mag Shannon Cochrane Maurice Blok Roi Vaara Sandra Johnston Carlos Monroy Benedicte Clementsen Jamie McMurry
issue seven/ 2012 published by nabroad www.maagmag.com
/ :m책g is mobile: now available on windows/android iphone/ipad /
/editor/ My heart belongs to performance art. As an artist, organiser, teacher, supporter and audience member, I am deeply committed to the development and promotion of visual performance art. So when måg gave me the opportunity to edit an issue - dedicated to performance art, I was thrilled! It means that I am now able to share the work and thoughts of artists I love, with you. I want to give every one of the artists featured a heartfelt thanks for their generosity and openness. I am also honoured to present Boris Nieslony’s insightful contribution, raising issues important to the practice of performance art. Of course there are many, many artists whose work deserves a place in måg. It was a difficult choice, and this is just a small selection of all the wonderful performance art work out there. In the end, I chose to feature artists work I have seen live, and artists I have had fruitful discussions on performance art with. Each one of them have inspired and influenced me personally as a performance artist, - through their work and their ideas. It should also be mentioned that they all represent perhaps a certain strand of performance art, as a personal favourite, work that is close to my heart and that I especially want to share with you. I believe that performance art is important. I believe that the
transience and unpredictability in the direct communication offered through a performance, raises questions, which always will be relevant for us as human beings to consider. I do not need to point out any of these questions to you here, as I believe the artists speak well for themselves. I urge you to read carefully. The openness and generosity exhibited by the artists in sharing their thoughts and ideas is astounding, and well worth careful attention.
Go experience the work live. We can share images and words as much as we like, but the real power of performance art is only to be found in its original form, as a shared moment in time and space.
Then, after enjoying the work and thoughts on offer here, I encourage you to go out and look for the visual performance art work which is taking place somewhere near you. There will be some, trust me. Go and experience the work live. We can share images and words as much as we like, but the real power of performance art is only to be found in its original form, as a shared moment in time and space. Go, live, be moved, be shaken, be bored, you will not leave unaffected. For now, thanks again to måg for facilitating the sharing of the practices of these excellent performance artists, and to the artists themselves for giving of their time and mind. I am so, so proud to present to you their work and thoughts. Enjoy!
AGNES NEDREGÅRD is guest editor of måg www.maag.com
7 COVER GWENDOLINE ROBIN
MAGAZINE DESIGN BY NABROAD & Rodney Point © 2011 www.nabroad.org www.rodneypoint.com PUBLISHER: NABROAD GUEST EDITOR: AGNES NEDREGÅRD EDITOR: AUDHILD DAHLSTRØM CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: PAVLA ALCHIN MARIANNE MORILD RUTH BARKER JASMINA BOSNJAK LISA STÅLSPETS SUB EDITORS: LYNDON RILEY LILLIAN UTNE SKJŒVELAND ADVERTISING: COD DIGITAL MEDIA LONDON Copyright of all editorial content is held by måg. Reproduction in whole or part is forbidden. måg © 2011 www.maagmag.com
GALLERY 120 IRMA OPTIMIST 126 RITA MARHAUG
FEATURES 10 GWENDOLINE ROBIN / Tania Nasielski 26 SANDRA JOHNSTON / Agnes Nedregård 42 ROI VAARA / Agnes Nedregård 58 CARLOS MONROY / Agnes Nedregård 72 SHANNON COCHRANE / Agnes Nedregård 84 MAURICE BLOK / Agnes Nedregård 90 BENEDICTE CLEMENTSEN / Agnes Nedregård 98 JAMIE MCMURRY / Agnes Nedregård
text 3 Editor / Agnes Nedregård 112 To be skeptical, of oneself, of whose self? / Boris Nieslony
HIGH-NORTH TROMSØ GLASGOW GATESHEAD www.high-north.org
HIGH- NORTH is an ambitious three-year artists’residency initiative linking the cities of Tromsø, Gateshead/Newcastle and Glasgow. The project is coordinated by NABROAD, and supported by Arts Council Norway, and The Royal Norwegian Embassy London. Working with a range of high profile partners, each of whom brings a unique understanding of their local context, HIGH- NORTH represents a rare opportunity to substantially strengthen both cross-border dialogue and trans-national artistic practice.
institutional collaborations – HIGH- NORTH continually invests in a diverse, and ever-expanding, shared artistic economy.
Initiated by the prominent international artist A K Dolven (herself based between the UK and Norway), HIGH- NORTH has the potential to generate new proximities between these three destinations, the impact of which will far outlast the three-year duration of this project. Contributing to this legacy are the tangible practical and professional opportunities available to artists who are selected to The HIGH-NORTH partners undertake HIGH- NORTH met at BALTIC Centre for residencies. The artwork and Contemporary Art, Gateshead research produced as a on the 14th of February to result of the residency select participating artists and structure will be visible as a to shape the programme for flourishing series of exhibitions, the next 3 years. The selected talks, workshops, and seminars artists are: Luke Fowler, Aileen taking place across these Campbell, Liliane Lijn, Arild culturally distinct and Tveito, Mai Hofstad Gunnes artistically celebrated and Kjersti Andvig. Northern cities. Together this broad-ranging programme The selected artists are contributes to enriching the practitioners who are cultural lives of communities in established in their field, with North Norway, North East track records of producing England, and Central Scotland. work of quality, integrity, and By doing so HIGH NORTH ambition. Their presence and champions the shared expertise will continue to aspirations of Tromsø, enrich HIGH- NORTH's Gateshead/Newcastle, and networks between individuals, Glasgow for cultural organisations, and institutions. investment: improving quality Supporting the potential for of life through a commitment communication and to nurture creative talent, co-operation around a host of creative opportunity and models - from building international creative grass-roots connections to connections. establishing long term
HIGH- NORTH provides artists based in Britain and Norway with up to 5 months of support to research and produce new works and explore the artistic, social and cultural context offered by their host city. During each residency, HIGH- NORTH’s local partners will make it possible for visiting artists to devise new projects, conduct their own research, experiment with new ideas or methodologies, and engage with other artists in the creative network. Artists may choose to produce new work in response to their experience of the new city, or may simply use the opportunity to explore and exploit the unique resources offered by Tromsø, Gateshead/Newcastle and Glasgow. For all HIGH- NORTH artists, becoming part of a distinct network of cultural establishments, conversations, and communities will enhance the experience of making work in a new city, supported by a valued partnership organisation. HIGH- NORTH is a landmark project, uniquely placed to change the way we think about trans-national networks, practice, and collaboration.
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ROBIN by Tania Nasielski
It began with the object in space, often translucent, playing with volume and light. Gradually the body – her own – took over, becoming more and more mobile, playing with fire, intensifying the light that has never left her and which is her work material. Today Gwendoline Robin associates the object with the body in space to create ever more complex installations and performances, in which object responds to space, movement to fire, light to the sound of the explosion, and in which the artist’s body can explore, perform and dance with the danger and the poetry of fire. There is immediacy in Gwendoline Robin’s work; a relationship with the present moment given by the suddenness of the explosion, the very essence of fire, the evanescence of smoke. It confronts us with surprise, fear, danger, relief, and with wonder, too, and humour. In the past few years, Gwendoline Robin has broadened the spectrum of her performances, collaborating with musician Garrett List, choreographer Marian Del Valle and discursive performer Alexandre Wajnberg, and these multidisciplinary associations have nourished and enriched her language. She performs internationally in festivals of performance, drama and dance, and further explores her dialogue with fire through drawings, installations, video work, books, and the art of movement. Fire and explosives can be seen as the body and material of your work. You told me that you’ve always had a firecracker or two in your
pocket ever since you were a kid. When did you start using them in your work? While I was a student, I visited Valencia, where I discovered the festival Las Fallas. The city’s various guilds each spend the year building a papier mâché sculpture. You see them on display in the public squares if you walk around the city in the early part of March. Then, on 19 March, they set fire to them to celebrate the end of winter. It all goes back to the days when carpenters used to burn their leftover pieces of wood: they built puppet theatres, which they then burned. The tension gradually builds as 19 March approaches. You know that all the sculptures are going to be set alight. You hear explosions all over the city: there’s a strong smell of gunpowder. I liked that relationship between a year’s worth of work and preparation and the single moment when it all goes up in flames. The experience had a lasting effect on me: I was keen to work with that same relationship – building followed by burning. The tension before the fire, which brings people together around a piece of work, and then bringing that relationship to life for the viewers. You look at sculpture in silence, whereas fireworks are greeted with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’. People want to talk about it – they have a less sacral relationship with the work. Having said that, the performance then reintroduces a sacral element. I’m interested by that contradiction. I try to strip out the sacral, but the performance has a ritual element to it. It’s to undermine that sense that I like to inject some humour.
Your work is often described as ‘pyrotechnics’. It’s a means – a technique – that enables me to create ephemeral moments. I use fireworks to communicate something, but I’m not defined by them. I don’t see myself as a pyrotechnician. What I do is performance and sculpture. My performances consist of ephemeral sculptures. What’s your relationship with fire? When I’m working on a project, the idea gradually takes possession and the object belongs to me. When I set fire to the project, it ceases to be mine: I lose it. It’s very important to be able to let go, to relinquish possession. It’s as if the project had its own autonomy and has suddenly been restored to life. Because even if the object is damaged by the fire, it is not destroyed, but transformed. I cease to have control and the fire takes over. There’s also the excitement of knowing the fire is going to create a surprise. And the fear that the performance could go wrong. That fear, mixed with pleasure, is intimately linked to fire. What about your responsibility? The question of responsibility in relation to fire is important. There’s my own responsibility, for instance. I obviously try to avoid doing any damage. But it does happen sometimes. It’s part of the work, and it creates traces and scars that interest me. There are traces and scars on my body, too, and they’re part of my life. There’s also the responsibility and attitude of the people in charge of the location: how they view any possible
/ROBIN/ damage. In some places it’s accepted, and in others it’s not. And then you have the responsibility of the viewers: should they intervene if they see the fire spreading to a particular part of the space or to my clothing? For the most part, people instinctively respect the work and are unwilling to intervene so long as no one obviously is in danger. I find it interesting that they are asking themselves, ‘should we intervene or not?’ The viewers know there’s going to be an explosion. And they also know that I’m in control of the situation. Are you afraid when you light the fuse? It’s an ambiguous moment. On the one hand, I’m afraid that the fire won’t light, and on the other, there’s the fear of the unknown: that the fire will get out of control. I’m a naturally anxious person, and paradoxically I create performances to approach and confront danger. I play with the limit between fear and control. In a sense, playing with fire is a way of proving that I’m alive, that I am resisting. If fire is your material, would it be accurate to say that your body is the medium that carries the performance? That it too is your working material? To me, the body at first was just a tool: a support on which I placed my explosives. The more tension and explosions it was subjected to, however, the more I became aware of the
reality of the body’s presence as such. That presence seems obvious at first, but it actually takes time to build. The more performances you do, the more aware you become of your body’s presence. I’m doing a variety of dance, movement and voice training, and I’m also following a course in Nô, to try to deepen my own awareness of the body, in the sense of the rightness of its presence, here and now. Being present without being demonstrative; not performing theatre or dance in order to show the viewers something, but just to be there; to make gestures as one does for oneself, and to communicate that presence to the viewers almost in spite of oneself. I was in Berne last October for the Bone IX performance festival. There I had the opportunity to discover older performers, aged between 60 and 80, which was wonderful. Watching them perform, you sense that this is the work of a lifetime. Their very presence was amazingly powerful. They were there with virtually nothing: just the rightness of their movements, their gestures and their bearing. Where would you place yourself in terms of performance artists who use their bodies, like Marina Abramovic, Gina Pane and Chris Burden? They also play with the limits of fear and danger. I’m interested in Marina Abramovic’s relationship with the body and with danger. As for Chris Burden or Gina Pane, it is a very physical relationship. They go to the limits of pain as an expression of faith in life and in the strength of the body. The element of danger in my work
is offset by a touch of humour or absurdity, whereas in their performances, something more fundamental is going on in terms of limits. Working with pain, endurance and injury used to be important as an artistic approach. Nowadays, it no longer has the same significance. Those people are points of reference, they’re obviously the prime movers, but my work is at a distance from theirs. It’s lighter in the sense that pain and injury aren’t part of my vocabulary, even though my work questions collective fears such as explosions, fire, and the fear of being burned. I create an absurd situation by placing myself in danger, a little like they do. But where they create a transformation through pain or exhaustion, it’s the moment of explosion in my work that provokes a change through the release that comes after the tension. Your body was immobile in your first performances and gradually began to move. How did that come about? At first, my body was like the objects I used to construct. One of my first performances took place at Espace 251 Nord in Liège, at the invitation of Michael Dans. I’d built a metal structure that supported the papier mâché figure of a female warrior I called ‘Gwendorak’. It was a sculpture, connected to me by an explosive fuse. I was wearing a boiler suit with the fuse attached to it. When I set fire to myself, there was an explosion and the flame travelled down the fuse to the sculpture. It too then exploded and burned almost entirely away. It was a moment of transition, because after that I stopped making sculptures
/ROBIN/ and started to focus the explosions on my own body, though always remaining more or less immobile. It was while working with Garrett List that I began to introduce an element of mobility. Sound has duration, which implies movement. Because of that, I started to create sequences in which the body could evolve. That introduced elements of preparation and of choreography – to plan the sequence with Garrett, for instance. I was intrigued by that preparatory work and I began to incorporate it in the performances that followed. Did that mark a move into choreography? Perhaps. But then what is choreography, exactly? To me, it’s about writing with your body. I try to reduce it to gestures that are natural and necessary to the work; as simple as possible, with no real staging. So far, the preparatory gestures have remained very technical. I’d like to find the freedom to create actions that are less technical and more poetic; incorporating the gestures needed to carry out a movement, but which create a different tension; not invariably linked to the explosion, but rather to the gestures and attitudes of the body. Take the act of pouring a line of black powder over ten metres. It’s functional, but it could also become a movement you’d like to observe because of the beauty of the gesture. I’m
increasingly coming across performance artists who are helping me to discover a freedom of gesture: actions that aren’t useful in the first instance, but which convey a beauty that is an intrinsic part of being human. That’s what I’m looking for: something that relates to more than fire alone. If I’m walking on a suspended beam, for instance, and I stretch the whole of my body in a balance to light a fuse placed high up, the movement that results opens up a whole new language. And that language is what you’re searching for? Yes. It’s like a child playing alone who invents languages of its own. It’s wonderful, because everything centers on the moment, the instant. That’s what happens in some of the performances I’ve seen: something ‘primary’, and the freedom to dare do it. You’ve told me that you want to avoid ‘staging’ effects. There’s a dramatic tension in your performances, to which the protective suit you wear contributes. How do you work with those elements of costume and staging? I don’t like the rigid aspect of staging a performance. When I talk about mise en scène, I’m referring to a more or less open structure, within which I can evolve and orientate myself according to the specific moment. The suit also gives me a structure, a support and a presence. But all it takes is for the flames to spread to some other part of the body or the space and everything changes: I have to be able to get the suit off, to move and to run, if necessary. The course of the performance
is unpredictable. The beginning is predetermined, but not the end. I’m not interested in the kind of staging in which everything is defined in advance. Because of the danger I have to be myself, I don’t act and I don’t want to play a role, be a character. When you perform, your relationship with the other changes, there is a distance between you and the other. The suit adds to that distance: at the end of the day, it protects me from both the fire and the viewer. The costume issue is something I think about a lot. How do you get the protection you need without simultaneously creating a ‘character’? The protective overalls, headgear and glasses create a kind of astronaut effect. I’d like to change that, to wear more banal clothes. On the other hand, I am interested by the white cloak I wrap around myself to hold the smoke: it brings a poetic presence. You asked me about the body: my awareness of my body and its presence alters my relationship with the costume and the way I wear it. Little by little, I’m choosing when and how I wear it. What part does humour play in your work? Danger and irreverence are linked in all my performances. It’s a question of deflecting the danger onto something else. Viewers often ask about the connections between my work and the news from abroad – outrages, suicide bombers, war. The element of humour is important in order to break that relationship. I certainly don’t claim to be talking about those things; that’s not my aim: the reality in which I live here
in Belgium is different. To me, explosions relate first and foremost to time – to the present moment. I often hear people laughing after the explosion: laughter is an important release after the tension that came before.
