A Brace for Support by Eugene Choi with Ellen Davies, Photography by Keelan O’Hehir, 2018
A short video essay reflecting on professional wrestling as a contemporary performance form. Created by Courtney Nettleford and Sam West, Supported by Arts Council England and Loughborough University.
INTERVIEW By Harry Burke
JIMMY ROBERT ON THE BODY, SPACE, AND POWER
“The words emerge from her body without her realizing it, as if she were being visited by the memory of a language long forsaken,” wrote Marguerite Duras in her 1990 short novel, Summer Rain. The notion of the body as a vehicle of language permeates the inquisitive practice of Jimmy Robert. Born in Guadeloupe, and based in Berlin, Robert — who works in performance, photography, installation, and film — uses the body to ask questions about how spaces are constructed, and what it means to see and be seen. His artworks are often formed through processes of translation and transition, as he constructs meaning out of the differences that exist between various sites, texts, and media. A rigorous attention to collaboration runs throughout his oeuvre, and extends even to his relationship with his artistic godmothers: Duras, Yvonne Rainer, and other feminist figures who have brought visibility to issues of desire and movement while problematizing how power operates within the visual sphere. Earlier this year, Robert staged a performance titled Joie noire at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, and is currently participating in the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial (until January 2020). To encounter Robert’s work is to understand that art can be judged as much for what it does as for what it is: viewership is a provocative and participatory process. Can you describe your work for the current Chicago Architecture Biennial?The title of the installation and performance, Descendances du nu, is a play on the French words for descending and legacy — its starting point is Marcel Duchamp’s 1912 painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. I first performed the piece in a former synagogue in France. I was thinking about what it means to bring a body like mine into an art space with strong religious connotations while reflecting on Duchamp as a patriarchal figure — Sherrie Levine, Elaine Sturtevant, and Louise Lawler have all appropriated his work — and trying to locate myself between matriarchal and patriarchal figures. I wore a headpiece that looks like a staircase — I was like an architectural anomaly, or symbiosis. In Chicago, other performers are performing the piece on a staircase in a big cultural center from the late-19th century. It’s a neo-baroque extravaganza accompanied by a sound piece by Ain Bailey, and a text by Élisabeth Lebovici who writes about cabaret, Josephine Baker, camp, and the notion of the pedestal.
In 2017, you presented Imitation of Lives (2017) at Philip Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut. The piece responds to the building’s iconic architecture. It evolved in dialogue with Lucy McKenzie’s painting Loos / De Bruycker marble, as well as David Hammons’ In the Hood, texts by Jayne Cortez, Marguerite Duras, Audre Lorde, and Lorenzo Thomas, and other references. Intertextuality is very important to you. Why?It’s a way of opening things up, of layering, and of showing that things are complex and can’t be reduced. Whether it’s language, literature, or painting, these are different forms of collaboration. Collaboration is vital within your work.It stems from a desire to learn from others: what their work is, what their work is about. I once worked with (artist and choreographer) Maria Hassabi and found a shared interest in the body becoming an object. Collaboration is expansive and nourishing. It’s a bit like appropriation, which is about absorbing different practices and concerns.Perhaps collaboration is consensual appropriation?Ha! There needs to be a deeper sense of responsibility about how things are appropriated and borrowed. In appropriation, there’s an archaeology of knowledge, of how you construct yourself and your practice. My relationship to Marguerite Duras has been obsessive: watching and reading everything, knowing I needed to process ideas about masculinity, femininity, colonialism, and desire. Appropriating is a way of devouring. It is a cannibalistic approach to art: devour it to emit it back, transform yourself, and grow.
You recently presented Joie noire at KW, Berlin, within the context of a program dedicated to the late artist and performer Ian White. What was your relationship to Ian?We met when he showed some of my films at LUX in London. Once, we saw a Michael Clark piece at the Barbican, and thought, “Ah, we could do that!” So we found a way to do something together by learning Trio A by Yvonne Rainer. It’s meant to be a democratic dance that anyone can learn. We weren’t dancers, and we thought, “Can we really do this?”, but we figured it out, and performed it at Tate Britain and MoMA. Ian’s particular interest was in how to change the dynamic of the auditorium, and how people interact with films. Through him, I became interested in challenging relationships to institutions, art, and its interpretation. What did Joie noire consist of?We traveled through different spaces in the building, questioning time, and how long the audience would watch and listen. Choreographing the action of looking — that’s what I’m interested in. In the work, there was a recording of Ian talking about embalming, which he gave me before he passed away. It’s a meditation on death, and the nightclub. We went dancing a lot, and thought about art at cruising bars: these places are not about reflection, but that’s how we used them. There were seemingly disparate elements, but historically connected, through AIDS and activism in the 1990s. It was important that the work be staged in Berlin, the last city of decadence.Why performance?I’ve always found representation to be failing. I’m interested in analyzing what questions come from this failure. I started with photography, which produces a distance. I wanted to challenge this distance. The body became a transition between the moving image and the still image. Performance feels political because the body, a site of interference and resistance, is there. You have to face it.
What Makes Performance the Required Medium of the Day?
Karen Archey on Ligia Lewis and Alex Baczynski-Jenkins
What is it about performance that makes it the required medium for any new art initiative today? Historically, performance has been unwieldy for institutions to exhibit and collect. It is incredibly resource-intensive, requiring time and space for rehearsal, audio-visual equipment hire and, most importantly, fair wages for performers. Staging a performance is notoriously expensive in comparison to, say, most painting shows, which don’t typically require continuous upkeep and financing once mounted. More challenging to stage, and thus less-frequently seen, the medium is one that museums and their publics have been slow to warm to.
This month marks the reopening of New York’s Museum of Modern Art after its absorption of the former American Folk Art Museum. The expanded MoMA is relaunching with The Studio, a space integrating time-based artworks within the permanent collection display. (However positive the project may be, the museum’s claim that ‘The Studio is the world’s first dedicated space for performance, process and time-based art to be centrally integrated within the galleries of a major international museum’ seems dubious, given the opening of Tate Modern’s Tanks in 2012.) Today, museums subsume entire buildings and real estate used for art springs out of the earth in Manhattan’s last underdeveloped parcel of land. Performance is a spark of life to these otherwise languid structures. It offers an immediacy and sheen of authenticity that counteracts the neo-liberal, tax break-funded initiatives in which the works are performed – pitting a sense of haptic touch against tempered glass and stainless steel.
Perhaps it’s precisely the soft science of working with and viewing other people that makes performance a refreshing counterpoint to an art industry that is increasingly commercialized and corporatized. Regardless of athleticism or ability, in dance traditionally made for the stage there’s a satisfaction – and, perhaps, seduction – in viewing the technique-driven, trained body of a performer. You could argue that the same holds true in contemporary performance. Artist Alicia Frankovich, for example, works almost exclusively with queer, crip or pregnant performers, and her improvised choreographic works come off as a celebration of community on stage.
