Review – Caitlin Baucom’s The Sickness at Superchief Gallery

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By Daniella LaGaccia

Styled as “a three day spell” Caitlin Baucom’s The Sickness, a mini-opera performance at Superchief Gallery in Ridgewood, New York, was at once dreamlike, surreal, etheral and disturbing. The performance was performed over three nights from July 20th to the 22nd, with each preceded by work music and performances by Gate.Net, Tara Joe Tashna, Fougere, Ziemba, and Unsay.

The performance space was sparsely set up with furniture but effectively gave the impression of a room left unkempt, however, dark blue, purple, and red lighting gave the room a foreboding atmosphere with surreal and violent imagery was placed throughout with objects like a severed hand holding a mirror, a bottle of liqueur and cigarettes, a blank oversized rag doll, two balloons in the shapes of the letters AH set against the wall, and lights strewn across the room.

Harpist Sharleen Chidiac set the tone of the performance where she sat in the space playing the harp as people found their seats. Baucom was in a crouched position with a long piece of rope tied to her hair that was tethered throughout the room; this is dark fairy tale.

Caitlin Baucom, The Sickness (2017). Superchief Gallery, Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: Megan Mack, Courtesy of Megan Mack

Music begins to play, and Baucom gets up, unties her hair, and begins to pace around the room, agitated with arms crossed. A song begins to fill the air:

“ah! hush /shower of sparks/ one for light/one for dark/one for silent/one for loud/one for lonely in a crowd/ one for loving/ one for hate/ one for coming/ too damn late/ one for nothing/ one for all/one for right before the fall…”

She picks up the rag doll and begins to wrestle with it, she entangling it, it entangling her, until she collapses on top of it. A storm can be heard within the music. Baucom picks up a mic and beings to sing:

“…she is always watching feed her eyes or there’s trouble/ she is always writing more and never saying anything/ tries to say things now instead/ the same unwritten troubles/ better off and vague/ best thing she never did/ believe that shit…“         

Caitlin Baucom, The Sickness (2017). Superchief Gallery, Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: Megan Mack, Courtesy of Megan Mack

Recorded music played in the background throughout the performance, and Baucom’s voice alternated between live performance and recorded audio with one seguing into the other. Like voices rushing in the back of the mind, it was often hard at times to make out all of the lyrics. At one particularly effective moment, Baucom picks up the mirror with the severed hand against her forehead with the mirror facing towards the audience, walking by them, and starts speaking a racing monologue about :

“…the truth of the matter and matter always lies and burns with the truth and the only solution is to live with the fire, hellllOOOOO?! it’s so fucking ObViOuS and just as important and every single organ is bursting each moment with every disaster that’s ever happened…”

Caitlin Baucom graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in  2012, and she said that she had been developing her work at spaces like Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery, and debuting her first 20 minute “opera” that fall at the Stockholm Fringe Festival. She stated that although her work had the support of gallerist Joseph Ravens, people were not receptive to her work.

“…I developed this way of working in Chicago,” she said in a message. “However, I found many people in Chicago at the time to be wary of work that was using music or ant kind of production, which not many people at that time.”

Ziemba, On the Density of Reflected Entities (2017). Superchief Gallery, Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: Megan Mack, Courtesy of Megan Mack

Baucom’s performance was preceded by a performative experience by Ziemba, who designed a white mountain scene in an adjacent room. Called On the Density of Reflected Entities, Ziemba created a space of self-care, using essential oils, minerals, and plants to make three “lakes” of incense. Some of the ingredients in the lakes included lavender, sand, rice, milk, benzoin resin, frankincense, hemlock spruces and more, giving each lake its own unique calming scent and texture.

Ziemba introduced her performance and asked several pre-selected participants (including Baucom herself) to bathe their feet and legs in one of the three lakes. The participants were told to see this as a moment to release or “wash away” a difficult memory or experience they were holding on to, and were asked to signify that release with a sound of exaltation.

After Baucom’s performance finished, Ziemba invited all guests to participate in this experience. It’s hard to separate the experience of these two performances because they segued into each other with Ziemba’s performance acting as bookends to Baucom’s nightmare. Both works, however complimented each other well even though they contrasted with each other in content and tone, with one being brightly lit and set up as a place of healing and the other being darkened and set up as a place of disturbance.

What REMAINS After the Performance? An Interview with Tif Robinette

Liping Ting, Airplay for Utopia – Poetry of Action, (2017) REMAINS at Fergus McCaffrey, New York, performance still.
Photo: Courtesy of Fergus McCaffrey

By Daniella LaGaccia

Editors Note: This interview occurred in early June 2017, before the July 6th opening of REMAINS at Fergus McCaffrey.

