Becoming Constellation: An Interview with Benjamin Sebastian

Benjamin Sebastian, Becoming Constellation (2017).
Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Sebastian

By Daniella LaGaccia

I was first introduced to the performance work of Benjamin Sebastian during their stay in New York back in September, 2012. Visiting from London, Sebastian performed along with Bean and Poppy Jackson at Grace Exhibition Space for the “Alien(s) In New York” three-day guest curator performance series and later at Panoply Performance Laboratory. Sebastien would later write about this experience as well as Jackson’s WIN performance for this magazine. Benjamin Sebastian and Bean currently run ]performance s p a c e [ in Folkestone’s Creative Quarter.

Becoming Constellation (2017) is Sebastian’s new continuing performance project that looks at expanding definitions of queerness, or as it was stated in the press release, “what it feels like to live through queerness and make new worlds.” The project has ten collaborators from many different backgrounds, and includes, Keijaun Thomas, Dani D’Emilia, Bean, Alicia Radage, JD Meilling, Andre Braga Verissimo, Jade Montserrat, Esther Neff, Ryan Burke, and Fabiola Paz. The project held an exhibition at Space 7 Gallery last March in Folkestone, Kent, and will be opening a new exhibition this Friday at Lubomirov/Angus-Hughes Gallery in London from from May 26th to June 18th.

Daniella LaGaccia: You stated in your press release that “Queerness is not and can never be an identity. It is a current, or imperative.” Why do you feel that way? Why do you feel that queerness can never be an identity?

Benjamin Sebastian: For me, I guess it’s coming through my relation to queerness, which has always been both a bodily and conceptual frame. I get uncomfortable when through language we conflate the concept of queerness with the concept of being a LGBTQI+ identity. I think queerness is a strategy or a methodology or a conceptual and theoretical framework that can never actually be plastic or cement, and I feel because of that, it is not an identity-based notion.

Concepts of gay and lesbian and transsexuality and all of these, I feel that these are all identities that people have written themselves and anchored themselves in, but I feel there’s a dissonance within language that conflates queerness with identity when actually I’m trying to separate that and actually explode the concept of identity.

D: When did you start playing with this idea of queerness?

B: I started to figure this out when I as maybe in my early teens. I had gay older brothers and sisters, step-siblings. I started to notice how friends and family and society related to them, and I think at that young age, I really understood that I had something in common with them. But I didn’t think about it in terms of sexuality or gender, I just didn’t think like that at that age.

It’s a retrospective knowledge for me. I very much wanted children when I was a little little child, and I actually thought that I could become pregnant and give birth, but it wasn’t until my mum talked me through that and it was heartbreaking, I remember how devastated I was. I started to understand concepts of gender. I think from a very very young age there was this position of queerness or maybe I was living through queerness, but it’s only retrospectively that I’ve come to understand those things.

D: I can say from the perspective as someone who identifies as transgender that I sometimes have misgivings of having the LGBT or queer label placed on me, because it implies that I’m different or that I’m not normal, when I feel my sexuality and gender feels completely normal to me.

B: Me too, I find most labels in relation to identity politics somewhat problematic. At best, I’ve always had a strategic approach. I don’t identify in terms of gender or sexuality. I identify in terms of sex now, but that’s a new thing. I didn’t identify as a man until recently. For the last ten plus years, it’s been very clear in my mind for me personally moving through the world that anything in relation to identity, particularly mine and the people I want to commune with, needs to be strategic.

In one particular setting, I will adamantly and radically identify as a gay man. In other settings, I will use that identity position entirely. At other points, I will identify through language as non-binary or gender fluid, and I will shift amidst those things because one, I personally need to, because that’s how I am in the world, and secondly, it’s very much a political stance as well, because I think as soon as we reduce something to a parameter box, we’re losing something’s potential. I’m trying to explode that so we have the ultimate potential.

D: Let’s talk about queerness in relation to your project Becoming Constellation. For this project, do you necessarily have to be “queer” to participate in this project, or are there a number of varied people of different backgrounds or identities participating?

B: Again, we come back to this notion of what queer is or isn’t, or can or cannot be, and for me the whole stance is one cannot be queer, one can only live through queerness or engage in queered acts or relations. The people I’m collaborating with initially come from really broad demographic and positions in life. I feel that some of the collaborators may be seen from the outside as not queered or living through queerness, because one of the elements of their position in life is that they do sleep with the opposite sex or opposite gender.

So, for me queerness is not rooted in sex, gender or sexuality. It’s rooted in so many other nodes of being and existence such as class and race and ability. I’ve been working with people who identify themselves as living through queerness and may not identify as queer and particularly may not identify as a position within the LGBTQ+ community.

D: How did you initially get in contact with these collaborators? Did you have specific people in mind that you wanted to work with?

B: It was a bit of a tough one to come up with the initial test group. As soon as I realized that I needed to be working with other people, I was working with people from various positions in life to me, kind of making it sort of bureaucratic tick box list of oppression oppression states or oppression positions. I looked at the people I had met in life, and I knew it was going to be an intimate collaboration so it had people in different positions in being so that I had enough of a relationship to say, “Hey, I’m embarking on this thing that’s going to be quite intimate, would you like to do it with me? I don’t know how it’s going to go, and it’s also going to be challenging.” So, it’s a bit of a long process actually.

A couple of the people on my initial long list, I didn’t contact because I felt it would have just been difficult to get to know each other at the same time of doing this really intense and intimate collaborative work. So, everyone in the Human Constellation Group, I have met before or have had some sort of interaction with beforehand in various levels of friendship or peer network.

Dani d’Emilia, uteArus (2017). Collaborators were asked to donate artworks as part of their participation with Becoming Constellation (2017).
Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Sebastian

D: You said in our earlier talk that you wanted to make these connections and networks the work itself. You said, “nodes that make up the greater than the sum of its parts.” What do you mean by that?

B: I want to tell you this beautiful thing that has just happened. With all these collaborators we keep getting these really beautiful synchronicities and serendipitous overlaps and interlaps. So, one of the collaborators, Fabiola Paz, was born in Santiago, Chile. And, another one the collaborates, Alicia Radage, she has literally just turned up in Santiago, and Fabiola and I, eight hours away from having our sigil tattooed onto our bodies on the other side of the world. It’s a beautiful serendipitous thing. Little bits like this have happened throughout the project and I think that’s a poetic way of seeing this notion of it being nodes within a thing that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

But then also, there’s the very physical meaning to it. My body, my skin ends up holding space for all of the other collaborators, and so they extend beyond their bodily presence, but then, also, mine stands out into these other bodily spaces as well. Alicia and I were the first ones to come up with the sigil and have the first one done in the process. When I was being inked, it was overwhelming. I got tearful. In my mind, this concept was playing through, when one of cease to exist, we’re still being taken through life by the other with this mark on our body. This mark in time in us and of us.

Each collaborator was asked to design a sigil that was then tattooed on their body.
Courtesy of Benjamin Sebastian

D: It sounds like this project has the physical actions themselves, the sigils, the tattooing, but it also has these narratives that extend beyond these actions and are in consequence of it and become a part of the project as well.

B: Absolutely, the sigils, as they come into reality, I keep writing them down on a page next to each other every now and then, to take stock of them. It really is an alphabet, and it’s creating this alphabet that we have absolute ownership over. It’s bringing something into the world that wasn’t there prior. It is somehow a byproduct, this sort alphabet or new vernacular. It was always the idea to have these sigils to be a part of the collaborative work, but this whole sort of alphabet or document of these new languages is in its own right this thing that has spun off beside the whole project.

D: It’s creating this sort of human archive of this work.

B: Yes, absolutely.

D: You mentioned that when you first reached out to these participants you sent them questionnaires. Can you talk about some of the questions that were on these questionnaires?

B: For the idea of the questionnaire, I knew I always wanted to create new narratives, because this was about looking how narratives are produced. The questionnaire was like an ice breaker. One of the people in the project was the first person I met and had an enduring relationship with here in the UK. Some of us were very intimate. Others I’ve only met once before, or we’ve had some very interesting conversations at social events or we’ve collaborated in fleeting. There are varying degrees of intimacy. It was both an ice breaker, but at the same time all of the collaborators were aware that their answers from the questionnaire were going to be used to create a cut-up text-piece that will be somehow woven in the overall project.

The questions I was asking in the questionnaire alluded to identity, queerness, politics, and how people felt they were in the world. Some of the questions were as simple as, “Where are you local? What verbal language do you consider to be your primary mode of expression?,” and then, more sort of abstract questions like, “What does community mean to you?” The first question was, “How do you define queer?” or “What does queer mean to you?”

I wanted to have people give over some information of themselves, almost in the way of profiling. I wanted to have an element of the person of their identity in textual form. As well as their feelings and thinkings around of what queerness may or may not be.

Collaborators were asked to have nude portraits of themselves taken, that were then cut-up and reformed back together to create new portraits.
Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Sebastian

D: You said you were working with cut-up pictures as well?

B: Yes. The invitation to collaborate had four elements to it. It had the questionnaire; it had the invitation to collaborate on a photo montage portrait series, and then it was donating the three artworks, and then it was the production of the statement of intent which was the sigil and the tattoo.

So, the photo, it’s a very simple photograph. I asked the collaborators to take a full body frame against a background, it doesn’t really matter because it gets edited out. I just wanted to have us striped back to our flesh, and then the idea was that all of these photographs, rather than just be stark photographic portrait of each member, they then get grided up and interwoven into each other. You end up with all of these hybrid forms that look somehow post-human or post-gendered actually, because the way they’re sewn back to together, you lose a little bit from each grid. So, it’s sort of makes some of the forms where the body connect look amorphous.

D: It’s like it’s creating new ways of how the human body can look.

B: Yeah, in as much as the sigils have started to create this new symbolic vernacular or vocabulary, the body that the image montages are creating this other vocabulary or vernacular of what visual references of the human body look like. If you put two of the collaborators who have penises together, you get this amorphous penis; if you put two of the practitioners with vaginas together, you get this amorphous image of a vagina, and if you get half, you get this hermaphroditic form. It’s so interesting the way they actually form, because sometimes it looks like a hybrid, other times it actually looks like there’s nothing there at all, they’re asexual. The photos are similar to the sigils where it’s a vernacular, it’s a visual reference of what the body might potentially be.

The many sigils produced by collaborators for Becoming Constellation (2016).
Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Sebastian

D: One of the main parts of this project is that you’re working with sigil magic. What role does magic play in Becoming Constellation?

B: I’ve always really believed in magic. I don’t believe in it in terms of this sort of otherworldly ethereal thing like you wish and hope for the best. I believe in magic in the physical manipulation of elements around you to bring about desired change. So, sigil craft in particular is very much a manifesting type of spell craft. You focus on a statement of intent, you cast that out into the universe, and then you can’t just leave it to hope that it does it work. You then have to put in steps to bring about that desired change. For me, it’s like anything else. I’ve always been very visual in my thinking and my feeling— I’ve always wanted to try to have a very clear image of that thing. Maybe, it’s that I want to live in the UK, or it’s that I want to unpack what it is this body is perceiving. I visualize these things and I see these as almost stepping stones in time and space to get towards those positions, goals, things. So sigil craft is very much about that for me.

We…the collaborators and I create these statements of intent. One of them is “I am patient”, another one is “bridges over walls,” another one is “I am intimate and I am resilient.” So, it’s very much about casting these intents, and then really bringing them into our bodies and make them of ourselves through the tattooing, and as we move through the world, the physical activation of those intents. So this is magic, it’s the physical activation of this more ethereal sort of spell craft. And so, I was sort of exploding histories of sigil craft, so it’s like chaos magic, taking a bit of this, taking a bit of that, and creating something that’s more potent and useful now in contemporary settings.

D: I’ve always felt like writing is kind of like a form of magic. I love the idea that someone can write down their ideas 500 years ago and 500 years later, another person can look at those same words and interact with the thoughts of a writer who has long since died.

B: And you can create worlds; this is the big thing for me. We can create worlds, we can create universes, and this is what all art is for me. Something that we want to exist we can make. Of course there is limitations, but with the advances of science, these limitations get crossed off the list. I’ve always considered all creative practices, but most particularly writing as magic, absolutely.

D: How large do you want to make this project? Do you want to make this an ongoing project? Do you want to have a definite end? Or, is this something you want to have in your life continuing on creating constellations?

B: I’ve now understood that it’s ongoing. When I initially conceived of it, I thought it was sort of a white-meated curatorial collaborative project. It would have a start, it would have an end, and then there would be this sort of performative archive that is a thing that might have other lives. But it’s not like that at all. I’ve understood the project now as a methodology which is ongoing. It is very much something I now live with and it lives with me, and we live with it together! I think that’s a really beautiful thing, because my engagement with queerness is that it is entirely multiple. So, to in order to be true to the project itself, I think it has to be ever evolving…because that’s what queerness is. If it were to stop, it wouldn’t be true to form. So there may be fallow periods of inactivity, but it’s open ended.