Like Frankovich, there are countless artists, performers and choreographers whose practices are being developed as an embodiment of their politics, relation to others and communal engagement. Given that performance utilizes the material of others’ bodies, the primary substance of the medium is relation, and consciousness of such relationality is a defining hallmark. While issues surrounding responsibility and consent are not without their hiccups, arguably they are at least a forerunning concern for practitioners of the medium. As such, many of the artists working in performance today take social responsibility as their core material, combining the representation of a constituency in their work with the care in the material world necessary to help their communities flourish. This is evident in the work of Ligia Lewis, who investigates the limits of empathy in popular and relational representations of black people, and Alex Baczynski-Jenkins, whose choreographic work celebrates the public display of queer desire.
Born in the Dominican Republic, raised in Florida and living for most of her adult life in Europe, Lewis works as a choreographer, director, dancer and performer. After training in dance at Virginia Commonwealth University, Lewis began performing in other artists’ works before embarking on her own career as a choreographer. Living for many years in Berlin, a city known for its support of theatre, Lewis attended countless stage plays and performances, particularly at the Volksbühne. Spending so much time around the stage prompted Lewis to use the theatrical black box as material and site for her works. Her recently completed trilogy began with a reflection on race and representation within theatre. The first work, Sorrow Swag (2014), is a choreography for one white male, themed around the colour blue, and approaches issues of embodiment, gender and grief. The second, themed red and titled minor matter (2016), is a choreography for three dancers – often performed by two black men as well as Lewis herself. This energetic piece pulls from both vernacular dance, such as black American high-school step routines, and well-known works from the history of modern dance, including Maurice Béjart’s renowned 1960 piece Boléro. The work’s opening scene, in which a ballerina seductively stretches out her spot-lit arms in parallel above her head, takes on a different meaning when enacted by a black man.
Lewis’s latest work, Water Will (in Melody) (2018), concludes her trilogy and is themed in white. Choreographed for a cast of four women, Water Will takes as its subject willfulness and its uneven application to us depending on social markers such as gender, class and race. Inspired by feminist scholar Sara Ahmed’s Willful Subjects (2014) and the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale ‘The Willful Child’ (1815), the work breaks with the expectation that, because its creator is a woman of colour, it must bear biting, direct social commentary. Water Will explores the concept of interiority through metaphors relating to femininity: the set is cavernous, dark, affective and wet – in the last scenes, the stage actually rains, as if crying. While Lewis is keenly attuned to the continued racialized persecution faced by people of colour, she has focused her practice on creating other possibilities for viewing and sensing the world in order to reflect on relation and empathy. Although Lewis is working on a range of visual arts commissions, she is also planning a new stage-based work for 2021.
Alex Baczynski-Jenkins is a choreographer who explores queer desire. Based in London and Warsaw, and of English-Polish heritage, Baczynski-Jenkins comes from a less traditional dance education than Lewis, with a focus on somatics (a field of movement studies that emphasizes the dancer’s internal experience). However, similarly to Lewis’s, his work is focused upon caring for a community, both representationally and materially. In a 2019 interview with Eliel Jones in Mousse Magazine, he states of his collaborators and performers: ‘Who you want to work with is who you want to share your life with.’
In 2015, as Poland’s right-wing government ascended to power, Baczynski-Jenkins co-founded, with Marta Ziółek, the queer and feminist space KEM in Warsaw. Located in a former factory, KEM initially functioned as a rehearsal and studio space to support other choreographers’ work. When the building was demolished to make way for new real estate, KEM took up residence in other institutions such as MoMA Warsaw (itself housed in temporary quarters) and Zachęta. Most recently, for KEM’s residency at Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Baczynski-Jenkins and his collaborators Krzysztof Baginski, Ola Knychalska and Ania Miczko threw a series of parties called Dragana Bar that functioned as an underground safe space in a city where homophobic sentiments are increasingly common and condoned by a far-right government.
Like KEM, Baczynski-Jenkins’s own choreographic work is created through structures of communal care and interdependence. His most recent work, Untitled (Holding Horizon) (2018), was developed as part of the Frieze Artist Award and performed at the Venice Biennale in 2019. Inspired by KEM’s Dragana Bar, this durational work is staged in a dark room and based on the box step, performed tirelessly by a large group of queer dancers.
Other works choreograph everyday queer life. Us Swerve (2014) is an orchestrated choreography of men on rollerblades, encircling each other like pendulums, with desire as the gravitational force. The two-hour work was inspired by the artist’s residency at Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, where he watched men cruising on rollerblades at the waterfront. Baczynski-Jenkins’s choreography takes the normally private experience of yearning and celebrates its queering as a public act; his performers embody the jubilance, apprehension and vulnerability that comes with this transformation of private to public. One of the most enduring myths pervading our industry, from both within and without, is that art and its practitioners are disconnected from the material realities of labour. This toxic misconception serves to disconnect ethics from our practices, despite the art industry feeling the material consequences of real estate run amuck, the economic effects of forcibly flexibilized working structures and the socio-political effects of government-condoned racism and homophobia. That practitioners such as Lewis and Baczynski-Jenkins place representation and social responsibility so centrally in their art is an essential and invigorating rejoinder.
Karen Archey is an independent curator and art critic based in Berlin.
Excerpt from a conversation between Tarren Johnson and Wojciech Kosma at The Performance
Agency Studio, Berlin, July 8, 2019
W: The only thing I thought about when driving here, was how wonderful it would be if the Settlers Lounge didn’t have any context. I could see it in a theater, a musical venue or in the street. So-mehow it felt like the content was preceding the context, because it didn’t rely too heavily on where it was happening.
T: The original structure of the Settlers Lounge was going to be a box of two way mirrors instead of the final steel framed structure. The atmosphere was shaped by the original design. Even though you could see through the partitions of the space, there was an indication of separation. For me it was really important to find the core and now I will build on it as the performance series continues and moves to different spaces. I really enjoy working in store fronts. I think there is an interesting engagement with the people that are walking by and watching us rehearse over a period of time. And a lot of people ended up coming by for the show with the speaker outside as an invitation.
T: What inspired me to make this piece was travelling to New Zealand, going to heritage parks and encountering stories about settler colonialism taught via physical postures of wax models. I was going in, literally looking at the physicality and asking myself what am I supposed to be getting from this still representation of a body and a posture in this context. Another element is about ma-nipulating individual and collective ideas of the past. I’m interested in emancipated authorship ap-plied to history.
W: So what happened to these representations during the piece?
T: Well, I perverted them horribly. I think Andrew Clarke menstruating from his mouth at the end of the piece wasn’t something you would see in a historical park.