The show REMAINS opened July 6th at the Chelsea gallery Fergus McCaffrey, and featuring the live performances of Liping Ting, Hee Ran Lee, and Máiréad Delaney. A preview of the show, which was on June 3rd, featured a welcoming reception and a casual performance by Clifford Owens. Artists who will also be featured in the show include Daniel Neumann and Nigel Rolfe.

There’s a certain amount of surprise and satisfaction in being able to write that because there is a rarity in seeing this type of event programed, especially in commercial art spaces where live performance is typically kept at arms-length. With all of their experience combined, these artists have performed countlessly in the United States and abroad in various venues, spaces and festivals, large and small, that dedicate themselves to showcasing performance, but for some, if not all, this show will be the first time their work is put on display and for sale in a major Chelsea gallery.

The programing, which will run until August 11th, features a diverse group of artists, diverse in nationality, ethnicity, sex, age, practices, and even stages in their career. The show will feature multiple live performances from each of these artists throughout the month, and the gallery will continue to evolve, showcasing, as the name implies, the remains of the performances.

In an interview with Tif Robinette, exhibitions coordinator at Fergus McCaffrey and curator of REMAINS, we talk about the decisions that went into curating this significant show, programing a show in a Chelsea gallery space that is featuring live performance for the first time, as well as the relationship between the commercial art world and performance.

Begin talking about your experience curating performance. Have you ever curated a performance show at a major commercial art gallery or institution before?

I’ve always worked in the underground; I’ve always worked in small galleries and small intuitions, but never at a commercial gallery at this scale. Although, I am drawing from my experience from working with Máiréad [Delaney], Liping [Ting], Hee Ran [Lee], those three artists I have worked with before in past curatorial projects. So, I definitely am drawing from my experience from the past, and also my current curatorial projects that are also going on at the same time as this.

So, I’m drawing on that community, and I’m bringing some new people in that give more of a breadth, and a little of more well-known institutional names into the programing as well. Because I’m able to do this at a venue with a bit of a budget, I can bring people that I’ve never had access to before. Also, I’m able to support more financially the projects of artists that I have really enjoyed working with in the past.

Nigel Rolfe, Dust in Face (2008). Performance view from Dust in Face in Dublin, Ireland, (1980) Giclée print on archival paper, 19 5/8 x 19 5/8 inches (50 x 50 cm)
© The Artist, Courtesy of Fergus McCaffrey

How long have you been involved in performance? How long have you been curating performance in smaller venues?

Ten years. Maybe a bit more, but I would say seriously since my late teens I’ve been putting on straight shows, and then in college I put on and helped produce a lot of events that included dance, performance, instillation, visual art, as well as literary readings, that kind of thing. I would say in the last couple of years in New York, I’ve really taken off with being serious about curational projects that focus of community, because I think performance art lends itself to that of its breakdown between the spectator and the spectacle.

With that in mind, this venue is a really interesting place to produce that kind of work, very experimental in a way because Chelsea galleries tend to not show straight up performance art shows.

Why is this gallery specifically interesting? What features does it offer for showcasing performance?

Well, I think the space architecturally is very interesting. The artists have all responded well to both the challenges of the space being that it’s a more commercial space, and also, exciting opportunities that architectural features can give to their work. So, the work is very site specific for all of the artists. They’re specifically working and interested in certain spaces within the space and responding to those spaces with their conceptual work. That’s really exciting for the artists because once you’ve performed in a certain space or a certain venue a number of times, it gets a little dull and what you find appealing about the space or the architectural aspect you want to work with. Basically, walls, floors, ceilings, staircase, windows, pillars, all of those sites will be activated.

You’ve been planning this show for a while now. Were there any concerns from the gallery about presenting performance in this space?

I’ve kind of been given carte blanche, but because I’ve been working with performance artists for a long time and also, I am myself a performance artist, I know what kind of problems in terms of materials in a space can bring. Also, because all of these artists have been working for quite a while in performance, they are very serious, there’s an element of trust that goes back and forth between us that if there is something specific that they want to do, I’m going to do my best as the exhibitions coordinator. This is what I do regularly at the gallery, I’m in charge of all of the physical aspects of putting on a show: sourcing materials for artists and that kind of thing, as well as installation problems or production problems, or ways of hanging, ways of displaying work. I know the space quite well, from how much weight can go here and there, what the walls can support and other issues. So, I have been working with each artist trying to figure out the best way to display their work.

Are there any specific restrictions in the use of materials in the performances? I know— for example—that fire and liquids are frequently discouraged from being used in venues and spaces.