they can sometimes have an importance in their own right. I keep photos or videos of some performances and even some of the boiler suits I was wearing and which still bear the marks of the explosion. I’ve kept a pair of scorched boots, too: they evoke a sense of For example? presence and absence for me. Once removed, boots retain I exploded some the presence of the body that watermelons at Bains de Forest wore them. Other traces are in Brussels. You could take that linked to the landscape or to as a metaphor for a bomb; or the working process. I try things for blood, seeing as they were out in the countryside and the red inside. But at the end of the photos I take are just as much day, they’re still watermelons. a trace of that landscape and The way a mundane piece the working process as they of fruit can make us imagine are of what happens before something else creates a kind the spectacular moment of of reality gap. At the ‘Danse en explosion. vol’ festival at the Bissectine – The same goes for studio also in Brussels – I tied a rocket photos, because they evoke to each leg of the chair I was the experiments, objects that sitting on. The chair obviously have burned or which are couldn’t leave the ground that going to burn, the black way, but the rockets enabled powder… basically, my me to create the intention of universe. Those traces help take-off. As they exploded, construct my universe and they they formed a cloud of smoke provide a fuller vision of my around the chair, so you could work. actually imagine it taking to the air… You’ve published some work too, most notably Les nuits de How important to you are the Gwendoline, in which fear is traces of the work? defused by humour. Tell me about your written work. It’s odd – I’m becoming more interested in what’s left behind. The publications act as Before it was just a matter of reference points. After the documentation: I work on my period of preparation, the own, so I film and photograph moment of performance is what I do to see whether I can instantaneous. It is transient. improve any of the When I create a book, by pyrotechnic effects or the contrast, I live with it for longer. presence of my body. Some of I rework the text and the those ‘test’ videos have taken images. I explore, I revisit what on a different status. Like I’ve done, I work on the Pauvre Gwen, which started layout... There’s a duration out as a way of there that doesn’t exist in testing an idea and ended up performance. It also enables as a fully-fledged video that is the viewers to discover the now screened at festivals. I’m work in a different way. They not interested in the traces if can open the book whenever they’re fabricated in any way. they feel like it. They don’t On the other hand, I realised have to be there at the precise
moment of the performance. I wrote Les nuits de Gwendoline during a period in my life when I was preoccupied by the fear of death. To get it out of me, I had to produce that book. And humour had to be the dominant element. The other publication, First Alert, consists of four cinematographic sequences – images that follow one another like a piece of film. Four actions cut into fixed images that fold out like an accordion. You recently exhibited a series of drawings. How does drawing fit into your work? I don’t produce a lot of drawings. Some of them are preparatory sketches that act as reminders during the working process. Others are drawings I make after a performance to help me remember specific moments. It’s also a way of prolonging that instant. I only draw in order to prepare or to recall performances. It also helps me link back to the studio, which is important. I often rent a studio for those moments in my work that have something restful about them: I’m alone with myself and my work; it’s not public like the performance. There’s something harsh about ‘afterwards’: once the moment of the performance has passed and you’re alone and disorganised. There’s a sense of confusion, you feel bereft. The work of drawing reunites me with myself. Like the photos or videos – or even the writing – it’s a way of being alone with the work that enables me to refocus and to gather new ideas. That’s what gives the drawings their raison d’être, because they weren’t originally intended to be shown. I hang them on the wall
/LELLO//ARNELL/ /ROBIN/ at home and it’s proof that the performance really happened. They’re a trace – like the photos and videos – that allow me to stay with the work once the performance is over.
IMAGES IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE Cover: Sillage n° 6899 2007, festival of live art, Kilkenny, Ireland. Photo by: P. Delaunois Tentative n° 6899 2005, Festival Danse en Vol, Bruxelles.BE Photo by: Jorge Castro Sillage 2011, La Muga caula, Les Escaules, Spain. Photo by: Ayano Shibata Territoire 2009, Les Subsistances, Lyon, FR. Photo by: Saadi -Freixas Essai pour Walk,Talk,Chalk, chorégraphie de P.Droulers. 2008, Bruxelles.BE photo by: N.Fernandès Instant n°6899 2007, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tournai, BE Photo by: M.Loriaux Self portrait. 2005, Bruxelles.BE Photo by: S. Noël Regards instables 2010 ,Fête St-Martin, Tourinnes-la-grosse, BE Photo by: M.Otjacques
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SANDRA JOHNSTON by Agnes Nedreg책rd
/ANE LAN/ /JOHNSTON/
“impersonate” or “be” another person or character; one can only, make one’s own true personality visible through the enactment of a character or a situation. It is only by trying to be another person that you can really be yourself – hence; the masquerade is the true nature of human interaction. This can sometimes be a little bit tricky, of course. Those of my friends who first volunteer to participate in my projects are those who have a narcissistic drive to be in front of a camera or to stand on a stage. That is also often the main symbolic value of their personality. How do you explain this to him/her? “I want you in this part because I see you as a great narcissist, and this piece is about narcissism”. And how do you persuade those of your friends and family who most of all hate being the center of attention to perform either in front of a camera or on stage? This is crucial if I want to speak of the true discomfort of being objectified before the media gaze. In order to succeed I try to create a transparent but solid contract of fiction and drama between the collaborators and me, which often implies costumes, and acted out clichés. I aim for an equal participation, but I guess what I am really looking for is a psychological projection (underneath the theatrical gesticulations) which my collaborators, or myself, are unaware of - the sides of our personality brought out by the play, contributing to the work in a way originally not intended. However, this has always been what makes the display of human interactions intriguing to watch, either on film or on stage. Where a camera is present, the participants are consequently also able to investigate
1) AN: I have seen your work live a couple of times. To me, there is a sensitivity in your work; it seems to be based on a very strong underlying idea base, but also on an acute awareness of your immediate surroundings. It would be interesting to hear a bit about your working process. Could you share any ideas that are central to your work – where you start, and how you go on from there? SJ: You are right to identify the importance of surroundings each work is in essence responsive to place. Somehow anything I pre-prepare in my mind or through rehearsal before arriving to make work seems redundant when I encounter an environment my feeling is that all places, sometimes especially the most mundane and abject, hold a power, something like an ambient tone or texture very difficult to articulate yet palpable to the senses. It is this source that most inspires me, and over the years I have learnt not to rush to fill a space with mental images, but to try and ignite a physical conversation with the situation. This is about responding to the grain or momentum that already exists there, and a kind of humility that anything arrived at as movement or gesture requires an opening within myself to find these subtle connections. Place feeds memories, especially tactile memory, so everything in a location - its surfaces, objects, sounds, smells and light trigger associations that are generally outside of the rationalising mind. I value these signals because I cannot arrive at them through
cognitive effort, only through physical speculation especially silence and stillness, so these are my main starting points. 2) AN: You often say that you arrive without any preconceived work to an event, that you prefer to develop the work on site. How does the situation and place influence your work? SJ: Well, although I generally don’t have preconceived ideas when I travel, increasingly I carry some small object or material with me that has some autobiographical connection, such as a shoe lace or finger nail clippings, which I often use as an introduction to a space, a way of gauging maybe what scale of gesture would be appropriate to the situation. Usually these objects get discarded from the process after the first period of working, but they are almost like surrogate presences in that I use them to make decisions about what could happen, and basically they guide my eye to what might be concealed in the space. There is always something immediately there, whether structural - cracks or out of proportion doors for example, or objects - a plastic drink bottle hidden behind a radiator, a sewing needle caught between floor boards, a sachet of sugar - no matter what it is, I try to build trust around this random discovery and use it to transpose the personal object I brought. In this way, slowly, slowly, I create relationships that come from what the space has revealed, rather
than what I can insert into it. This process is my preference but it is not always possible as it takes time and privacy to develop, so I have a range of approaches, some of which are about sourcing everything from some external site in the city where I can randomly spend hours looking and gathering, then using the gallery for its ‘neutrality’ to fuse together all the fragments from these exterior experiences. If I had to describe the work, I would say its main characteristic is that it is experiential, it grows organically from occurrences that have just happened in my life without an interim period of processing - I try to hold the raw fragments separate until the moment of performing. The task of the action is to bring together the disparate parts and try to create clarity. 3) AN: How do the inviting institutions react to you not wanting to, or being able to, give them a clear idea of what they might expect from you? How do you feel about the inherent unpredictability in live work, and how this aspect of performance art is received by institutions and organisers? SJ: I notice a real difference between how museums and arts institutions facilitate live work, and the kinds of projects that evolve through artist-run initiatives. The latter tend to be more intimate and engaged situations, in the sense that there is usually a feeling of community and exchange. These interactions are often very simple and practical, like when someone spends a day walking around a city helping you to find
/JOHNSTON/ materials etc. The kinds of conversations that happen in these moments are very important to me, because they reveal different perceptions and values. Just the act of defining what a material might be and the navigation of streets to find it somehow develops a connection that infiltrates in positive ways the work that arises. I suppose this is what I mean by intimacy - the work begins to take root when there is a developing understanding between you and the organisers and you absorb something of their reality. Naturally this can also happen to some extent with institutions, but often the emphasis is on the artist being in the gallery and making decisions in the space while someone working as staff is then anonymously sent to purchase the materials ironically I find this invisible efficiency a kind of blockage. This efficiency is part of the pressure you suggest in your question, the overwhelming impetus in institutions to know and to plan ahead, in effect to prepare for the unpredictable. This can be suffocating as an artist, but having organised events myself I do appreciate that there is a real anxiety involved in curating improvised practices, especially in buildings that legitimately cannot accommodate risk. Actually this preciousness of gallery environments is part of the problem, since there is an inherent theatricality in white box spaces, which means that everything the body does,
every gesture, is magnified and everything that happens in the space is in effect framed by the idea of it being art, already art, even before the gesture is made. This is problematic for me because the preciousness of the space makes, for an atmosphere and etiquette of behaviour that is difficult for an artist to rupture, a slightly sterile distance between the artist and the audience. Too much stage management of the performance concept is a real trap, because it begins to overtly manipulate the circumstances of viewing, and in so doing takes away some of the potential for how the audience might activate the situation from their own volition. I think ultimately it’s important that the audience is given autonomy to move and to think independently, and not be choreographed by the artist and organisers. But the most important thing is how you manage the chaos inside yourself. I can be distracted by how others are trying to accommodate the unpredictability of what I might do, yet it’s still my role to become sufficiently ‘centred’ to improvise - often I have to make time to go off by myself and focus in private. 4) AN: What do you love about performance art? SJ: I think that performance is the most human of media - it is innately vulnerable, and if you cannot accept inside yourself the possibility of failure then you can’t make an honest performance. What you are searching for in an improvised action is what Boris Neilsony calls the ‘true moment’, the
effort to go beneath the surfaces of a situation to find the actuality of the shared moment, an emotional connection with the audience that brings each person suddenly into the present tense as a palpable state, like a shared breath. This relationship is reciprocal, because audiences are always aware if something transformative has occurredit reverberates on the nervous system- yours and those witnessing, who have in fact enabled it to happen. Another way to say it is that some works are irrevocable, that you experience a sense that what you have witnessed in another person’s actions is a form of truth-making or even I would use the word testimony; the gestures, the utterances erupting out of the performer’s body outside of or beyond language. This is particularly pertinent in the work of young performers, in the intense interiority and rawness of actions that are not perhaps completely aesthetically refined or resolved, but contain such a strong feeling of the artist’s spirit and their will to communicate that it feels a privilege to experience such works because you know they are unique and cannot happen again. Because of these factors of vulnerability and rupture, performance is considered a marginalised art form, but I feel that what most performance artists are trying to do is protect fundamental human qualities such as instinct, awareness, interconnection and compassion; I feel that what we are doing is actively cultivating humanness. The protectiveness, connection and emotion I can feel towards another performer
/ANE LAN/ /JOHNSTON/
reawakens me to what is often suppressed or falsified in other forms of communication. 5) AN: Do you have any thoughts on the often claimed closeness between art and life in performance art? SJ: For me art is incorporated into my living patterns in subtle ways, through practices of focusing; physical and meditative practices that are the centre of each day and that allow awareness to grow. Sensitivity is not automatic our minds are so distracted by the immersive situations we all live within that the body easily loses its capacity to be responsive. For me there is not a division between art and life, in that I am actively using performance to evolve living skills inside myself - often they feel like survival skills. How to reflect and work with chaos, how to heal oneself, is a major question for me. And in performing what I seek to do is quietly amplify aspects of the continuum of my life, raise up normal things, the spaces between gestures, the sounds between words, things that are so quietly familiar as to be invisible, and put them forward into a moment of visibility. The best way I can describe it is ‘an exquisite handshake’ - by this I mean that the outer experience of the action, or the spectacle, is the least important aspect; it is the fluidity or intention concealed inside the actions that really matters, and this is carried across from how it is you inhabit all of your life. 6) AN: Your work, from what I have
seen, introduces series of actions, and beautiful, surprising but also subtly disturbing imagery. Do you relate your work to any particular tradition, or is it of any concern to you to relate to a tradition at all? SJ: Tradition is important especially as I get older I can see with greater insight the influences that have formed my practice. The first performers I encountered were all working in Ireland in the early 1990s, people like Alastair MacLennan, Brian Connolly, Anne Tallentire, Pauline Cummins, Alanna O’Kelly I think there are qualities in all of their work that in some way indicates a quietly political sensibility. They were making deeply personal works, but they always created an openness for the viewer to interpret and reflect. This was really important to me, to experience the dedication of these artists all responding to serious and in some cases, in fact, dangerous issues and situations. I think what inspired me most in what I saw, was that difficult content could be expressed to audiences, yet could retain a poetic capacity. This was especially important during ‘The Troubles’, that the gestures these artists made could not be misconstrued as propaganda, for there was always a beauty and fragility within the telling. In particular Alastair MacLennan has deeply influenced me with the gravity and compassion I feel in his work, how he interfuses the artistic gesture with the reality of situations, almost becoming a non-presence among the momentum of place. These and other artists who gift you something through their utter