W: I allowed myself to enter very emotionally into the work and experienced the music as sort of unbreakable, like a crystal…
T: Actually, I’ve been interested in the use of sound in psychological warfare. Music can set a tone for a situation and give you a lot of information about what you should be thinking or feeling.The composer I collaborate with, Forrest Moody, and I push a romantic piano music, evoking daytime television, past a certain limit. I’m not trying to alienate the audience, if people get alienated it’s be-cause they’ve indulged so much in their fantasies that they hit a wall.
BY Elizabeth Fullerton with/about Anne Imhof, 2019
Anne Imhof presents seductive, melancholy performance populated by beautiful, androgynous, sullen youths. Over six nights in March, the German artist staged Sex, her latest epic composition, in the Tanks at Tate Modern, cylinders that stored oil when the building was a power station and that were converted into performance galleries in 2012. Sex shared some similarities with Imhof’s powerful, angst-ridden Faust, which earned her the Golden Lion for best national pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Like that work, Sex featured dancers, musicians, and models in club gear singing, headbanging, and wrestling across different spaces over four hours. But Sex, shaped by Tate Modern’s three subterranean spaces and incorporating Imhof’s paintings and sculptures, was more elaborate and ambitious in scale than Faust. The South and East tanks were each dominated by a pierlike structure, one for audience members to stand on and the other accessible only to performers. The adjacent Transformer Galleries were lined with Imhof’s large-scale yellow and black paintings (“Gradients”), graffito works (“Scratches”), and silkscreen prints portraying her partner and collaborator Eliza Douglas with her mouth open in a silent scream. In this third area, which evoked the intimacy of the bedroom, performers sprawled on high plinths or crouched on shabby mattresses surrounded by smashed iPhones, beer cans, bongs, sex toys, and S/M gear. A mesmerized audience trailed the performers as Imhof coordinated her team’s movements by text message.
Sex is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago from May 30 to July 7 and travels to the Castello di Rivoli in Turin in 2020. I met with Imhof between rehearsals for a discussion of the production and her process.
ELIZABETH FULLERTON How did the Tanks’ industrial ambience and scale chime with your vision for Sex?
ANNE IMHOF I was interested in having multiple layers. The Tanks allowed me to make three overlapping pieces in one. I wanted them to bleed into each other, blurring all the time, so I was thinking how the different tempos could work together.
There’s a painting of a rotated sunset on the wall of the South tank, which was one of the initial images in the show. This vertical horizon line for me stands for an ending, for annihilation or death. In that Tank you’re looking into a landscape from an overlook platform, but actually you’re indoors.
By contrast, in the Transformer Galleriesthe kind of images I wanted to create resemble portraits. There is an element of cruelty when viewers can stare at an intimate moment unfolding that close up for as long as they want to. One of the choreographic sequences in this space involves frantically putting in order things that are lying around—a beer can, patent leather shoes, my bronze head sculpture. They are placed in a row with bongs and toothpicks. It was Eliza’s choice to use the Golden Lion as a prop. The lion ended up among the rest of the objects with a Stella Artois can on top of its wings. The idea was to make all the objects seem equal, and to use them as attributes to suggest a narrative about a person. The performance shifts from individual characters to a shared persona that is distributed over multiple people.
FULLERTON What is the relationship between your paintings and the performance in Sex?
IMHOF I chose these black and yellow works to be the predominant paintings in the show and this line that blurs in the middle has to do with a fluidity that I wanted the production to have. There’s something very violent in these two colors coming together. The way I work with painting and performance is very much the same. In the studio I execute some things myself and then hand over control to somebody else, as I do in my performances. I determined where the line and shadow go in the paintings, but they were made by a car painter. When I draw and paint there’s a moment of accident that I almost look for as a way of discovering what might come next. But it also gives me a feeling of panic because it’s not planned.
FULLERTON Were these paintings a response to the performance or vice versa?
IMHOF They were made at the same time and they influence each other. From the very beginning I worked closely with some performers, most significantly Eliza Douglas. Many of the movements and images were influenced by her art, as were the costumes and large parts of the music that we wrote in collaboration with Billy Bultheel.
FULLERTON Do the performers embody specific characters?
IMHOF Everybody brings their own personality and expertise with them, which you see in the improvisation. There are no particular roles assigned to performers but certain character attributes and gestures that are almost shared by everybody. People take them on at various points in the performance.
For example, there’s the character of the flaneur, who repeatedly enters the space simply for the sake of entering it, without performing a grand gesture that the others seem to be waiting for. Sometimes a gesture is introduced, then copied. You see a person turning with their hands held up, making a shadow on their face. Then another person copies them, so the gesture becomes an image that has a certain symmetry. I worked a lot with the motif of the doppelgänger.
FULLERTON You’ve said you regard your performances as sequences of images. Do these thread together a loose narrative or explore themes and moods?
IMHOF It’s nonlinear and quite loose. There are scenes, songs, sequences, and images that are fixed as well as unchoreographed “in-betweens.” These “in-betweens” are very important for the overall mood and aesthetics of the piece on a particular day. In general everyone brings in their own images and a lot is decided in the moment. It is a shared process of decision-making. Sometimes almost nothing is happening, which is an important aspect of the work for me. Sometimes it’s the opposite, and the piece suddenly peaks. It’s not just me who’s in control.
FULLERTON What draws you to that blankness, which also prevails in previous works such as Faust and Angst? It’s quite confrontational when the performers stare at you for minutes on end.
IMHOF I’m interested in the moment of uncanniness that comes from being looked at, when you discover something inside you that is maybe the thing you’re most in conflict with. Holding the gaze can also feel empowering
FULLERTON The zombielike performers enact the violence, pain, and discomfort of sex without the joy.
IMHOF There is a bit of zombie inside there for sure, when they dance the waltz as if they are undead, but I also think there’s a lot of mindless action around us, so why not take it as an image and put it in.
For me that moment may seem painful, but there is a joyful aspect in falling on the floor with somebody and then holding them, even if the embrace is almost violent. There’s something in it that’s very tender and real.
FULLERTON When you discuss the visual aesthetic with the team, do you instruct them not to smile?
IMHOF Yeah, we might jokingly say “don’t smile” if somebody new comes! This affect is also part of the exaggerated quality of the performance. In Sex I use lighting to create shadows behind people that are like a weird exaggeration of their own size. And then there is a moment where someone whips that massive shadow or where Eliza walks slowly toward the audience but the bouncing light makes it look like her shadow is going away. A huge shadow can look like an uncanny blackness from the neighboring tank.
FULLERTON How do you see the work evolving as it moves to Chicago and Turin?
IMHOF One of the piers is going to Chicago, where it will become something else—the only large-scale sculpture alongside paintings and drawings. I liked thinking of the objects and works having many lives, from hanging on the Tanks’ rough walls to being in a white cube space in Chicago. I’m interested in what art is and if it still has any vitality. With Sex I wanted to celebrate art as something undead.