No, not really by the gallery, but since I know the space very well there are things where I’m like, ‘Okay, were not going to get paint on the floor, because then I will have to clean it up.’ *laughs*

But, there are going to be liquids there are going to be sparks. There’s always a certain risk when you have a live body in the space and an audience in the space; there’s an unpredictability about that. I think that’s been part of the reason why institutions and galleries that if they do represent any type of performance art, it’s very safe in the form of documentation or ephemera, or institutions tend to lean towards showing choreographed work. One thing about all of the work being made in this is that there is an element of a negation of rehearsal. Even if the artists have worked with specific materials in very similar veins of work, there’s always the possibility for innovation in the moment.  That can be very scary, because as curator, you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen with each piece, but there’s a contract of trust in between you and the audience.

Hee Ran Lee, 50 Bulbs (2017) REMAINS at Fergus McCaffrey, New York, performance still.
Courtesy of Fergus McCaffrey

Has Fergus McCaffrey ever programed live performance before?

It seems from the outside a new direction from the gallery, although the gallery has represented Gutai and Hi-Red Center artists from Japan for a very long time. But no, there have never been specific performances within the gallery.

What do feel are some of the goals of this exhibition? It’s quite unusual to have performance art programed in a Chelsea gallery, a commercial art space. What does that mean for performance where there’s perceived to be little monetary value in ephemeral art?

Yes and no. For instance, the Gutai artists we represent, for instance, [Kazuo] Shiraga, made performative work, the objects that were made in the process of his performances, the ephemera, are selling for millions of dollars now. And other performance artists in the past like Joseph Beuys whose performance based ephemera and editions and photographs, prints, and everything related to that, do have monetary value after the fact. There are performance artists who have done okay with related to their performance work being a sellable commodifiable thing.  And there’s other artists who have been selling plans to their work to institutions, so they can be re-performed at some point.

There are these tricky ways that performance artists, or galleries and institutions are trying to enter into the conversation of commodity in regarding a very anti-commodity discipline. It brings up some very interesting questions, but there are some very strong opinions in the performance art community that the type of work that we’re making should not be commodifable, that we’re making it directly against and in contrast to the problems of the art world, and the problems of commodity, and the problems of Capitalism. This is a view that some artists take who would not want to be in this environment making work.

Or whose work does not fit…

Yeah, does not fit, so one of those curatorial problems I think were part of my choice of which artists to put into the show. First of all, there were a bunch of artists who were on my master list who simply don’t make work that is completely ephemeral, there’s artists who are very anti-commodifaction of their practice in any way, and there is a short list of artists who I really respect their work who also make things within their practice that could be commodifiable in some way, whether it be prints, or works on paper, or artifacts, or other ephemera, more sculptural elements. I was interested in bringing those artists together and putting on a show where there could be works for sale within the show that being a part of the entire exhibition.

Clifford Owens, Photographs With an Audience (Miami) Topsy/Turvy (2011) Digital C-Print, Edition of 5, 30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm)
© The Artist, Courtesy of Fergus McCaffrey

You just touched on this, but you told me privately a little bit ago that you wanted to curate artists who contrasted with each other’s’ work. Máiréad Delany and Hee Ran Lee for example make very different work. Explain from a curatorial position, why you felt contrast was the decision to go for this show.

Well, there’s contrast in all of the artists’ conceptual underpinnings in their work, but all of the artists have things in common in relation to aesthetics. There’s threads of aesthetics that tie each persons’ work together in interesting ways, whether it be human and machine, from human and natural elements, human and unnatural elements, so from the outside it looks like a diverse group of people, but there are connections…

It literally is a diverse group of people!

It literally is a diverse group of people both in age, nationality, ethnicity… I didn’t want to make a show that looks samey. Like, oh, of course all of these people will be showed together because all of their aesthetics are exactly the same. I wanted to create a vibrancy of conversation that work in a very similar vein, but have conceptual underpinnings that tie them together, which I think the title REMAINS leads into, both what remains after a performance action is finished, what remains in the memory, and the physical remains of the body. Since all of them are very body based, all of them are bringing in their specific identities in to the show.

So, you didn’t dictate a specific theme for the show.

No, I gave the artists the parameters of the space; we’ve been talking about materiality and the body quite a bit. While these artists may look different from the outside, to me they hold together as a firm group. There’s no wild outsiders, aesthetically, like, oh someone is painting rainbows on the wall.

This brings up a good point; these are people who you know will produce good work.

Right, solid work, and people who will respond well to other work that is going on in the space: People with a lot of aesthetic intelligence and conceptual intelligence, enough to be able to pick up on little threads running through it. But, since none of this work has been made yet, I can talk all I want on how it’s going to be, but that’s part of the exciting thing, that I don’t know exactly what’s it’s going to be.

Máiréad Delaney, Breach (2017) REMAINS at Fergus McCaffrey, New York, performance still.
Courtesy of Fergus McCaffrey

What I find most interesting is that you curated very different people in terms of where they are in their career. An artist like Máiréad is still very much young in her career, while you also have Clifford Owens and Nigel Rolf, both of whom have a tremendous amount of experience and have very much established themselves as artists.