As it grows, the visual references of the body vocabulary grow; the symbolic vernacular of sigils continue to grow; the visual archive continues to grow, and we create this ever expanding visual textual created narrative of what it means to live through queerness in the world. I now understand that that’s what the whole thing has been about.

Becoming Constellation (2017) installation. Space 7 Gallery, Folkestone, England.
Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Sebastian

D: There are a lot of visual elements to this project, sigils, tattoos, the cut-up text, and the photos of the collaborators… Will there be a physical archive or exhibition that people can interact with and look at to see how this project has evolved?

B: Yes, first off you have the bodies themselves. So you’ve got that, and it will always be a very physical fluid element to the archive. Quite often I get asked what my tattoos mean, and the majority of the marks on my body are from Becoming Constellation. I’ve had a few tattoos before the process, but it has been overtaken by this human constellation.

So there’s that element to it. Other physical elements, there will actually be at some point a digital aspect to this whole thing. I’m actually enrolled in a course at the moment at Central State Martin’s where I’m learning to use Autodesk Maya, a 3D animation program, and it’s part of the project. What I was hoping to do was create these digital avatars that eventually the photos will cover. The idea was that the photographic cut-ups will become the skins of these 3D animated avatars, so you wouldn’t just have the 2D image of these potentials of what the body may be, but you would have them wrapped around the newly-created digital forms also. I was hoping to have at least one or two avatars created by the end of this R & D funded process.

In time there will be that digital presence, and so the visual archive itself, houses all the donated works and each sigil is printed out on a nylon flag, so it has all the sigils on the flags, all the photographic bodies, the donated objects, so yes there is quite a substantial physical archive in the objects and the bodies themselves.

Fire And Prayer, Performance As Ritual in Miami

Sarah H. Paulson, with Samantha Gray and Travis Laplante, Fire in Fire: Prayers for the Ocean (2016). Miami Art Basel, Satellite Art Show 2.0, curated by Performance Is Alive.
Photo: Julio Tardaguila, Courtesy of Sarah H. Paulson

By Steven Butz

Nearing the end of the ever-frenzied 2016 Miami Basel art fair week, performance artist Sarah H. Paulson, accompanied by two other performers, Samantha Gray and composer Travis Laplante, created a three and a half hour event which, in essence, begged us to just stop. Stop the spending. Stop the Ubering. Stop the partying. Please.

Employing minimal staging and props, the most abundant of which were two very generous mounds of red and pink rose petals, one idea which couldn’t help but leap out, was “Stop and smell the roses”. This message, along with the work’s intended themes, could only reach a few audience members at a time in the small hotel room Paulson had adapted into another of her spare performance environments. There, incorporating one of her signature motifs of repetitive actions or activities, we see what takes on the definite appearance of a ceremony or more precisely, a ritual. The viewer can’t be sure what cultures or civilizations her rituals might be drawn from because there are no identifiable clues. It feels unfamiliar. Could they be religious in origin or cultural or sociopolitical? These repeated actions are uncomplicated, and overall quite simple. What remains constant in her more recent work, as she continued to do here, is the sense that what we are watching is not newly wrought, but ancient. That the gestures and actions Paulson enacts are ones she has carefully managed to unearth and recreate. Perhaps the artist herself is not fully understanding of their original meaning, but convinced of their validity and significance, she gives them new life and lets her audience parse out their meanings.

Sarah H. Paulson, with Samantha Gray and Travis Laplante, Fire in Fire: Prayers for the Ocean (2016). Miami Art Basel, Satellite Art Show 2.0, curated by Performance Is Alive.
Photo: Julio Tardaguila, Courtesy of Sarah H. Paulson

Paulson’s piece, titled “Fire in Fire: Prayers for the Ocean” was created at the invitation of Performance Is Alive at the Satellite Art Show 2.0. Though its mysterious ritualistic aspects adhere to her overall performative style, here she has chosen, partly given the venue and location or perhaps at the request of the presenters, to provide detailed program notes. These actively direct and focus her audience (many of whom are asked to briefly and individually participate) on the specific themes of this work.  It seems, as I recall, to differ from previous program notes, as rather too literally descriptive of her ideas, intentions and goals. The notes do perhaps help those entirely uninitiated with her work to watch with greater ease and certainly aids those too quickly passing through yet another art fair event to get the idea and take something away. The risk, however can be that such detailed program notes, narrow and prescribe the encounter by telling its audience members what they should be thinking about as they experience the performance. Once read, it can set unintended parameters around an individual’s interpretive encounter with the material and might undermine more elusive personal engagements. Rather than summarizing these programs notes, I have appended the four short paragraphs* at the end of this account.

Sarah H. Paulson, with Samantha Gray and Travis Laplante, Fire in Fire: Prayers for the Ocean (2016). Miami Art Basel, Satellite Art Show 2.0, curated by Performance Is Alive.
Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk, Courtesy of Sarah H. Paulson

Numerous, intermittent high points come with the repeated, brief participation of individual audience members in the ritual. They are called into the performance space and sit facing forward on a chair center stage reserved only for them. With outstretched palms, cleansed by Paulson with ocean water, these volunteers take on the role of willing supplicants, which concludes, after a few ceremonial aspects, with each given a small treasure of rose petals, resting on the moxa singed balsa wood square and wrapped in a square of white silk. It reminded me of a very small elegant hobo’s knapsack, missing only the little stick from which it would hang. There is a card tied to the small knotted silk parcel that instructs it to be taken to the ocean and that the rose petals be tossed into the waves. In effect, these volunteers cum performers are each asked to stop, in the midst of the tumult of the art fair’s hurry-it’s-your-last-chance-to-see-everything-day, to stop and become sacred messengers.

Another major component of the work was the performance of composer and saxophonist Travis Laplante, who is a respected artist in his own right and founder of the avant-garde saxophone quartet, Battle Trance. Laplante provides an ongoing improvisational accompaniment during the entire duration of the piece. In the time I spent at the performance, which was the last two and a half hours, the music was comprised of a broad and varied range of sounds, including suggestions of the urban commotion of Collins Avenue, right outside the hotel, to more frequent and wonderful descents into a long, lovely, foggy echoing of music emanating from a conch shell. Closing our eyes, we can imagine Laplante momentarily took one up to play, giving his sax a rest. In those moments, the nearby ocean became a full-throated presence in this little second floor hotel room.

Sarah H. Paulson, with Samantha Gray and Travis Laplante, Fire in Fire: Prayers for the Ocean (2016). Miami Art Basel, Satellite Art Show 2.0, curated by Performance Is Alive.
Photo: Julio Tardaguila, Courtesy of Sarah H. Paulson

When not interacting with an audience volunteer, which was Paulson’s major role, she, along with the other performer, were each kneeling in their respective mounds of rose petals and routinely scooping up armfuls and showering themselves with them. This action, one felt, could go on eternally, like the never-ending action of waves. Paulson and Gray were watery maidens in loving service, who never tired, never got distracted, and never doubted the significance of their task.

Sarah H. Paulson, The Reed Bed (2016). Grace Exhibition Space, Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: Rob Peyrebrune, Courtesy of Sarah H. Paulson

As in all of Paulson’s works, those conceived alone, such as this one and those conceived with sometimes collaborator, Holly Faurot, the audience is given permission to come and go during the always lengthy performances. As compared to her twelve hour performance of “The Reed Bed” at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn in June, 2016, “Fire in Fire” was held, as previously noted, at a modest three and a half hours. There is a concept of endurance which plays into these works, both for the performers, who must fulfill the required scope of the piece, and also for the audience members. There are many who opt for a more swift, fleeting encounter, while some choose to stay and stay. Rewards can be had either way, but I have found the greater the endurance, the greater the rewards.

That afternoon after the performance, I found myself on the beach, tossing my rose petals into the waves. There is no way knowing how many of the performance volunteers chose to fulfill this mission to the Atlantic, only two blocks from that small hotel room, and it will forever remain the actual unseen conclusion to the performance.

——————————-

*Program Notes from “Fire in Fire: Prayer for the Ocean” Dec. 4, 2016

Samantha Gray and Sarah H. Paulson bathe themselves in thousands of rose petals. Through their continuous immersion into piles of reds and pinks, accompanied by Travis Laplante’s masterful use of the saxophone to emit cascades of sound, each petal becomes a letter, a prayer, a love note, from the heart of the performer to the ocean.

Each year tons of people flock to Miami for Miami Art Week. It is a time of creativity, opulence, celebration, debauchery, activism, education, criticism, art, addiction, performance, traffic, waste, self-expression, business, music and more. It is a week that is full of both beauty and horror.

Fire in Fire” serves to remind viewers, the performers, and the artist alike, about the importance of place. The ocean is ceaseless, calling to us, singing, crashing, reaching, available, regardless of what stands on its shore, or is discarded into its waters. “Fire in Fire: Prayer for the Oceans” is but a breath, from the shore, in response to that constant call.

With the help of audience members, moxa (dried mugwort used in acupuncture) is burned through the center of silk handkerchiefs one after another. Rose petals are wrapped in the burnt handkerchiefs and given to individuals from the audience, with the agreement that they will release the petals into the ocean.

Mon corps tel qu’il est — Interview avec Kamil Guenatri

Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

This is a français translation of a conversation between Bonella Holloway and Kamil Guenatri. A previously published English version of this text can be found here. Additional editorial help with the French text was done by André Éric Létourneau.

Artist Kamil Guenatri and his assistant Bonella Holloway sat in Guenatri’s flat in Toulouse on a Thursday morning. They recently returned from London, where Kamil performed his piece “10-14”, with Bonella’s contribution at the Tempting Failure Performance Art and Noise Art Festival this past July. The multiple levels of their relationship, artistic, professional and personal, become apparent through a dialogue on Kamil’s vision of performance art, his artistic process, his disability, and ham.

Bonella: Dans ta pratique, la performance questionne-t-elle souvent la fonction du corps dans l’espace?

Kamil: Dans mes travaux, l’espace est une notion qui revient toujours. Dès qu’il y a confrontation devant un public, c’est dans un espace. C’est plutôt incontournable. C’est d’autant plus présent dans mon travail parce qu’il y a une réflexion proche de l’installation. Le corps devient installation, c’est l’installation qui se fait avec le corps – le corps sculptural. Mon visage n’est plus un visage mais devient une surface dans l’espace, qui subit des transformations. Quand j’essaie d’imaginer une performance avec son espace dédié, la performance se crée à partir de cet espace.
Il y a aussi l’autre versant, c’est à dire d’utiliser purement le corps, la périphérie du corps, comme un espace en soi et là, l’espace n’est pas extérieur au corps, il devient lui aussi corporel. Et à des niveaux plus abstraits, je travaille avec un espace invisible : comment créer une émotion ou quelque chose qui ne se voit pas forcément, mais qui se communique parce qu’il y a présence du public et donc un échange.

Donc pour moi il y a trois types d’espaces : l’espace physique, l’espace corporel, et l’espace invisible. Et je les travaille soit les trois, soit l’une et l’autre, souvent les trois.

Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: Est-ce que tu parles nécessairement de TON corps, car il se déplace d’une manière différente de celle de la majorité des gens? Est-ce que tu axes ton travail autour des possibilité offertes par ton propre corps?

K: On dit souvent «le corps est sujet». C’est un peu ce qui est entendu par tout le monde. Dans mon cas, comme mon corps est immobile, je ne peux pas dire que mon corps est sujet, quand je me présente, je suis Kamil, avec mon expérience, donc c’est le sujet “Kamil Guenatri” qui est présenté, qui est donné à voir et à ressentir, donc oui, il y a sujet. Mais je reviens à l’aspect sculptural : quand j’imagine une performance, pour moi mon corps il est clairement objet. Ce sont des membres séparés, et j’intègre ces objets comme on intègre des objets dans une installation. Le fait d’être immobile me pousse à concevoir le corps présenté comme un objet. Et qui dit objet, dit manipulé par quelqu’un d’autre. On le déplace dans l’espace, on le modifie, on le bouge, on le transforme. Et c’est dans le fait de me projeter comme objet que le rôle des assistants rentre en jeu.

B: On reviendra aux assistants plus tard, mais d’abord est-ce qu’on peut parler des autres objets que tu utilises? Comment s’est développé cet ensemble d’objets au cours de ta pratique? Est ce que ce sont des objets symboliques?

K: Pour bien expliquer ça, il faut que présente d’abord mon processus. C’est pas toujours la même recette, mais il y a quelque chose qui revient tout le temps et qui persiste. Ca part très fréquemment d’une image mentale. Cette image, c’est soit moi, soit  incarnée par la main de Kamil faisant quelque chose, soit un autre corps – c’est pas moi, c’est un corps masculin, et ce corps fait un acte.