STANTON TAYLOR on MICHELE RIZZO
Choreographer Michele Rizzo Reveals the Ecstasy and Unredeemed Power of the Nightclub
At Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, Rizzo’s performance ‘Higher.xtn’ unpicks the communal politics of the dance floor
4/4, a siren calls. We wait. Slow-steady, young ravers descend upon the lobby: from the left, then the right, then behind. Clad in second-hand sports brands, well-worn workwear and sundry leatherettes, they serve the leftovers of last night’s looks. Yet their movements are introverted, their gazes downcast. Once onstage, they shuffle about aimlessly as they sync up to Lorenzo Senni’s haunting synths. Casually self-absorbed, they seem oblivious to anyone but themselves. By the time the music shifts gears towards a slower beat, the dancers have settled into rows facing each other and move in perfect unison.
Higher.xtn comes as the latest instalment in an ongoing movement research project that choreographer and artist Michele Rizzo initiated in 2015. After studying at the School for New Dance Development and the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam, Rizzo went on to produce the first version of Higher in collaboration with the Frascati Theatre and ICK Amsterdam. Originally developed for a classic black box theatre, the earliest version featured an extended light show and only three dancers – Rizzo himself alongside Juan Pablo Camara and Max Goran. Later on, the project came to encompass a series of large public workshops. These workshops in turn helped Rizzo refine the techniques he would use to drill the cadre of dancers at the Stedelijk into ecstatic unison. One exercise, for example, involved pairing the dancers off and having them improvise over extended periods while staring into their partner’s eyes. This was designed to help the dancers lose their bodily self-consciousness in the face of the other. Only then would another exercise start introducing the piece’s short yet precise phrases into these durational improvisations, step by step. And though some dancers understandably described the marathon rehearsals as rewarding but exhausting, the characteristically authorial Rizzo was more reserved: ‘…you know, it was only two weeks.’
Performed twice a week over the course of a month as part of the exhibition Freedom of Movement, Higher.xtn quickly grew into considerable social media success. It now seems that Rizzo is well poised to join the growing number of choreographers working as frequently in museums as they do in theatres and festivals. But compared to the languidly immersive performance environments of Maria Hassabi, Anne Imhof or Adam Linder, Highert.xtn stands out for its assertive theatricality: an unambiguous stage, a clearly defined beginning and end, relentless synchronisation, and a rejection of all things ‘participatory.’ On the phone, however, Rizzo conceded that this sense of theatricality was partly an unintended consequence of the piece’s runaway success. During the first performances, visitors were somewhat confused when they initially encountered the dancers awkwardly shuffling to themselves in the stairwells and halls; some even wanted to join. This ambiguity, Rizzo suggests, would probably have been more in line with the way people perceive things with their bodies as they wander through an exhibition space. By the last performance, even visitors who’d come half an hour early found themselves jostling for a place to stand, let alone sit, in the Stedelijk’s crowded lobby, and you could feel the anticipation swell with every minute the stage was empty. The audience had arrived and they wanted a show.
But beyond these translations between museum and theatre, there is something more sacred at work: the translation between the experience of clubbing and its representation. The image offered is, paradoxically, one of private transcendence in the midst of complete social determination. In the pursuit of ecstasy, the dancers submit wholeheartedly to each other and more importantly, to the rhythm that holds them in step.
In an early statement on the piece, Rizzo speaks of trusting in dance as ‘the practice that compensate[s] for the fact that we can never be each other,’ and thus ‘we attempt in becoming one.’ What Rizzo shows us is an inverted technology of the self: one where discipline does not serve to cultivate the individual, but rather dissolves it altogether. He shows us the individual body ventriloquised in the service of something greater than itself. But the question remains: in service of what? Here, the vision of transcendence doubles as a vision of community. Much like protests, night clubs and festivals are one of the few forms of IRL assembly still tolerated as a pressure valve to daily life under capital. Unlike protests, though, these assemblies are meticulously guarded spaces, blissfully free of social conflict and subsequently dialogue: bouncers over barricades, community over class. At its most powerful, Rizzo’s Higher.xtn not only shows us the ecstasy of social communion, but also its glaringly unredeemed potential. Being together is beautiful, just as long as it’s not with everyone.
Michele Rizzo’s Higher.xtn was performed in January and February at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, as part of the exhibition ‘Freedom of Movement’, which runs until 17 March 2019. His new piece Deposition premiered at Kunstencentrum Buda, Kortrijk, Belgium, on 20 February. On 1 March, Rizzo will hold a workshop at the Stedelijk Museum.
Kate Brown on Nora Turato
‘Hysteria Is Still Taboo’: Performance Art Dynamo Nora Turato on Why the Art World Still Isn’t Ready to Hear a Woman Scream
The Croatia-born, Amsterdam-based artist is on a hot streak.
She performs in the typically quiet, hallowed halls of museums, galleries, and even churches. She storms around; she gets hysterical.
Now, she’s working on two solo shows that open in early 2019, one at arts center Beursschouwburg in Brussels and the other at the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein. Last week, she wrapped up her two-year stay at the prestigious Rijksakademie residency in the Dutch capital.
This rapid-fire pace is fitting for an artist whose work is as dynamic as Turato’s. Typically setting herself up against a backdrop of dizzying text-based posters or typographic videos, Turato presents brazen, wandering monologues using her most transgressive artistic tool: her voice.
“Rarely do you see artworks where the female voice is going to these extremes,” Turato tells artnet News from her home in Amsterdam. “It’s usually trying to be sexy, calm—like a voice operator. And rarely do you see the female voice being used hysterically.” (“Sorry… I just ramble,” says Turato to an audience after spewing a bunch of sounds in her recent performance leaning is the new sitting at Vleeshal Markt in Holland. “I often say ‘sorry’ when I mean ‘thank you,’” she continues. “But I was only given a nail file and ‘sorry’ to cut my way out.”)
Turato enters into typically male-dominated spaces in an armor of conspicuous, colorful garb—like a tailored Balenciaga suit paired with spiked heels. And she starts talking. She goes on for half an hour (right around the length of a punk record) and, with her clipped melodies, she races through a stream-of-consciousness tangle of references that range from advertisements to book excerpts, movie quotes, and social-media posts. As artnet News’s editor-in-chief Andrew Goldstein described it, “the effect is a bit like listening to ‘The Wasteland’ as composed by a bot and broadcast via Alexa.”
Croatia’s bloody war of independence broke out in 1991, the same year the 27-year-old artist was born. Luckily, she says, her family was not directly involved, so her trauma is much milder than that of many others from her generation. But, nevertheless, she came of age in the context of Croatia’s hardened postwar and post-socialist music scene emboldened. After high school, she moved to Amsterdam to study graphic design at one of the city’s top art schools, the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, and took up work as a full-time graphic designer.
Turato says she was always performing on the side. “I never became an artist on purpose,” Turato says. “I’m doing this by accident because the art world was the first world that let me do this.”
