works by FLUTURA & BESNIK HAXHILLARI / THE TWO GULLIVERS loop Gallery / 2011
This book was published to accompany a solo exhibition of drawings by Flutura & Besnik Haxhillari (Two Gullivers): Gullivers’ Rehearsal: Drawing into Performance September 28 – October 9, 2011 at loop Gallery, curated by Vesna Krstich. In conjunction with the exhibition, Vesna Krstich and loop Gallery also organized the event Performance Art + Partnership, at the Harbourfront Centre, involving a panel discussion entitled Performance Duos and a keynote lecture by Amelia Jones. Panelists were Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak, Paul Couillard and Ed Johnson, and Flutura & Besnik Haxhillari (The Two Gullivers). The discussion was moderated by Jim Drobnick. The Two Gullivers also staged a reenactment of Nightsea Crossing (1982) by Marina Abramovic and Ulay at Nathan Philips Square, and a live performance called SLEEP during Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2011 at loop Gallery. Gullivers’ Rehearsal has been made possible through the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council. Additional project partners and sponsors include the Harbourfront Centre, The Walrus Magazine, the Drake Hotel, Oyster Boy, Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2011, and FADO Performance Art Centre.
All images courtesy of the Two Gullivers Cover/back images: Selections from 101 dessins Produced by loop Gallery Graphic Design: Dragan Ivanic Text: Vesna Krstich @ 2011 © loop Gallery Inc. ISBN 978-0-9877983-0-5
FOREWORD These are exciting times for loop. This seminal project marks the first initiative of loop’s newly formed Programming Committee. Since I came on board as the Administrative Director of the gallery in 2007, loop has gained not-for-profit status, relocated, and grown in size, structure and exposure. Now, thanks to the dedication of intrepid guest curator Vesna Krstich, we have extended loop’s scope as a gallery and realized our first publicly funded audience development programming initiative that opens up a rigorous discourse – a characteristic of all of loop Gallery’s programming. Throughout this project we have worked to build loop’s connections with diverse audiences and cultural institutions; we have also brought non-object based work into loop programming and sustained the gallery’s relationship with current art world trends. One of our chief goals for the project was to engage audiences in critical thinking by examining drawing as a shared medium in the creative process as well as the relationships between drawing/performance/ process/product. By doing so, the project has reinforced the gallery’s mission of promoting contemporary visual arts culture and developing public appreciation of the contribution of the arts to daily life. I consider this endeavour to be a prime example of what we have been able to achieve through our collective efforts. It is an honour to have had the opportunity to see this project through to fruition.
Gullivers’Rehearsal: Drawing into Performance The exhibition title is slightly misleading because the syntax implies that performance is the end result of drawing, when in truth, it is not. Gullivers’ Rehearsal: Drawing into Performance should perhaps be re-phrased to include an element of repetition. It should read: Drawing into Performance, etc. or, it should follow with an ellipsis (…) because to simply continue the phrase by adding on: “, into drawing” would also be imprecise: the works in this exhibition offer the first comprehensive look into the cyclical relationship between the two. A live performance entitled Wounds and Perfume (2002) begins as a simple sketch. The drawing depicts the couple seated at a table, nude save for the random tufts of fur they have scattered all over their bodies. They are feeding a projected image of themselves a banquet of raw meat. By transforming their bodies into such animal/human hybrids, the pair asserts their androgynous twin identity, which the accompanying photo portrait documents: the tufts of fur and their clean-shaven heads make it difficult to differentiate one from the other. Equally perplexing is whether the photograph was taken after the live performance or beforehand. In 2009, this same image of the duo makes its way back into a new live performance/installation called SLEEP (Bauhaus No. 1) (2009), but now, the photograph that refers to this performance appears as traced re-presentation. This cycle of mediation subverts the reproducibility of the photograph by re-inscribing it back into a hand-made sketch. To trace is to delineate the absence of the real body: it exists as contour, without flesh and substance. For the Two Gullivers, drawing is a method for rehearsing their joint identity and the ‘image’ of the performance. By doing so they destabilize the boundaries assumed to exist between the immediacy of the ‘live’ event and its modes of planning and documentation. Wounds and Perfume (preliminary sketch from 101 dessins), 2002. Pen on paper, 21x27 cm.