commitment to what it is they are saying and the urgency they place on this transmission, have all influenced my practice. 7) AN: What led you to become a performance artist? SJ: There are a number of influences, and the first was deeply personal. While I was studying MFA in 1992 at the University of Ulster, my maternal grandmother died, and the shock of losing her had a very profound effect on me. Creatively I became totally paralysed and could no longer paint or draw with any sense of belief in the media I had always used to ‘speak’. Over the course of a few months I gradually began to re-examine my processes, trying to establish some way to connect with what I was feeling internally, but was in effect suppressing. Eventually I began to remember and then re-enact and photograph a number of gestures, tiny actions that I considered to be specific to my grandmother. This process of embodiment evolved until I had a palpable sense that I had recovered something of her memory through touch. So tactility was the first step into a way of thinking and moving that prioritised the senses. I was similarly affected by another death in 1994, the brutal political murder of a young woman in Belfast called Margaret Wright, whose tortured body was dumped naked in a waste bin. The impact on me of her death became a catalyst for a series of actions recorded on video, performed naked on landfill sites on the outskirts of
/JOHNSTON/ Belfast, moving among stacks of domestic refuge, interacting indiscriminately with the objects I found buried there. So performance began for me as a process of grieving, a way of adjusting to the trauma of loss. What I perceived in performance as a medium was the potential to move outside of verbal language in order to explore the things I couldn’t find a language for. I still understand performance as an interim or liminal space where physical, verbal, guttural languages interfuse and fall apart, yet it is a purposeful failure, for the will to make connections and to make things mend is a positive dynamic of human ingenuity. 8) AN: You are from Northern Ireland - can you tell us a bit about how it is to live and work there as an artist, and how it is different from other places in Europe where you have seen or performed work? SJ: I was born in 1968, which was a pivotal year in Northern Irish history since that is when what we call ‘The Troubles’ began and the country entered a state of war. This context has inevitably influenced my work, not only because of the visceral destructive impact of thirty years of violence that permeated every aspect of society, but subsequently, as I observe the peace process and consider my place within it as an artist. As I mentioned earlier it’s important to me that
artists don’t become part of a propaganda process of blaming or justification for what has been done, but use their skills to create different perspectives and interpretations. The fact that I use my body to make artworks is entirely deliberate, because I know it to be living evidence, that the body carries its own specific quantity of trauma relative to what it has experienced. But also I believe there is always the capacity to change and indeed incite inside oneself a healing. So, these would be the terms on which I base my creative practice - it is an ongoing search for ways to illuminate the past, not avoid or forget but to work through, and in this regard I often experience a vibration or symmetry with other performers from many other places, a sense that their work holds a disquiet, but that their intention is to transform it and make a positive communication from it. I experience this particularly in the works of Polish artists, maybe because there have been very strong connections between Polish performers and Irish over the last twenty years, in some ways a common sensibility or understanding. Artists like Artur Tajber, Zbigniew Warpechowski, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak &Ewa Rybska and many others have taught us a lot about emphatic gesture and the richness of handling materials. Also, ‘Black Market International’ and Boris Nieslony have had a strong influence in Belfast particularly in the idea of developing collective actions. But it is incredibly rich really, the eclecticism and diversity of the international work you can see at festivals - we all influence each other and cross over to
an amazing degree, and this is something that is evolving a sense of deepening cultural perspectives experienced directly in the particularity and nuance of each individual’s work. 9) AN: Do you have any thoughts on the currently expanding performance art scene - will it last, will it change, will it influence you as an artist? SJ: I am really encouraged by the growth of the performance art scene in Ireland; this last decade has seen a huge rise in numbers and greater diversity in approach. A lot of this should be credited to the teaching of both Alastair MacLennan and Brian Connolly; the work of organisers such as Brian Patterson through the Bbeyond organisation, and Sinead O’Donnell, for the effort they have put into creating international exchanges; and also the steady ground work Bbeyond has done in developing localised collective interactions. Another thing that impresses me is the recent growth in support for artists across generational divisions, to see artists in their 70s and 80s still making extraordinary performances that is inspiring, and an acknowledgement that it’s a lifetime process of learning. Recently there has been an upsurge in collaborative networks, laboratory situations ... the openness and spontaneous qualities of these kinds of collaborations I find really powerful. Learning over the course of minutes, hours, days how to respond to the presence of others, their
/JOHNSTON/ sensitivities and boundaries, all relayed outside of verbal language. Somehow, I feel there is a shift away from the dominance of singularity and, in my opinion, ego-based performance spectacle, a growing awareness among performers of how all of us can be enriched by collective situations that are carefully set up to support receptivity to a breadth of approaches. A factor I notice through teaching is that a number of young artists are choosing performance as a medium, in a clear reaction to the mediatisation of everyday life. The attraction I think is in the directness of the communication, that there is no intermediary. But this immediacy and intimacy also involves responsibility, even I would say an ethical responsibility for what you produce and how it might affect your audience. Ultimately, I think this proximity and accountability are the qualities that make performance still a relevant and potent form of creative exploration.
IMAGES IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE Accounted (for) 2011 Solo performance for NEW TERRITORIES, Glasgow Photo by- Beatrice Didier Articles of (faith) 2010 Solo performance for ACCION!MAD10 Festival, Madrid, Spain Photo by- Isabel Leon Due Process Pt 2 2011 Collaborative performance with Dominic Thorpe, THIRD SPACE GALLERY, Belfast Photo by- Jordan Hutchings Plea 2010 Media- solo performance for CROSSINGS exchange project, Christine Conley, SAW Gallery, BBeyond, Ottawa, Canada Photo by- Remi Theriault Remembe::red 2011 Solo performance for TO BE PRESENT LIVE NO TECH, MMKA museum, Arnhem, Holland. Photo by- Nils Kenninck
The Atelier Nord project room in Kunstnernes Hus is available to artists free of charge on a weekly basis. The project room may be used for video and audio production, as well as screenings, presentations and exhibitions. For more information and on-line application form, please visit
ROI VAARA by Agnes Nedreg책rd
/VAARA/ 1) AN: Can you tell us something about the journey that has taken you to where you are today? What led you to become a performance artist? RV: I studied traditional art, painting, but painting didn’t feel really relevant to me. I was preoccupied with the question of what art could be, today? I didn’t know very much about what had happened in the world of art, but I thought there had to be another way to express myself, a more direct way. Slowly I ended up in performance art, but it was not an easy journey. I did not know what performance art was, as it didn’t exist in Finland at that time, and I was not interested in theatre. I wanted to do something visual, in a live way, but I didn’t know how. Then the artist Dick Higgins came to Finland. He did simple things, everyday things, while changing its context. To me this felt like enough, art did not need to be more complicated. Seeing his work triggered me to think about the idea for the White Man performance, only of my early works, where I felt that many of my ideas came together in a coherent way. I wanted to bring art to where the people were, like the street. I wanted to create work, which nobody could define. They didn’t necessarily need to see it as art, but still as something strong. I wanted to make people stop and wonder about what they were seeing, to stop the world for a moment. I did not want to make objects or
artefacts, I just wanted to show life, to present life. This piece was important, as it took me many years to reach that point, from where I have happily continued to make work. But this was the early eighties, and this kind of work was not necessarily considered as art, not even in art circles. It did not fit in, somehow. Through the eighties and nineties I was more or less the only performance artist in Finland – there were some others, but they did not solely work with performance art, only occasionally, whereas for me it was like a statement of art, or of life. I did not get any art grants until 1994. It was difficult not to get any support for my work, only a few of my friends understood and appreciated what I was doing. But that changed. In 1987 I met the group ‘Black Market International’ [Founded by Boris Nieslony - editors note] in Kassel at Documenta. This was an important turning point for me. They asked me me to join them, and the next year I got an invitation to come and perform with them for two or three weeks in Poland. In Black Market International I met people who were thinking in exactly the same way as me. Even though the work could be very different, I was really excited about the things they were thinking and doing, and to be able to work with them. This became a way of life for me, and gave me situations for which to plan new work, as I knew we would perform together once or twice a year. I think if I would have had to continue on my own all this time, I might have given up at some point. Through Black Market I got to perform outside Finland, and 1993 we performed in Dresden,
where I met Richard Martell from Quebec. He picked me up from Black Market and invited me to do a solo work in Quebec. Since then I have performed also as a solo artist, maybe even more than in Black Market. Still Black Market was very important for me in order to continue along this line, that I considered so exciting. I think it is really nice how things happened as they happened, of course I could never have guessed, when I started out, how things would go. Still, now, I am following this line. 2) AN: Could you talk a bit about your working process – you seem to be reacting, often, -to places and situations, and make work based on what you see, experience and the reflections you make from that. Do you work from any pre-existing ideas, or do the situations dictate the direction of the work? RV: I have performed in different contexts, but mostly in performance art festivals. Usually I do not know these places beforehand. Normally the organisers want to know about the work I will show in advance, so I think about it. I know that some people work even more spontaneously than me, seeing the place before making something on the spot. For me that would be a bit too stressful, so I prefer to have some ideas planned- I prefer to have a plan A and B and hopefully even C, as I can never know exactly how the actual situation will be like. I want to be capable to show good work. Usually in performance art festival contexts there are many
artists invited, everybody needs something, and the organisers are most often understaffed, so they will be very busy. So I prefer to bring ideas that are easy to realise. I normally make really simple work, which do not need much materials or preparation and are quite simple to execute, like performance art often is. The organisers need a written text on what I am going to do, and they need to know if I need any materials, and what kind, and of course, I always need something. But then when I see the actual situation and place, new ideas may appear, and I might do a whole new work, or I might choose the best suitable place to perform, or I find some interesting materials in the place, I adapt to the situation. Although some of the ideas I have are a quite fixed, I can’t play too much with them, as I think they are good as they are, other ideas might be more open. 3) AN: What is your relationship to conceptual versus formal issues in your work? Where do you find the balance? What factors in your work are the most important to you? RV: This might have changed a bit over time, as I have now performed for almost 30 years. All these things have always existed in the work, but in the beginning I might have been more concerned with participating in the world. I feel that what happens in the world is very chaotic. Maybe I am trying to make some occasional order in it. The work is always related to ideas or concepts or thoughts, but also to feelings. The idea comes first, the form should then be
adapted to the idea. But the idea can be visual, it does not actually need to say anything specific. In the beginning I had so much to say, so much inside me that wanted to be expressed. I may still have that now, but after having performed so much, this has changed somehow. Now I may be thinking more, being more perceptive, having my antennas out and whenever I find something interesting I store it in my mind and might use it in some of my performances. I think that actually the clue here is not so much what is the idea or the form, I think they go together. It doesn’t matter if I am painting, or making music, or which form I use, as long as it fits with what I want to express. That the form is suitable to make the thought, feeling or idea clear enough. 4) AN: What is your relationship to Fluxus? RV: I studied 1972 to -75 in the art academy in Helsinki, which is now the University of Art and Design. I remember there was an interesting art magazine in Finland in the early 70’s called Iris, and they published something about Fluxus. I didn’t really understand it, but there was this poem by Yoko Ono, which I really liked. All the sentences were in a form like a partitour, like instructions to do something. I think there were five or six or seven verses, sentences, but I only remember the last one, which said: “Shout against the wind”. All the sentences were about things you could relate to in normal life. This is why I remember this poem so fondly, as poems so easily engage only the mind, ideas and
imagination, but this was solidly rooted in the everyday and concrete situations in life. When I was young I was making rock and roll music with my friends, we practised after school. I remember I had to walk several kilometres to get home, it was very very cold, the wind was blowing in my face, and this sentence “Shout against the wind” seemed so fitting in this situation, it made real sense to me. This was hiding in the back of my mind through the years, until in 1991 I realised that it was actually a performance partitour. I was in New York and found this workbook of Fluxus partitours, it was so fantastic, to me they were lovely ideas. I really like how they are partitours in written form. Certain things you can not express so easily in written form, but some ideas really suit it. It is a special form of performance art, but for me it was very useful. When remembering those times, when I was young and Fluxus was active - of course I did not know about their activities – but I could easily imagine how important it was at that time. It was very clear, it was very, very funny, lots of energy. It is a very important phenomena in contemporary art history, one of the most important ones I think. 5) AN: Your work often seems to involve some elements of risk. Can you talk a bit about that, and what, if any, role does unpredictability play? RV: I never practice. I might test beforehand how a tool or material behaves, and when I have ideas, I might test them. Therefore, there is always a kind of fragility, or risk, like walking
/VAARA/ on a tightrope. Usually something goes wrong, or not quite as I thought, then I might think, oh no, that was a mistake. If I have this feeling that I can make it work better, I might repeat it and try to resolve the problem. Vaara, my family name, means danger. However, it also means mountains, or hills, mountains with rounded tops. I have always thought that when there is something life threatening in the situation of a performance then that would certainly make people stop and wonder what this is, what is life, in a way. I have always liked to bring people to these fundamental questions, life, and death. So I have made these situations, performances like taped on a window high up, or held up under the ceiling only supported by sticks. The performances look really dangerous, as if I fall down, I will die. I feel that true dramatic situations can express something, people can feel it, life is on the line here. I have always wanted to make strong works, that would stop people in their trace, what happens now is real. Someone might think that now, if he falls, he will die. This was one way to try to achieve to make strong work. The elements of fear, danger and risk are good in art. We can work with that. But, of course I am always very careful, I don’t actually want to risk my life. It looks more dangerous than it actually is, I do make it safe for myself. I think it would not make any sense to really be risking your life.
