By Daniella 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.
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.”
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.