That’s something I thought about to in the curation, in having a range of ages, gender, nationality, ethnicities, so that my hope is that the younger artists like Hee Ran and Máiréad who make very strong work, show their work beside people who are career performance artists who have been doing this forever. And have been supported institutionally and books, things like that; I hope to have it sort of two ways: the younger artists being shown on par with older artists will give their work a…. respect for what they are doing…

They’re being talked about in the same conversation.

That’s a good way of putting it. And the older artists, artists like Nigel who have been working for a very long time, and who doesn’t often get shown in New York, really highlighting his career and practice as being extremely relevant, very fresh, very experimental, constantly pushing, and even though there are younger artists and older artists, all of them have this strive to keep pushing through their practice.

You were talking about this as we were walking through the gallery, but the show is called REMAINS, will there be remains from the performances that will stay within the gallery? And do you expect the artists to incorporate those remains within their performances as the show evolves?

So far that hasn’t been something that people have been necessarily interested in because of the diversity of materials and practices that people are really into. There really doesn’t seem to be a lot of collaboration or crossover, but I can’t say that it won’t happen because I don’t know that. But there hasn’t been a curatorial moving into that; I haven’t pushed that in any way.

Daniel Neumann, One Cycle Ahead (2015) Fridman Gallery, New York.
© The Artist; Photo: Juan Betancurth, Courtesy of Fergus McCaffrey

When people think of performance art, names like Marina Abramović, or institutions like Performa usually come to mind to the average person. How do you think this show will help broaden how people see or talk about contemporary performance art?

For me, this is also a way of taking the performance artists who have been working primarily out of independent project spaces, sometimes institutionally, but institutions don’t really like us because we can’t give them video of exactly what we’re going to do…

There’s an interesting moment right now with the possibility of institutions and galleries presenting more dangerous work, work that’s harder to pin down as far as the many genres in performance art, and also I’ve been frustrated personally with the lack of what I view as important performance practice within Manhattan, period. When I go to events that are labeled performance art, most of the time with rare exceptions in the city, I end up going to avant-garde theater productions or contemporary performance dance which are very different disciplines than performance art that comes out of Fluxus, for instance. There are artists whose work comes out of the avant-garde, especially more Western Europe influences, and of-course, Japanese avant-garde influences, still making work practicing. We run all over the world going to performance art festivals, which is one of the few spaces where we can make work together that aligns with our practices. But, within Manhattan, not so much. I don’t see that experimentation happening here. I don’t see that dangerous element of innovation happening in the moment…

From a commercial standpoint… or institution…

Majorly from institutions as well. Performa sort of is a case in point for that. I really enjoy Performa events, but it doesn’t have the innovative dangerous underground flavor that I see in Brooklyn and beyond all over the world. I’m trying to bring a little bit of that excitement. People sometimes think that performance art is boring and dull, and stupid, and emperor’s new clothesy, but that’s how the way safe work is.

My Conversation with Andrea: An Interview with Andrea Kleine and Anya Liftig

Anya Liftig and Andrea Kleine, My Dinner with Andrea: the Piece Formally Known as Torture Playlist (2017). New York Live Arts.
Photo: Paul B. Goode, Courtesy of Andrea Kleine

By Daniella LaGaccia

I didn’t meet Andrea Kleine and Anya Liftig at a restaurant like the Café des Artistes in the Upper West Side, but we did find a nice coffee shop off the corner of Bryant Park. Pop music from the radio filled the room, dishes scrapped and the chatter of after work patrons bled into my recorder.

I interviewed both Andrea Kleine and Anya Liftig in May about their performance, My Dinner with Andrea: the Piece Formally Known as Torture Playlist last March at the New York Live Arts center. The performance had several stages, beginning in the lobby where musicians Michael Kammers, Bobby Privet, and Neal Kirkwood played the theme to Rawhide while the audience was still waiting to get into the theater. Alison Inglestorm then took the spotlight, repeating a dance routine to the pop song Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jense. Inglestorm led the audience in the theater, repeating the routine to the song, and then finally dropping to the floor in exhaustion. Anya Liftig begins to speak. She’s recount her life as a performance artist and walks to a table that has been set up in the center of the stage. Andrea Kleine meets her there, and then they begin to have a conversation about life, torture, high school plays, and Florida.

It should be noted that this interview references quotes from an interview Andrea Kleine and Anya Liftig published for Movement Research last March, and it references scenes and lines from the 1981 film, My Dinner with Andre. This interview also talks extensively about the “torture playlist”, songs used by the CIA to torture terrorist suspects. An article about the playlist can be found here.

Daniella LaGaccia: You said you were at an artist residency recently, what have you been up to?