6) AN: You have made a beautiful video where on a huge frozen lake you seem to doubt which direction to choose – art or life. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for this work? RV: That video is made on a frozen sea. Around 52 km east of Helsinki, where I found the nearest place without any islands. I wanted to have a view with only the horizontal line in the background. I got the idea in my studio in the Cable Factory in Helsinki. There is a view from my window over the sea, which used to be fantastic, before they built this high-tech center in front. I could see 180 degrees of horizon and the sea. My life unfolded by the window. It was wintertime, of course the sea was frozen, I think the view played a role, because I can only remember getting this idea. But there is another factor. Every time I met my artist friends, when we talked about art, I felt they could separate so easily between what is art and what is life. This was always really problematic for me. My starting point is not art, I am starting from life. I can’t separate these things. I always feel a bit uncomfortable when people so easily can say that this is art and this is life, lets talk about the art. I have a problem expressing myself through words, maybe that is why I make images, as I can communicate more clearly through images than with words. I could not explain this problem to my friends. So this idea popped up, I sat by the window, maybe having my breakfast, and I just got this idea that it could be nice to be there, in the middle of nowhere, on the frozen sea, just
with this signpost saying art and life, pointing in different directions. And I am there, trying to see, or, coming from one or the other direction, or waiting for something, for where I should go, there is no solution, it is just the place where I try to go to art, or to life, so I am stuck there. I am running back and forth but I can’t leave this post. For a long time, and when I got this idea, I had the feeling that in society, art and life are not taken care of, not at all. That is why I wanted to stage the video in such a place, desolate, cold - it happened to be minus 30 degrees when we were filming, in a tuxedo it was freezing, but it fitted the feelings I had and wanted to communicate. This is the story behind this work. Many understood it, while I remember one critic thought it was stupid; too cheap. But, for me it is a real dilemma, I think a lot about the relationship between art and life. 7) AN: What do you love about performance art? RV: I like the fact that anybody could do it, it is radically democratic in this sense. You do not need to have any special skills, you can still express your life artistically. For me in all art, no matter what form, there is something poetic, maybe poetry is the source of all art. Imagining some kind of poetry academy would be absurd. Anybody can write poetry. You can study poetry too, of course, but I guess most poets are people without any such background, who just like to do it. I consider performance art as something very close to poetry. And if you have any
special skills, you can adapt that into your art as well. In this wideness of expression, where everybody is different, looks different, the way we move is different, there is the personality. The way life finds its way through each of us is different, so what we find, what we want to express, must be different, and I find that interesting, how people find something to express. How to express life?
8) AN: You have travelled extensively all across the world with your work. The working conditions of artists will obviously vary, but what about the work? Are we truly working in a global performance art network where we all speak the same language, or do you find the work and the approach to making performance art different in the various places you have visited?
RV: I come from certain culture, I come from Finland, Iâ€™ve seen many things and got many experiences, that is who I am. I have noticed that cultures can be very different in different parts of the world. But I am one of the citizens of the world, so I can talk from that background. I present human feelings in my work, which I think anyone can understand, it is not very mysterious, I think people can quite easily en
/VAARA/ gage with what I am trying to express. I try to make the work simple while still strong and complex. I prefer to talk about human feelings and situations which we all face everywhere, no matter which culture. I can express myself in my way and be interpreted in any way that fits the applicable cultural situation. I think it is more fair that I speak about my own feelings and how I see the world than trying to use something from another culture which I am not familiar with. I talk about my first hand experiences, this is what I can say something about. I might be wrong, I may have misunderstood something, but this is what I want to communicate. I do not talk about private things, I want to make generalised work, that means something to everyone. We are all humans and this just a way for us to relate, through feelings and thoughts in this chaotic world. I prefer to do it in a way that is true for me or interests me in one way or another. 9) AN: Do you think the performance art scene have changed a lot in the time you have been working? I know you played a part in building a scene for performance art in Finland by organising large-scale festivals about 10 years ago. Now performance art seems to be more popular than ever, do you have any thoughts about where it might be heading, what will the future of performance art look like?
RV: The International Exit Festivals took place in 1999 and 2001. When I started, performance art was very new in Finland, like I said I was one of the first ones. Now you can study performance art in the art academies, and the theatre academy in Helsinki (TEAK), offers specialized studies in performance art. This was not the case when I started. We could say that now performance art is institutionalised. Compared to when I studied, there seems now to be a lot more emphasis on theory in art studies, no matter which art form you study. Now we have performance art professors. I find this a bit funny, if you compare this situation to the idea of the root of all art as poetry. I donâ€™t know where this will lead, but I am skeptical to theory playing such an important part in art studies. It would be terrible if someone would say about my work that this performance or this art is very good in theory. I want the work to generate a direct and strong experience, not just in theory. There is more performance art now than ever, which I find very interesting, one of the reasons for its popularity I believe is that it does not create products for the market. But there is another phenomenon worth noting, performance coming out of a theatre and people with dance background. I believe story based theatre is in a crisis, their ways of telling stories and representing life do not relate to our everyday experiences any more. Big structures and funding are in place for theatre houses and for academies of art and theatre, especially theatre, but they struggle to make something new. I believe they are trying to get closer to
and borrow from performance art, while at the same time trying to keep their resources and funding. But, in the process they neglect the power of performance art. This problem or situation between art and the art institutions is not new. New thoughts and phenomenons never came from the art institutions, but from artists with visions, individuals who may or may not have studied in the art academies â€“ sometimes autodidacts. The problem is that the art academy offers the highest education within the arts (so they should be well funded), but how to show the quality difference between artists going through the art academies and artists doing it by themselves? I believe the current strategy is the emphasis of theory studies. Art is not about that. For artists, knowledge of art history is very important, at least of the last one or two hundred years. Artists before us have faced many difficult situations, and found interesting solutions with which to comment on them. Knowledge of the past can give us perspectives on how to react to the world we are in now. For example, I have been reading abut the Dada artists, who were working during the First World War. They could explain so beautifully how, when they were young and full of energy to express their thoughts and feelings in art, they felt that the world around them didnâ€™t make any sense, the war was ridiculous, senseless, to them. They explained how there was no longer any living relationship to God, God was dead, and about the work they decided to make in response to all this. Their explanations made it all alive, their work full of meaning. I would suggest that instead of
/VAARA/ theory, art students should learn about what has happened in the past. There is a lot of new technical possibilities, all this new media. Starting with photography and film, what have artists done with it? When we know what has been done, we do not need to do the same thing over again. We are facing this particular situation, and it is up to us what to do now. This is what I think can be taught. Also, I think is important give students a practical introduction to tools and materials, to learn how they work, to give them some first hand experience. Then it is up to the artists what they want to do with it, performance art or whichever art form. I am afraid that the emphasis on theory can mislead the students, I believe that the outcome of learning about the history of art and practical studies of tools and materials would be more relevant to the importance of art. In the last few years I have noticed a problem in some young performance artists’ work. Artists studying what others have done, appropriating their form, and not really thinking about how to make it in their own way. People are sometimes too easily following the path that has already been walked. That is a bit boring, and not really resulting in work of any relevance. In December I was running a performance art workshop in TEAK. I told the students that now that you can study performance art here in the institution, that means something, this kind of art is
now institutionalised. But if you feel that what is important in life is also important in art, then we have to find something, some other forms, something that doesn’t fit in the academy. If it fits in the academy I believe we are in a danger zone, it means we may already have changed something but the system has now appropriated it, and it is no longer efficient. Now we have to find something else. I like Banksy. He is not a great painter or artist, but compared to the general graffiti you see everywhere, which doesn’t say very much, he is bringing basic artistic ideas and funny observations out into the world in his own way, challenging the system. In what we do, there should also be something, which challenges something. 10) AN: What to you think are the most important elements to keep in mind as we continue to make, organise and discuss performance art? How to preserve the specific nature of this art form, while continuing to develop and make work that is responsive to the world around us? RV: I believe performance art is still pretty much in the marginal. I know that it is not easy to get funding for festivals or any kind of performance art programme. It seems like we mostly organise the festivals ourselves, which is a lot of work, which means we have few organisers to accommodate the many new performance artists. But it also means that there might still be something radical in it. In Finland I guess that things will continue to be as problematic as it has been until now, as the politicians and
the general society treat art as just another kind of commodity. The heart of performance art is something else, it is very social, we share a feeling of life. The language of performance art is made for the people who happen to be there to see it, by choice or as passers-by, communication from person to person, live. Practically this means that a performance will be seen by very few people, maybe 50 or 100 people see it, compared to exhibitions which hundreds, maybe thousands of people might see. For us it would be very difficult to imagine to perform for thousands of people, it would be a challenge, which could threaten the nature of the work. I have thought about this problem in my own practice. In the spring next year, I will make a project in a museum in Berlin, and I am thinking out ideas for it. How can one incorporate performance art into fields that it lays naturally close to? I would like to make a nice video to include as part of an installation, maybe make the installation interactive, perhaps the audience could repeat my actions. How can one translate performance art into other media? When I made “The Artist’s Dilemma”, the video on the frozen sea, several big biennials and others wanted to show it. I was surprised – I had made performance art for a long time, sometimes very good work, but now, when I had made one performance video, they wanted my work. But it is easy and practical for museums to show video. More people can see the work. It is of course not the same thing as being in the same space, breathing the same air, watching someone doing something. Looking at a video is a very different experience.
/VAARA/ For me it can never be as powerful. We now have all these technical possibilities, which actually are ruling our lives, we have become dependent on the technology we have created. I believe we are then forced, in our artistic work, to think about their role in our lives. When you want to know about an artists’ work, you see what you can find on the Internet. The performance art videos become more important than what we would sometimes like to know, compared to the importance of the actual performance. That is why we should try to make the videos as video works, make the performances for camera, as the documentation from a performance for an audience rarely works as a video. Other media can easily take over this fragile art form, so we should think about how to also make nice photos, video works or installations and books, related to the performances we do. When I got the Ars Fennica price in 2005, I was offered a museum show, and worried as I did not have anything to fill the museum with. First I thought I might be strong enough to be only me in the museum – me, you, and life in between. But then I thought; people in Finland actually don’t know what I have done. If I want to be a little more informative, why don’t I show them what I have? Luckily, I had good photo documentation in my archive, so I decided to show those. I did live work as well but I tried to inform people a bit
more about my work. I was so happy to get this prize. You know how difficult it is to explain what you do as a performance artist, especially to people who have nothing to do with art. Through the prize I also got the chance to make a book, so I could show, look here, this is what I do. I didn’t have any publication of my work before that, and was really missing it. It is easy to argue why not to give proper funding to performance art. Only a few people see the work, and it is quite expensive to bring people from all over the world together. It has costs. But if we think of the documentation material - hopefully there will be generations coming after us, and through our documentation they can get information about what we have done. We should spread the information about what we do.