(Left) L’aquarium d’un couple approximatif, 2003-2004. Colour marker on plexi-glass, 122x122 cm. (Top Right) Wounds and Perfume, 2001. Performance documentation (detail). (Bottom Right) SLEEP (Bauhaus No.1), 2009. (detail). Artspace, Peterborough. Dimensions variable.
Rehearsal (Absence) vs. Performance (Presence) As spectators, we are not often privy to the ‘rehearsal’ – nor do we want to be (perhaps). In the strict theatrical sense, rehearsal describes a time of preparation that precedes the ‘real’ event, later enacted in front of an audience. It remains hidden or absent as the less privileged encounter. However, while some performance art is only performed once, most works are repeated, rehearsed and adapted to new contexts. The idea of ‘rehearsal’ betrays the authenticity of the live performance as much as documentation. Both challenge the ontological status of performance: its claim to provide access to direct experience and attest to the veracity of live encounter, whether that encounter exists between the artist and audience, or within the private space of the artist’s own studio. Photographs, videos, publications, bodily traces, notations, and instructions are documents that act as ‘supplements’ or substitutions as Jacques Derrida defined the term. The ‘supplement’ is a contradictory interstice: “It adds only to replace. It intervenes or insinuates itself in-the-place-of; if it fills, it is as if one fills a void.”1 This description aptly encapsulates performance art’s tenuous relationship to representation and reproducibility. While these supplements allow the performance to exist after the fact, they also reveal its inherent lack: the original event can never be fully experienced. Performance art is often thought of from these binary positions: live (presence) vs. document (absence); the act of rehearsing however, challenges this temporal logic even further. If we conceive of drawing as a form of rehearsal, it further undoes the binaries between the performance and its aftermath. Compared to the aforementioned modes of documentation, little attention is paid to the role of drawing in the systems of representation that stand in for performance or contribute to its future enactment. Photography has been reckoned with; indeed, it has come to define how we now think of performance. But drawing further complicates the ontology of performance art because it is a plan, a mark of authorial intention. Following this Derridean line of thought, the very temporal structures of drawing and performance must be examined: where does the original event begin and in what form does it first make its appearance - as performance or as drawing? Since the 1960s, artists have explored drawing’s ability to record traces of the body in real time and space. Drawing here is seen to share performance’s immediacy as well as photography’s documentary role. But these indexical patterns and gestures in fact confirm, however paradoxically, both the absence and presence of the artists’ body. The relationship between performance art and drawing as a preliminary investigation of figure/space relations
can be traced back to the early avant-garde. During his years working for the Bauhaus theatre in Dessau, artist and choreographer Oskar Schlemmer produced meticulous illustrations of body movements for his set designs before realizing their three-dimensional equivalents on stage. Contemporary artists Francis AlĂżs and Erwin Wurm both employ a similar kind of repetitive investigation of the body on the page before they are transformed into live performances by collaborators or gallery visitors. For the Two Gullivers, the drawing process playfully disobeys these temporal and medium-specific hierarchies; it reenacts itself again and again, thus instigating a process of continual deferral. The cyclical relationship destabilizes our conventional view of pre- and post- indexical documentary practices. As a rehearsal, the drawing is an outline or blueprint for the real performance as well as a testimony to the event. This fact also unveils a gap in their historical narrative. Early criticism of their work situated their practice within the discourse of post-communist identity, as readings of Eastern European contemporary art tend to favour. Such predictable commentaries are now complicated by the fact that the Albanian pair have been based in Montreal since 2000. The ironic blend of nostalgia, political references, and salient themes of itinerancy notwithstanding, the drawings also uncover the less privileged or unbeknownst interpretation: the Two Gulliversâ€™ performance work cannot dissociate itself from mediaspecific categories of drawing, painting and sculpture. They still refer to the Renaissance term disegno to describe their collaborative practice.2 To read contemporary art practice stemming from the context of Eastern Europe solely through its experiments with conceptualism, video, film, installation, and performance impedes us from appreciating the fact that traditional processes did play an equally important role in the formation of artistic identity/practice. While performance art carried out a similar function for the couple, it did not occur in isolation from their drawing practice: the two are indivisible from each other. The act of drawing, as an immediate and liberating gesture of authorship was already firmly implanted in their individual practices as a reactionary impulse against official art and their classical training. Paradoxically, their performance drawings reveal and contest this technical mastery. The drawings are performative documents that reenact this historical reappraisal. When considering their oeuvre as a whole, one can begin to isolate the sequence and inter-relationships between images, drawings, sketches, and photographs. As such, there is a fluid, free associative system that underlines their praxis. From a curatorial standpoint, this raises many questions as to how to best present or re-present their narrative, both in this text (a rehearsal or rather, supplement) and in the exhibition (the performance).