Anya Liftig: I was at MacDowell [The MacDowell Colony] and that’s where I met Andrea and Bobby [Previte]. I was there trying to make video work and some 2D work, and blowing things up large. I was also doing collage work, not necessarily performance.

Andrea Kleine: I think it was 2013, and I was working on a novel there, but I think I already had that gig at The Chocolate Factory scheduled, I must of, so I had taken this long break from making performance work, and then I was sort of coming back to it. One thing I wanted to do with going back to performance, was that I didn’t want to work with anyone who I had worked with before in the past, so I kinda wanted to let that die, and just kind of bury it. I felt like if I worked with people that I worked with in the past , it would be too much about us as an ensemble or something, and I wasn’t interested in that. I guess I was sub-consciously looking for new collaborators.

DL: And you two have a history with working with each other right?

AL: After that, I didn’t know Andrea till I went to MacDowell, and we developed a history of working with each other since then. It seems like it was just yesterday, but it actually was four years ago.

AK: My Dinner with Andrea is the second.

D: So, 2013, 2014?

AK: In 2013 we did a piece at The Chocolate Factory that was called, Screening Room, or The Return of Andrea Kleine (As Revealed Through a Re-Enactment of a 1977 Television Program About a ‘Long and Baffling’ Film by Yvonne Rainer.) That whole thing was the title.

DL: That’s a good Fiona Apple album title.

*Everyone laughs*

AL: But, both of us had backgrounds in dance, training in dance and theater.

DL: Are you still working on your novel?

AK: That novel is now going to come out next year, so technically I am still working on it with the last edits.

Michael Kammers and Bobby Privet performing in the lobby. My Dinner with Andrea: the Piece Formally Known as Torture Playlist (2017). New York Live Arts.
Photo: Paul B. Goode, Courtesy of Andrea Kleine

DL: What’s your creative process for writing a novel?

AK: I think I work very intuitively. I look for things to become obsessed about, and then it sort of opens up. But I do think of novels very choreographically in terms of the structure. So, I’m probably less of a wordsmith type of novelist; I’m more interested in the structure of the story. But, I do think about it in terms of performance, in terms of an audience slash reader person reading through the book, like the experience of reading it.

DL: Yeah, I was going to ask, how would you compare the creative process of writing a novel compared to developing a performance piece?

Ak: Well, they’re very different in that I write a novel all by myself, which is fantastic because there is so much less project administration going on, and much less schedule wrangling, and having us meeting. I don’t know if it is less expensive, but it feels less expensive.

AL: It’s emotionally expensive right?… in a different way.

AK: In a way, but writing a novel for me takes some years, two to five years, so it’s a long time sitting for a project, where the work for a performance is very intense, very concentrated in a specific amount of time, and then it’s over, and then you have this sort of postpartum thing. For me the main difference is that in performance, you’re with the audience at the same time, so you’re giving and they’re receiving at the same time, and the with writing, I’m giving, centuries can go by, an then someone gets it all. There’s this huge chasm that’s kind of tragic in a way. In the performance the tragedy is it’s over.

DL: What I’m interested in My Dinner with Andrea is, how did this performance go from being about CIA torture prisons, to being about yourself trying to create that performance? It seems like a large shift in subject matter.

AK: I think part of it is a dodge. I think it was me dodging in a way, taking on that subject. I admit that part of it was a dodge, but I was interested in what the dodge was about. I was also interested in how we are all complicit in all these things going on, and how we all participate in torture. So, my goal was to not let myself off the hook for that, and I felt like taking on this big subject of the torture playlist, but I couldn’t be like, ‘Here’s the torture playlist, isn’t it so fucked up?’ Everyone would be like, ‘Yeah, it is fucked up, okay, see ya tomorrow.’ So, I felt there had to be more subtle incisions in order to open up and shift the prism.

DL: Well, then the performance could be about you dodging that subject, how do you feel about that?

AK: That I dodged it? I don’t know, it was sort of, did I dodge it, or did I take it on? I’d like to think that I did take it on, in that we made people laugh about animals being tortured, and then you realize you laughed about animals being tortured, would you laugh at people being tortured, have you been tortured, or have you tortured someone in some way? So, I don’t see it as an ironic piece. I actually do think I made a piece about  torture, but in order to do it, I sort of had to circumvent it and keep spiraling around the issue in making people laugh about it, and sort of making myself a bit ridiculous about it, and sort of pulling the time of the piece out, really stretching it out.

AL: I would like to chime in and say, what I thought was a very shrewd move was bringing the aesthetics of the theater and theatrical training and dance training and the dance world, and that an avant-garde audience is also complicit in a form of torture. It’s clearly different, but I thought that was a shrewd parallel.