IMAGES 46 ”Towards the sky” Bern 1994, © Naranja 48-49 “Artist’s dilemma” Porvoo 1997, © Naranja 51 “Alarm!” Helsinki 1996, © Naranja 55 “Risky business” Helsinki 2001 © Naranja
CARLOS MONROY by Agnes Nedreg책rd
1) AN: What do you love about performance art? CM: What I love the most is the same thing I find most paradigmatic about it: the close sense of proximity to what we artists like to call the public. Performance art gives the possibility of sharing the production by giving the leadership of the piece to those who are around it. Yet, this is tricky because most of the time the public ‘doesn’t get’ or maybe is not mesmerised by the artist’s proposal. This lack of contact leads to awkward silences, confusion and the mystification of performance, normally followed by the expression ‘I don’t get it’. Performance art was born in order to get close to people and yet most of the time it constructs boundaries between public and artist, making the spectators terribly distant from the experience itself. I do not want to underestimate the public’s ability; in fact, without the public there is no performance. Artists who lack concern for those who complete their works will not be alluring, will not be watched. In other words, what I love is that performance art is hazardous, while not necessarily being physically dangerous. Hazardous, because every time a performance starts the artist offers him or herself to the public entirely, expecting the public to give themselves too. Once the borders between us are dissolved, egos no longer exist and art takes place. However, if there is no connection and the spectators no longer feel the necessity of their presence then
performance art becomes a soliloquy driving the experience to the most obstinate situations. Performance is about caring for those watching; performance is about watching one who cares. I do also love that it is the best way to get naked without much explanation. 2) AN: I love the tongue-in-cheek comments you made on the global financial situation in the work you did with CMG Performance Art Services. Can you talk a bit about this project and your ideas behind it? CM: CMG was born after I graduated from art school and I conclusively realized how art, and more precisely, performance art would never easily satisfy my earning necessities and expectations. Consequently I understood that I needed to do something because I did not have any other specific training to fit into the capitalist world and sooner or later I would have to pay accounts and buy food. In other words, I still do not know how to do anything else than art, and art gives you no money if you aren’t Marina Abramovic. Then I remembered that in the last years of my studies I developed one of my most commented pieces called the Perforbox. a ‘re-formance’ based jukebox in which I asked other artists to give me one of their pieces, to be re-performed by me if the public selects them from a menu I create from all the pieces collected. The most amazing thing about this Perforbox experience was how
much I learned about performance art from remaking others artists’ works. So, because I am stubborn and I do not want my dad to have the pleasure of saying, ‘I told you so’, I started my second performance art service company with the name CMG Performance Art Services. CMG gives the artist a better chance to earn money and a living from what they love while having a blast learning through experiencing what other artists do. CMG developed a whole re-formance based system in which performance art is not threatened by the art object status problem and which respects the ‘here and now’ experience that performers need and love. CMG knows about artists’ actual necessities and knows that they care about art as much as CMG. CMG treats every artist with respect and dignity in a world where artists seem to be given no heed. CMG gives a chance to learn and to be economically successful without sacrificing the soul of what you do. CMG gives an opportunity to anyone who always dreamt of being an artist to do so without worrying about money and, most importantly, to experiment with art itself in their own bodies. CMG is the answer to the problems of many creators who think they aren’t capable or talented enough. In one last sentence. CMG Performance Art Services makes art work for you. 3) AN: Do you see it as a political project? CM: In a world where artists are not needed, CMG could be seen
/MONROY/ as a political project. In a world where artists can no longer subsist, CMG could be seen as a political project. 4) AN: What reactions have you had to this project, and what are your thoughts about them? CM: Because the project is thought out in two directions, one towards the artist and one towards the public, reactions have really been different in both environments. Most artists think I am joking when in fact I am talking more seriously than ever. People on the street take me too seriously; my jokes sometimes do not make them laugh. In addition, sometimes in both scenarios there is someone who gets much more involved than I expect them to. I am not sure why artists think I am joking. I think it is strange, because artists want and need money, and when an opportunity is presented to them, they use their prejudice as a protecting wall. People on the street sometimes do not even make eye contact with me because they are afraid of what I am selling, but once they are interested, we start to discuss important issues like the place of the artist in the world. I think CMG gives people and artists an opportunity, and if they take it they can make CMG whatever they want it to be. CMGâ€™s purpose is to start open discussions, and you, as an individual, are free to leave and not partake in the conversation, but that will leave you with the sensation that you missed something good. I always hear
/torp/ /MONROY/ great things after the conferences but I am sure the ones who talk negatively do it behind CMG’s back. Maybe it is jealousy or even skepticism. That is all right. It does not matter as long as they talk and spread the message, planting the CMG seed. CMG is always open to criticism and modifications. In fact, CMG’s critical stance is what keeps it alive. CMG thinks pluralism is the key to success that is why it embraces equally all reactions it receives. 5) AN: Can you say something about your general working process, how you go about making a new piece of performance art (apart from the CMG project)? CM: Well most of the time, ideas are triggered by bad jokes among my friends. I am not trying to take the serious part out of art, because that comes later. I do art because I have fun doing it and I do performance art because most of the time people have fun watching it. Humour is an important part of what I do but it is just the entrance to what I think I do. Humour works as an icebreaker. After the joke or whatever event has triggered the idea, I decide to put myself in public jeopardy and I do something with it, maybe the silliest thing. For this public approach, I usually use classes, residency programs or even the street. In addition, after that experiment I will continue to work on generating a final piece. For example, the
Perforbox was the first step towards CMG. I think both are completely different but the first was useful as a starting point for the second. With Performance Art for Dummies, it was a big fight between me and other artists I was travelling with that triggered the idea. In that piece, I punish myself for being a bad artist who uses performance clichés. After I punished myself the first time, reasons to punish myself again were never lacking. I never think of doing performance pieces exclusively. I think every idea tells you what it should be. I also do drawings, videos and photos but for some odd reason my body continually presents itself as a social being in my works. Maybe it is my Latin nature, I do not know. 6) AN: Are there any ideas that are central and recurring themes in your work? CM: Well, I contemplate the way to do performance art, the figure of the artist and the public’s response as some of the recurring ideas that I explore in what I do. But, I am afraid that affirming these as solid conclusions, my work limits it to only one viewpoint. So in fact, I do not see my work as a thematic effort. Pluralism is key; any reading is welcome and taken into account. I am able to see some common points among my productions but all of them still have one thing they can call their own. I am still young so maybe with some more ground covered, I will be more capable of answering this question.
7) AN: What led you to become a performance artist? CM: The System. There is nothing outside of it. And if you try harder to not be a part of it, you are way more inside of it than ever. I could also say, a bunch of coincidences. Maybe it was the system that in its strange and bizarre workings decided I should be a performer. Anyway, I am just trying to make my life work the way I want it to work. It is the way my body answers the call - my body vibrates every time I hear music and my hands sweat every time I meet someone. My heartbeat rises when I get to do a performance. It shows that the world affects me a lot. 8) AN: You like to activate the audience in various ways in your work. Audience reactions can sometimes be hard to predict, and can potentially change the direction and reception of your work. Do you have any thoughts about this? What is your experience of audience interaction? CM: As I said before, without the public there can be no performance art. My works are thought using action, requiring the public to participate. Most of the time people do not realize that they are part of the work till they find themselves in a position where they just cannot see what is going on from outside. I push myself to create actions or works where the public watches me and then at some point I begin watching
/STEINVÅG/ /MONROY/ them. I think art should start as an invitation to create something together. I use all the tools I can to make it work this way. This year I had the most difficult audience I ever had, it was in a performance class as part of my master’s degree, and in fact this complicated relationship ended in me becoming an unforgettable and annoying figure, and somehow I found that to be the soul of performance art. Experience, presence and pissing people off. 9) AN: Can you tell us something about the performance art scene in Colombia? CM: Colombia is a rough place to do performance art. Nevertheless there are a lot of people doing and creating it. This year the collective Helena Producciones won an important prize for developing and carrying out the eighth Festival de Performance de Cali, the biggest and oldest festival in the country. By the way, keep an eye out for an opportunity to participate in it. There are a few other festivals but I have been somewhat distant from them mainly for two reasons. Firstly because I like to show my work in art spaces (galleries and non-profit organisations) where performance art exists side by side with other art media, and secondly because I am currently living, studying and working in São Paulo, a situation that makes it kind of
difficult to participate in things over there. I do love to participate in international performance art festivals because I learn a lot and get in touch with people I would not be able to meet if I were not appearing myself. So I apply all the time and try to get into these festivals, including the ones in my country. 10) AN: Do you see any difference between Colombia and other places you have shown your work? CM: Between Colombia and Brazil most of the differences are about investment and opportunities in the arts. I am grateful to the São Paulo art environment, which has treated me very well, opening doors for residency programs, study and for showing my recent work. This year I will have my first solo exhibition in an important art space here and somehow I felt very welcome there. Nevertheless, I have nothing to complain about concerning Colombia. Both places are full of competition - sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes you do not. There is a bunch of differences between the performance art scene in the States and that in Europe, that includes aesthetics, ways to understand the practice, and proximity to other performative practices, like dance and theatre. In Latin America you can feel a performance art scene forming, with its own aesthetic, but because art generally tends towards the mystification of stereotypes – performance art even more so - I will just say
that there are great people working everywhere but that some interest me more than others. Normally I enjoy most the ones who can easily show what they do in any environment without worrying about the classification of what they are doing. In a class I once did with a difficult audience, I asked someone, ‘Did you like what I did?’ His answer was: ‘As performance?’ And I answered, ‘No, just as debauchery!’
/MONROY/ IMAGES IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE Tarsila’s Embodiment. Self Portrait of the last trying. 2012 Photography Photo by Carlos Monroy The Perforbox. Performance No. 55 I want to be Marina Abramovic by Fabio Tramonte 2009 Performance Photo by Angelo Pedari The Perforbox. Performance No. 26 Prestamo / Borrowing by Maria Alejandra Estrada 2009 Performance Photo by Alejandro Enrique Gonzalez Muñoz Performance Art is about Nudity Movement No. 2 Ego(S)trip 2011 Performance Photo by Corinna Von der Groeben Tarsila’s Embodiment. 2012 Photography Variable dimentions Photo by Everton Ballardin Performance Art for Dummies Lesson No. 3 I should not be naked for doing a performance piece. 2009 Performance Photo by Jürgen Fritz CMG Performance Art Services. Main Conference at 7a*11d Biennal of Performance Art. 2010 Performance Photo by Henry Chan
COCHRANE by Agnes Nedreg책rd
/COCHRANE/ 1) AN: What do you love about performance art? SC: I love the artists, who are my friends and my family. I love meeting new performance artists and our not having to offer lengthy explanations to each other about what we do because we are the same and we have an immediate ‘shorthand’. I love the intensity of the festival. I love having a reason to travel to places I would never have imagined visiting, and having a reason to be in a new city, to be looking at it through a particular lens, knowing that I have to present a work in a few days and that time is ticking. I also reluctantly admit that I love the stress, the searching for an idea, the anxiety of waiting for inspiration, because this is a perverse kind of thrill. I love nursing an idea at the back of my brain for weeks or months until it shows itself to be either completely workable or total garbage. I love having conversations with my closest art confidants, working over the smallest details of a performance, the intention of a gesture, the effectiveness of a particular object or material over another. This talking is where the work is actually created. 2) AN: You have an amazing sense of humour in your work, and I know you have touched upon comedy in previous years. How do you think this and other
experiences from various arenas influence your current work? SC: More than 10 years ago, I was approached by a friend of mine who is a proper stand-up comedian living in London. He asked me if I wanted to be a part of his upcoming comedy show, which was to be loosely based around a list of things he liked. Simple idea. On the list were things like peanuts, the Incredible Hulk and Amsterdam. Also on this list was the rather general category of surprises, and his friend the performance artist from Toronto – me. Near the end of the show, he would introduce me and I would stand up wherever I was sitting in the audience, and I would come to the stage. He proposed that my role would be to create a different performance ending for each show, which would be a surprise for him, and the audience, each night. It was an extremely generous offer and I agreed. The show was presented at the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We performed 28 shows in 30 days, and we received a nomination for a prize. We didn’t win. Humour has always played an important and central role in my work, but this was a different kind of beast - this was comedy. However, I learned quite quickly that I didn’t have to try to be funny. I just had to be myself. Intuitively what I was doing was playing the straight man to my friend’s over the top persona. Each night, I made a short five-minute version of the kind of performances I might make in a gallery or festival for a certain kind of audience, which in this case took on a very different reading because of the odd context. This experience changed the way
I thought about using humour and how I perceive the role of the audience. It also taught me to work fast. While I love watching the most stoic and serious of works made by others, I could never fathom making a performance that didn’t have some kind of a laugh in it, whether it is at my own expense or a result of careful timing, or even if I am convinced I am the only one who thinks whatever I am doing is funny (this seldom happens). I believe strongly that as soon as a performance begins, a tacit agreement is made between performer and audience. This agreement states that regardless of what happens – the audience likes it or doesn’t, the performance fails miserably or is a success of unrivalled beauty – that the work is a creation of our collective engagement. For me this is the heart of what performance is. I also firmly believe that performance art is hardest on the audience. For that, I think everyone deserves a good laugh at some point. 3) AN: Could you describe your working process, what triggers you, where you start a new piece of work? SC: I don’t feel I have a working practice that I would call unique to me, though the friends that know me best would certainly disagree because they are better able to differentiate process from neurosis. If I am being honest with myself, being neurotic and stressed out is a large part of my working process, which sounds very unscientific, but I think a lot of performance artists can relate. Making performance art is unique in
/COCHRANE/ the visual arts. There is nothing to actually see before the work is presented, and therefore there is often nothing to indicate whether what you are about to do is going to work in the way you want it to. What I hope for is a feeling that what I want to say or do in performance is interesting enough to motivate me to carry on working, because that feeling can cut through the worst of panics. In the past several years, my work has moved in a new direction. The focus has turned from working very directly with the audience as material, to the artist’s body - my own body in performance. I am now more concerned with spontaneous response to site and context, and working with a roster of materials that are new to me. I strive to engage reflexively with the audience, often by using humour to create situations and images that reflect a combined concern with the aesthetics of social interaction and the formal presentation of art action. Often I start by making lists, and writing down every random idea that comes to mind, even if they are horrible and are destined for the garbage. Then, if I am lucky, one idea or one thought will stick in my mind. I will think about this one idea long enough and hard enough that it becomes the start of a performance (or the middle, or the end). Then I build around it, adding and subtracting gestures, material, actions, possible reactions from the audience,
stuff - until I have a general shape. Then I write down this general shape, in point form, over and over and over again until it becomes what I am committing myself to doing. Somewhere between writing endless lists and finding a general shape, I talk to one or more of my art ‘fixers’. A fixer is a close friend, also a performance artist, who knows your work very intimately. A fixer is the person you can call and say, ‘Is this stupid?’ I have a couple of fixers, and I am a fixer for a couple of friends, and if I were to add something to question 1), I would say that what I love most about performance art is being a fixer or having a really good talk with one of my own fixers. 4) AN: What, if any, role does unpredictability play for you in your work? SC: My first impulse is to say that unpredictability does not play a very important role in my work. I like to be prepared. I like to know what I am going to do, even if I don’t know what is going to happen afterwards. My past performance work concentrated on dynamically activating the audience as ‘material’. Exemplified by a series of performances entitled 100 People Performances (2004-2007), in which I would facilitate a cooperative group performance that directly acknowledged the audience as an experienced image-maker, while using simple phenomena and activities as scenery. Even while I was making this work, which depended completely on the whim of the audience, I felt I knew what was going to
happen. In fact I would say that this is what made those works interesting to me - they appeared on the surface to be very unpredictable, but were in fact highly choreographed. Some artists play very directly with unpredictability in their work, and all performance artists including myself work with it on some level. This unknown, unlike in ‘theatre’ theatre, is one of the tenets of making performance art. 5) AN: You have made ‘performance lecture performances’ as you call them - could you describe how such a work might look? SC: In professional and volunteer capacities, I have spent more than thirteen years working intimately with performance artists as an organiser and curator. In 2009, inspired by the work of a colleague I created a performance entitled Performance Festival Performance that draws from this experience, and has inspired new processes and working methods for me. Performance Festival Performance is a forty-minute action and material collage, inspired by seventeen artists and twenty performances presented during the 2008 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art in Toronto (of which I am a founder/ co-curator and organiser). This performance is not a jumble of recreations of the works presented in the festival, but rather a series of interpretations and reinterpretations, footnotes and bookmarks that directly reference (specific and non-specific) artists, modes of working, common (and commonly utilised) materials,
