REGNANT: An Interview with Xavier de Sousa

We met up with Xavier de Sousa, an independent performance maker and culture worker based between Brighton and Lisbon, for a catch up on the work he is currently undertaking as part of a UK-wide environmental programme called Season for Change and our project within it – The Space Between.

Entering Xavier’s studio space, it’s hard not to instantly notice the wild array of clay pots and spoons now adorning the shelves. They are of all wonderful shapes and sizes, made from scratch by Xavier himself, who only began learning the tricks of the trade at the beginning of his residency with us as part of the UK-wide Season for Change programme. You wouldn’t think this was the case, however, by the sheer amount and quality of the work he has already created in such a short space of time.

Xavier is working on a trilogy of work based on the lived experiences of migrant communities. With two shows already under his belt, REGNANT is third in the trilogy, set to premiere at HOME (Manchester) on November 27th, 2021. Alongside the trilogy, Xavier curates the digital series queeringborders, live programme performingbordersLIVE and New Queers on the BlockThe Marlborough Theatre’s Touring and Artist Development Programme. He is also co-director of the digital live art platform performingborders, as well as co-founder of Migrants in Culture.

We sit down together to have a catch up on his current project REGNANT, plans for the future and the daunting task of creating 500 pots in just a few short weeks…

Hello Xav! So to start, can you tell me a bit about yourself and what you have been up to:

I’m a performance maker, curator and sometimes producer. I’m currently working on a trilogy that explores the systems that allow us to feel like we belong to a specific community, country or event. The first show was called Post and it was based on heritage and how our heritage impacts the way we look at our personal and national identity. The second show I did in Portugal was very much about the present – what is the reality for people that live within a state and the discrepancies of privilege that there are in different countries. With both projects so far I have tried to merge symbols of national identity, both English and Portuguese, as they are my two heritages. My practice is based around gatherings of people, belonging and migration.

What are you exploring with your third project?

With my current project, I’m looking into how we can harness all of these things and look to the future – where we are now and what could potentially happen if we all came together. All these shows revolve around a dinner table – the act of food making and eating food. This has a sense of community within it and helps people to feel comfortable with one another – people feel totally different about food, but culturally there is a generalised notion of a country’s relationship with food and this says so much about how we view that country.

How do you perceive Portuguese and British food?

The Portuguese are well known for being good hosts and offering amazing food – you knock on a Portuguese person’s door and within five minutes you have food in front of you! Whereas the British are perceived as more reserved, although that’s not my experience with it. I like to play with these notions in the space and during the shows.

I would place my work somewhere between performance art and live art. The first show I referred to as a play as it was semi-scripted, but I still conceived it as a live show. The second show I didn’t really view in this way but it was still referred to as a play. The show I’m currently working on is very different. This one is six hours long, but it’s more of a ‘revolving door’ where people in the audience can come and go as they please. Each act will be directed by its own focus and narrative, but I would call it more of a durational performance, that is more my intention.

What is the show called?

The last show is called REGNANT

What made you want to do this project?

The show as a whole came from the idea of ‘the table’. From the first show it became clear it would be important to expand on this and I found it really fruitful to have less of my voice involved in the show and making of the narrative, and more people bringing their own voices and openly talking about their ideas, wants, problems and catharsis. I wanted to experiment with an ongoing sense of things being made all the time on stage. 

What will be being made throughout Regnant?

In REGNANT there will be lots of handmade things involved, either made beforehand or live in front of an audience. The food will be made live on stage, sometimes with audience participation. The pots and pans and all that will be made beforehand by me and some of the participants here by hand at Convention House. There will be a live manuscript drawn on the wall throughout the whole show by an artist called Jade Monserrat who I love, and there will be a live one man band by Yaz Clarke, and An* Neely who’s going to constantly be making the food throughout the show – cooking, cutting things, constantly peeling things. Hopefully all together it will look quite big and exciting. 

Did you know how to make pottery beforehand?

That’s what brought me here to Convention House – I didn’t know how to make pottery! When Emma Beverley and Karen Watson got in touch and said they were interested in the project as a whole, I realised this would be a great chance to find somewhere to learn how to make pottery. It felt really good to come here and do this and learn from scratch a new skill. The materials and final products are not going to be perfect, but that’s also the point. There is this constant invisible labour done that is not always super perfect but it is done with love and care – this is really important for the show as a whole too.

I wanted to come here not just because I love East Street Arts but also because of Burmantofts history. When I read up on that I was amazed, I was like ‘oh my god the Burmantofts!? How have I never come across this?’. It has such a rich history in ceramics and pottery and learning to make pottery in the same area is very special. 

How long have you been working on the projects?

The show has been going on for about four years. There were delays due to the pandemic and it was supposed to be completed two years ago, but when it hit we had to change our plans. 

Do you think the pandemic changed the way you were working?

Yeah for sure. I think if it hadn’t happened we would have been able to host more workshops, involved a lot more participation and we would have more artists here with me in residency – I would love to have Jade here a bit more often for instance and it all just would have been very different. I also had to learn how to do pottery through Zoom, which is also why they are perfectly imperfect!

How many pots do you have to make?

500 pots is the goal.

If you had longer with us, what would you do with the time?

Good question! I would definitely hone in on my pottery practice more, but it’s nice because with this commission I’ve been able to create a little makeshift studio back at home, so I will carry on doing pottery after this because I really enjoy it. I’m feeling a bit broken today as I’ve just done nine solid days of pottery, but I really love it and I think that it’s such an amazing skill to have.

The next thing I want to do is get a kiln back at home so I can start making pots and pans for my family. I don’t really do Christmas, but as a gift to my family I always make mulled wine and help cooking. My grandmother recently fell in love with mulled wine, and as mulled wine isn’t common in Portugal and is often seen as sacrilege, my grandmother gave me the idea of going along to the Christmas fair and selling mulled wine to people as they shop, and it would be nice to add pots to this too. 

What is winter like over there?

It’s hardcore! A friend of mine said they wanted to go to Portugal over Christmas and I was like ‘seriously just beware’. I hadn’t been there over winter for so long, and when I went last winter it was hardcore because it’s a different kind of cold. It just permeates everything. You don’t really have central heating anywhere so it’s cold everywhere all the time! 

What has happened with the touring of the show?

So we’re not really looking at touring at the moment anymore. As it’s a participation show, I think it gets really hard in the context of the pandemic. Three weeks ago I was opening up a show in Portugal and the rules were so much more restrictive than they are over here. It was a bit of a shock coming back to the UK, as it’s totally different to Portugal’s rules! So yeah, we are looking at doing things more contextually and sometimes I prefer it this way. I love touring but it can be exhausting, and sometimes you don’t even get to see the places you’re touring to – there’s no time to explore. More focused residencies and contextualised shows are the future!

Do you think you’ll achieve all your goals in the time frame?

I’m going to give my best shot. A lot of the show is on wanting to reach a goal – it doesn’t necessarily mean we get there but at least we tried. Having the pots and pans unperfected, some of them hard to eat from, weirdly shaped but we have maintained them. Some of them might be broken, not ready or un-perfect but it’s all about the process. 

And finally, what are you going to do whilst you’re in Leeds?

I’m going to go and see some friends this week now that the workshops are finishing, I’m really looking forward to that. And get on with pot making of course!

For more information on Xavier de Sousa’s work click here.

To find out more about REGNANT and book your tickets to the premiere, click here.

You can also follow Xavier’s social media @xavinisms for future updates.

Photo Credits: Hannah Platt

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