It’s true that her work could just as easily be adapted to cinema, avant-garde theater, or fold back into music. But after a long spell as a musician in Croatia, she found the punk scene boys’ club boring; the Dutch art world proved to be more engaging and accepting. “There’s still a genuine surprise when women do something good in music,” she says.
And like many immigrants, she now feels at home both everywhere and nowhere. “I had to change my ways a lot to exist in Holland,” she recalls. “There is something about living in the West and having a distance from it. But I also have distance from back home. I am always somewhere in between.”
The spoken word artist explores the feeling of not-quite-belonging in her performances. At Kunstverein Bielefeld in Germany earlier this fall, Turato pounded around the institution in a cobalt blue suit jacket and a vibrant orange turtle neck that matched her dyed hair, frantically listing off the things her peers have obsolesced while she glared back fiercely into a crowd that quietly lined the walls.
“My generation… My generation is killing hotels, department stores, chain restaurants, the car industry, diamond industry, napkin industry, home ownership, marriage, doorbells…serendipity…” She speeds up; her list goes on. With raucous acceleration, you can almost feel the BPMs turning up—changing a tangent into a punk anthem that’s too frank to be cynical.
Finding a Home in the Art World
Turato’s experience in advertising is evident in her magnetic, bold, sans serif posters, which bear snappy slogans reminiscent of advertising billboards. She prefers the simplicity of print because it recalls inexpensive merch seen at music venues. She doesn’t want to make art that’s too precious.
But while her ephemera aims to look both casual and replicable, her presence is anything but that. “I wondered what could come next after this whole ‘don’t-give-a-fuck’ moment,” she says, reflecting on the abject trend in contemporary art that surrounded her. That’s partly why she decided it was important for her to dress well.
Her formalism in dress stands in stark contrast to other performance artists of the moment, who opt rather for more unstudied or so-called effortlessness fashion. (Anne Imhof’s Golden Lion-winning performance at the Venice Biennale in 2017, for example, included performers that were meticulously dressed to look like they had just rolled out of bed.) “I do give a fuck, so what do I wear if I really do give a fuck?” asks Turato.
As she steps into character, Turato describes going into “complete autopilot.” (She memorizes her lengthy scripts beforehand.) “If I was doing what I do in Croatia, I would be seen as nothing short of insane,” she points out. “I don’t think Croatia would be ready to have a woman talk like this yet.”
Depending on the mood and composition of the audience—the more men present, the more skeptically she says she is received—Turato reworks her lines each time, ramping up particular snippets. “It’s like a band performing their favorite song,” she says. Lines are repeated like a hit chorus, but a little differently every time.
Her work can still be a tough pill for audiences to swallow. At Manifesta 12 this summer, Turato was taken aback by the audience’s reaction to her performance at a baroque chapel in Palermo during the opening days of the nomadic European biennial. Some people left vicious comments in the book at the front of the church, writing that she was a “crow in paradise” and a witch. “It reminded me of south Croatia, where it is really conservative and Catholic and uptight,” she says.
Turato is showing us that, even today and even in the more progressive corners of the world, many are not quite ready to have a woman shriek, rant, gossip, and whine at them, or stare them down. She wryly notes how many words there are to negatively describe a woman’s voice when it does not fall into the soft-spoken category. “I feel like men are still not capable of listening to a woman for 25 minutes straight without saying anything,” she says. “Hysteria is still taboo—no one wants to be seen as hysterical. You do so much by just doing that.”
MATTHEW MCLEAN on Trajal Harrell
Made to Measure
Trajal Harrell talks ‘realness’, daydreaming, and his performance Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (S)
Trajal Harrell is in London to perform Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (S) (2010) at Sadler’s Wells – the UK debut of this piece, which forms part of Block Universe, the performance festival whose impressive second edition also featured UK premieres of works by Martin Spangenberg and niv Acosta, and new commissions from Jesse Darling and Raju Rage, Grace Schwindt and Erica Scourti, among others.
From 2009 on, in venues from Vienna to Rio de Janeiro, Harrell has mapped the possibilities of this thought across a series of performances, each a kind of remix of the other, nominally distinguished by sizes, like garments: from (XS) to (XL) to (M2M) – ‘made to measure’. Along the way, he’s been nominated for a Bessie (The New York Dance and Performance Awards), lavishly praised by the New Yorker and the New York Times, and (bizarrely) hailed as ‘the next Martha Graham’ in the Huffington Post.
The idea of producing the work in sizes was inspired, Harrell says, by the different sizes of the snowballs sold by David Hammons in his Bliz-aard Ball Sale (1983), as well as Rem Koolhaas’ 1995 volume of the OMA archive, S,M,L,XL. (Harrell is passionate about Twenty Looks … ultimately taking the form of a publication).
Yet the sizing of the work is also a winning – and winningly transparent – negotiation of the choreographer’s position as a practitioner without a fixed audience or network of patronage. ‘I never had the dream of building a company that will perpetuate itself after I die’, he says, the company model having, he feels, ‘fallen apart’ for choreographers of his generation. As such, variability is key: a visual arts institution (Harrell has himself just completed a two-year residency at MoMA) with a regular flow of busy visitors and limited dedicated performance space might welcome a short commission in a way that a dance theatre selling tickets might not. ‘Who wants to hire a babysitter and come out for a ten-minute piece?’ Harrell asked in a post-show conversation at Sadler’s Wells. (As it happens, (M) and (L), each usually clocking in at around two hours, tour the most.)
Harrell explains that the multiple versions of Twenty Looks … also ‘work against the idea of having a specific viewer or an ideal audience’, which is to say its explicitly modular format puts upfront the impossibility of there being any priority within the series. It’s possible to see the whole series – each work was performed in sequence at The Kitchen in New York in 2014, for example – but no size is definitive, much less any one night’s performance of it: no experience of any part of the work is the ‘real thing’, and every experience is.
‘Realness’, as it pertains to original Ballroom culture is, indeed, one of the piece’s key occupations. To quote Dorian Corey from the famous 1990 Jennie Livingston documentary from which Twenty Looks … subtitle derives, ‘realness’ in this context means ‘undetectable’: a mode of self-presentation that allows the performer to ‘walk out of that ballroom into the sunlight and onto the subway and get home, and still have all their clothes and no blood running off their bodies’. ‘Realness’ is practical and tactical – a matter of appearance and perception (and survival). More fundamentally, is not a question of being ontologically identical to something or of inner essence: ‘realness’ is conditional on not being identical to something.
‘Realness’, as it pertains to original Ballroom culture is, indeed, one of the piece’s key occupations. To quote Dorian Corey from the famous 1990 Jennie Livingston documentary, Paris is Burning, from which Twenty Looks … subtitle derives, ‘realness’ in this context means ‘undetectable’: a mode of self-presentation that allows the performer to ‘walk out of that ballroom into the sunlight and onto the subway and get home, and still have all their clothes and no blood running off their bodies’. ‘Realness’ is practical and tactical – a matter of appearance and perception (and survival). More fundamentally, is not a question of being ontologically identical to something or of inner essence: ‘realness’ is conditional on not being identical to something.