B: Tu parles de tes collaborations?

K: Non, le corps.

B: Ton corps masculin?

K: Non. Non. C’est un peu… C’est pas un idéal, c’est pas moi, dans un corps que je ne suis pas. Je le ressens pas comme un fantasme, je le ressens comme si… Quand je suis dans un festival de performance, 90% des artistes qu’on voit sont des gens à mobilité normale, au corps “valide” (en opposition à invalide). Donc mon imagerie de la performance est normative, si on voyait beaucoup d’handicapés faire des performances, mon imagerie deviendrait autre.

Donc c’est une image défaite de moi, X ou Y, c’est une silhouette, qui fait un acte. Moi ce qui m’intéresse c’est pas tant qui est cette silhouette, c’est l’acte. Cet acte qui devient obsessionnel, l’image vient, revient. Dans ces actes, il y a comme un langage récurrent d’objets. Des objets qui communiquent entre eux. Ils sont symboliques, ou visuels, mais inspirés de mes obsessions, et de ma culture de la performance. Je suis imbibé de plein d’autres performances, que je m’approprie, avec mes contraintes. Ils partent de mon imaginaire, à force d’être utilisés ils s’épuisent, et il y a des nouvelles images qui viennent et ainsi de suite.

Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: Comme une forme de vocabulaire?

K: Oui, je pense que si on prend les perfs une à une on peut tisser un sens.

B: Plus qu’un fil rouge, un grand ensemble de petits fragments.

K: Oui, un processus continu que des fois je fais dévier vers des nouvelles recherches. La dimension intellectuelle compte, c’est pas que de l’inspiration, c’est rempli de ça, mais après je les switch.

B: Donc il y a ces objets et images récurrentes, des mises en forme de ton corps qui sont comme des motifs qui se répétent, et ce dont on parlait tout à l’heure, l’emploi de tes assistants. Est ce que tu as toujours embrassé l’idée d’intégrer tes assistants avec leur rôle à part entière dans tes performances, ou est ce qu’au départ c’était plus une contrainte qu’autre chose?

K: Alors je reviens à cette image de départ – où je me dis ben merde, c’est trop compliqué – je peux pas le faire tout seul. Et c’est comme ça dans mon quotidien, j’ai des assistants qui sont là pour compenser mon handicap et pour m’aider. S’il faut changer une ampoule, c’est mon assistant qui le fait. Comme je suis dans un champs de performance contemporaine qui nous incite en tant qu’artiste à ne pas dissocier ce qu’on vit et ce qu’on donne à voir, c’est pour moi tout à fait légitime que mes assistants fassent ce travail pour que l’image puisse se faire. Mon potentiel c’est moi et mes assistants, mon fauteuil et tout ce qui m’entoure dans mon quotidien.

Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: Lors de la conférence à Tempting Failure, tu as parlé du fait que le développement de chaque performance dépendait quelque part de l’assistant avec qui tu développais le travail. C’était la première fois que j’entendais cette idée, je n’avais pas pris conscience de l’importance tu donnais non pas à l’assistant, mais à quel assistant tu choisis pour quelle performance. J’ai vu un reflet de mon travail dans ta dernière performance, dans laquelle je t’assistais. Est ce que dans le développement d’une performance spécifique, tu choisis au préalable avec qui tu vas la faire, ou est ce que c’est simplement qu’en travaillant avec tel ou tel assistant, les idées et la personnalité de l’autre intègrent ton travail, dans un réel échange?

K: Je pousse pas le processus dans cette direction. Je prends pas le rôle du metteur en scène dans le sens théâtral, lorsque le metteur en scène connaît ses acteurs et va creuser dans leur personnalité. Par contre, j’ai une équipe d’assistants qui tourne 24 heures par jour. Je pars du principe que vous êtes 6, moi je fais ma vie de performeur et si la performance tombe un samedi aprem, alors je l’anticipe un peu, et deux mois avant, je vais lui dire, on va faire une performance ensemble. A partir de là, je sais que c’est lui, parce que je dévie pas mon planning, je fais au plus simple. C’est un compromis entre faire au plus simple pour moi et optimiser mon rapport avec les assistants.

Dans ton cas c’est beaucoup plus évident, parce que toi même tu fais de la perf et dans nos pratiques il y a des points communs : dans la nourriture, dans le son, dans ton rapport un peu ready made, simple, justement entre ce qu’on montre et ce qui est. Donc c’est sûr que dans le cas de notre boulot ensemble c’est flagrant – il y a même presque pas besoin de penser dessus et là du coup pour revenir à l’exemple de TF – comme je sais que toi tu fais du son et que je veux tester le son, je me dis que c’est une bonne occasion, je trouverais dommage de bloquer ça – donc il y a l’image de départ – et puis je trouve intéressant qu’elle ait plusieurs formes. La forme avec Bonnie, la forme avec Camille… et c’est comme une série de tableaux, c’est jamais exactement la même. Et ce paramètre qui change c’est comment l’assistant et moi allons collaborer.

Avec d’autres assistants, par exemple Audrey, nous faisons davantage, comme dans son travail en vidéo, des choses très épurées, très millimétrées. Donc inconsciemment, les images que je vais faire avec elle ressemble à son type d’architecture.

Kamil Guenatri, “10-14” (2015), Cave Poésie, Nuage en pantalon, action poetry festival (Toulouse, FR).
Photo: Kathleen Brunet, Courtesy of Kamil Guenatri

B: Oui, dans la performance que tu as fait avec elle à la Cave Poésie, même s’il y avait des gestes très similaires à ce qu’on a fait à Londres par exemple, on voyait quelque chose de beaucoup plus minutieux, de plus précis, méthodique, dans ses gestes mêmes. Et on y voit pas simplement son caractère ou sa personnalité, mais votre rapport.

Dans ce dialogue qui prend place dans les mois qui précédent la performance, quand le processus est déjà en train de se développer sans le public, est ce que tu as l’impression que tous ces paramètres sont déjà pris en compte, ou qu’ils arrivent, comme un résultat imprévu?

K: J’anticipe pas tout. C’est peut être la partie qui se fait tout seul – il y a toujours une partie qui se fait tout seul. Et je pense que c’est que vous soyez intégrés à mon quotidien. Vous êtes tellement imbibés de moi en dehors de la performance et moi je vous connais en dehors de ce cadre aussi, il y a quelque chose qui se fait tout seul j’essaie d’y faire de plus en plus attention à ça dans mon travail. Il y a le design visuel – j’ai une image, j’essaie de la faire – pour moi c’est un paramètre important dans la performance – mais c’est pas que ça, il y a un autre design. Le design de l’expérience.

Ca peut devenir visible, mais c’est quelque chose qui se transmet, qui est communicatif. Je suis et donc tu perçois. J’essaie d’user mon expérience au maximum dans mes performance, mais comme il y a l’assistant, c’est mon expérience, son expérience, et ce qu’on fait ensemble pendant une performance. Et ça je n’essaie pas de le maîtriser.

B: Oui, ça c’est la partie que ni toi, ni ton assistant, ni le public peut maîtriser. C’est la partie qui échappe à tout le monde.

K: Du coup ce qui m’intéresse, c’est de voir le retour de ça, après la performance – le résultat de çà. Ça alimente mon imaginaire pour la performance suivante.

Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: Cette tension, l’échange qui a eu lieu entre toi et moi dans ta performance, est quelque chose qui, quand on est chez toi et qu’on fait les gestes du quotidien, n’existe pas, puisque ce sont des gestes faits dans la répétition – avec soin, je fais attention à ce que je fais mais – là devant un public il y avait une telle tension entre toi et moi, qui je pense bien qu’intangible, était très visible. En tous cas, je l’ai déjà perçu en étant spectatrice de tes autres performances. Ce qui est étrange, c’est que contrairement à quand je fais une des mes propres performances devant un public, collaboratives ou non, où ma tension est liée à ma conscience de moi même, et l’image que je suis en train de renvoyer dans l’espace. A TF mon expérience était très différente de ça, cette assistance, faisait que je n’avais aucune conscience du public, ou de mon image devant ce public, ou comment il pouvait percevoir ma présence – j’avais certainement peur d’être dans mon rôle de performeuse, oui, mais, de faire attention à toi, c’est à dire les gestes habituels de notre quotidien, qui en fait sont devenu des attentions qui nécessitent du soucis. La tension particulière d’être dans le regard de ton bien être, pas dans “est ce que la performance de Kamil se déroule bien”, mais “est ce que Kamil, le Kamil quotidien, pas le Kamil de la performance, va bien”. Et c’est là que je trouve que ces gestes quotidiens ont tout leur intérêt.

K: C’est sûr que c’est beaucoup plus dur de faire un geste du quotidien en performance que de faire un geste du quotidien au quotidien, et même pour moi.

Des fois je me dis : “attends t’es en train de stresser pour quelque chose que tu fais trois fois par jour, pour toi”. Je vois très bien ce que tu veux dire.

Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: Alors que ça peut être perçu comme dramatique, je trouve qu’il n’y a pas de pathos ou de théâtral parce que c’est du vrai, même quand j’embobine ton visage de fil de laine – ce qui n’est pas un geste quotidien – c’est fait simplement. Sans théâtre.

K: Et c’est là où je ne suis pas d’accord avec certaines personnes qui ont donné des définitions de la performance – Pour moi la performance, et je le fais dans ce sens, c’est quelque chose qui est très inspiré de l’action et du coup je peux pas mettre en scène un acte, c’est ridicule pour moi. Je trouve que c’est dommage par rapport à l’histoire de l’art ou de la performance de revenir à ça. Ca a été déjà fait, il faut en finir. Ce que je fais appartient à une famille de performeurs, qui sont très nombreux, et qui agissent que comme ça, qui sont dans l’action.

B: Je reviens aux objets. Le jambon par exemple, dans la performance 10-14, est ce qu’il signifie directement quelque chose?

K: D’abord, comme tous les objets, il est une image. J’ai jamais fait de performance à Paris, je cherche pas à en faire, ou alors ça se fera quand ça se fera, mais un jour j’étais avec les copains et on rigolait et on parlait du parisianisme et du provincialisme. Tu vois les provinciaux, et tous ces ploucs qui viennent du sud. Et je rigolais en disant que la première performance que je ferai à paris, je vais suspendre un jambon du sud ouest, et le pouiller d’huile d’olive et d’herbes de provence. Juste ça. Pour réveiller quelque chose de sensoriel – et cette image est restée. Alors quand il y a eu TF, entretemps j’ai développé autre chose, mais quand il y a eu TF et quand j’ai vu l’espace, je me suis dit, ben il faut pas attendre Paris, faisons le ici. Et après, tu connais la suite. On a essayé l’huile et on s’est rendu compte que c’était pas si intéressant, l’image se défait, elle est croisée avec mes recherches actuelles. J’essaie de garder une cohérence avec mon processus général et l’image se transforme, s’alimente de choses, issues de tous les paramètres qui me sont importants. La collaboration, l’espace, ces images …

B: Finalement ça c’est un autre point commun entre ton travail et le mien, ça part souvent de blagues un peu légères, ou d’idées drôles. Issues de conversations.

K: Ouais, et celle là c’est une des rares qui n’est pas une image mentale, c’est une image sociale.

B: Sociale, oui, mais le public a voulu y coller un sens beaucoup plus… spirituelle ou pathétique. Comme quoi ce jambon serait image de ton corps inerte, sur lequel on transfert le t-shirt, le tatouage.

K: Ce qui m’intéresse le plus là dedans c’est la poésie. Jésus, et Marie et un jambon, moi je trouve ça excellent, on a vraiment tué … Dieu. Dieu est mort.

Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: Je trouve que les gens ont plus envie de voir le côté sérieux et intellectuel, intense en toute la polysémie de ton travail, plutôt que l’humour noir, ce regard cynique de la société, qui pour moi revient à ta perception de la société, et qui est rattaché au fait que tu soies en fauteuil roulant.

K: Je suis une minorité, j’ai un regard extérieur de tout ça. Il est forcément critique, et il alimente mon travail. Après pour ce qui est sérieux, c’est moi aussi qui l’alimente, à juste titre. J’essaie de prendre de la distance avec tout ça. Pour moi la performance ça reste inscrit dans le rituel. Et dès qu’on dessine un rituel il commence à y avoir du sacré. Je mets de l’humour dans le sacré, je trouve que c’est important, juste pour le rendre profane –

B: – pour le désacraliser , tout en utlisant les codes du sacré, ou païen d’ailleurs, puisuqu’on dirait plus souvent des rites sataniques…

K: Et oui, je suis très influencé par l’histoire des rites et des peuples. Je fais pas de cission entre l’histoire de l’art et l’ethnologie. Pour moi il y a des choses flagrantes entre les deux. Je me fais un peu piéger par mes influences. Par  un reflet de mes influences mystiques. Je me revendique comme mystique quelque part, donc l’invisbile ou toutes les choses qu’on ne perçoit pas et qu’on ne peut pas expliquer, ça me fascine. Je trouve intéressant de creuser tout ça, mais de façon distancée, que ce soit drôle et avec du second degré. C’est de l’art, on est pas en train de faire une religion.

Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: Un dernier point, le fait que tu soies “marginalisé”, les gens, quand ils voient ce que tu fais, ont tendance à dire que tu parles de ton handicap. Pour moi, ce serait pareil que de partir du principe qu’un film dont le personnage central est homosexuel serait donc un film qui traite de l’homosexualité, ou quand le sujet de l’oeuvre d’une femme est réduite à sa condition de femme, qu’un artiste musulman en fasse image, c’est donc qu’il parle de sa condition musulmane. Ce qui m’agace là dedans, c’est que si on n’est pas un homme blanc valide athée –

K: – la fameuse silhouette –

B: – alors on a une “condition” et qu’elle deviendrait sujet de notre pratique. Est ce que tu parles simplement depuis ton expérience, humaine, ou est ce que l’handicap a une place centrale en tant que sujet dans ton travail?

K: C’est mon point de vue, ça c’est indiscutable. Par contre, mon point de vue croise d’autres points de vue, mais comme tout handicapé… Ma condition, c’est d’être en Occident, sur un fauteuil, et les occidentaux en fauteuil ont plus ou moins le même conditionnement que moi, avec leur expérience propre en plus. C’est mon avis, qui s’intègre dans un avis global et la condition d’hancidapé dans la vision commune, l première association qu’on va en faire c’est la peine et la pitié, et on va pas refaire le monde! Mon corps est un corps de la souffrance dans sa représentation, donc j’aurai beau faire autre chose, ce sera toujours collé sur moi, par ce que pensent les gens. Donc je parle de ça, mais je démolis tout ça, avec mes images. C’est un peu de la mauvaise foi, pour démolir ce que le gens pensent du handicap, c’est la philosophie négative, une réaction, bousculer les consciences. Pour moi c’est le but de l’art de façon général, c’est qu’il y ait une transformation dans la conscience de la personne qui regarde, qu’il y ait un déplacement de perspective. C’est ce que je cherche quand je vais voir une oeuvre d’art, je cherche à ce que quelque chose change en moi.

B: Et puis en soi, tu ne peux pas ne pas en parler.

K: Mon concept de base c’est ça, c’est mon corps tel qu’il est.

Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Documentation – Post Election Therapy: 133 Days of Madness

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By Daniella LaGaccia

@lagaccia

Documentation from Post Election Therapy: 133 Days of Madness, a wonderful 2-hour performance organized by Thea Little, Niki Singleton and Morgan Roddick held at Underdonk Gallery on March 22nd in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Featuring the talents of Nicholas Cueva, Julie Bentsen, Thomas Fucaloro, Michaela Gomez, Lindsay Mandolini, Chiara No Artist, Anthony Wills Jr, as well as Little, Singleton, and Roddick who provided music, the show was an exciting work of contemporary dance and performance looking at the current political events in the United States, from the presidential election of Donald Trump, to the nomination of Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, and to the protests at Standing Rock.

There were no down performances during the event, but a highlight was the work of Thomas Fucaloro, who with his chest out and a grin under his thick beard played the role of a blissfully unaware “privileged white-cis male” who stood the most to benefit under the policies of President Donald Trump. There are no benefits to playing low-key for this type of role, and Fucaloro’s performance was the appropriate tone and caricature he was portraying.

Appreciations: the Performance Work of Bre Lembitz

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Bre Lembitz, Performing Hate Speech Dress (2016). Miami Art Basel.
Photo: Bobby Cooper, Photo: provided by Bre Lembitz

By Daniella LaGaccia

@lagaccia

This story is about a person who uses old things to make new things. One photo of Bre Lembitz shows her dressed in a gown of words, hate speech written during the recent presidential campaign. Crossing through the crowds of tourists, art enthusiasts and collectors of the 2016 Miami Art Basel, she is dressed like an ironic image of the Statue of Liberty, itself a symbol for the freedoms that each of us posses, but, which can also be used to oppress others.

She starts with the material first and then the performance is crafted. Scrolling through her Instagram feed, you can find a number of these works, or live sculptures as she calls them, some forming more metaphoric images such as the Statue of Liberty piece, some representing living versions of street art pieces, and others creating imaginative creatures—each produced through re-purposed material.

“I really like the limitations of working with material that would otherwise be thrown away,” said Bre Lembitz. “It forces you to be more creative. The creations that I make working with that material are very different than when I would have started with if I had just come up with an image or inspiration and try to dream up something from there.”

Some works that have been dreamed up include a photo published in November of 2016. Standing in-front of a façade of a crescent moon, she looks like creature that lives there. As she describes it, “100% recycled materials: top was once a purse and a belt, headpiece is a broken disco ball, the sleeve of a ripped t-shirt, antlers are fake leaves decorated with the remnants of a well-loved silver wig.” Another takes the form of the character Cthulhu, the head shaped like a nautilus with tentacles hanging down. In this particular piece, Lembitz stated like the rest of her work,  she found and worked with the materials without knowing precisely what she wanted to make, but choreographed a performance after its creation.

Costume is a dirty word in performance, and like the word materials used in lieu of props, artists in performance art consciously distance themselves from the tropes of traditional theatre. Performance artists usually prefer solid black or solid white clothing in a performance or perform completely naked to create the illusion of an invisible body. As much as performance is dependent on the body for the content of its art, a lot of effort is put in by artists to erase the self to re-create the self as metaphor. ”I am not me, I am this idea,” is what an artist says in this approach to performance. Yet this is precisely what professional actors do when representing characters in film, television or stage. Fictional characters can never be real; a character like Hamlet is just an idea invented by William Shakespeare that is interpreted and embodied by an actor through dialogue, costume and makeup. A performance begins to be more theatrical when the artist sees themselves as separate from the actions or idea they try to create.

Performance art, on the other hand, is implicitly aware of itself in its own creation. A performance artist says, “I am me, I am producing these actions, I am creating this imagery, and I am embodying this idea.” Bre Lembitz’s work is strange because the character and the artist are the same person. She uses materials and makeup to construct the self to create the idea, and even amends her ideas after gaining feedback from using social media like Instagram.

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Okuda “Okudart” San Miguel, *Asiafricalism* (2016). Wynwood, Miami.
Photo: provided by Bre Lembitz

In another series of recent works, Lembitz turns herself into portraits made by street artists. In one, she created geometric patterns using Mehron paint and found fabrics to look like a mural by Okuda “Okudart” San Miguel’s *Asiafricalism* (2016) in Wynwood, Miami. Interpreting representational mural paintings in a live space, she said she started this project by creating a number of short videos featuring these characters, but she said she wants to bring to live performance, “as I’d imagine them coming off the wall and doing…bringing them to life in their own set and costume space as a whole.”

Based in Austin, Texas, Lembitz has been developing her performance practice for the past three years. She grew up in Colorado, in what she called, “an art dry area,” and got a degree in economics, and afterwards, began pursuing dance and performance.  A professional model, Lembitz has stated that it was here where she began understanding performance.

“I think the best models that I’ve seen, the ones that I’m most inspired by and most moved by the images of, are people who have a background in dance or some other performance training because you are ultimately giving a performance,” Lembitz said. “I think modeling was the first thing to let me know that I am performing.”

“The moments not captured by the camera, the moments in-between are when I started to subconsciously entertain people and create performances,” she added. “ I would create these characters from the makeup and the styling and the hair and everything that they’ve done. I think that’s where a lot of my inspiration from makeup and costume comes from, just knowing that you put something else on— you look different, and suddenly you get to be that person.”

bre-lembitz-okuda-okudart-asiafricalism

Bre Lembitz interpreting Okuda “Okudart” San Miguel’s *Asiafricalism* (2016). Mehron paint and found fabrics.
Photo: provided by Bre Lembitz

Lembitz has used social media extensively as part of her performance practice. In particular, she uses Instagram to help promote her work, yes, but she also uses it to interact with live audiences digitally, as well as to workshop performances, getting feedback that helps her develop her work. Her Instagram feed is filled pictures of the live sculptures she has created and videos for the purpose of creating longer performances. Lembitz said she began this practice after noticing that her live performances were going undocumented, and getting what she felt as unhelpful feedback from audiences.

“Instagram and other forms of social media, especially when you ask for constructive criticism, you really get it,” she said. “There’s people that are not going to appreciate what you’re doing, but the majority of people who take the time to comment do so out of a place of respect.”

“I’d rather spend more time making art and less time promoting, and that’s what’s amazing about Instagram and social media platforms, you don’t have to do as much work promoting and you can have people more a part of the process.”

Instagram has been a force in helping promote the work of visual artists, yet strangely, has to be fully explored by performance artists looking to reach audiences beyond the live space and into the digital space. If social media is a means for us to share our identity, where we go, what we eat, how we dress, then why not exploit it for aesthetic reasons, not just to share documentation, but to do what artists like Bre Lembitz are doing, using it to reach audiences not bound by location. In the digital age, photographs are the way we construct our identity and construct ourselves.

Essential Departures

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Rosekill Farm (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures.

By Máiréad Delaney

We gathered at Rosekill to examine our relationship to nature, to the land. As women we are subjected to discourses around property and bodies, whether those bodies be our own flesh, soil bodies, bodies of water. In a sense, “reclaiming” a relationship to nature is part of a decolonizing process.

Yet nationalism is often an essential turn in a decolonizing process. In nationalist discourse, the colonizer’s damage to the land—to a paradise lost—is linked to the damaging and ravaging of bodies, particularly fecund, female bodies. The colonizer rapes the mother country. Nationalism, which is ethnocentric, xenophobic, tribal and homogenizing, is a post-colonial reaction. The ensuing narrative of returning to the land becomes problematic. We must examine the impulse to reclaim a relationship between women and nature in this context.

Restored “fertile grounds” become the exclusive property of newly “autonomous” men and their state, to serve their explicit purposes. No longer to be corrupted or tampered with, men now have the power to ensure their land remains pristine, their women pure. Controlling women’s bodies in place of the colonizer becomes national defense. The land and the very air, but also the bodies of women and what they produce—all reinforce new notions of the independent identity, must be guaranteed to male progeny as inviolable state property, and the harvest reaped from them is an essential component in the molding of a nation’s future. In this context, any use to which the state puts its reclaimed women will never be considered violation.

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Rosekill Farm (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures.

If we are to further the decolonizing process, resisting retaliatory and amalgamating nationalism, we must acknowledge that we are contested ground, and that no matter where we stand, how we traverse it, where we come to rest, we will find ourselves on contested ground.

To Michele Foucault, we are permeated by a network of convergent powers, and there is no sacred space over which it does not hold sway. Where the apparatus exists outside us, it is created and multiplied through the multifarious powers of institutions, rather than erected by their restrictive, material enforcements. These powers are religious, judicial, legislative, political, medical, familial, societal and psychological. The architecture is physical, consisting of a network of interconnected institutions, legislation, and procedure. But it is also abstract, internalized. Our actions, far from reinventing a story, are considered micro-practices of the same mechanisms. We are conditioned to re-produce their workings within ourselves, to recreate their cosmology in our most immediate and intimate surroundings. We are all complicit, neither forever victim nor flat perpetrator, and we must examine ourselves in our relations to narratives surrounding bodies and nature. We have a responsibility to author our own narratives. And to Foucault:

“there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case…inflaming certain points of the body, certain moments in life, certain types of behavior… producing cleavages in a society that shift about, fracturing unities and effecting re-groupings, furrowing across individuals themselves…remolding them, marking off irreducible regions in them. “

At Rosekill, during Essential Departures, we are perhaps in a position to buck binaries and explore the cracks that appear on this contested ground, and are revealed in the marks on our skin. We might problematize and examine dichotomies of subject and object, presence and absence, labor and action, intervention and assimilation, transcendence and objectification, nature and artifice.

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Valerie Sharp (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Depatures

Exploring these cracks may allow us to consider our own complicity in oppressive colonial and neoliberal discourses. In boundary spaces and on liminal grounds, in spaces of exile, in-between-ness and borders, identities may be negotiated, modified, and sometimes transformed. Performance claims liminality as its operating space, but it is up to us to act radically in this place.

We considered mythologies in our time at Rosekill. Often myths are read by the conqueror and by the “recovering native” to be a manifestation of backwardness, superstition and savagery. Myths supposedly emanating from uncouth people in need of tutelage or reform. Alternatively, they are romanticized. They portray the fierce, the fey, the ethereal and whimsical, even the gothic. It is essentializing and part of colonial discourse to reduce long histories of resistance through oral tradition as nostalgic pre-occupation and breathless emotion.

