The Upside-Down World

Robert Filliou


Mixed Media, 33 × 25.6 cm.
Materials: Cardboard, paper

Collection: Collection Andersch, Neuss.

Excerpt of the conversation between Robert Filliou (RF) and Irmeline Lebeer (IL), Flayosc, France, August 1976.

RF: Upside-Down World is a series – a truncated series – that I started in 1968, for an exhibition with Hansjörg Meyer. I was alone in Dieter Roth’s flat in Düsseldorf while he was in Iceland. It’s simply a visual representation of an expression I often used at the time, with many people: ‘It’s the upside-down world.’ I was reading yesterday in the journal Pour, which came from Brussels, about the storming of the Tel al-Zataar camp. We often say this. When Christians, for example, massacre people in the name of their principles. I illustrated it with people with their heads down. I wrote ‘Innocence and Imagination’, but you couldn’t really see it. You should put yourself in their position to be able to read it. Maybe – maybe – we have moments when we do that, and then we can read, and then we fall back.
            That theatre play I wrote in the beginning of the 1960s, Le Jeu de l’homme mort (The Dead Man’s Game), is based on the same thing, a little bit. The last song in this play is: ‘Your liberator, you have married him. Your liberator, you have put him in chains…’ That was people sitting in a café in Spain. I saw it years later. A guy passes by, reminding all of them of an extremely true emotion. These people start reviving their passion. They knock on the table, drum with their spoons. And once they’re a bit cleansed, they recapture their innocence and their imagination. They start singing and dancing.
            There’s a song, saying: J’ai quitté mon domain pour celui d’autres qui n’en ont pas. (‘I left my domain for that of others who don’t have one.’) They show such generosity towards women, towards the world. Suddenly, we hear a gunshot. It’s theatre, so they’re on stage. What’s happening? The guy who passed by, outside, just committed suicide. We never see the Dead Man. After a moment of wonder, they relapse into their own thing. There’s one who says ‘I have to go’, a girl who says ‘Will you come to the cinema with me this evening?’ All during this song, which is danced more and more frantically. ‘Your liberator’, etc. Basically I don’t know what it is. In the beginning, there’s another song: Voyez-vous cet homme qui pase dans la rue ? Demain il pleurera, en attendant, il rit. Voyez-vous cet homme dans la rue ? Demain il mourira, en attendant il vit. (‘Do you see this man passing in the street? Tomorrow he will cry but for now he laughs. Do you see this man in the street? Tomorrow he will die, but for now he lives.’)
            There’s an enormous amount of songs. That’s where my important message to Paul Lebeer was taken from. I was finishing the first act of this play in Copenhagen. To make a bit of money I gave French lessons. A woman enters. She used to come from six to seven. I stopped working. She says to me: ‘Did you hear the news? Camus is dead.’ That gives me the date: January 1960. I gave my class, then went on with my play. I ended with a song: Un homme est mort, le frond brisé. Le Christ des pays froids est mort de froid. (‘A man is dead, his forehead broken. The Christ of the cold lands died of cold.’) In the play someone says: ‘Who was Camus? ‘Oh, a writer, a French writer.’ ‘He’ll see God.’ ‘Oh God, God…’ And then there was the final song I talked about: Pour un soupir, Hitler verra Dieu, ce sera un pet de Dieu. Pour un regret, Franco verra Dieu, ce serra un merde de Dieu. (‘For a sigh, Hitler will see God, he will be a fart of a God. For a regret, Franco will see God, he will be a turd of a God.’) And so on. Everyone will see God. That’s how it ends. I had no idea; it just came to me like that. That’s the end of the first act, after they liberate themselves from their passions. They relive them. It’s very brutal, violent. And in the third act they find their innocence and their imagination.

IL: What’s the song? ‘Your liberator’?

RF: They are songs that repeat themselves. What has prevented it from being staged it is that it needs actors who can also sing and play an instrument, at least the guitar. We start doing a few songs, and we say we’re more interested in the spirit in which things are done than in the form they take. I just gave you an example. This would be a ‘Joint Work between Filliou 1968 and Filliou 1960’. It doesn’t matter if I use the theatre for The Dead Man’s Game or a fast, visual method like The Upside-Down World, because I realise that the spirit is the same. When we speak about intensity, it applies to all instances of life, ideally.

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