everyday gestures, the body at work performing and performance art itself. Performance Festival Performance is a love letter; it is about being an artist, organiser, fan and audience member. Performance Festival Performance is a site-specific performance wherever it is presented as it considers the artist and the festival itself as ‘site’. It is an abridged version of a history of performance art practice (as I have experienced it) and a performance/lecture commenting on liveness, documentation, presence, authorship, repertoire and the archive. I have performed this work five times at international festivals and each time the actions, materials and performance score changes. New gestures are added and some are taken away, and the performance continuously oscillates towards and farther away from its original reference point. 6) AN: In this Performance Festival Performance, you are emphasising the everyday materials frequently used by performance artist. Can you point out some typical ones, and say something about why you think these materials keep recurring? Do you like to use these kinds of materials in your own work? SC: If performance art is the most direct expression of the everyday in art then it is easy to see why certain materials turn up time and time again. Performance artists, for example, are always asking for tables. If there were a survey of the most asked-for performance materials, top of
the list would be ‘table’. In fact, it is such a common request, perhaps tables can no longer be considered ‘material’, and have quietly returned to the more distinguished category of ‘furniture’. I, too, am always asking organisers for and searching for the perfect table. In 2011, I made a performance called Performance for Prepared Invisible Table after finding four beautiful old-fashioned table legs in the garbage. This performance was an attempt to illustrate invisibility by playing with the viewers’ ability in their own minds to freeze frame a series of fleeting images that appeared and disappeared in the exact same moment. I mapped out a rectangle on the floor in masking tape, and covered it with a white tablecloth. On each of the four corners I balanced a table leg. This new combination presented itself as one of two possibilities: either as an upside down table, or, an invisible table. Depending on whether your glass is half empty or half full. Then I set the table with napkins, plates, cutlery and wine glasses as though the table was actually there. In this way, the audience witnesses the artist in direct dialogue with the ephemerality of performance. Being an ephemeral art form, objects used in performance art are on the one hand dispensable, replaceable and ultimately meaningless in and of themselves; on the other hand, they can symbolise or stand in for something, and carry a great deal of meaning depending on the artist, the amount of time spent working with the same materials, and the context in which they are presented. There are too many to name, but there are some artists who have spent their
careers working with the same objects and materials. This focus and consistency has imbued the object with an entirely new and charged meaning, which might be far from the actual meaning and use of the object. 7) AN: You also have extensive experience in organising performance art events. Can you say something about how the conditions of an event influence a performance artist’s work, from your perspective as an artist as well as an organiser? SC: I am Artistic and Administrative Director of FADO Performance Art Centre, a not-for-profit artist-run centre in Toronto. In Canada we have a really long and rich history of artist-run culture, and FADO stands alone as the only centre in Canada (outside of Quebec) that is dedicated solely to the presentation of performance art practice, and we programme year-round, which is unique. In addition to FADO (which I would consider my ‘bread’ job) there is my ‘labour of love’ job. I am one of the founders, coordinators and curators of the 7a*11d International Festival of Performance, established in Toronto in 1997. We present a festival every two years showing the work of about thirty artists. When I finished art college I joined the 7a*11d collective at its inception, so in a way, my career as a performance art organiser has grown up along with the festival I have always been a part of, and I have been a part of creating a new generation of a local community. Some artists are not so lucky, and find
/COCHRANE/ themselves isolated once they finish their studies. Since becoming Director at FADO in 2007, performance art has taken over all aspects of my life. The mode of production (the festival, the event, the gallery) informs the work and influences the form it takes. In the art world in general, this correlation is clear. Performance art and performance artists are often working in opposition to this system, but in fact, after several decades of a certain kind of production, performance artists organising themselves and creating opportunities for each other to present work, the festival itself (for example) has become a mode of production. In recent years I have become more and more aware that the environment that is offered for the presentation of performance art can set a tone for the work. Before the actual performance is the situation first created by the organiser, who perhaps becomes a part of the performance - the one that starts when the invitation email is sent and concludes only once the artist is on the plane on the way home. Making performance art is difficult. I believe that performance art has special requirements that, in my experience, most arts administrators and curators do not know how to manage. This might explain why a large majority of performance artists I know are also organisers of events or festivals, however small or big. As an organiser, I am called upon to be a travel
agent, a materials hunter, a venue manager, a publicist, a social convener, a master of ceremonies, an audience member, a moderator, a maid, a driver, a writer, and whatever else is required of me. The international performance art festivals, the ones organised by other artists, with minimal funding, in various cities around the world, are the sites of many careers. They comprise the scene, the circuit, and the meeting places for friends and colleagues, and if we are lucky, sometimes an audience comes. One disadvantage of this might be that we run the risk of ghettoising ourselves in this festival milieu, the very milieu we as artist organisers have created. That being said, it is the place that understands this work best. 8) AN: What led you to become a performance artist? SC: I wanted to become an architect like my father. My math marks were not good enough, so instead I went to Art College. I moved around from department to department, but I spent most of my time there as a print maker. In my last year, I abandoned printmaking for sculpture and installation. For one class, I installed a work in the park behind the school and my intent was to take the class there in the morning for my critique. I thought I was being clever to make something that was outside, rather than doing what everyone else did which was to show work in one of the ugly basement studios in the school. When I arrived in the morning early for my class, I was horrified to discover that
the parks cleaners had completely cleared out my installation. I had nothing to show. I did the only thing I could. I went to class anyway, and when it was my turn, I described to the class what my project was and how it had been in the park the night before, but now it was gone. While I was talking, I heard someone in the class whisper to another student, â€˜Sheâ€™s doing a performance.â€™ The idea of making performance had never occurred to me before this. I knew what it was, but I had never imagined myself working in this way. I had a lot of fear. After the class, my instructor mentioned that I should consider taking the one performance art class they offered at the school, and despite my fear, I did. In a way, it was an accident. 9) AN: Do you see any differences between the performance art scene in Canada and North America, and the European scene? SC: There are myriad performance practices in both North America and Europe that fall outside of where I would place my work and the work of my colleagues, which is a practice that comes from a visual art background and primarily uses the body as material for making live images. In the UK they call this Live Art, but this term often encompasses work that, here at home, I would split into another sub-category of experimental theatre. Performance art is slowly occupying a small corner of mainstream art culture (we have Marina Abramovic to thank for that); however, the performance art scene that
I know remains marginal, not widely understood and is sometimes not respected as a legitimate art form by the general public, often falling prey to and becoming a victim of its own clichés. In contemporary art and pop culture at large, the performance artist label is attributed to everyone from Joseph Beuys to Lady Gaga. I have more in common with Beuys than with Gaga, but I am not alone in wishing to be understood and supported as an artist whose work is aligned with a particular lineage, and this understanding is often complex with many diverging and intersecting paths. There is another way to think about it. Performance art is everywhere and influences everything from pop music to television commercials and this is okay. It means that artists and audiences are attracted to the visceral expressions and quality of immediacy that performance art/live art/body art/happenings embody. IMAGES IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE Performance Festival Performance (lecture) 2011 30 minutes Photo by Karren Kipphoff Head in House/House on Fire 2010 2 hours Photo by Racehl Echenberg Performance for Invisible Water 2011 15 minutes Photo by Guy L’Heureux Performance for Invisible Water 2011 15 minutes Photo by Guy L’Heureux Performance for Prepared Invisible Table 2011 30 minutes Photo by Georg Anderhub
MAURICE BLOK by Agnes Nedreg책rd
1) AN: I know you have a background in sculpture. Could you say something about how this background influences your working practice as a performance artist? MB: Maybe it is because I studied sculpture that I consider myself a sculptor even though my work is ‘performative’. I approach sculpture as an attitude or rather a mentality, how do to deal with a given space and with time and objects. Asking myself the question of how I give them relation to each other. 2) AN: Although your work is fast-paced and physical, I still find it very sensitive. What are the most important elements in the work to you? Are there any specific ideas or concepts that you see as central recurring themes in your work? MB: My work as I see it seeks a balance between vulnerability and sensibility. It is not so much a concept, but the majority of what I do I can relate to this. Though I think of my actions as being sincere, I do like to ease off in the moments when I think, ‘Geez, now it’s getting really serious’. Also, I like to ‘break’ rhythm or the expectations that occur in my own head while in an action. What the viewer perceives I can only imagine. 3) AN: Could you talk a bit about your working process, about what leads you on the journey to a finished piece of work?
MB: From time to time, I do have very vivid ideas of what I would like to present. Often though, I like to wander around the action premises for a few days to see what limitations it presents and which opportunities it brings. I rarely take working materials with me anymore, preferring to search for things nearby that could reduce the given limitations of an action location, or, conversely, could enhance its possibilities. I may find scrap from the gutter or something from a shop and purchase it. 4) AN: Your work often involves an element of risk. Could you talk a bit about what relationship you have to risk in your work - is it important to you? Are you ever afraid that the wow-factor in the audience could overshadow more subtle elements in your work? MB: Risk is a part of life and is often the key to either failure or success. It is not more or less important as part of my work than it is in life. Yes, I am concerned about the wow-factor in the viewer but then again I am concerned about many things. Viewers, decision making, life and many, many other things. 5) AN: What, if any, role does unpredictability play in your work, for you? MB: It plays a role and a rather big one too. I have thought about it myself sometimes and I think it is there just because it scares the shit out of me. In my everyday life I like to be in
control of things that happen around me and maybe just because of that fact, I rarely, if ever, am. By exposing myself in an action in front of a viewer, I am putting myself, and also the viewer, in a vulnerable position. When I am being insecure, I would like the viewer to be a part of it. I want a viewer to see and emotionally feel that he doesn’t know what will happen next, just as I don’t know how the plan is about to work out. Plain physics is a part of the unpredictability too, the simple fact that I like the act of dropping - we’ll never know where whatever is being dropped will drop. 6) AN: I know you are inspired by the work of artists like Roman Signer and Bas Jan Ader. How do you draw from this influence when you make work? Are there other artists, or traditions, within performance and visual art, to which you feel your work relates? MB: I don’t know but I do believe that your knowledge of life cannot be left behind and therefore is part of you. It is in everything you do. Of course choice of materials, working pace and potential subject matter can inspire. I am inspired by music, poetry and film, to name just a few things. Ideas, I get from the life I live and, I guess, just from how my thoughts like to wander off. When one tries to achieve what music does with melody, only visually, it may seem absurd at first but as long as the melody is still there and it feels like the right thing to do, I’m in.
/BLOK/ 7) AN: What do you love about performance art? MB: I like its boundaries, as I have not yet figured out where they lie. I believe that they are there, these boundaries, but I can’t put my finger on them. I like the many layers I may discover in seeing a work but that’s just talking about the work I personally prefer. It makes me feel alive when I’m prepared for an action and am about to bring it out to viewers. I like it if I’m stunned by my own presence in a piece, not only as an initiator but also as a receiver. 8) AN: What led you to become a performance artist? MB: Honestly, I have never really seen myself as a performance artist. Yes, my work is ‘performative’ and I get the opportunity to present my work in performance art circumstances most of the time. Does this make me a performance artist? I have retained a sculptural attitude does that make me a sculptor? To me, the meaning of the term ‘performance art’ is very much a European thing. In American English, a dancer or a musician or even a juggler may be a performance artist, and I do not relate myself to these practices in any way.
9) AN: As a relatively young performance artist, what thoughts do you have on the current interest in performance art? Does it make any difference in your personal practice? Do you think it will change the structures within which you work?
happen (or not) in my little mind while leaning backwards in a comfortable chair puffing on a cigarette somewhere out in the Finnish countryside.
MB: Personally I think that there are very interesting things to be seen, as well as tons of crap in the sense that I do not think that it’s profound. Of course, this is an opinion based on personal observations and may or may not be justified. Admiration, or even better, an ‘in awe’ experience, can change one’s way of thinking, including mine. 10) AN: Do you always have a clear idea of what your work will look like before you arrive at a place for a show? And does it always work out that way? MB: I don’t always have a clear idea, but even if I do it might not work out, for whatever reason(s). When, seven or eight years ago, I started presenting work for an audience, I did work out in detail all the ‘hows’ and ‘whats’ that I was bringing into the open. This approach has often disappointed me and has led to my ever so slightly changing my method. I believe that when my motivation to make work is profound, I should be able to do it within a reasonably short timespan, without being blinded by details that only the moment can reveal, and that maybe will only
IMAGES All images © Maurice Blok
CLEMENTSEN by Agnes Nedreg책rd
1) AN: What do you love about performance art? BC: That it is live. The raw and direct experience that has the capacity to move or that even embarrasses the viewer into thinking and feeling differently. I am intrigued by the physical presence of the body and the connection created in relation to the space and the audience. The experience of a performance is not at all the same when looking at a documentation of the live event. The live performance is something there and then between the artist and the observer. 2) AN: Can you tell us something about your working process – from ideas to presentation? BC: I’m constantly looking for clever details and connections between areas of interest that can spark an idea. Deadlines are also helpful in my work - I tend to push myself a little in terms of productivity and time. I generally get a picture in my mind of the visual framework for an idea; based on the mood I am interested in sharing. These visualisations are usually a guideline for decisions to be made during the process. I may not know exactly what I’m looking for in terms of materials or other visual elements until I see the alternatives, but with my initial picture in mind, the decisions always feel obvious and natural. When it comes to location, I try not to think of it as just a spot where I’m performing, but rather as a
whole surrounding for my work, as I often work site-specific. 3) AN: What ideas are central to your practice? BC: Staying consciously present and focused over a longer period in order to understand more, and to dig deeper, is important. -Both in the live act as well as in the preparations. I am interested in ontology, and art is a great way to process and deal with those kinds of essential questions. Art allows you to ask questions without answering them, putting different associations up against each other to provoke new connections. I study philosophy, and there are a lot of ideas that fascinates me. One of them being the concept that everything comes from and ends in chaos. The idea of destruction making way for creation also resonates with me. 4) AN: How do experiences from other fields influence your work? BC: For some years now, I have been working as a professional yoga teacher. I also practiced dance in the past and I love using my body. I am attracted to the body’s full potential and fascinated by the recognisable language of the body. You could also say that my interest in philosophy is another field that influences my work. 5) AN: You often create objects or elaborate costumes to use in your work. Are they purely
visual effects, or do you see them as adding symbolic value? BC: They are definitely adding symbolic value. The items and costumes are created to aid expression. I am attempting to achieve a visual language that will open up the observer to the mood that I am trying to set. One of the strengths of symbols is their recognisability, which leads us into a train of thought based on associations. 6) AN: From what I have seen, physicality seems to be an ever-present ingredient in your work. Is this important to you? BC: Yes. Now I see physicality as my main instrument and my natural form of expression. Part of this has always been essential to me and my way of expressing myself. Body movement can be private, abstract and, a lot of the time, weird. Physical response is an obvious way for me to react and communicate. I have a strong sense of time, space and pace when using my body – there are a key parts of performance. 7) AN: Can you say something about your experience of being new on the performance art scene? Is it a difficult arena to enter, to navigate? What does the performance art scene look like from your point of view? BC: My first meeting with performance was in 2009, during a workshop at my art school. A couple of years later
/CLEMENTSEN/ I found myself co-producing the international performance art festival Never or Now in Bergen. The festival came to be the biggest performance art festival ever to have taken place in Bergen, with fifteen international artists and fifteen artists from Norway. This was my first encounter with the performance art ‘scene’, and was also the venue of my performance debut. For me, it was a perfect introduction to the scene, and it was great to be able to talk to all these people and get some constructive feedback. During the past year, I have met even more people from the scene, and the impression remains the same; that people are inclusive, unpretentious and friendly. Continuing with performance art in Norway, I am now part of a new project, Performance Art Bergen (PAB). I am on the board of this new organisation, trying to promote performance art from our region. I am proud to be working side by side with the excellent artists engaged in this up and coming project. 8) AN: What led you to choose this direction, to want to become a performance artist? BC: The title ‘performance artist’ is not one I would choose. If I had to choose, I would prefer a title like interdisciplinary artist or time-based artist. As mentioned earlier, I am lucky to have had a very
inspirational and exciting introduction to the scene. To explore the field further seemed only natural. I love the freedom you get working with performance. I get excited when I get the sense of a production taking shape. Any media or materials I want can be added into the mix at any time, and I have always desired to work in an interdisciplinary manner. Also, as mentioned previously, the time-based aspect really gets me. What’s left after it’s done? How can I, as an artist, relate to this aspect and use it in my favour? Performance integrated in a diverse and pulsating artistic expression is my personal goal. 9) AN: Do you have any thoughts on the future of performance art? BC: If I were to shed light on aspects of performance art, I would say that it is important to look outside the classical aspects, with their base in fine art. There is so much exciting stuff happening on the music, design, dance and experimental theatre scenes, and in collaboration between the different fields. I know that this is a popular answer at the moment, but I think it could be the key to further development and accessibility. I find works merging live performance with pre-recorded media interesting. I also like the idea of making props that can have a life beyond the performance, as sculpture or installation. Past - Present - Future.