Alison Inglestorm dancing to Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen during the second stage of the performance. My Dinner with Andrea: the Piece Formally Known as Torture Playlist (2017). New York Live Arts.
Photo: Paul B. Goode, Courtesy of Andrea Kleine

DL: Thinking about it now, the performance kind of has this idea that asks, instead of talking about torture head on, why do we end up avoiding these hard subjects?

AK: Well, something I was also thinking about was, is there a codified way of making activist work, of making political work, or are we just being complicit if we make politically relevant work and it has to be in this sort of way. I wasn’t interested in that.

In another conversation that we had, Anya said something like, ‘Sometimes I feel like dancers are politically averse in a way.’ And I was also thinking about that, and I was wondering if dance or performance, or choosing the life of a dancer or performance artist by itself is a radical act, an activist act. But, I was also thinking about what you [Anya Liftig] said about theatrical training and also about the David Foster Wallace essay, where he’s like, how do you do it? How do as a person actually throw a lobster into a pot of boiling water, and also, how do these soldiers and military people, how do they do it? How do they actually bring themselves to torture human beings? And then I was thinking of how I have tortured people, asking questions like, did I torture Alison Ingelstrom to do this very technically difficult, long, repetitive dance to this infectious pop song. I don’t know.

So, I was looking at all of these power dynamics, and sort of realizing that there was somewhere a kind of connection between soldiers who are able to torture people and how you were able to put a lobster in boiling water, or you were able to say, ‘Okay, let’s take that again from the top.’

DL: What I find interesting is that these songs like Rawhide, or Call Me Maybe, for us it’s considered pop culture, it’s seen as a source of pleasure and would not be considered torture. Like now in this restaurant, with music playing in the background, it’s just noise, but for someone who has a different religion, or if it is used in a specific way it can be experienced as torture.

AK: Yeah, the songs on the torture list from my understanding were in categories. One was purely volume and aggression, like loud heavy metal music, and in another category were songs that were sexually explicit, and were meant to hurt people from a certain religion. And then, there was this sort of rah rah America category like We are the Champions, and Neil Diamond’s Coming to America. And then there were these cruel earworm jokes like the MeowMix cat food commercial, and the Sesame Street theme song, and Prince’s Raspberry Beret, and there were things like Rawhide which I thought were just cruel because of the lyrics.

AL: Those are bizarre things from a pop culture standpoint right?

Anya Liftig and Andrea Kleine, My Dinner with Andrea: the Piece Formally Known as Torture Playlist (2017). New York Live Arts.
Photo: Paul B. Goode, Courtesy of Andrea Kleine

DL: I want to change the subject a little bit, and I want to talk about a quote from the film, My Dinner with Andre. It comes really early in the beginning, and I felt it was a key line that was significant to understand the nature of the film. William Shawn, who plays himself, recounts how he heard a story about his friend Andre Gregory, who one night broke down crying after hearing the line from the Ingmar Bergman film Autumn Sonata, “I could always live in my art and not in my life.”

Was that quote relevant in the development of this performance? Or, talk about how you think that quote relates to performance in general.

AL: I’m speaking now as an individual performer, and not part of Andrea’s ensemble, but I certainly think for me that’s very true. I think that making work can be a way of avoiding, a way of dealing with, a way of confronting what’s going on in one’s life. I feel very grateful for having discovered performance in the sense that it has made certain things in my life easier to confront. But, I think that living one’s life is hard, and living one’s art can be difficult, but I certainly think living one’s life is harder.

I think of it like Andrea’s notion of the forest, wanting to go running in the forest in terms of that being an expression of my artistic practice, and what I want to do. I want to go running in a way that I’m not capable in my regular life.

AK: Yeah, I have to agree with all of that! *laughs*.

On the flip side of that though, on actually making the piece My Dinner with Andrea, I was trying to figure out also, in some way how to make my life the art. And that was sort of my concept for writing the text.

AL: I want to add that it’s important to note that everything that was said was true. So that moment when I’m describing the lobster performance is one of those moments where there’s this catastrophic conflict between one’s art and one’s life.

Anya Liftig and Andrea Kleine,My Dinner with Andrea: the Piece Formally Known as Torture Playlist (2017). New York Live Arts.
Photo: Paul B. Goode, Courtesy of Andrea Kleine

DL: Okay, let’s get to that. In your conversation with each other in the performance, you talked a lot about how you waste time, your internet habits, and so on. What was it like examining yourself in that way in front of a larger audience in the context of a performance?