In this way, there is a temptation to read the piece in terms of erasure, re-insertion and the righting of historical injustices. There is scope for redress: postmodern dance is overwhelmingly white; sexuality in much of the Judson group’s works is oddly illegible, given that many of its key figure are or were queer; and Vogueing, while hardly unacknowledged (I can’t get over the vine of two white tweens death-dropping in a school gym), lacks institutional recognition. Yet, as Harrell told Ariel Scott in a 2011 interview: ‘I don’t start from a politics to make my work.’ While he’s happy, even proud, if Twenty Looks … increases the visibility of Vogue and Ball culture, it’s not his primary aim: ‘I am not a Voguer,’ he tells me ‘and I have never felt that Vogueing needs me.’ (Again, not being a dyed-in-the-wool exponent of the thing he’s performing seems key to kind of realness that interests Harrell.) Twenty Looks … was instead a way to break out of some of conceptual dance’s more deadening tendencies. ‘For a time, there was not a lot of movement,’ he puts it diplomatically. Harrell’s performance at Sadler’s Wells, in contrast, though it has its static moments, is essentially all movement – slouchy at times, pointed at others, febrile in its intensity, each gesture seeming almost to vibrate. For all its elegance, it’s also tense – I was struck by a walk in which Harrell’s arms are subtly held out just above his hip, as if holding an invisible hoop. Growing up in south Georgia, Harrell told Scott in the 2011 interview, meant: ‘I really fought […] even to cross my legs.”
‘I always say: “I don’t know how to make a dance,”’ Harrell admits when I ask him about his working method. His research usually begins a year before entering a studio with other dancers – reading, listening to music, practicing on his own body – but he is reluctant to rely on predetermined formulae. Though his choreography is becoming increasingly refined in its movements, treating the body as object (perhaps, he speculates, one result of spending time in visual arts institutions), there’s still a sense of being without a ‘recipe book’, in Harrell’s words.
Yet in the history of dance – on the stage and in popular crazes, in Hoochie Coochie shows and all that which he calls ‘dance before it knew itself as “dance”’ – Harrell does have a recipe book, or a scrap book, at least: a dossier of gesture and inspiration. Recently, while researching the development of the Japanese dance theatre Butoh for pieces such as The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai (2015) – another ‘cultural fiction’ hinging on fusion, this time an imagined encounter between Tatsumi Hijikata and Dominique Bagouet, the star of France’s nouvelle dance who died of AIDs at just 41 in the 1990s, in a New York bar – Harrell discovered that Hijikata had been influenced by Catherine Dunham, the influential African-American choreographer, whose repertoire drew on her anthropological fieldwork in Haiti. Tracing a line from Butoh to Voodoo: it starts to make sense, in the light of such semi-historical conjectures, that Harrell should sometimes refer to dancing as a kind of ‘archiving’.
Just as in Twenty Looks … runway fertilized postmodernism, historical content seems to spark Harrell’s inventiveness – his ‘addiction to the past’ (in another paradoxical manoeuvre) ‘frees my imagination’. ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get fully into abstraction without history,’ he says. This commitment to the past is striking, given that dance compared to, say, painting, has a history backed-up by an extremely partial record, Harrell embraces the gaps. (Though its widely accepted as the pivotal moment in 20th-century dance, no-one can confidently say what Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1913 Rite of Spring actually looked like). ‘If you’re a choreographer, you have to love that problematizing,’ he says; if he can see too much of a moment, too concretely, ‘it becomes too didactic, too mimetic’. I wonder whether, as performance increasingly becomes the subject of institutional collecting, this will change. ‘That’s a big issue – how’s that done, what the parameters are,’ Harrell says, though he’s receptive to the idea; thanks to the likes of Tino Sehgal, Harrell thinks the market for dance works will be utterly different in 20 years’ time, though he doesn’t know how. For now, then, more research, more speculation, more realness, more imagination. To close, I ask Harrell if he was a daydreamer as a child. ‘I was! I am a daydreamer as an adult too. I have to think more and more about what do I want to with my time, and I think I really need more time to daydream.’
Open letter: #metoo and Troubleyn/Jan Fabre
By (former) employees and apprentices at Troubleyn
In the interest of the audience and the wish to inform future generations of performing artists, we, former employees and interns who have worked with Jan Fabre in the context of Troubleyn vzw, have come together to share our experiences and to raise our voices in the context of #metoo and its associated social shifts.
This collective response is prompted by statements made by Jan Fabre during an interview with the public broadcast station VRT on Wednesday the 27th of June 2018. In the interview, Fabre shares his thoughts concerning the results of a survey on sexual harassment commissioned by the Flemish Minister of Culture, Sven Gatz.
The starting point for the interview is the headline “1 out of 4 women in the cultural sector experienced sexual harassment in the past year”. On camera for the interview, Fabre responds with surprise and disbelief when these numbers are presented. He says that he is supportive of the actions and measures taken by the Ministry of Culture, but adds that “there is also something dangerous about this. Because, the relationship, the secret bond between director/choreographer and actor/dancer…. you will in fact also destroy and harm it incredibly”.
To illustrate his statement, Fabre gives us insight into the daily life of the company: “For example, very recently, I made a performance called Belgium Rules. It was a homage to Rubens, Félicien Rops, Paul Delvaux, René Magritte. And suddenly I had to go and explain to the young actresses and female dancers that those artists were not sexists!”
Then, Fabre mentions another situation in which he was screaming through the microphone at one of the performers on stage, insisting that she needed to work out because she had “become too fat again”. Later, an assistant informed him that such comments might be hurtful. Fabre reassures the interviewer that his comments are “always fair” but observes people to be more sensitive these days. “A year ago,” he concludes, “all of this was not a problem”.
To outsiders these statements might sound trivial or matters of artistic freedom, but some of us were present at both of the moments Fabre describes and can attest to several inaccuracies in his account. The conversation on sexism in Belgium Rules was related to a written critique in Etcetera magazine that questioned Fabre’s staging of a series of art historical images, not the work of the late Belgian artists. The questions were directed at Fabre, not at Rubens.
The situation in which Fabre publically drew attention to a dancer’s weight was witnessed by some of us and involved a long and painful humiliation game in which Fabre insinuated that she must be pregnant. This bullying went on until the performer started crying.
This last situation is not trivial. Nor is it an isolated incident. It does not surprise us. It is just one example of the many confusing psychological games that one might encounter when working with Fabre. Humiliation is daily bread in and around the rehearsal space of Troubleyn. Women’s bodies in particular are the target of painful, often bluntly sexist criticism – regardless of their actual physical condition.