Gullivers’ Travels: A Visual Script The duo rose to prominence in the late 1990s through their inclusion in landmark exhibitions of Eastern European contemporary art. By 1998 the artists, who had already began to operate under the twin persona of the Two Gullivers, first received public attention for their “photo-performances”. Often taking place within the privacy of their Berlin studio, they produced photographs of themselves in various poses. These self-fashioned tableaux vivants or what Art Historian Phillip Auslander’s might refer to as “performed photography”3 reveal their first experimentation with identity construction. Two Gullivers (1998) is the first photograph in this series. The nude couple is shown standing side-by-side in front of a suspended red curtain, and each holds an identical doll to conceal their gender. A level of artifice is carefully inscribed into this self-portrait through the dramatic lighting, careful posing and the intensity of the red fabric, whose irregular draping further asserts itself as a studio photograph. In 2002 the pair would re-stage this image, but this time with their newborn twins in place of the dolls. This concidental act of doubling is a motif that the pair would later inscribe into their drawings, along with subsequent photographs from this ongoing series. While their “photo-performances” and live performances were circulating, another kind of rehearsal was taking place. Drawing and performance were emerging in tandem, and not as two distinct practices – a fact that remained peripheral to their critical reception at the time. Their collaborative drawing practice was still in its nascent phases, but a year earlier, the couple produced a colour series of small drawings on panel called Obsessions (1997), which they refer to as their portable sketches. That same year they collaborated on a large-scale pencil crayon drawing, La mariée et ses maris, (1997), on view for the first time in this exhibition. Entries from their sketchbooks in 1999 show evidence of the couple employing quick schematic renderings for a performance called Ring that took place at the Venice Biennale in 1999. Only a series of large-scale C-prints, entitled Gullivers in Love (1999), were showcased; the sketches, although they existed, were never intended to compliment the work. These early drawings demonstrate their initial experimenation with sketching as a mode of project planning and image construction. Ring (preliminary study for Gullivers in Love), 1999. Marker on paper, 15x21 cm.
Flutura and Besnik Haxhillari, La mariĂŠe et ses maris, 1997. Pencil crayon on paper, 230x115 cm. (Opposite page) Selections from 101 dessins, 1999-. Various media, 21x27 cm each.