AK: In some way I was trying to bring my writing practice and performance practice together. And also, I was trying to some way mirror the film, and how he [Andre Gregory] sort of rambled through the film. It was very intimate in a way and revealing, but because I was performing it with this sort of filter of Andre Gregory, like I was still Andrea in the piece, but I was wearing a costume doing his voice, doing his vocal patterns, wearing that sweater which was really hard to find! That made it sort of easier. It felt like I was being a character, but everything I said was from myself. Which is interesting, because my concerns with theatrical performance are not actorly. I’m not interested in what is considered an actor’s concept of building a character. It’s much more connected to dance, it’s much more connected to choreography. The choreography is Andre Gregory, but the text is me.

DL: What about yourself?

AL:  Well, the main thing that I say was the lobster story.

DL: What about in the beginning when you talk about your life as a performance artist and selling things on Etsy?

AL: Oh, yeah, I forgot about the part that I talk about my life and the disasters *laughs*

For me actually the beginning was easier for me to say because I felt those were just facts about my life, and they were in plain view. The part about the lobster was much more of an interior dialogue. It was something where there is information where I said publicly about a lobster performance, but it’s not about that. For me that was an intimate thing to share, much more intimate than saying I’m divorced from a deadbeat etcetera etcetera.

DL: In an interview with Noah Baumbach, Andre Gregory said, “I definitely felt like I was playing someone” rather than himself in this performance, and in an interview with Gene Siskle and Roger Ebert, Shawn and Gregory said, “If we did this again, we would switch roles, just to prove we weren’t playing ourselves.”

Going back to this idea that you [Andrea] were playing Andrea through a filter of Andre Gregory, how much of yourself do you feel came through?

AK: I think the content was all myself, they were all true stories, I was trying to write this book where there was a sub-plot of these animal rights activists, and I was at this retreat in Florida where there were these animal sanctuaries there, but I couldn’t go. I’m actually a very shy performer. I don’t feel like I’m a natural performer in any way. Bobby Previte is a natural performer.

There’s a story that my friends make fun of me, because I has this residency once years ago; this theater company had a place and we were invited to go work on a project. I started to wonder about this woman who I went to junior high school with, and I did performing arts after school with, and is now a very famous Broadway star. But I started to think, ‘I wonder if she’s connected with them, and she’s having  gala benefit that we were all invited to, I wonder if she’ll be there? What if she came? I wouldn’t know what to do, I don’t know if I should pretend to be who I am or not.’ This is the line that my friends endlessly make fun of me about, pretending to be who I am.

But, I do all these things to actually convince myself that I can go on stage. And so, being the character Andre Gregory gives me this container to do all that. I’m also not that kind of talker that he is. He’s a famous talker. And it was really weird because someone emailed me afterwards, ‘Oh Andrea I forgot what a raconteur you are.’ I’m like, what the fuck are you talking about? *laughs* I’m very quiet person, I work at a library, I fall asleep at parties. So that part was rather challenging.

Anya Liftig, Andrea Kleine and Alison Inglestorm, My Dinner with Andrea: the Piece Formally Known as Torture Playlist(2017). New York Live Arts.
Photo: Paul B. Goode, Courtesy of Andrea Kleine

DL: Can you talk further about the rituals you go through before a performance?

AK: They’re not rituals like I have to stamp my foot three times before I walk on stage. The sweater was very important to me like I had to have that sweater. I went to so many thrift stores, and it was like what about this sweater, no… that’s too dark that’s too light, it has stripes, it doesn’t have buttons, it had to be the same sweater.

AL: But historically, like in Screening Room

AK: In Screening Room I played Yvonne Rainer and in that I had a wig. I had a lot more stage anxiety with that one, because I hadn’t performed my own work in over ten years. So, I had to be someone else to get back out there in a way. For Yvonne what got me through it was she was always in motion, she was always nodding her head, bouncing her knee up and down or rocking back and forth, and she always took a big breath before each sentence. So, I could inhabit those things. With Andre Gregory, he had such a particular voice, especially the way he said forest. It was sort of a New York accent from a different generation. It was the word forest that got me into that, like what is the forest and that sent me on that tangent, and that’s what also connected me to Florida, because what are other word like forest? My first line was ‘I was in Florida’, and that’s what kept me in it. There were these werid little nooks in the source material to get me through it.

DL: How about for you [Anya]? You’re mostly reacting to Andrea’s stories in the performance, but did you have any kind of preparation?

AK: A lot of my work is silent, and a lot of my work historically has been about facial movements or about facial gestures. So, I feel that is something I come to pretty naturally. In terms of preparing, it’s kind of interesting, because I wasn’t playing Wallace Shawn, but there is in the dynamic in between Andrea and I as friends, and the person who talks a lot is me. I tend to be a chatter box. So, it was actually nice to sit and listen and be quiet, and to bring that study and training of the face into this choreographic space.

DL: Going back to this idea of Shawn and Gregory switching roles, what do you think the results would be if you two switched roles in this performance?

AK: I think Anya had the more difficult part to be honest.