One day, he puts a performer on a pedestal; the next day, he systematically breaks him/her down, often scapegoating one person and stirring tensions in the group. Because Fabre’s moods are unpredictable and he is in charge of the space he creates as director, his behaviors make a tense environment in which everyone is at least implicitly encouraged to please the director on a regular basis.
Fabre’s position of power in the company is subtly reinforced through assigning nicknames to his performers. Some of these are supposed to flatter. Others are undeniably racist and denigrating. In the VRT-interview, Fabre says: “Of course! I think that all forms of life must be respected, also women”. Yet, in the presence of all the performers, he said to one woman “You are beautiful, but you don’t have a brain, like a chicken without a head”.
Or what “mutual respect” is Fabre talking about when he shouts at one of the non-European interns that if she didn’t perform better, he would send her back to her country?
Some might argue that this is part of an artistic strategy – that to achieve his desired results, Fabre feels he needs to push his performers past their limits. To this we would like to respond that the physical and/or emotional price is always paid by the performer, never by the company or the people in charge.
Fabre’s shifting attitudes and volatile behaviour have affected the self-esteem and self-worth of many employees. Many of us needed to seek psychological help after leaving the company and have described our experiences as having left traumatic scars on our being. One performer concluded: “He calls us ‘warriors of beauty’, but you end up feeling like a beaten dog.”
Perhaps some might continue to insist that pain simply ‘belongs’ to certain artistic practices – a price to be paid for the making of ‘good art’. But picking on performers’ vulnerabilities is just the prelude to a darker, hidden business in Troubleyn. In the VRT interview, Fabre claims that in the 40 years he’s been working with his company, there have never been problems with sexual harassment. This is a lie. He is openly deflecting attention away from his own alleged acts of harassment.
As recently as the spring of 2018, one of the company’s performers resigned, citing reasons including sexual harassment. In written correspondence with the company, the performer explicitly states: “the impact of a disrespectful and painful #metoo experience affected me in my work and my inner freedom”. For her, the work became “no longer a blissful challenge and opportunity, but a manipulative battle and fight”.
Shortly after, a colleague who had witnessed two other performers leave the company for similar reasons resigned as well. Just last month, two more colleagues left. None of them wished to silently subject themselves to this environment any more. Altogether, this amounts to a total of six resignations in just the past two years – all of which either involve or protest against cases of sexual harassment, now often referred to as ‘#metoo’.
So, what does a #metoo experience mean in the context of Troubleyn?
Harassment, sexism and misogyny mean exactly what they have always meant. Through sharing and reflecting on our collected experiences and testimonies – one of which dates back 20 years – we have come to understand that Troubleyn company members have been navigating unprofessional and inappropriate relationship practices in the workplace for decades. This is not a new generation being more ‘sensitive’. Nor is it “a problem that started a year ago”.
One performer who worked with Fabre fifteen years ago states: “Already then it came down to the proposition: ‘No sex, no solo’. When I told people in my environment about my experience, they just shrugged their shoulders as if it was part of the job.”
Our collected experiences and testimonies are often so consistent with one another that Fabre’s behaviour shows clear patterns. For example, testimonies from eight different performers reveal that Fabre has an ongoing, semi-secret photography practice. For these so-called side projects, he frequently invites performers to his home under the premise of making visual art, and then turns the situation into an opportunity where he can approach the performer sexually.
One performer describes such a situation: “After at least one year in the company, Fabre asked me to do a project on the side that was paid under the table, and which I was told not to mention to anyone. This project was to be photographed by him in a situation that I still feel ashamed of talking about today. In this very uncomfortable, supposed working situation, I was offered alcohol and later drugs to feel more free (this is the only time in my life that I have taken drugs). This then led to Fabre asking me for more.”
These semi-secret photography projects and the exchange of sex for advancement have become a hidden currency in the company – granting the performer access to solos and/or future job opportunities based on their response to Fabre’s advances. When performers have rejected these advances and tried to maintain a respectful, professional relationship, their decisions were met with various degrees of subtle and less subtle forms of punishment, including stalking, verbal humiliation, aggression and manipulation.
Sometimes, performers are offered large sums of money – ostensibly as a fee for their participation in these private photoshoots. This itself is provocative if we take into account the low official wage of Troubleyn and the lack of payment for many interns.
One performer gives this description: “After the photo shoot and after having rejected his approaches, I felt horrible and I was upset. Fabre didn’t understand it and he told me I should not make a big deal out of it. I wanted to give him back the money, but he refused. He told me he made a lot more money selling these pictures, so that money was my share. He asked me if the reason I wanted to give the money back was because I felt like ‘a whore’.”
“A week later, he invited me for a fancy dinner and offered me a solo. In the following weeks, at odd times, Fabre kept on calling me, ordering me to buy sexy underwear and high heels for further photo shoots. I refused, but I felt I paid a price for it. Difficult episodes followed.”
“During rehearsals he would cut down my role and I would lose my parts to another dancer. I cannot be sure that this had anything to do with the photo shoot, but something shifted in his behaviour after. Once I didn’t follow his directions fast enough so he came to the stage, yelling with his fist in the air as if he was about to hit me. He said: ‘If it wasn’t the premiere, I would have taken you off my stage’. He continued to offer me photo shoots, which I always refused, and kept on mentioning the solo.”
Knowing that Troubleyn is structured according to a strict hierarchical logic, these punishments often go unnoticed during rehearsals because new performers in general are treated ‘harder’. Interns and performers who have lower positions in the Fabrean hierarchy are expected to withstand the humiliation, harassment and punishment just like their senior colleagues did in the past. This might be seen as a way of proving oneself, but it is, in fact, a way of collectively perpetuating a cycle of abuse in which one unwillingly becomes complicit.
To Fabre and his defenders, these situations might be understood as the expression of artistic freedom and – as such – a human right. It might be justified with the logic that employees should just leave the company if they disagree with certain modes of working that break ‘conventional’ rules.
But artistic workplaces are bound by regulations, just like other workplaces. When we asked the union to check Troubleyn’s own work policies (in Dutch ‘Arbeidsregelement’), we discovered that Art. 46 states that no act of violence, bullying, or sexual harassment during work is tolerated. (“Art. 46 Geen enkele daad die psychologische risico’s inhoudt met inbegrip van daden van geweld, pesterijen of ongewenst seksueel gedrag op het werk mag worden toegelaten of getolereerd. Dit geldt voor werkgever en werknemer, maar ook voor derden die in contact komen met werknemers voor de uitvoering van hun werk.”)
Our accumulating testimonies thus beg the question: What function do these rules serve when many of the people working at Troubleyn do not seem to understand or acknowledge the harmful repercussions of Jan Fabre’s behaviour, or worse, when Fabre defends his own behaviour as “always fair”? How complicit – intentionally and otherwise – are other employees of the organization?