IMAGES IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE UnmeshaNimesha 2011 Performance (papersuite with contact microphones) Photo by Camilla Holm Birkeland UnmeshaNimesha 2011 (Meteor Festival) Performance (papersuite with contact microphones) Photo by Henriette Hukset Launch Loop 2011 Performance (plasticsuits and ound/light/fog) Photo by: Njål Leinan Clementsen Solid if y 2011 Performance (bodysuite and wood/foam object) Photo by Karoline F. Kvamme
JAMIE MCMURRY by Agnes Nedreg책rd
/MCMURRY/ 1) AN: I really like the way you work with many different elements in your work, which comes together as a coherent whole to create meaning. Could you talk a bit about your process, how do you decide on the elements that you use? JM: I feel it’s truly a process that has developed over a lifetime and continues to develop as that life goes on. It’s one that is always in play and one that builds a piece from concepts originating from 20 years ago while also using concepts originating from the week before. Its basest foundation is one of autobiography as I discuss in detail more in the writing below, and ones past is steeped with content of great density. When ones entire life is considered in the pursuit of artistic expression, then by default there is a massive vocabulary to work with. In the case of my work that vocabulary is based in actions and objects. After some 20 years now of generating performance, video, installation and conceptual art, this vocabulary that I work with is much more clear than it was when I first began my practice. (so) Therefore selections of objects, ideas and actions all have clear connections to one another, to me, and to the personality traits I choose to embody when engaging in a performance attempt to imbibe those actions and
objects with cohesion and meaning. Regardless of how absurd the actions may be or how obtusely connected the objects may seem, I hope that my behaviour, my presence and my methods evoke a certain comprehensivity and coherence to what I am presenting.
Christian power circle was clear to me from a very young age and I found myself in turmoil, sometimes the guy in the back of the pick up truck firing shotguns into the air to scare the “damn illegals” and sometimes being the strange outsider with the “red indian” friends and being beaten by the local Christian thuggery.
I am not interested in making art that is a comment on art, theory or history. I am not interested in making work that is on the cusp of the next new step forward in the art world, I am interested in working with what I lived and what I know. Not with what I was taught or what I read.
As I grew into more the later than the former, I also started to see what the pursuit of happiness and the so-called American dream was comprised of for those around me and it seemed closed, dead-ended, unfulfilling and unattainable.
2) AN: Your work seems to touch on political issues, could you elaborate a bit about that? What are the central ideas behind your practice? JM: My biography as I discuss above has a massive bearing on the work that I make. A lot of that content comes specifically from a period in my own youth that every other child on the planet experiences as well where a distinct shift takes place from individualist to conformist. For me this period incited a lot of trauma, destruction and conflict. This was further complicated by the social context in which I grew up; a very racist and religiously conservative farming community that not only existed on very recently stolen Native American land but also was a community dependant on a Mexican immigrant population to work the farms. So the oppression of those slightly different from the white
So this period of my past and many other experiences since then have been a major conceptual influence on the work I make and have made. In more recent years, I have continued to use the uneasy relationship between life in the Capitalist context and the pursuit of the non-existent so-called American dream, but have also added to my content reflections on the experiences I have had building an artistic practice. So now with those early developmental experiences still holding a place in the work that I make, I also attempt to incorporate personal experiences of the last 20 years and to blur as much as possible the lines between practice and existence, the art in life and the studio of my everyday world. 3) AN: You don’t seem too afraid of using quite dramatic effects in your work. I saw you running barefoot and bare- chested down a dark street in Toronto
/MCMURRY/ in the headlights of a following limousine, with a baseball bat in your hands. How do you relate to the traditions of bared down, simple performance art work? Are you concerned with relating to any tradition with your own practice?
understanding all the details behind every artistic compulsion and just pursuing it blindly as part of the process of developing consciousness and deeper understanding of oneâ€™s work as an artist.
I relate to what one might identify as a tradition of simpler work in this field only in that it sometimes inspires me, but so do a lot of other methods, artists, modes, genres, etcetera. I am very proud to be part of an international family of JM: artists who seem to connect I believe that the compulsion with this one particular to incorporate such things medium in a very special way, into my work is instinctive and even with a uniquely broad natural. As I have articulated spectrum of backgrounds and in some of my other responses, personalities. However, I feel the vast majority of my that depicted histories of or content is heavily laced with traditions within art movements autobiographical influences are dangerous and that not and references. My personality, only do they have a my history and my impulses are derogatory influence over artâ€™s or have often been dramatic, evolution but they detract from over-ambitious and sometimes the individualâ€™s experience a bit shocking. Therefore, the with art live and in person. It obvious conclusion within the breeds a tendency to repeat sum of those parts is one that the past rather than to create results in my art reflecting my the future. existence. I feel that the exposure to and That being said, there is a interest in didactic and limited question more interesting to art histories that I had when I me about the source of those was a young artist likely stifled influences, those compulsions, ideas and perhaps placed me those personality traits. My too firmly in an ideology upbringing is not one without much room for conducive to fostering an flexibility. An ideology that artist who generates this type even today I have trouble of work, so is the work I am shaking when I want to making a rebellion against my explore things radically off of social context, or is it a the normal path of my product of my social context? practice. It seems to me that Is it something that separates young artists today would be me from the society in which better served to pursue work as I exist or is it something that blindly as possible. makes me part of it? The questioning of the true source Community; yes. Family; yes. of my creative content is Advice, inspiration and support something I hope will continue from others with whom you to have a bearing on the work can relate to in person; great. I make, but I also see the Fuck tradition. importance of not
4) AN: Do you feel any responsibility for the effects your work have on the audience or in the society where you are performing?
How people choose to take in or view what they see me do is more influenced by their own pasts, their own perceptions and their own experiences with the world around them. If I bring anything out in them or in their society, positive or negative, it is something that was already there. JM: No. How people choose to take in or view what they see me do is more influenced by their own pasts, their own perceptions and their own experiences with the world around them. If I bring anything out in them or in their society, positive or negative, it is something that was already there. Perhaps dormant, but
there nonetheless. 5) AN: What, if any, role does unpredictability play to you in your work? Do you have any thoughts on unpredictability as a general ingredient in performance art work? JM: It certainly has a place in my own work, but likely in the same way that it has a place in everyday life. I have a set structure and series of tasks involved in any piece as one might have as they prepare for any given day of their life, but rarely does one get up in the morning assuming that their daily plans will go in a radically different direction from what they are anticipating. Its role in my work is very much the same. I know what I am setting out to do, I often execute actions in the way that I am planning to and the unpredictable things that transpire along the way are often (but not always) inconsequential. When one plans to go to the grocery store, they don’t plot out exactly how they will remove their wallet from their pants to pay the cashier and when they arrive at that moment and they drop their wallet on the ground it does not have any significant effect on completing that task. When they walk out into the parking lot with their groceries and get hit by a car, the meaning of that task changes. The role of the unpredictable has the same place in my live performance works. Unpredictability as a method for many artists working with performance is often an excuse for not understanding their materials, not having a
clear set of tasks or actions prepared properly, a lack of content or ideas, a certain amount of disrespect for their audience and a lack of interest in taking the medium of performance seriously. I personally no longer have the stomach for work where the artist is simply just going to “see what happens” and I believe that most work generated with this approach is more of a result of the above deficiencies rather than something that is a serious conceptual methodology. There are a few solid exceptions but for the most part I think it’s a lazy way of making work in any field. 6) AN: What do you love about performance art? JM: In the last few years in particular I have come to embrace more overtly the freedom from the market-driven art world that performance can provide. When one embraces a medium of any kind particularly in the US and in the EU, the desire to be part of the ordained few who can become famous and wealthy is a hard desire to shake. Performance in particular is a medium where it very quickly becomes easy to see the absolute futility in pursuing that goal, not only as it seems to conflict with the time-based feature so indicative to performance, but also because its just not realistic regardless of the work one is making. Getting any kind of funding or support that would allow one to rely solely on their work as a performance artist is actually a tall order and when I concluded that I would always have to have another means
of sustaining myself, I saw the potential for that goal to not have an influence on the work I wanted to make. Working within the art world in a way that is not solely as an artist as a means of sustaining oneself (teaching, writing, researcher, jobs at art institutions, etc.) is something that has had its benefits for me personally, but ultimately working completely outside of the fields of art as a way to make money has had greater benefits. Being completely immersed in art left little room for me to allow my practice and my existence to merge in a way that I felt to be interesting. I think that the medium itself helped me to acquire this understanding about what I want as an artist and if I were a photographer or a painter I would not have arrived at this conclusion. I also feel that the freedom I have described with this medium in particular allows me to openly contradict myself, change my mind about what I want to do as an artist, evolve, devolve and just generally pursue work in the way that I want to and at the time that I want to. 7) AN: Has your work or processes changed a lot in the time you have been performing? Have any elements become less important, or turned out to be of greater value to you, over time? JM: I think it has changed a lot, but someone who saw my work some years ago and saw it again today may not feel the same way. It’s hard to say. Certain objects and actions
Itâ€™s all about communication, misunderstandings, silence, non-communication. I made a work where I wore earplugs when meeting friends and strangers in the pub. If I canâ€™t hear what they are saying, what happens then? Do they give up on me? How can I still engage? Do I try to speak with my eyes? Is an interesting situation created? Or will it fall apart?
/MCMURRY/ seem to stick around while others seem to be worked through and left behind. Certain ideas seem to disappear, then re-emerge. Others come and go and others are always present. Again as I have noted in this discussion more than is necessary, my practice is as much a part of my existence as I can make it. Certain pursuits in life come and go, others remain forever. Some goals change and are indistinguishable when you finally attain them and others are truly achieved. One thing that I have worked hard at developing is the sensation of commitment and the evocation of certain personality traits that I feel important to embody in the moments that I am executing work. Both things I learned the value of through the mentorship of artists like Andre Stitt and Alastair MacLennan. Embodying certain personality traits and behaviours while actions are being executed and relaying an often physically challenging commitment to the tasks at hand have great power and add substantial value to the experience for both myself and the viewer. 8) AN: You have worked extensively across the world as a performance artist. Could you say something about what differences and similarities you see in the current practices and working conditions of artists in USA and Europe?
JM: The conditions for performance in the United States are a joke. It seems most severe in places like New York and Los Angeles where artists cannot seem to shake the histories of the medium and the inextricable link to theater in those cities. The audiences have an over-bearing need to be entertained and there is a severe devaluation of contemporary art that cannot be sold or traded like cattle. I recently went to what is the latest and greatest shining new hope for performance in Los Angeles and saw a piece where a young man in a red dress sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” accompanied by a half-assed jazzy scat sax player in a tuxedo standing on a chair. For me it was embarrassing, for the massive mob of people present it was worthy of uproarious applause. Supporting progressive art in the US as a means of advancing culture and in turn advancing society in general has been dead for a long time. How could such a tried and true means of creating a better life for a country’s citizens be embraced now when there are so many fantastic new weapons to buy? There are many smaller independent performance related projects, collectives and individual artists popping up all the time here, but almost exclusively outside the art epicentres of our country. They exist for a while, and then disappear. Perhaps appropriate considering the temporal nature of the medium itself. Those are the places where interesting things are happening with the genre in the United States and those
are the people with true devotion and a clear understanding of its power and potential. On the contrary, almost every other country I have presented work in has a consistent sense of value and appreciation for this type of work. Whether it’s a few people in the back yard of someone’s house in Kuala Lumpur or a large art institution in Berlin, the acceptance of and openness to the work is there. Funding may be getting cut all over the world for art, but the cuts that the EU are experiencing in cultural support today, always have and always will pale in comparison to the war on contemporary art that the US government and its citizens have been engaged in for the last 40+ years. The response has been to turn it into a business and to follow the model that everything else seems to follow here. If it makes money, it has value and is allowed to continue to exist. This approach by its very nature propagates a distorted view on what work influences culture and what work is not allowed to participate in that pursuit. When a minority is allowed to determine the direction of culture for the majority then you have fascism and when those determinations are driven by money you have corruption. So the museums here are filled with corrupt fascists telling us what is great art and why, and the job of art to drive social evolution is replaced with the job of art being to create something that people will want to hang above their couch.