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Group performance, Fire Ritual (2015). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures

In Ireland, for example, there are myths of resistance surrounding the deeds done to women, their origins and consequences. Outside the parables and tropes of the Catholic Church, there are many instances in Celtic myth where a young woman is seduced by the Good People, by the Faerie, the Sidhe. There are stories of supernatural liaisons and trysts. A woman will give birth to a changeling child. Or a “good mother’s” human child will be stolen and replaced by a changeling, a faery child—always sickly, insatiable, even devious or demonic. This child is one to be rid of, often through violent means—by fire, for example. I see these stories as the reframing of very real violations of social taboo. They mask instances of rape and incest, they make magical the delivery of illegitimate children and justify infanticide, all outside the realm of the church’s punitive social apparatus. A supernatural cause suits and vindicates pain when its real cause is dangerous to name. Victimhood becomes slippery. Perpetrating or incriminating figures—men and the illegitimate children, respectively—actually become liminal. The events discursively, mystically bridge between two realms. Myths fill in the gaps, give surreal context while speaking to real events, real disruptions. The power of myth against colonizer lies in ambiguity, but not salvation.

In Ireland the land feels and is described as though it is sodden with myth, age, trauma, remembrance, even violence. It is crossed by old British property lines, standing stone walls.  They raise visible scars of the occupied past. Mass graves settle into hollows behind convents where “fallen women” washed laundry without pay and without finite sentence, purifying their souls with symbolic labor and religious penance. These hauntings reside in the landscape, stemming from the damages of an oppressor or a punitive, reactionary nationalist state. Yet hauntings extend to living bodies as well. The untraceable scars left on the psyche, as well as the visible scars on bodies are present and cannot be relegated to historical time, vacuum place of defunct institution, nor a mythical alternate reality. I came from Ireland and the consideration of herniated land both a dissonant and analogous companion to the colonized body.

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Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York (2016).
Courtesy of Essential Departures

As we came to this land, to Rosekill, with our bodies, what surfaces? What can be thrust upon our psyches? What churns in our bodies as we stand in physical space, grappling with fissures in time, with distress and quietude? Content at odds with environment encroaches, sometimes forces itself upon the mind. If it makes itself felt, it shouts about absence. What humans have done to each other, what we do to ourselves, seeps into and out of space, into and out of comprehension. And this perhaps makes us feel at odds with our skin and the now psychically crawling surfaces around us.

This fracture of worlds overlaid in one state, this hernia of the psyche, holds the cognitive dissonance between external reality and felt experience; between normalizing discourse and embodied knowledge. And this ringing paralysis may be seen as a prison, if trauma and only trauma—what is held below language and out of discourse—seizes the mind. Yet resonant spaces, broken places, and cracks vibrate as such because they hold alternate versions of history. Their continuous existence perhaps speaks to the “inability of the institutional regime to defeat the individual imagination,” wrote James M. Smith. In them, if we act with due insight, perhaps we have the power to rebuff an intrusive state and intrusive and internalized misogynistic discourses.

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Poppy Jackson, Hay Barn (2015). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Photo: Maria Forque, Courtesy of Poppy Jackson

Poppy Jackson made her performance of Hay Barn at Essential Departures in 2015. The piece was performed as Site (2015) for London’s SPILL Festival of Performance later that year.

Jackson straddled the peak of Rosekill’s red barn. Her legs ran with the rooflines, her torso rose atop the old structure, our communal meeting place. Jackson’s pose referenced a figure from Irish mythology. With the wide eyes of a child, the bald head of seeming androgyny, Sheela na Gig is a woman’s masturbating form. She holds open the lips of her vulva in play, welcome or warning, she is carved in stone. She still exists, left untouched over the entrances of Christian churches in Ireland. Her pagan menace is perhaps what saved her, or what served acceptably as baleful reminder to sinner and heathen—She squats as both guardian of and open hole to the underworld.

Was Jackson delivering the building or was she impaled on it? Was she on high to be worshipped or targeted? Seen from a distance, from the fields below, Jackson’s action was quiet. She might have loomed formidable on her aerie, and indeed she seemed to merge with the architecture of classic Americana, but one thought of her flesh on the metal roof, the skin of inner leg at first touching daunting heat and then perhaps transferring body warmth to cooling metal as the sun set. Vulnerable sentry turned to silhouette.

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Máiréad Delaney (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures

Launching bales of hay, I kept baling twine slung around my hips. A bundle of sleigh-bells hung between my legs, concealed by my dress. The bells were audible but visible only as pendulous mystery—swinging horse-phallus, half-delivered calf. ‘Good For’ was labor, struggle, and failure against but inescapably alongside grace, purity, and authenticity. I baulked and embodied my own foundering as rural woman made beautiful by endurance, whose must sweat fall cleanly, becoming the salt of the earth. My body was demanded as sleek animal, broodmare, to bend and sway, thrust and curve under the unremitting, inexorable test of work as the only measure of virtue. I strove under sun for one grim nod of ‘good enough. “For now.”

When we returned to Rosekill the following summer, Agrofemme stood akimbo in high sun, filling a rut in the ground with the stream of a hose. Two mud flap decals, curvaceous woman-forms, knees cocked, stuck to her flanks—her lower back, above her ass. The bodies of the stickers sparkled with the confederate flag. When the rut was brimming, Agrofemme rounded its edge, stood still. Then she let her body drop, dead-weight, headlong into the water, cracking her nose and eye socket on impact.

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Agrofemme, mudflaps (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures

mudflaps was durational, it set in: her prone form, her naked, baking, goose-pimpled flesh, the flashing stickers, the abandoned hose, the bright grass, the draining water, the passing, saturated day. The forensic interest of passerby. Her body was site of violence done and left for dead, her body was the body of wounded white woman to be avenged, her body was cause, justification and face for the flag of racism.

I was naked at the border of a field. There were invisible arms rising above me, protecting, hovering, threatening to descend in rushing judgement, threatening to drop with an exhalation like last breath. They were the arms of hard men, broken men. Broken men covered in hardness, broken places iced over, suited to the starkness of tall ash trees. Indistinguishable from the iron sky, they flattened unthinkingly the mud lying too-warm, fallow. I marked with a cinderblock a furrow in the ground: push-pull. I lifted the block to my chest, looped its loops over my wrists, thrust my arms through to the biceps. I reached for the tree branch above my head, on tip-toes, the block in between. I jumped. The block followed me back down, hitting my crown as my feet hit the ground. Yet I jumped. I hurled the hay and my hair blew gold in the wind. We are compliant. We love our tyrants. What happens within a bruise? When impact is lifted, color expands, blooms.

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Máiréad Delaney (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures

Through performance we have the power to act in these in-between places, activating their kind of embodied understanding. Performance is immersive in sense and environment, and herein lies its power. Yet insight through this embodied knowledge does not require traumatization as penance for understanding. We must be discerning about this power. Felt knowledge in the body is explicitly sentient, aware: it recognizes. Perhaps gestures in live art perform Foucault’s resistance, “inflaming certain points of the body, certain moments in life, certain types of behavior.” They may accompany the critical eye in its often discouraging work of astute deconstruction regarding false narratives and complicity. Through resistance we salvage fragments of ourselves, creating new bodies. New narratives can arise from the rifts and breaches created by imposing a dominant discourse over resisting bodies, they emanate from the bodies themselves, from their felt experience.

We have a responsibility towards decolonization. In this space, we have the opportunity to become aware of our position and proximity to this process, and we have a choice– to keep that position or to change it.

Mon corps tel qu’il est — In Conversation With Kamil Guenatri

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Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure Bonella Holloway

A conversation between Bonella Holloway and Kamil Guenatri

Artist Kamil Guenatri and his assistant Bonella Holloway sat in Guenatri’s flat in Toulouse on a Thursday morning. They recently returned from London, where Kamil performed his piece “10-14”, with Bonella’s contribution at the Tempting Failure Performance Art and Noise Art Festival this past July. The multiple levels of their relationship, artistic, professional and personal, become apparent through a dialogue on Kamil’s vision of performance art, his artistic process, his disability, and ham.

Bonella: Do you think that the bottom line of performance art is a body functioning in a space?

Kamil: In my works, space is a recurrent notion, and I think that it’s more or less unavoidable as soon as you’re confronting an audience: it happens within a space. It’s even more apparent in my case, because my work is often installation based. The body becomes an installation, the installation is built with the body itself. The sculptural body. My face is no longer a face, it becomes a surface in the space, that undergoes a series of modifications. When I try to imagine a performance in a specific location, the space is the starting point of the performance.

There’s also another aspect, the use of the body, the outskirts of the body, as a space in and of itself, and here space is not physical, but corporal. And on a more abstract level, I work with invisible space—  how to create an emotion or something that cannot necessarily be seen, but that is communicated through the audience’s presence: as an exchange.

So for me there are three types of spaces: physical, corporal and invisible. And I work with all three, or one and the other…often all three.

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Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: The body in a space, do you necessarily mean your own body that has a different mobility to others? Do you base your research on the function of your personal body?

K: People often say, the body is subject, it’s kind of acknowledged by the majority. In my case, because my body is immobile, I can’t say that my body is subject. When I present myself I’m Kamil, with my experience, so the subject “Kamil Guenatri” is put forward, transmitted, seen and felt, so it is the subject. But again with the sculptural aspect: when I imagine a performance, for me my body is an object, definitely an object. It’s separate members, and I integrate these objects as you’d integrate elements to an installation. Being immobile allows me to represent my body as an object. And being object suggests being manipulated. It is moved in the space, modified, displaced, transformed. And that’s where my assistants play their part.

B: I’ll get back to the assistants later, but first can we talk about objects, the other objects you use? How did this corpus of objects develop throughout your practice? Are the objects symbolic?

K: To explain this part I need to explain my work process. It’s not always the same recipe, but something keeps coming back and persists. It often starts off with an image, a mental image. This image is me, or a part of my body, or another body, not mine, a male body. And the body is doing something.

B: Do you mean your collaborations?

K: No, a body.

B: Your male body?

K: No. No. It’s um… It’s not an ideal, it’s not me in a body that I’m not, I don’t see it as a fantasy, I feel that… When I’m in a performance festival, 90% of the artists that I’ll see are able-bodied. So my imagery of performance art is normative. If I saw a lot of disabled people doing performance art, my imagery would be different. So it’s this undone image of me, willy-nilly, it’s a silhouette. I don’t care so much about this silhouette, what interests me is what he’s doing. The action becomes obsessional, the image keeps coming back. In these actions there’s a recurring language of objects. Objects that communicate amongst themselves. They’re symbolic, or visual, but inspired by my obsessions, and by my culture of performance art. I’m soaked in lots of other performance art, that I reuse, with my own curbs.

They’re part of my imagination, and the more I use them they tire, and new images appear and so on.

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Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: A form of vocabulary?

K: Yes, I think if you take each individual performance you could add them up to find a whole meaning.

B: More than a guideline, a big continuity of smaller fragments.

K: Yes, an ongoing process. That I often bypass, towards new researches. Intellectual counts, not just inspiration. A bit of both, but conducted.

B: So the objects and images are recurrent, with the use of your body used as a patterns that are repeated, and what we mentioned earlier, your assistants. Have you always embraced the idea of integrating your assistants with their specific part in your performances, or to begin with was this more of a constraint than anything else?

K: Well, back to this image, there’s a point where I say to myself, “shit this is too complicated”, I can’t do this alone. And just like in my day to day life, I have assistants that are there to compensate my disability and to help me. If a lightbulb needs changing, my assistant does it for me. As I’m in the field of contemporary performance that incites us, as artists, to not dissociate what we live and what we show, it seems legitimate that my assistants do this artistic work for the images to exist. My potential is my own, my assistant’s, my wheelchair’s and everything that surrounds me in my daily life.

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Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: During the conference at Tempting Failure, you mentioned that the way each performance develops depends partly on the assistant that you’re working with. This was the first time I recognized this idea, I hadn’t taken into account the importance you gave, not just to your assistant, but to which assistant you chose for a specific performance.

I saw a reflection of my own work in your last performance [‘10-14’ (2016)], in which I assisted you. When you’re developing a particular performance, do you chose who you’re going to do it with, or is it simply that through working with this or that assistant, the ideas and personality of whoever it is permeates your work as a form of exchange?

K: I don’t guide the process in that direction. I don’t take on the role of a stage director, who knows his actors and digs into their personality. On the other hand, I have a group of assistants that work 24 hours. With these six assistants, I follow my schedule as a performance artist, and if a performance is on a Saturday, then I’ll think ahead, and two months beforehand tell whoever’s working that day, “We’re going to perform together!” From there on, I know who’ll be doing it. It’s a compromise between what’s easiest for me, and optimizing my relationship with my assistants.