The Two Gullivers’ preoccupation with drawing begins during their formative art training in communist Albania. Both attended the Tirana Academy of Arts between 1988 and 1992, amidst great political and cultural transition in their country. After the dissolution of the Communist Bloc in 1989, their instruction in Socialist Realism, which drew on Classical and Renaissance art, was slowly interrupted with uncensored art historical texts, written in French, Italian and German. After their exposure to the early avant-garde, the pair abandoned traditional figuration and draftsmanship methods taught to them in the Academy and began experimenting with more symbolic and gestural techniques. By 1994, Flutura Haxhillari had already begun to employ more schematic and non-objective mark making, reminiscent of Paul Klee, as seen in an early oil drawing from her series entitled Kindheitserinnerungen (1994); Besnik Haxhillari was developing a series of colourful pencil crayon drawings on dressmaker’s pattern, Dessins de nuit (1995) depicting block-like, disproportioned figures, pictures of his family and his homeland. Evidence of their dissatisfaction with the educational system is evident in an early sketchbook dating back to 1997 in which the artists have declared: “Everything begins in the book.”4 From this point onwards, the sketchbook would become the space in which the two would exchange their ideas and experiences without restriction. Drawing for Duo: Pre (liminal) Performance By 2000, the couple began to formally investigate their artistic partnership, which resulted in a collection of sketches entitled 101 dessins. Among the depictions are humorous scenes of domestic life, gender role-play, and surreal juxtapositions involving objects, animals, symbols and other invented scenarios. These drawings are a type of pre (liminal) performance – a meeting point where they can jointly negotiate their twin persona and the performance projects that may emerge from their visual sparring. Flutura and Besnik Haxhillari compare their open-ended process to Roland Barthes’ idea of écriture, described in “Death of the Author” (1967) as a performative type of writing that resists intentionality and fixed meaning.5 One will begin a drawing, the other will add to it until their individual mark marking is obliterated to form a new graphic identity. On some occasions, the final performance may emerge from the more playful actions of sharing the same compositional space: adding to one another’s work, erasing, layering etc. The drawings function as an ongoing rehearsal: closed to the public but open-ended in thought process and signification.
From 101 dessins, 2004. Ink on paper, 21x27 cm.
While many of the drawings are hypothetical scenarios that never become realized, there are also sketches and designs that the artists eventually transform into performances. The manner in which an imagined scene evolves into a performance blueprint is demonstrated in a recent project entitled Drawingmovingtable (2010), which is a live performance emblematic of their belated encounter with performance art, as well as their academic training in Communist Albania. The performance began as a ludic conceptual sketch in 2004, in which the couple is shown encased in a colossal suitcase, sitting on either side of a small table, and then evolves into a more detailed preliminary study, showcasing the artists strapped to a large wheel. Both drawings and performance are about mobility and make explicit reference to Nightsea Crossing, a series of durational performances enacted by Marina Abramovic and Ulay between 1981-1987. The pair grew intolerant of the political and cultural isolation of Albania and relocated to Lausanne in 1994, where they first came into contact with post-media specific practices such as performance art, and began working within this category themselves in 1998. Flutura and Besnik Haxhillari describe this piece as their “meeting with performance history” and the table as a kind of portable sketchbook or studio where they “draw their never-ending performance.”6 Through these preliminary investigations, the artists are able to experiment with performance as a visual form. Whether this is sourced from a drawing, photograph or another performance remains ambiguous. The preparation is just as important as the live event and its aftermath.
(Left) Preliminary study for Drawingmovingtable, 2010. Pencil on paper, 27x35 cm. (Right) Drawingmovingtable, 2010. Performance documentation, Montreal. (Opposite page) Les masques (series), 2006. Mixed media on rice fabric, 60x40 cm.
