Helina Koldek on the delusions of “Mademoiselle X”

Cotard delusion is a mental disorder in which the affected person is convinced that they are dead, that they do not exist or that they have no limbs or internal organs. Simply put, it can be described as a shortage between the parts of the brain that allow us to recognize faces, to distinguish ourselves from the outside world, and to create associations between emotions and familiar faces. So it may happen that while looking at the mirror, the visible face and the Self are not associated, the consciousness exists, but it has nothing to do with the person looking back from the mirror. Such a loss of the sense of Self leads to a paradoxical dangling between being dead and being immortal, mere consciousness without a body.

The French neurologist Jules Cotard, after whom the syndrome got it’s name, had a patient whom he called Mademoiselle X in his notes. The patient claimed to have no brain, no nerves, no chest, no stomach and no intestines. Talking about paradoxes – at the same time, she also considered herself to be eternal and immortal. Due to her missing intestines, she found no meaning in eating and therefore died of starvation. The illusion of immortality and thus starving is considered one of the most common causes of death in case of the people suffering from Cotard syndrome. That same Mademoiselle X is the source of inspiration for Maria Metsalu’s production’s central character, the semi-fictional Mademoiselle X, whose automated actions can be seen at Kanuti Gildi SAAL a few more times.

And there’s quite a lot to see. Scene after scene, again and again, repeating images, automated activities are opening up in front of the audience. It’s interesting how the artist doses everything. For how long one has to stay in the pool, to crawl, to lie on the floor to produce an effective excess … how many times one has to repeat everything to create this weird, rhythmic fluid, almost inanimate state?

Interestingly enough, Mademoiselle X’s room, the atmosphere, the intense presence of technological lifelessness, the sound design that ranges from wild to melancholic, and consistent mechanicality are capable of creating a certain feeling of observing some uncanny state of mind or even the feeling of entering into such a state of mind, so that it’s possible to see everything from the perspective of a consciousness of the half-dead. Entering into such a state is aided by the fact that the audience is not allowed to go and sit on the soft chairs during the first half of the show but they are directed to the edge of the stage, where everything is within the reach, but at the same time it’s quite uncomfortable. However, it must be admitted that this discomfort is worth it, because the last 20 minutes of the performance, which can be enjoyed already on the chair, are very effective because of the above. Looking at the stage from a further perspective now creates a peculiar feeling of distancing, a shift. Exiting from the consciousness of Mademoiselle X.

Concept and performance: Maria Metsalu
Stage: Nikola Knežević, carpet together with Merike Estna
Sound: Rodrigo Sobarzo de Larraechea
Drawings: Annina Machaz
Technical solutions: SPARK Makerlab