In your case it was very obvious, because you also make performance art and in our practices have lots of things in common: food, sound, in your readymade approach, that’s simple and shows things as they are. So in the case of our work together it’s blatant. We almost don’t need to think it over. And so, coming back to the example of TF, because you make music and that, I wanted to give it a go too, I figured it was a good opportunity. It would have been a shame to not do it, so there’s this image to begin with, and I find it interesting to give it different forms. The shape it’ll take with Bonnie, with Camille… it’s like a series of paintings, it’s never exactly the same.  The factor that changes is how the assistant and I collaborate.

With other assistants, take Audrey for example, who is very—like in her video work: it’s very refined and thorough. Subconsciously, the images we make together resemble her artistic architecture.

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Kamil Guenatri, “10-14” (2015), Cave Poésie, Nuage en pantalon, action poetry festival (Toulouse, FR).
Photo: Kathleen Brunet, Courtesy of Kamil Guenatri

B: Right, in the performance that you did with her at the Cave Poésie [“10-14”, (2015)], despite there being similar gestures to the ones from the performance in London, it was definitely more meticulous, precise and methodic, in the way she moves. And it’s not just her personality, I think it’s in your relationship.

In the exchange in the month before the performance, when the process is already developing, without its audience, do you feel that these factors are already taken into account? Or do they just happen, as an unplanned result?

K: I don’t foresee everything. Perhaps that’s the part that just happens autonomously—there’s always a part that just happens. Especially because you’re integrated to my daily life. You’re impregnated by me outside of the performance and I know you outside of this context too.

I’m trying to be more and more attentive to it. There’s the visual design—I have an image, I want to make it. This is a really important factor. But it’s not just this, there’s another design. The design of the experience.

It can become visible, but it’s something that is conveyed, communicated. It’s what can be perceived in what’s there. I try to use my own experience as much as I can in my performances, but with the assistant’s presence, it’s my experience, his experience and what we do together during the performance. And this I don’t try to control.

B: That’s the part that neither you, your assistant, nor the audience can control. The part that escapes control.

K: So what interests me, is to see how this turns out, the result. It feeds my imagination for the next performance, and the leftovers are visible. It takes shape.

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Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: This tension, the exchange that takes place between you and me in your performance, is something that, when we’re at your house and doing the gestures of your daily routine, doesn’t exist, because they’re actions that we do repeatedly, carefully, but in front of an audience there was such a tension between us, which is obviously intangible, can be seen quite clearly.  At least, I’ve experienced it as a spectator at other performances of yours. What is strange, and different from when I’m doing my own performances, whether they’re collaborative or not, is that my tension is related to my own self-awareness, and the image I’m conveying.  At TF, my experience was completely different to this. Being your assistant allowed me to have absolutely no awareness of the audience, of my image in front of them, of how they could perceive my presence—I was scared, playing the performer’s part, but because of taking care of you, doing the same habitual actions from our daily life, which have become movements that demand worry and care. The particular tension of being over aware of your well-being, not the “Kamil’s performance needs to go right”, but “is Kamil, the everyday Kamil, OK”. And this is why I find it so interesting that you use daily actions, because I keep the mindset from our everyday.

K: It’s more difficult to repeat a daily action in a performance, than the daily action itself on a daily basis, even for me.

Sometimes I think to myself, hang on, you’re getting stressed out about doing three times a day. I know exactly what you mean, you couldn’t see the audience.

B: No, not at all.

K: I could definitely see them. For me if you couldn’t see them you weren’t acting, you were really living what you were doing. It was sincere.

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Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: I didn’t feel like I was acting. Although it can probably come off as dramatic, I don’t feel that there’s pathos of anything theatrical about it, because it’s very real, even when I bind your face with blue thread – which we don’t do on a daily basis – it’s done simply. Drama free.

K: And this is where I don’t agree with some peoples idea of performance art. For me performance art, and this is how I intend it, is something that’s action inspired and so I can’t dramatize or stage it, this seems ridiculous to me. I think it’s a pity regarding history of art and performance art to go back to that. Been there, done that, get over it. What I do belongs to a family of performers, quite a big family, and that’s how they work, through actions.

B: Let’s get back to objects. Does the ham for example, in the performance ‘10-14’, signify something specific?

K: Firstly, like all objects, it’s an image. I’ve never performed in Paris, I’ve never tried to, maybe one day I will. One day I was with friends, joking about “parisienism” and “provincialism”. You know, provincials, and all the losers from the south. And I said that the first performance I would do in Paris would have a ham suspended in the air that I would cover in olive oil and herbs de Provence. That’s it. To awaken something sensorial , and the image stuck. In the meantime I developed the ideas, but when TF took place, and I’d seen the space already, I said to myself, why wait for Paris, let’s do it here. And you know the rest. We tried oil and realized it wasn’t all that interesting, the image unraveled, and got mashed up with my current research. I attempt to keep a certain relevance with my general process and the image transforms, it’s fed by all sorts of things that bounce off different factors that are important to me. Collaboration, the space, the images…

B: That’s another point we have in common in our work, the starting point is often a trivial joke or funny idea in a conversation.

K: Yeah, and this is one of the rare ideas that isn’t a mental image, it’s a social image.

B: Social, yes, but the audience wanted to see it as something more… spiritual or pathetic. As if the ham were an image of your inert body, upon which you transfer you t-shirt and your tattoo.

K: What interests me in this is the poetry. Jesus, Mary and a ham, I think it’s great, we really killed…God. God is dead.

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Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: I find that people want to see a more serious and intellectual side, the intense polysemy in your work, rather than the black humour, your cynical view of society, that reflects your perception of society in relation to the fact you’re in a wheelchair.

K: I’m a minority, I have an outside view on all this. It’s evidently critical, and feeds my work. And it is serious, I want it to be serious. But I try to keep a distance with the whole thing. For me performance art is a form of ritual. And once you have a ritual then you’re talking about what’s sacred. I put humour into sacred, it’s important, just to make it profane—

B: —to desacralize it, all the while using sacred codes, or pagan more like, because your work tends to connote satanic rituals…

K: I’m very influenced by the history of rituals and people. I make no difference between contemporary performance art and ancient rituals. There are such blatant common points between the two. I get somewhat trapped by my influences.

B: A trap?

K: No, but a reflection of my mystical influences, I REVENDIQUE myself as mystical on some levels, so the “invisible” and these things we can’t perceive or explain fascinate me. I find it interesting to dig into these ideas, but which a certain distance, so that it’s funny and sarcastic. It’s art, not a religion.

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Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

B: One last point, that fact that you’re part of a ‘minority’, when people see what you do, they tend to say that you’re talking about your disability. For me this is similar to the way people will undermine that a film about a homosexual is therefore a film on homosexuality, or that a woman’s work of art would be about her condition as a woman, or that a Muslim’s work is necessarily about their condition as a Muslim. What annoys me in this is that if you’re not an able-bodied white atheist man—

K: …the alleged silhouette—

B: …then we are ‘conditioned’ and that our condition would therefore overwrite any other subject and become our work. Are you simply talking from your experience, as a human being, or is disability a central subject in your art?

K: It’s my point of view, that’s undeniable. On the other hand, my point of view crosses others, but like all disabled person… My condition, is being in Occident, on a wheelchair, and occidentals in wheelchairs have more or less the same conditioning as I do, with their personal experience on top. My opinion integrates a global opinion. Disability in a common vision, is directly related to sorrow and pity – and that’s something I really can’t change! My body is a body of suffering in its representation, so whatever I do, that’ll always be stuck to me, because that’s what people think.  So that is something I’m talking about, but I’m trying to demolish the very idea, with my images. It’s a form of bad faith, to demolish people’s perception of disability, it’s negative philosophy, a reaction, to stir their conscience. That’s the whole point of art in general, this transformation in the conscience of the onlooker, to displace their perspective. That’s my aim when I look at a work of art, I want something to change within me.

B: And in of itself, you can’t not talk about it.

K: My basic concept is exactly that, my body just as it is.

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Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

INCESTICA

A post-performance experimental text by Ian Deleón, Agrofemme, and Mr. Thursday

 

INCESTICA

A performance collaboration exploring incest, insects, anal/menstrual preoccupations, and the Oedipal family drama.

The Viscose Factory, Art Rat Studios, Roanoke Virginia, USA
September 17 2016

  FATHER                                          Mr. Thursday
SISTER AND MOTHER                  Agrofemme
BROTHER AND PROGENY           Ian Deleón

 

Prologue

“In her, I entered into Hades; with her, I traveled all the way into the oceanic silt, tangled myself in the seaweed, petrified myself into the limestone, circulated into the veins of coral” – Gabrielle Wittkop, The Necrophiliac

“Down for the wedding, my dear brother?” – attributed to Catherine of Siena, speaking to a man on the gallows

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Scene I: The Bedside Prayer and a Shadow Eating an Apple

Father stands in an invisible doorway looking severe in a suit jacket while slowly eating a red apple. Behind him, a large, padded wheelchair with an attached spotlight casts his long shadow across the bedroom as he watches his children kneel in prayer. The pale-faced siblings repeat the Bedtime Prayer, alternating between gazing downwards, at each other, and at the imposing shadow along the wall.

Our voices whisper to one another: Now I Lay me Down, I pray the Lord my soul to keep … And If I Die before I Wake, I pray thee Lord my Soul to take….

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Scene II: The Chair and the Matchbox

Sitting back in the large, padded chair as if on the lap of a monstrous grandparent, Father shuts off the spotlight and ignites a colder, vignetting beam from a headlamp. The children, who have now ceased their prayers and lie still in bed next to one another,  can no longer see him but he continues to watch, and to eat his apple.

Mechanically entreated. Only the Core of knowing sin, plump petaled still, is left to eat. Slowly, savor the last pulp of apple on the pate eternal. I am sitting now, the projected halo of my panoptic dirge rounds m-eye children. Their matches hatch conspiracies but eye am not paranoid – the banquet awaits the pronouncement of their temerity. I own th-eye-m. I don’t know that eye still own silhouettes under sheets stained in my-or-our cereal histories, can’t cover nothing, can’t cover sins unbelieved and unseeing.

With hands at first folded politely above the bed sheet, the star-gazing children begin to loosen and steal flashing glances at one another beneath the turquoise glow of this intimate nocturnal distance. They slowly begin pulling the sheet above their heads, sitting up in bed facing each other, creating a tent with their bodies. Between them a match is stricken, and the siblings begin an exchange of vows, longings and misgivings that culminate in an intimate embrace and a building sense of shame.

Camphor burns my nostrils as I struggle to read the text. My eyes water and voice hoarsely falters as if with true emotion. Match after match is struck, as we take turns striking, reading, striking, reading.

I Fear we will literally ignite the stage in this dramatic re-framing of our true-to-life passion.

“ Here is the house, where it all happens … Body and soul come together, as we come closer together … Death is everywhere. There are flies on the windscreen, for a start, reminding us we could be torn apart tonight … I want to take you in my arms, forgetting all I couldn’t do today … With or without words, I’ll confide everything … He says it’s for her only that he lusts. She doesn’t trust him. Nothing is true, but he will do in a world full of nothing … It’s easy to slip away and believe it all … Apologies are all you seem to get from me … It’s a question of lust, it’s a question of trust … It is all of these things and more that keep us together … It frightens me … We feel like pioneers .. Wounds aren’t healing inside of me. Though it feels good now, I know it’s only for now … ”[1]

Brother wrestles the sheet from his sibling and uses it to cover himself as he retreats away from the bed into a nearby bathroom.

He leaves me, a stain between my legs. An incontinence of his, a menses of my own, a miscarriage of bodily fluids, a visible humiliation.

At some point, Father has finished his apple.

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Scene III: The Transformation & The Dinner Table

Sister exits the bedroom and joins the Father, who is now in the adjacent dining room area, a hooded figure sitting at the end of a long table. Sister becomes Mother, and upon their messy array of a dinner table, the parents communicate with howling nags and jabs.

Our table is laid with indian corn, likker, peanut shells, floggers, processed meats and briny things.

Father attempts to eat raw beef franks and peaches through his hood while Mother fixes her hair.

I crack eggs into a dish after mixing a vodka, not gin, martini, gulping at it as I beat the eggs with a bristle brush. Combing egg into my ratty head, I roll beer cans from the audience into my hair. Mr. Thursday and I argue, snipping at each other in guttural and whining barks, a simulation of language, a hurling of absurdist accusations what cause the audience laughter, “SHIBBERSHITSKULLIUNKK”, I gesture at his pathetic hole. Struggling to keep the Miller Highlifes in my hair, I blow-dry the egg to stiffen the curl. [How quickly the uncanny becomes the comedic].