Drawing on the Document The exhibition contains a series of larger, co-authored drawings on fabric that were executed before and after their performances. Some contain a mixture of photographic traces from their “photo-performances” or live performances enacted in front of audiences, while others are straight drawings that make reference to previous work. Carefully peppered through the series are vestiges from 101 dessins and other drawn elements. The photograph and the drawing both act as supplements that come to take center stage. As art historian and performance art theorist Amelia Jones has contended, performance and documentation are mutually supplementary. In order to attain or maintain its status in culture and provide evidence of it having happened, the performance cannot exist outside a system of representation.7 For Jones, the photograph is a stand-in for the real event that precedes it; however, for the Two Gullivers, a drawing can often provide a better glimpse into the ‘image’ of the performance and the manner in which their subjectivity oscillates between the divided and singular self. The tension between the original event and its stand-in makes its appearance, but it is left unresolved. The Two Gullivers seem to confound notions of documentation by presenting it back to viewers in the form of drawings. In other words, viewers encounter the image of the performance not as a straight document but as a drawing that contains performance ‘documentation’ of some kind. The artists write: “We try to produce a work, which through different modes of expression, might activate the space between ourselves and the public, making it an intellectual and physical stimulant between the imaginary and the real, a path that can be followed in different ways, in fiction or reality, offering others the power to feel both here and elsewhere.”8 In Les masques (2006), the artists are seen holding transparent masks over their faces as they lean in to kiss. An ironic juxtaposition is forged as the
transparent masks permit visibility while they simultaneously conceal. Tiny chairs have been clustered around the base of the printed image so that it resembles a projection in a cinema, but the theatre is empty. There is no audience. The photograph in question was taken in the artists’ studio (much like the early tableaus) and blurs the boundaries between reality and fiction: did this work result from an actual performance or is it a purely constructed image that calls itself performance? In actuality it is both and its linage is dispersed throughout their drawings. The lack of audience further privileges the unseen or private space of the studio and their reliance on drawing as a system of representation. Flutura and Besnik describe these works as memories. The drawings assert the fact that the performance exists in their own time and space, not in ours, since we are not privy to the actual event. We experience it through their own “memory screen”, to borrow a term from Jones.9 The performance re-presents—or, better yet reasserts—itself back into art object status, as a unique example of their undivided subjectivity – their joint graphic authorship. The Sleep Cycle: A Rehearsal in Progress The clear division between rehearsal and live event is brought to life in a recent performance/installation entitled SLEEP (Bauhaus No.1) (2009). The Two Gullivers’ entire family is surrounded by a series of six drawings on thin plastic sheets affixed to a series of metal frames that form a cylindrical enclosure. The panels contain traced images of early performance documentation, scenes from family life, and other preliminary sketches. The original panels of this open structure begin as a closed transparent cube in the performance Feuer (1999), only to be re-adapted into a larger enclosure comprised of six drawn panels (panels which now form the open cylindrical form). Both artists and their three children live, sleep, eat, play and draw together within this space – sometimes for weeks. The domestic, studio and gallery space merge into one and now, the line between the rehearsal (or planning) for future works and the present/live encounter is erased. Visitors encounter a rehearsal in progress.
SLEEP (Bauhaus No.1), 2009. Installation / live performance, dimensions variable. Artspace, Peterborough. (Opposite page) Feuer, 1999. Performance documentation. Haus am L端tzowplatz, Berlin.
Bedrooms, cradles, and images of the couple sleeping are reoccurring motifs. To sleep is to awaken the disjointed imagery of the subconscious mind: while dreaming, the mind recalls impressions of past events and also conjures new and imagined events that have not (yet) taken place. So too the Two Gullivers find themselves looking back but also looking forward: moving from a closed, politically isolated system, a singular identity; towards an open, fluid dialogue in which authorial identity is opened up to the entire family unit. There is no temporal sequence between the live performance (present) and imagined (future performance/drawing) and recalled (past documentation). Performance and drawing were occurring simultaneously, but their interrelationship was not readily apparent during the initial wave of post-communist artistic production and reception. The cyclical relationship between their drawings and performances allows us to move between past and present, to make this interstice more visible. Looking back, this is why I have decided to keep the original title of this exhibition and leave the supplementary words (into drawing) as a parenthetical trace. Vesna Krstich Exhibition Curator 1 Jacques Derrida, “That Dangerous Supplement” in Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 145. 2 Interview with Flutura and Besnik Haxhillari. Montreal, October 9, 2009. 3 A term used to differentiate staged images in which an audience was in attendance such as Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void (1960) from those such as Chris Burden’s Shoot, that affirm/confirm their historical veracity despite the lack of audience. See Philip Auslander, “The Performativity of Performance Documentation,” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, Vol.38, No.3 (September 2006): 2. 4 The original quote is in Albanian and the translated reference to the book refers to the their sketchbook. 5 Les Deux Gullivers: Flutura & Besnik Haxhillari, “101 dessins pour une perormance ou penser les traits du corps dans une practique de dessin et de performance,” Artist Statement, 2009. 6 In a letter to Marina Abramovic written in 2009, the artists explain why they wish to reenact Nightsea Crossing on the occasion of her major retrospective The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Abramovic invited the duo to participate in the performance reenactments and they were encouraged to provide a rationale for their selection. They refer to themselves as “neighbours” and make specific reference to the exhibition Zeitwenden (1999), in which their work was installed in the adjacent exhibition space to hers. They discuss how artistic identity in Albania during the 1970s was in threat and describe the relevancy of the table as their mobile studio. 7 Amelia Jones, “’Presence’ in Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation,” Art Journal, Vol. 56, No. 4, (Winter 1997): 11-18. 8 Les Deux Gullivers, Artist Statement, 2007. 9 Jones refers to remembering a live performance though a ‘memory screen’. See Jones, “’Presence’ in Absentia,” 12.
