, but rather to impress them. To leave them with something to think about and at least find interesting; whether they identify with it or not doesn't carry as much importance for me as does creating a performance that leaves an impression.
ISS: Within that audience, I am certain that you are bound to connect with other creative types.
RL: I am actually hoping that I will meet and collaborate on some level with others who have this desire to express themselves. Perhaps we can work together to build sort of a "scene." Istanbul has been a very good chapter for me so far. We'll see where it can go.
ISS: Give us a description of what we might expect to see at one of your live shows.
RL:Well, the vignettes are usually only about 10 or 15 minutes long. That is really enough time to develop something, to tell a story. Within each of my shows, underneath all the chaos and spectacle there is an intrinsic allegory that I hope a few members of an audience will pick up on, even if they don't necessarily get the point. It's difficult to describe the performances themselves because they really are quite variable and distinct from each other. I do have a repertoire that I draw source material from (sometimes depending on what mood I am in) but even within that the outcome of any given performance is unpredictable. I also think that sometime being an outsider can be an advantage in this respect.
ISS: You can live in a city of 18 million and still have your own identity, project a persona that is original.
RL: Almost like when the Berlin Wall came down. So much creativity flooded into Germany from the east, and now it can be seen as one of the great modern artistic capitols of the world.
ISS: Performance art is a very broad term. Do you think of yourself as a performance artist?
RL: I like the term because it sort of defines me, as myself. I'm not so much of an actor or dancer, even though I use those elements in my work. It allows me to be spontaneous and act out in a way that reflects society. In those ten minutes that I have an audience's attention, I am allowed only to be genuine. If it comes off as fake, the crowd will pick up on that. In those 10 minutes I have to be focused and so full-on with my intentions that, even though it may be 400 people, I completely believe in what I am doing.
ISS: You're charting new territory.
RL: And that energy will sort of take over the place… and people take notice. I think that maybe makes the difference between me and a typical entertainer because I am not necessarily doing this to please a crowd but rather to stimulate them, to get them questioning what they just saw.
ISS: That is a high-minded goal. I notice that within your work there is also a lot of free improvisation and crowd interaction.
RL: Yes, well it also depends on the crowd and how far I can respectfully test their boundaries. It's an experiment really, and performing within a crowd is so different than on a stage. People aren't expecting anything, and all of a sudden it's happening there right in front of them, so it sort of catches them off-guard. I try and find connections with members of the audience and play off the variety of emotions and reactions. That's really the nature of improvisation.
ISS: I see that you also use video and projections to enhance your work.
RL: All of the video efforts are done in Holland by a good friend, AlexEtJeremy. His work is amazing and visually very astonishing and inspiring. We create these different concepts and then unify them. It adds a lot of depth to the performance and gives more insight into the characters that I portray.
ISS: I'm curious about what your next move is artistically. Like all great illusionists and escape artists constantly scheming up new tricks… Is that something you do? What tricks do you have up your sleeve?
RL: That would be giving away the secret ingredients. I could only mention that whatever comes next out of my personal imagination, will be probably an explosive recipe...
Interview and photos by D. Alexander
January 18, 2007
Contact: ISS