The bi-partisan feast of our larges. Her and I. Watch us eat. Watch meat n’ peach dream through the black grid of worm poop, strung together like the meted fists of state gluttony that gloss m-eye continents. Crackle-click. All mine(d). She has her part to play, amorphous blob, will in and out besides bleated piglets we produced, and she is. The taper’s out again. The blabbing and skirted language of rotted seductions peels ever so. What is that? I’ll spit the shells pleb-wise and yell about the bathroom. What takes him so long? Crackle-crack. The knife, watch the knife. Crackle-scratch. Closer… What’s that yelling from the blob now!?[2]

incestica-ian-deleon-agrofemme-performance-4

Scene IV: The Insect The Broom & The Apples

Meanwhile, in the cavernous lavatory, the “head”, brother has undergone a visible and dramatic transformation into the ill-equipped seed of the siblings’ union.  He has become something more earthly, though shrouded in pr(e/o)scription — the imundo.[3]

Within the chapel of excrement, I found myself changed. Where once was an adept and wrinkle-less hand there now protruded a brilliant obsidian flipper, more capable of shoveling motions than the discrete digital flurries of before. I discovered my body to be incapable of prolonged vertical jaunts, preferring the cold proximity of the concrete under hind foot — I was a horizontal animal. Vision blurred and aural sensibilities deferred, I now sensed with every extremity. Where once pain was localized, now excruciation grew to a totalizing body-mapped experience. What WE now found most unusual and somehow most serene was a small perturbance, an asymmetrical eruption around the lip of our rear quarters. Our sphin(x)cter had become engorged with a sense of its own importance, and thus, we resolved to dispel that riddling gatekeeper and open the portal to our (in/ex)ternal worlds once again.

The Progeny now emerges, a voice-less rattle of chains and tightened physical constraints, a hand transformed into a digit-less mitten. Shiny, leathery skin, Anus protruding for all to see. Scurrying about the dining room, it attempts to garner the attention of its (GRAND)parents, mostly through the uncoordinated display of its dilated anus. Clutching a container of Rx Proctozone, it inserts the conical applicator tip into the rectum and squeezes out/in a significant amount of the Doctor’s white.

The parents remain focused on their asinine activities. Still unnoticed, it crawls underneath the tablecloth and approached Mother from an intimate angle. Here, with the still recognizable human hand, the insect reaches up to touch the mother’s drinking glass, causing her to relax her grip on it as if setting it down on a table. It is now that she catches sight of the creature, in multiple ways, her progeny.

I awoke from this mundanity to a gigantic insect, it’s domelike brown belly rubbing over my bare toes, it’s fingers on the base of my martini glass, slowly pulling the drink from my grip. I recoiled in horror, screeching at my husband, gesturing; “Kill this thing!”.

What is it!? The son of so-called night shifts under the sheet they hid. The dream-child in chitin, shit-wielded. Formed of ME!? Formed of illicit, formed of empire’s leavings, formed of inceC-ssssst! Not mine… no, no, NO bed eye made. Halo saw all… but not this… How ma-me screams so! Antenna-ed like father though, leathered like of wandering days… yet family-ALL!!! OUT, OUT, sOUTh… What for armament…. The scold of lost nights neurotic and fruit of labors dead. The pate of cousin-ed desires, cold-membered APPLE’s for artillery and deathly work to exorcize this sONE in the alley!

Clutching a broom worn to a frazzled nub, I gain boozy courage, jabbing at the heinous figure skittering at our feet. We chase It out the door to a narrow alley, pushing it towards a drainage man-hole.

The pitiful creature struggles to approach something like a normal gait amidst a torrent of physical and “verbal” abuse from the ‘rents. The Mother with her broom and the Father with his apples — p(u/o)mmeling it into submission.

incestica-ian-deleon-agrofemme-performance-5

Scene V:  The Sewer Grate

Bwa ha ha HA – return to the sOUTh you scurrier! No son a m-eye-n! What fear we played up to ensure our continued benevolence. Her, dappled now like ma-me used to be, loverly dough-ter… her and I. M-eye self the light, hersELF the foil of their error passivity, pathetic wrangled mob of indifferent soomers of our CON.

The Progeny continues to gaze up at the parents, pleading for recognition, only to be met with derision. They finally coax the creature into a six-foot-under sewer drain, taunting and sneering at it while they pull the lid over its head. Shamelessly and coolly smoking a cigarette at the foot of this victory, they jest while the vermin whimpers from the darkness below.

HA! Like leafs in the wake of a train they followed the cumbat. Regal we laugh and share a fag and limp back to the ordered reek-bench of OUR continued progress.

Parents stagger off down the alley. Father is gone. The Incestica trapped.

incestica-ian-deleon-agrofemme-6

Scene VI: The Deflation

I am alone. The bed is before me, and I drop my robe.

Standing before the amber stain on white sheets, I am naked.

A “lacanian Shroud of Turin”.[4]

  1. Release Valve, 2. Lock Knees, 3. Fall Flat: the air mattress socking my nose like a collapsing lung and my body bouncing once like a stiff timbered pine. Air wheezes out from between my toes and I sink for four minutes until my cheek presses to the cool cement floor. When I lift my body the orange stain has transferred to my thighs.[5]

A body-lithography, a recalcitrant memory from a Night of Faith.

Epilogue

“To a strange land he soon shall grope his way.
And of the children, inmates of his home,
He shall be proved the brother and the sire,
Of her who bare him son and husband both,
Co-partner, and assassin of his sire.
Go in and ponder this, and if thou find
That I have missed the mark, henceforth declare
I have no wit nor skill in prophecy.” –Oedipus the King (454-461)

 

 

 

[1] Lyrics from Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration

[2] The dinner gave me not only an opportunity to contribute to the meat poem tradition by shoving hotdogs through a black, silk pillowcase; the pillowcase echoes our continuing social imperialism, especially in visual state performance, via various hoodings: spectacular, digital, militarily practical, etc., but also a chance to fondle peaches. Across the table Agrofemme and I conversed in an ur-language, a familial jest, a replicant of more vigorous times, like museum fremen, we were a tribe tied and gagged in its own history. In Vivant Denon’s terms “Desires are reproduced through their images,” in this case a gastronomic/cosmetic duel, both awaiting a feared and hoped for interruption from returning child lovers; read memories.

[3] Portuguese, from im- ‎(“without, not”) + mundus ‎(“clean, elegant; upright”)

[4] Mira Schor, Wet

[5] After six days, [the stain] remains. I wash twice a day and it remains.

Life is Like That: Looking back at Marilyn Arsem’s 100 Ways to Consider Time

Marilyn Arsem 100 Ways to Consider Time Day 16

Marilyn Arsem, Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time, Day 16 (2015-2016). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, November 24, 2015.
Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

A conversation between artists Daniel Embree and Marilyn Arsem

Marilyn Arsem is the first performance artist to receive the prestigious Maud Morgan Prize from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A defining figure in the field of performance art, she has performed for over three decades over 180 works around the world, influencing generations of artists in Boston and internationally. 100 Ways to Consider Time was a daily, live performance at the MFA from November 9, 2015 to February 19, 2016.

Daniel: Welcome back to the US. I hear you’ve just returned from Chile, what were you doing there?

Marilyn: Performing! It was a really interesting project. I was there for 2 weeks, but I was in Patagonia at the very southern end of Chile. We went to Tierra del Fuego and drove around to see different parts. We were right on the Strait of Magellan, but we did not go further south. I didn’t see penguins sadly, because it’s winter there.

D: You didn’t jump across the water to Antarctica?

M: I’ve always wanted to go to Antarctica and I’ve applied to residencies there twice. There’s a program for artists and writers in Antarctica, but when you look at who they accept it’s generally painters and photographers and writers, not performance artists. Maybe next time I’ll apply and get the residency.

D: A few years ago when I first met you, you told me that you do most of your work in international performance art festivals and rarely make work in Boston. Since then you’ve performed many times in the greater Boston area including at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Cyclorama, the Boston Harbor Islands, and at the Contemporary Arts International (CAI) Quarry in Acton. What changed?

M: I didn’t have the invitations back then. The work that I had done in Boston up to that point had been primarily at Mobius, and at Mobius I self-produced the work. There is the group to help me, but still I have to produce it to make it happen. It’s a lot harder to just go ahead and decide to do work than to answer an invitation.

D: I imagine there’s more accountability when you’re answering an invitation than when you’re producing work independently.

M: That’s actually the reason I started Mobius—to have a group who would hold me accountable.

In the beginning all the work I was doing was there. We would have monthly art meetings to talk about projects and help each other develop them. I had ideas, and rather than sit at home and think that they were impossible or crazy or strange, I would go to Mobius and they would be supportive, encourage me to do the work, and then hold me accountable.

Marilyn Arsem 100 Ways to Consider Time Day 1

Marilyn Arsem, Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time, Day 1 (2015-2016). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, November 9, 2015 .
Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

D: Let’s talk about 100 Ways to Consider Time. For six hours a day, every day, for 100 days, you were in the gallery performing an action or series of actions relating to time. Each day the action was different, and you never repeated an action.

How was performing a work like this at the Museum of Fine Arts different from performing at Mobius?

M: Unlike Mobius, where work is more self-produced, the MFA has a whole staff tasked with making the exhibition happen. There are a lot of offices and departments, conservation, PR, the preparers for exhibitions, the graphics team, the lighting and technical media staff—I don’t even know all of the titles of the many people who helped.

I worked with really wonderful curators at the MFA, Edward Saywell and Liz Munsell, and they managed all the internal processes, much of which I was probably unaware. They recognized that showing performance art challenged some of their normal practices of showing work.

I think the Museum staff were surprised I wanted to be so involved in the installation of my work. After they chose the gallery, I asked for benches for the public and I proposed that one of the benches have a compartment to keep things in. I also asked to be able to control the audio from inside the room. They were thinking that the staff would be handling the turning on and off of sound, because that’s how it’s normally done in a museum.

D: Historically a driving element in your work is that it is site specific and that it deals with political or social issues related to the local community, wherever you happen to be making work. Was this work site specific?

M: I would absolutely call this work site responsive. The materials that I could use had to be approved by the conservation department, for example. One of their big concerns is insects getting into their storage. It’s not just paintings and sculptures in their archive. They have wood, fabric and clothing, historical artifacts—they have to be careful about what is allowed into the system.

I couldn’t use food. The only liquid I could use was water. Any fabric I wanted to use, I had to freeze for 24 hours before I could bring it in. The flowers that I used were purchased through the museum. Even though we talked early on about using flowers, it wasn’t until day 100 that they got there.

When I chose my materials, I had already recognized the limits on what they would approve, and really early on I made the decision that I would not accumulate things in the room. It would be cleared out and brought back to neutral and the end of the day.

D: You removed the residue, but was the room really brought back to neutral every day?

M: No, it wasn’t brought to neutral, but the physical evidence of the previous day was minimal.

Marilyn Arsem 100 Ways to Consider Time Day 28

Marilyn Arsem, Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time, Day 28 (2015-2016). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, December 8, 2015 .
Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

D: This touches on something I’ve wondered from the beginning. Was this really one long performance—your longest performance to date—or was it a series of performances around a theme, like an anthology of works?

M: Yes, it is a question of which it is! When we were working on the ebook, which includes some of my previous works, Edward and Liz did a lot of research and looked at a lot of material. I made a list of every performance I’d ever done. Prior to this work I’d made something like 187 performances—all of which I remember. (That’s scary!) So does 100 Ways to Consider Time bring the total to 188, or does it make it 287? That’s the question.

What I’ve also realized is that in doing 600 hours of performing, I actually performed more hours than I had performed in my entire career up to that point. 600 hours is a long time! (laughs)

D: Well you did give each day its own title, so maybe it is 100 individual performances.

M: I did that partly to be able to distinguish and remember each day. If I don’t give it a title, I can’t remember each one. It is 100 ways to consider time. Each day is a different way.

It was a way to keep track of what I was doing. I have a list of the days in chronological order, but I also made another list after I finished, which organizes the 100 ways according to the type of research that it was. I consider this performance a series of experiments or research on time. What is a minute? What is an hour? How do clocks work? What is a second, really? I looked at different scales of time—space time, the scale of time in the universe, the end of time.

D: The first time I experienced 100 Ways to Consider Time, you weren’t in the gallery. Instead there was a recording of your voice describing the previous day’s action. I imagine a lot of people only experienced your work through these daily recordings that played when you weren’t in the gallery. I believe it’s important to experience performance live. Why did you decide to include the recordings?

M: The recordings were an answer to a concern that the museum had. They didn’t want there ever to be an empty gallery.