AL: What would happen? I would probably just go off and blabber on and on incoherently. Not that you were incoherent, but I would be incoherent, an not as interesting. *laughs*

What I really loved was listening to Andrea’s dialogue many many times, because I felt like every time I heard it, something else jumped out at me in terms of another connection. There was a serious of coincidence, like that fact that you’re from Richmond, and you knew this person. Like they’re so vague, but amazing synchronicities, and I was like, is it made up? It seemed so fantastical that it may have been made up.

DL: I wanted to get to this quote you said at the end of your interview with each other. When referring to Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, you stated, “For me when I was reading that, I had never written ‘memoir.’ I had never written about myself, but it seemed when she said that, it wasn’t that she was dishonest about it, but perhaps the story of one’s life is dishonest. It is actually just the way you remember it or the way you write it.”

Can you talk further about that? I took that as relating to performance where as an audience member you often take for granted that what you are seeing isn’t what is actually happening. Meaning, the audience applies meaning to the actions of a performer regardless if those meanings are true or not. Can a performer truly be honest?

AL: I think it can be a version of honesty. I think there is truth there, but what I was specifically talking about in that quote was, in terms of truth or veracity, I primarily worked without words for a very long time, because I felt I was trying to make a more open vessel for performance, and that words would be too specific or alienating in some way.

And, there has been some shift where I’ve been writing quite a bit for the past two years and discovering that the more specific I think the words are and the more specific the experience is, perhaps the more open it might be. I think one is always becoming on stage. To me that’s what’s exciting about performance as well as being a performer is I am discovering something and changing in front of people. That’s my ideal, where I am discovering something when other people are hopefully are, and that act of becoming is something that can be witnessed.

AK: I think the act of becoming and what you were trying to say in going back to that quote, is that, just practicing in the act of becoming on stage, there’s quite a lot of work that goes into that, work, and concepts, and practice. I think that was part of what Lucy Grealy was saying. I think people sometimes think that when you write a memoir or something autobiographical, it’s like opening the filing cabinet in your brain and you’re just transcribing a memory, when really, writing and artwork is far more involved and complex than that. There’s a memory you may have in your childhood, but what does it mean, and how do you re-inhabit it, and why would you re-inhabit it, what else is there?

 

Andrea Kleine, Anya Liftig and Alison Inglestorm, My Dinner with Andrea: the Piece Formally Known as Torture Playlist(2017). New York Live Arts.
Photo: Paul B. Goode, Courtesy of Andrea Kleine

DL: I brought this up because when watching My Dinner with Andrea, and going back to your lobster story, I recalled having previously heard a different version of that story, where someone took it and threw it in the sea. And so during the performance, I didn’t think you were telling a real story. That’s why I was so surprised to hear that it was in fact true. So, my misunderstanding led to me believing a truth that was not actually true.

AL: That’s interesting. The lobster performance where it was stolen and taken and released under the bed of stars into the sea—it directly led to this other iteration of the performance. Because the performance was interrupted I was asked to go through with the performance. And that was part of the second performance where I actually cooked the lobster and eat it, and that really had to happen in order to complete it. So there wouldn’t be one without the other.

DL: I want to talk about durational performances. Watching the movie My Dinner with Andre, it feels like a shaggy dog story, where it sounds like you’re hearing these profound ideas about life, but at the end there really isn’t a resolution. The subject of the movie is quite mundane: it’s two people talking over dinner. Andre Gregory in the film even makes the point of being tired of these mundane experiences in life, but as a viewer, this is itself a mundane experience.

How did bringing this long durational action add to this performance?

AK: That goes back to the idea of, can I make a piece about torture? And, of course one of the concepts of torture is a manipulation of time, and the person inflicting the torture has to make them feel like this is going to go on forever. So, I was interested in that with the long opening solo by Alison, and I was interested in the very long two-hour dinner conversation from the movie.

I thought it was interesting, because of course your fascinated by this eccentric character. The Wally character is like I’m just living this mundane life as a playwright, and Gregory is off going to beehives and to the Sahara [desert]. But, towards the end of the film Wally pushes back a bit, and Andre disavows things, and Wally asks ‘How can you disavow that?’ and they come back together and leave. Nothing is resolved and I love that because I hate conventional resolution, and nothing was resolved in My Dinner with Andrea, it just ended. I didn’t want one last speech; it was up to the audience to decide.

The ending was interesting being on stage because the light was these A Chorus Line finale footlights on steroids coming at the audience. It was blinding the audience, but from where we were on stage, it was lighting up the audience from our point of view. Then there was this saxophone solo that was in a way emotionally manipulative and nostalgic in a way, and things are crescendoing, and then we just leave, leaving the audience to subjectively sort out that material.

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

bre-lembitz-art-basel-2016-performing-hate-speech

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.”

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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