loop Gallery has been in operation since December 1999. loop features artist/members who have a solid practice and an alternative proactive approach to the their careers. The loop artists work together to organize exhibitions and events and develop and promote the gallery. Working with other cultural institutions and local business, loop has become recognized and respected for its contributions to the Toronto art community and the quality of its exhibitions. loop was one of the first galleries located in the heart of the Queen West Gallery District, participating in its transformation into one of the city’s premiere cultural destinations. In 2009 loop moved to its present location at Dundas and Dovercourt. loop Gallery 1273 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON, M6J 1X8, Canada Tel: 416 - 516 -2581 firstname.lastname@example.org www.loopgallery.ca www.loopgallery.blogspot.com loop Gallery is a registered not-for-profit artist collective Project Coordinator: Ester Pugliese Programming Committee: David J. Holt (Co-Chair), Yvonne Singer (Co-Chair), Larry Eisenstein, Mark Adair, Yael Brotman, Gary Clement, Ian McLean, and Ester Pugliese Executive Committee: Mark Adair (Chair), Linda Heffernan (Treasurer), Barbara Rehus (Secretary) Administrator Director: Julia Dupuis Administrative Assistant: Patricia Njovu Gallery Members (as of 2011): John Abrams, Mark Adair, Elizabeth Babyn, Gareth Bate, Lorène Bourgeois, Yael Brotman, Kelly Cade, Heather Carey, Gary Clement, Tara Cooper, Tanya Cunnington, Elizabeth D’Agostino, Sheryl Dudley, Larry Eisenstein, Martha Eleen, Eric Farache, Maria Gabankova, Candida Girling, Sandra Gregson, Charles Hackbarth, Libby Hague, Linda Heffernan, David Holt, Sung Ja Kim, JJ Lee, Jane LowBeer, Ian McLean, Ingrid Mida, Suzanne Nacha, Mary Catherine Newcomb, Ester Pugliese, Barbara Rehus, Rochelle Rubenstein, Lanny Shereck, Yvonne Singer, Sandra Smirle, Adrienne Trent. Gallery sponsors: Sumac.com and Audaxlaw.com
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This project would not have been possible without the forward-thinking vision, enthusiasm and hard work of Vesna Krstich and Ester Pugliese, as well as the continued support of Programming Committee members David Holt and Yvonne Singer, who coordinated volunteers and other project details. A special note of thanks goes to Tara Cooper and Libby Hague who devoted much time to fundraising. We are particularly grateful to Toronto City Hall, and to Linda Heffernan, Barbara Rehus and Mark Adair, whose valuable assistance allowed us to realize the reenactment of Nightsea Crossing at Nathan Phillips Square. loop would also like to thank members who volunteered their time, in various ways during the exhibition, the Harboufront Centre event, and Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2011: Jane LowBeer, Elizabeth Dâ€™Agostino, Ingrid Mida, Lanny Shereck, Mary Catherine Newcomb, Suzanne Nacha, and LorĂ¨ne Bourgeois. The curator would like to thank Nikolas Drosos for his invaluable project assistance, Lindsay Caplan for her editorial flair, as well as Dragan Ivanic, who helped make this publication possible and to Jimmy Machado for his printing expertise. We would also like to extend our thanks to the local community and the businesses that helped to support the artists during their residency at the gallery by supplying them with provisions and other amenities.