At one point they asked me to consider having an object from the collection in the room with me, which would also be there in the gallery when I wasn’t. I did look at their collection of 18th Century grandfather clocks, but what I understood immediately is that anything I would have performed would be in response to that particular object.

So that’s when we came up with the idea of the audio, and very quickly we understood that the ephemerality of just having a voice was appropriate to the work.

And as soon as I started making the recordings I realized that it was a very interesting way to document the work. Even though I wrote about it in my journal, there’s an immediacy in the voice. I was making the recordings only a few hours after I finished each day. There was a residue of the day always in the recording.

D: You used the word “document” just now in talking about the recordings. Are they documentation of the work, or are they actually a part of the performance?

M: I think both. They were documentation, but I created them so immediately afterwards that they did retain vestiges of my mental and emotional state after that day, so they were also extensions of the performance. But you tell me.

D: The first time I heard the recording, it felt like I was experiencing the action—or at least like I understood the action—even though I hadn’t been there to see it. On the other hand, your recounting of the action was so different than my own experience of your action. You were also very forthcoming about your intentions and thoughts in the recording, which was very different from when I was observing the action in person.

In addition to the actions and recordings, the audience participated in this work through cards that that were available in the gallery. On these cards, you invited the audience to write how they considered time. Did you read what your viewers wrote each day, or did you wait until the end? If so, did what people wrote impact your actions?

M: I did read the cards, but it didn’t really impact my actions. People wrote about their own lives, and their own notions of time. It was very interesting to read them. People wrote poetry, drew pictures. I intend to build a website that has all the material so that you can see each day, read my description, hear my audio recording, see images, and then read the audience responses from that day.

D: You would include all of the responses?

Yes! All of the responses are really varied, and if I make a selection, then I’m imposing my reading of the work on it. I solicited those responses; I asked the audience how they experience time. It’s part of the research that I was doing, so of course I want to include them all, including the one that said, “This is bad art, and you’re a bad artist!”

Marrilyn Arsem 100 Ways to Consider Time (2015-2016) Day 36

Marilyn Arsem, Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time, Day 36 (2015-2016). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, December 16, 2015.
Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

D: You aren’t the first performance artist to hear that I’m sure, and I know sometimes people see performance art and think that it is easy. Was this work easy?

M: No. I felt like I was going to die after the first week.

On Day 4 and Day 5, I tried to be as still as a rock. The first day I was on the floor, which was really painful, so I decided to try sitting in a chair the next day, which was also painful. Holding your body still no matter whether you are sitting or lying down is hard to do.

Doing a single action for 6 hours every day without a break—I never walked out of the room once I started—was physically exhausting. So what looks fairly simple to someone coming and sitting down for three minutes is really different when it is done for six hours. A lot of viewers didn’t stay long enough to understand the significance of time and the impact of sustaining the action. And I can’t blame them; during the first week I also didn’t fully understand the significance of sustaining an action for six hours every day and having to come back the next day with hardly enough time to recover.

D: Was it important to you for people to know the level of exhaustion and hard work that this was for you?

M: I guess that is a dilemma in the work. I operate on a human scale with everyday materials. Activities that might appear simple can actually be read in deeper ways. Aspects of the duration change the reading, and contextualizing the action with how it might relate to time changes the reading. I feel sad when someone is dismissive of my work because they look at it for two seconds and don’t think about those things. A lot of audience members didn’t take the time to ask themselves “What way of considering time is this?”

Understanding performance requires work on the part of the audience. Some people come to the museum not knowing how to look at art. They don’t know how to make meaning out of the work for themselves, and that’s what this piece required.

I understand that while I might assign particular meaning to an action, the audience often has another interpretation. I’m willing to share ownership of how to interpret my work. I’ve never been intent on communicating one singular meaning.

D: Tell me about your dedicated viewers. Some of these are people who knew you; maybe others were people who became introduced to you through this piece.

M: For sure, it was a combination of the two. There is one staff person at the museum who saw —I think she said 65 of the 100 days. She would come up on all her breaks.

Obviously there were people who knew me or performance artists who knew my work who came regularly, and they were the ones who spent the most time there—tens of minutes to hours —to really experience the physical duration. Contrast this to most viewers who were coming to the museum to see art and were used to walking through galleries and spending seconds in front of a painting. So for them to spend even a few minutes with me was a significant investment of their time when you consider how much time they planned to spend in the museum.

I did recognize people and get to know people who I hadn’t known in advance but who came regularly to the performance. I was always really happy to see repeat audience members. I often heard them telling people in the audience something about the work or something that had happened on another day. I also felt that those who had been there before would recognize if something were not right and would do something about it. I thought of them as my support system, including you.

D: Did you ever have to call upon that support system?

M: Most people were pretty cautious and took time to figure out what the rules of engagement were. They would sit on the bench and watch for a while and see how other audience members engaged with the work before they did.

There was one time during Day 98, Orbits. I was doing a very concentrated action with the rock, carrying it, orbiting into the center of the room and then crawling around it. While there were many days where I interacted with the audience, this was not one of them.

One young woman had been told by the guard, incorrectly, that everything was participatory. So she came in and started crawling with me. I turned to her and said, “Please leave,” and then I went back to what I was doing. She kept crawling, so I stopped again and said, “Please leave,” but she didn’t. So I left the action returning to my chair along the side wall.

That’s when another performance artist who was there, who was more familiar with the work, decided to help and go over to the girl and explain that it wasn’t a participatory piece that day.

I found that there were occasions where I needed to be quite direct with the audience—and directive. There are a lot of different kinds of people in the world, and there’s a wide range with how they interact with others. I think it took every skill that I developed between performing and teaching for 40 years. I could not have done this work 20 years ago.

 Marylin Arsem, Edge (2013). Boston Center of the Arts.Photo: Daniel S. Deluca, Courtesy of The Present Tense

Marylin Arsem, Edge (2013) Near Death Performance Art Experience. Boston Center of the Arts.
Photo: Daniel S. Deluca, Courtesy of The Present Tense

D: One recurring theme during the 100 days was death, which is a theme I’ve seen in your work before. I’m thinking about your first performance at the MFA in 2013, With the Others, when you lay under a bench in black, unmoving, in the Ancient Egypt gallery and Edge, which you performed at an event titled Near Death Performance Art Experience at the Boston Center for the Arts. In that piece you slowly pushed two glasses of water off the edge of the table—an action that took 7 hours. Do you want to speak about the theme of death in this work?

M: It can’t be helped! Do I want to talk about that? You can talk about that.

I will say that on Day 97, Planet Earth, I was reading out loud from The Life and Death of Planet Earth by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee. The bulk of the reading that day was a very explicit description of the demise of the planet and all the life forms on it as the sun increases in heat. The sun is becoming increasingly hotter over its 11 billion year life cycle, and we’re about at the halfway point of that. Eventually the heat will destroy all life on the planet as we know it. By the end all of the water will evaporate into space.

The description is amazing —detailing what kinds of plants can grow given the kind of chemical balance in the air and then what happens when the temperature increases and those plants die and decay and shift the chemical balance so that a different set of plants can actually grown. But then they die. The animal life also changes in each phase. It’s a fascinating description of the death of the planet.

I chose that book because I wanted that description of the demise of the world.

D: Why?

M: Because I wanted to talk about another scale of time. It is a scale of time over billions of years. I think in doing this project, I really do understand time differently. On Day 56 when I dripped water from an eyedropper onto a large granite rock, I learned that it could dissolve through weatherization in 10,000 years. That’s not very long! Even after 6 hours there was evidence of erosion. There were grains of sand in the dish underneath the rock. That was when I recognized that I understood time differently, when I thought “only ten thousand years.”

D: You wore black every day except for one, Day 99, Salt. When I walked into the gallery that day and saw you in white, I gasped not just because the visual was so beautiful, but because I was surprised. What went into that decision?

M: I had to wear white that day. I was lying next to my body’s weight in salt. It would not have made sense to be dressed in black next to the salt.

D: So by dressing in white you were making yourself more like the salt and the salt more like you.

M: Yes, you could say that.

D: I’ll tell you how that choice impacted me. By wearing black clothing every day, your clothing became a constant—a non-choice—that didn’t assume significance for me as a viewer. When I was viewing your work, I tended to focus more on the variables, such as your materials for the day, the pace, sound, your decisions to directly engage or not engage the viewer, the configuration of the room, and things like that.

Choosing to wear white on day 99 made me reevaluate all of the other days when you wore black. Instead of being a given, wearing black became a decision that you made each time. The realization also made me reevaluate other aspects of your work that I had taken for granted as constants.

The question really isn’t why did you wear white on day 99, it’s why did you wear black on day 36? You could have not!

M: (laughs) I could have not, you’re right. You know, the black dresses I wore were different every day—the styles changed. Some of them were more formal, and some of them were more casual. And some of them might have made me look younger, and some of them might have made me look older.

D: So you were making decisions about what to wear every day.

M: Yes! I was. During those last few days, many of the materials that I had ordered earlier were actually just arriving, and I had a sense of what those actions would be, but I had to choose the order of them. So I had to ask myself, is Day 100 going to be Salt? That would have given the 100 days a much different reading.

D: It would have indicated you had arrived at something new.

M: Or being on the other side of life. It would have implied a death of sorts and moving into another state.

D: So instead, on Day 100, Flowers, you watched nine tulips in vases as they opened. I have to admit, while I was watching them, I couldn’t see them opening, but after I left I compared a picture that my friend took later in the day with what I remembered, and there was clearly a big difference in how open the flowers were.

M: Yes. It was Day 100 and there were so many people who had come to watch. I was just sitting there thinking, “The flowers aren’t opening! What am I going to do?” and then I said to myself, “Well Marilyn, that’s what this is about: being willing to wait and see something really incremental unfold.”

Marilyn Arsem 100 Ways to Consider time Day 100

Marilyn Arsem, Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time, Day 100 (2015-2016). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, February 19, 2016.
Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

It was really wonderful on that day to have people stay an extended time to sit with me and watch. That day was important to me because by staying for so long, many people were experiencing more of what I experienced: how time can seem like it’s standing still; that things are changing but you can’t see it when you’re looking. It’s often only when you look away and then back again that you do see it. One audience member said she went out of the room and then came back and only then could she see a difference in the blossoms opening.

I was really happy that day to have everyone with me.

D: Were there other days when you were lonely?

M: Yes. But life is like that.

D: That’s something that you said after Day 31, Dust, which was particularly meaningful to me. On that day you ground marble rocks into dust with a three-pound sledgehammer. Every time you hit the rocks it made a very arresting sound that filled the gallery. The action was in some ways destructive, but it was also constructive because you created this beautiful marble dust which you painstakingly collected with a brush in a little jar.

As you were performing, a teenager came up to you and asked what you were doing. You explained that you were grinding the stones into dust. He asked, “Why?” You responded, “Because life is like that.” That response touched me.

M: You know there were some days when I thought that no one got it, that no one understood what I was doing, but then I would read the cards and see that what I was doing was meaningful to someone. Day 18, Moving Backwards, is a good example. While I was performing, I assumed no one noticed that I was moving. I was doing a really intense action, moving minutely backwards away from the other chair, and someone started a conversation in the room about some other work I had done. I tried to ignore it. But it was really distressing, because not only were they not watching me, they were disturbing someone else in the audience. I should have paused and said, “Please have that conversation outside of the room,” but I didn’t.

So between moving so slowly I thought no one had even noticed and being frustrated by that distraction, I thought no one had appreciated the work. But that day someone wrote in one of the cards how intense it was watching me and how they thought that I was levitating. It was a beautiful response to what I was trying to do, so it worked for someone!

PULSAR’s Trouble Performing Podcast Episode 3

pulsar-trouble-performing

Image courtesy of PULSAR

By David LaGaccia

After a summer break, PULSAR‘s Trouble Performing podcast is back, with a roundtable discussion on current events and ideas in performance art.

Hosted by Tif Robinette and Ian Deleón, the podcast was recorded on August 6th, and was joined by ARC Magazine‘s Holly Bynoe, artists Polina Porras Sivolobova, Ming Liu, Huisi He, Olivia Coffey, and I.

During the nearly two hour discussion, we talk about recent performances by the featured artists, and we explore topics such as the recent Tempting Failure Performance Art and Noise Art festival in London, the work of Nicola Hunter, Kamil Guenatri, Esther Neff, the nature of performances done on the street, and how performances with personal meanings can relate to the public.

If this is your first time listening, look for past episodes here, or on our Soundcloud page here.

PULSAR will also be organizing shows this fall, including a Labor Day Rooftop show with Antibody Coporation and more at CasaPULSAR on Monday, September 5th, a show at Catland on October 1st with the ArTrend Performance Group from Taiwan, and at Last Frontier on October 7th and 8th in curatorial collaboration with Wild Torus. Please refer the PULSAR Facebook page for more information and events.