9) AN: Do you have any thoughts on the currently expanding performance art scene, – do you think anything will change, where do you imagine we are heading? In relation to our work, the conditions under which we are invited to show work, and the discussions we have? JM: Growing the community for the benefit of those who are drawn to it as artists or viewers is the only value in expanding the performance art “scene”. I think what will change is it’s size, and I think where we are heading is into a field of artists that is slightly larger than the one comprised of seriously practicing performance artists today. I don’t have much interest in what could happen with the field on a large scale. I am greatly interested in meeting new people, young people who are drawn to it. Learning from their exuberance and perhaps giving them something that will draw them in even further. Only as a means of seeing the community grow, seeing the family grow and seeing some new work. I cannot imagine that funding sources and real large scale support will ever grow, and the longer that stays where it is then those driven to be involved as organizers, artists, patrons or all of the above will continue to have pure reasons for their attraction to it. In another 60 years perhaps the international performance art community of today will get some recognition as having sacrificed a lot to make
live work designed to engage and exist in only a moment, without a product or object to live on as proof or a tangible item of monetary value. But likely not. And that likely not is probably for the best because ultimately the moments in which this type of work is taking place, the people that are there in that moment and the experiences they have as a result of that moment are vastly more valuable of a thing to pursue then growth, immortality through historically inaccurate depictions of what happened in those moments and attention from people other than the 4 people that are watching your performance in the basement of some shitty art space. 10) AN: What led you to become a performance artist? JM: I had a misunderstood attraction to theater, and experiences in that field were less than what I imagined. I had a misunderstood attraction to contemporary art and experiences in that field were less than what I imagined. So I started mashing the two together, making crazy live performance poetry art installation video pieces in the context of the small conservative farming community where I grew up. Years later I was told that it was performance art.
almost every other country I have presented work in has a consistent sense of value and appreciation for this type of work. Whether it’s a few people in the back yard of someone’s house in Kuala Lumpur or a large art institution in Berlin, the acceptance of and openness to the work is there.
IMAGES IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
Ego 2 2007 objects from performance 16th Street Art Gallery, Santa Monica, California, USA Photo by Lever Ruhkin (Middle three images) Ranchero 2010 performance 7a11d festival, Toronto, Canada photos by Henry Chan
NORDISK KUNSTNARSENTER DALSÅSEN | ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE CENTER DALE I SUNNFJORD | NORWAY | www.nkdale.no | www.facebook.com/nkdale
Artist Cabins at Dalsåsen (detail) photo Laura Vuoma
To be sce of one of whos by Boris
Translated fr Marina Bauer, Anna and Agnes
eptical, eself, se self? Nieslony
rom German by Christina Lorentzen Nedreg책rd
/TEXT/ Avoid any labour that will die with the worker mutatis mutandis to Leonardo da Vinci To be skeptical, of oneself, of whose self? In the following, I will present to you a juxtaposition of viewpoints. I am fully aware of the fact that each of them is a self- contained fiction, but I still consider them very useful. Performance happens, and this is the crucial point. To write about performance is not in my nature, I would rather write ‘in performance’, by that I mean to turn to what haunts me - the questions which I believe should be asked, the contradicting, yet indispensable facts which stir perceptual confusion. The manifestations of representations in performance and performance art are on fire. The burning questions are the ‘what’ and ‘how’ implicit in this statement. Performance cannot be reduced to any specific culture or period of time. In the last 40 years, the term has substantially expanded to include other art forms and areas of life. The term covers a multitude of definitions and extensions, seeping into all fields of society and communities, and has subjected a more than 700 year old history to anachronism. From here onwards, eyes open up to what is evident: What is there to be seen, which questions are the most pressing? Fact: Viewers are no longer expected to be viewers - they will be emancipated, they shall participate, communicate directly with the artist and amongst themselves. Performance artists draw the viewers into a performance, delegating tasks and actions, presenting gifts – and even more atrociously - the viewers’ position as onlookers is to be dissolved, and as they are the co-creators of the communicative process, the very heart and life of the performance will disintegrate. Looking is a highly active process, along with the active perception of participating
viewers, looking forms the act of the performance. The situation is established by a preconfigured distance between performer and viewer. The performer needs the distance as much as the viewers. If the performer relinquishes this gap, she/he gambles away the inherent potential of the work, in the image striving to emerge. What follows is banality. Banality as the potential of human action - devoid of meaning. The perceptive witnessing of a performance within the required distance enables the performer and the onlooker to step into ‘The Third/ The Other’. (Into the energetic field, with its commitment to communication, appearing through the image of the performance). Another threatening possibility is that the onlookers actually do participate, and - by their own strength, their quality of presence, through resistance or desire to destroy - manage to bring down the performers’ intended work, by overturning the atmosphere of the energetic field. The most desirable outcome of this situation would be that the viewers through their actions bring on a performance of their own. Frequently artists argue that this was the outcome they wanted, - to my mind that is a helpless argument as it destroys any claim to an intentional work. The planned performance is the intended communication, extending to span a thematic line through an energetic field. Interaction - understood and communicated as ‘empowerment of the beholder’ - is clearly an authoritarian gesture, patronising the viewer (1) The short-sighted and inflated idea of participation is degrading for the viewers, being moved around in an all but therapeutic maze, while on the other hand turned into manipulated figures, required to serve the ‘dominating mass-media society’. Mobilizing the unsettled citizen by means of the versatile mass media’. (At this point another question appears, namely that of performance as healing/v./action as an act of translation). Faux patterns of sickness and ignorantly exercised shamanism transpire. If admitting to be susceptible to media influence, the performer will need to be broken (or will voluntarily let her/ himself be broken), in order to come into being. This process of
actualisation materialises in the festival circus as “communication by phrases”,or - as another example - in the prescripted proceedings of talk shows. These questions and thoughts will however not be pursued further in this text, as the arguments would be deviating too widely from the purpose of this text. How do the viewers handle this ‘distribution of presents?’ What pressing issues do I see in ‘the misunderstanding of the gift?’ Mostly an image of ‘constituting docility’. In this, I detect an attempt to conceal, to bridge a shortcoming. The shortcoming of not being able to make use of the energetic, open room, designed to facilitate the meeting of performer and viewer, where work should be made possible. Artifacts/versus/communicative action, that true gift. The gift contradicts any materialization; it is no object of commodity. Its essential quality is the act of giving and receiving, which is immaterial. Bringing a tangible, material sign, a symbolic gesture, is possible, and can even be necessary. Passed from hand to hand, it is nothing but a sign. But, to make a sign without handing over the gift: What kind of neglect is that! I also worry about the notion of ‘Identity’, and the notion of ‘I’. It begins with the unpleasant feeling, which creeps into the onlooker of a performance, when the ‘I’ am mirrored in the ‘identity’ of a character. A question presents itself: What burden does the performers’ I impose on the visual act, which is played out in time and space? Misconducts terrorise my head, not only in regards to exaggerations, unrestrained self-portrayals, manic exalted characters and artistic autism. Was it S. Freud who wrote that the I is an invention? The philosopher I. Kant articulated the four principal questions of philosophy as follows: What can I know? What should I do? What can I hope for? What is a human being? Therein lies the problem, that the question of the I should become the paradigm of our times. It is equally as paradigmatic to state that the I has no place in the performance. Every human being who engages in the act of performing and who employs tools of presentation and
experience, first has to free his/her body of the I. Could it be possible that where the I is unfolding, no performance can take place? Maybe something is happening, although other descriptions of it might be more accurate, i.e. ‘psychodrama’ or ‘entertainment’. Further - the portrayal of the personal self, the I, often shrouds the course of the performance to the point where the image of the performance is no longer recognisable. Another name for this could be ‘identity-work’. Slower and in more detail. By nature, every living person is an I. An active I, taking part in various biological and social processes - also called ‘life’. In performance as well, one ‘I’ encounters other ‘I’s’ and shares time, space and active situations with them. What does it mean - to free your body from the I? What is it that makes people interested in watching other people doing something? Contact with an object, a gesture, a pattern of movement, triggers attention and participation. In these situations, all relations become part of a network of interaction which does not permit the isolation of any element, but shows their ‘mutual relatedness’ (2). Memories of dramatic personal events are often altered by circumstances of life, social habits and the weight of family structures. The many small, everyday stories, childhood memories, traumatic experiences etc. can become the subjects of performances. But how are they presented, how are they acted out? Mirroring or re-mirroring alone are not sufficient methods. In numerous performances, I have witnessed an idolisation of personality, misery and pain, forcing reactions in me that I could only escape by hastily leaving the room. I was left with the question: what really happened there, at that moment? Was it the dreadfulness and vulnerability of a person spreading out his/ her life through a performance that agitated me? In that case – is the performance the meticulous reassembling of a fragmented and broken existence? I cannot bear to witness it, and yet I have seen it carried out with passion and intensity by a Canadian performance artist (3). It made me speechless; I had to see it several times, a few years in between. She was chaos. A being - not an I. I articulate myself like this because I am speechless, language defies me. What was it that was translated there? What did
/TEXT/ she translate that was more than an I? Where is the space opening up in this passion, the moment when the participating viewer perceives an image of chaos, as a performance? What is the difference? Could it help an understanding to distinguish between feelings and emotions? Or is it the difference between action and reaction that is crucial? A statement: The viewer should not be forced to react, as that will surely close fields of perception. These fields should not be closed, they should be opened up. In my point of view, a helpful keyword is the term ‘translation’. Metaphors and poetic expressions are the tools of translation. Should the performers be displaying their tools? The tools are figures of transition, at the threshold, restless in their state of misappropriation, having renounced the representation But what do I see in performances that reject translation? They are totally devoid of tools or action. What is left is a meaningless I, trying to rescue itself, but it is long lost in societal manipulation. Maybe something substantial is conveyed here, something that my I is reluctant to see and therefore cannot understand. Put nicely: the I is another. (4) There is a fact which is already mentioned, deferred and yet relating to all my preceding statements: Who is ‘The Third’?, ‘The Other?’ in who’s midst performer and viewer meet, as Martin Buber described it? Who is ‘The Other’?, what is ‘The Other’? A helpful model. In an unspecified place, in an unspecified manner, there is an unknown quantity of people seated, forming a group. Their behaviour is overtly visible. Every single one of them is constantly communicating, demonstrating their dispositions through monologues, infinitely projecting, without ever pausing for an answer. A specific atmosphere is created within an indetermined energetic field of murmur. They all act as social agents in this field of undefined
expectations. There is a single person sitting opposite to the group. Facing them frontally or turned a little sideways, equally expecting something, surrounded by an aura of passivity. There are two defined locations in this oppositeness. Firstly the opposite, secondly a chosen stage (defined broadly, as far as to situations that could be called ‘site specific’). This person shows a different (cultural?) habitus or she/he is only sitting. This, to sit, can be a state of presence that expresses nothing. But it is physically visible, as the group is as well, and this is where it all starts. The atmosphere changes from an undefined into a defined mood and from there into that which is opposing the group as ‘The Other’. By the person seated opposite (from) them, the group is led into mental communication through looks, gestures, patterns of movement etc., and invited to step into the Other (a mental opening of space and time). The tools of this person are her/his performative knowledge, her/his presence, her/his physical and bodily action in performing. The tool of the group is to step out of their habitat, leaving the social communication, to enter into mental communication with this person. In its finest manifestation, the group engages their attention and lets go of their patterns of interpretation in order to be more perceptive (to trespass the threshold of perception). What then really happens inside this Other will never be experienced, it is always a translation. Anyone who attempts to describe it, will fall into the trap of telling stories, fairytales of artistic authentication, patterns of interpretation and empty phrases. Looking back often reveals altered people. The one who looks back is then also the other. Who can explain to me what really happens there? Am I dreaming? I hope that my statements have not burdened any view on performance. In addition, I hope that I have nourished the inappropriate and inevitable urge for performance to be in a state of anarchy. In the implementation of the unavoidable - and this is the only thing that should happen in performance - why-questions should not be asked. In the face of all occurring events they can only be presumptuous.
Performance - like all views on human beings and on all living processes - holds the ever-widening crack between the term and the visible phenomena. Give and take, show and see. The mind can only free itself of its own false idols. What a performance. References: 1 – Jacques Rancière 2 – I owe Gerhard Dirmoser, who opened up this term to me. It seems that the term has been introduced to the discourse by J.L. Nancy 3 – Sandy MacFadden 4 – Arthur Rimbaud
IRMA OPTIMIST Read the text THE PERFORMANCE SPACES OF IRMA OPTIMIST
on N|N here: http://www.nabroadnews.info/post/17897574110/text-irma-optimist
/OPTIMIST/ /BOULARAN/ /YUNG/
IMAGES IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE Performance Mellom himmel og hav Lygra, Norway 2005 Photo by Kurt Johannesen Performance Post Scriptum Performance Center Helsinki, Finland 2011 Photo by Pekka Luhta Performance LĂ -bas->Hyper center Cabel Factory Helsinki, Finland 2007 Photo by Antti Ahonen Performance Connection Open Hills Festival Bulgakova, Kaluga, Russia 2009 Photo by Pekka Luhta
/MARHAUG/ My approach to performance has from the very beginning been through the basic tools of the body, meaning little use of objects and other requisite. The everyday language of bodily behaviour and bodily normality is my basic source of inspiration to my work and the concrete bodyâ€™s dimensions are often the theme in my actions. I have used my experience from various sports as well as being a mother and a working artist for more then 20 years to develop individual pieces; to give them a specific and clear shape as well as grounding them in themes I find important to address. What I would like the audience to reflect upon has hopefully a wider range. The body being the raw material of my artistic investigation of for example femininity and masculinity in my earlier works, and now of my later interest: values and money matters. I was born in Bergen in -65 and have my education from Bergen Academy of Art and Design (MAF-89) and University of Bergen history of art (BA-96). I work as professor at Bergen Academy of Art and Design. Since the early -90ies I have participated in a great numbers of solo- and group exhibitions both in Norway and internationally. Beside performance, printmaking, drawings, photo, books and video are important tools for expression.
IMAGES IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
All images from Norwegian Liquid, 2011 Photography: Emilie Marhaug
GWENDOLINE ROBIN, (Detail) Territoire 2009, Les Subsistances, Lyon, FR. Photo by: Saadi -Freixas
måg issue EIGHT: 31.05.12 OLVE SANDE MAX HATTLER MARTE EKNŒS MARK SAVLATUS DANGERMUSEUM AILEEN CAMPBELL
Published on Feb 29, 2012
måg | issue seven Publishers: NABROAD Design: Rodney Point Editor: Agnes Nedregård Featured: Boris Nieslony / Gwendoline Robin / Sandra John...