visual artist and performer

The Possessed Nuns.Thoughts around the performance In the Gloom (Zona de Penumbra)

I find The Middle Ages very interesting because it is a defining moment of paradigm shifts. It is a time of general crisis in society, and of questioning the status of what is uncertain and the criterion of what is natural, of the wild, of the other.

It is a time when the Body begins to build its borders and a radical change in corporality takes off. The paradigms of good and evil, of feminine and masculine that settled over 300 years, those are social paradigms that lasted throughout centuries and are only now changing.

Paradigms born of fear, fear of darkness in every way, fear of the unknown, the uncontrollable, the wild, fear of the intuitive reasoning and of the body itself. Fear of the devil, of the demons every human carries within.

In 1633, as the Middle Age was ending, in an important medieval town in France at the convent of Loudun, took place the collective demonic possession of all the nuns. This event coincided with the order to demolish the walls that protected and insulated medieval towns, months after mass deaths were caused by the plague. For Michel de Certeau, French historian and philosopher, the demonic possession of the nuns at the convent in Loudun is the expression of their current social anxiety. This means that the crisis of the moment was catalyzed through the nuns, an anxiety brought on by too many deaths from the plague and constant war. Anxiety interpreted as a consequence of social inequality and questioning of paradigms.

From another point of view, Jules Michelet says it was boredom added to years of chastity which caused the alleged possession of the nuns. It could also be called hysteria or despair, or a nervous breakdown, or a good performance, or extreme sexual desire in a time of changing paradigms and demolition of the villages walls. Anxiety found a cathartic space to express itself.

Whatever it was, what is clear is that since the concept of the Other was demonized, a separation between the intuitive and the rational, feminine and masculine , was established. Moral, social and physical structures were set up to mold and alienate this part of human existence.

The female universe lacked a place in society. Witchcraft, possession, mysticism, hysteria and madness are manifestations of a female world that do not find a proper space to express themselves.

Was it the fear that the Church had for its own passions what demonized this sort of expressions? Was it fear of divine punishment? Fear of all that darkness? Fear of a social breakdown? Or Fear of peoples rebellion? Or a mandatory need to control because of fear?

Exorcism rituals and witch burnings played a second role as entertainment acts, a type of massive catharsis. Terror as a show, and the others body, any other body, as an expiatory field for guilt, punishment, revenge or fear.

I wonder how the body expresses this alienation that has been carried over the centuries. How social crisis does expresses itself with in the individual body? Where in the collective consciousnesses are kept the tortured bodies that we have seen throughout the history of mankind?


Galia Eibenschutz