One might wonder why the testifying performers did not speak up sooner. It’s simple: Troubleyn is not a place where one has an open conversation. In Troubleyn, the performers are generally expected to stay quiet unless they have received permission to speak. Even then, many unspoken rules apply to what one truly can and cannot discuss. Also, being accepted as a member of the company comes down to a process of endurance: successfully emerging from a long and difficult audition process with hundreds of other performers competing for the same job makes you feel like a ‘chosen one’.
But even after being offered a job, you continue fighting for your place among ‘loyal’ people who have been working with Fabre for years. Quitting the job, however, means more than facing unemployment. Everyone in the field is aware of the extent to which it can ruin your reputation, ambitions, and career.
In spite of our best efforts to open an inclusive conversation about #metoo in Troubleyn, we have not succeeded. Either the conversation was avoided, or performers were immediately confronted with an ultimatum. One performer reports: “When some of us didn’t entirely agree when Fabre justified his action, we were right away told that in that case we were ‘free to leave’. The young performers who decided to stay were then asked to write a letter to Troubleyn in which they were expected to explain why they wished to keep on working with Fabre, as if it was a matter of loyalty.”
From this, we have concluded that these issues will not be solved from within company Troubleyn. We have asked for help from several organizations in the field, but no one seems to have the mandate to intervene in the situation at Troubleyn. With the help of the union, we sought legal advice but quickly realized that the judicial system is too slow.
How can we wait two or three more years for our voices to be heard and allow new colleagues to remain uninformed about what has happened in the past? We cannot stand silently by as the resignations of our colleagues accumulate, and we witness how Troubleyn twists and obscures our colleagues’ motivations for leaving the company.
Alongside what we’ve seen, heard, and/or endured, we want to acknowledge that many of us also have learned during our time at Troubleyn. However, at the same time, many of us have experienced sexism and abuse of power directly. Some of us have only been witness to these practices, but all of us demand that they stop.
When Fabre says that the ‘secret bond’ between director and performer is harmed when awareness around sexism and sexual harassment grows, we want to remind him that it is precisely the inability to create an open, aware and respectful work environment that poses a real threat to any artistic relationship.
Speaking up about the issues at Troubleyn is not an attack on ‘artistic freedom’, but rather an attempt to break open a very narrow understanding of what freedom is, or can be. (Freedom for whom? To do what?) In doing so, we want to raise some fundamental questions: What are we so desperately protecting and justifying in the name of art? Who do we protect, and why would we want to continue to follow this course?
The problem neither begins nor ends at the doorsteps of Troubleyn. First and foremost, this letter should be read as an attempt to end a culture of silence and to address toxic work environments in the artistic field at large. This letter is not a personal reckoning. By being transparent about our own experience of Fabre’s behavior, we hope to start a much-needed conversation in the field.
We all carry responsibilities.
Today, our responsibility is to speak up.
We ask the artistic community to support and invest in this conversation. We ask the board of Troubleyn to take their responsibility. We ask the government and their institutions to also consider their role in holding individuals and organizations accountable.
Together we will no longer support a culture of hypocrisy and denial in the name of art. Together we will work towards a more inclusive understanding of artistic freedom.
Today our voices matter. They will be heard.
We, (former) employees and apprentices at Troubleyn,
sign in solidarity and in support of all our colleagues,
Erna Ómarsdóttir, performer, 1998/99-2003
Geneviève Lagravière, performer, 2002-2004
Louise Peterhoff, performer, 2003
Maryam Hedayat, apprentice production, 2012
Merel Severs, 2012-2018
Nelle Hens, 2012-2015
Marleen Van uden, performer, 2016-2017
Tabitha Cholet, performer, 2016-2018
Anonymous performer, 2000-2001, male
Anonymous apprentice, 2001, female
Anonymous performer, 2001-2004, female
Anonymous performer, 2002-2003, female
Anonymous apprentice, 2003, non-binary
Anonymous employee, 6 years, female
Anonymous performer, 2004-2007, female
Anonymous performer, 2 years, female
Anonymous performer, 2014, female
Anonymous performer, 2 years, female
Anonymous performer, 6 years, male
Anonymous apprentice/performer, 2017-2018, female
Engagement and Acod Cultuur, the socialist union for cultural workers, have followed up the testimonies related to this letter. Acod assure their reliability, support the critique and guarantee the protection and support of the testifying artists.
The media is asked explicitly to handle the subject of this letter respectfully, including the identities of the signees and the position of Jan Fabre/Troubleyn. Images of the signees and Jan Fabre/Troubleyn can be used only when explicit permission is given by the individuals pictured.
By Henri Neuendorf for Contemporarycruising.com
Christian Jankowski Guest-Starred on a German Crime Drama and Declared It Art.
The Producers Say, No, It’s Just a TV Show
The artist appropriated the episode for his latest exhibition at Petzel Gallery in New York.
An exhibition at a Chelsea gallery has become a new battleground for an age-old question: Is an artist ever allowed to take another person’s work and re-present it as their own?
The question takes on new meaning in a dispute between the German artist Christian Jankowski and the producers of a German television show, who are displeased that Jankowski has presented an episode he appeared in as his own work in his latest solo show at New York’s Petzel Gallery (on view through August 3).
Last year, the producers of the popular television crime series Tatort—a kind of German CSI—dedicated a special episode to the Skulptur Projekte Münster, a sprawling sculpture exhibition that takes place in the German town of Münster every 10 years. Jankowski guest-stars as an eccentric artist and suspect in a grisly series of murders. There’s just one problem: Jankowski is presenting the episode in his latest exhibition as his own artwork, while the show’s producers don’t believe he has the right to do so.
A Sculpture-Park Crime Scene
Tatort (which means “crime scene” in German) holds a special place in German society. The long-running crime show has aired every Sunday evening since 1970; millions of Germans end their weekends with the show. Like the popular American procedural CSI, it follows a basic format: detectives investigate crimes in different German cities that are always resolved by the time the credits roll. In the Münster episode, a vigilante artist goes on a killing spree, using his victims as material for his sculptures.
Jankowski plays the character Jan Christowski, a minor supporting role (with a not-so-subtle twist on his real name). Additionally, a spokeswoman for Petzel says, “Christian provided some basic parameters around the… production. The screenwriters wrote the plot of Tatort themselves, but they were of course influenced by Christian.”
The Tatort episode featuring Jankowski was broadcast on the German TV station ARD in November 2017 and is presented in its entirety at Petzel’s Chelsea gallery, albeit with English subtitles. The video is being offered in an edition of five (plus two artist’s proofs) for €25,000 ($21,500) each, according to a gallery representative. At the time of writing, none had sold.
In an email, the German producers behind the show, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), told artnet News that they did not sanction Jankowski’s screening of the episode and appear to have been unaware that the artist had moved ahead with his plan to present the work as his own.
“I assume there is some sort of misunderstanding and that he only told you about his intentions, and for legal reasons did not follow through [with the screening],” a spokesperson for WDR writes. The producers maintain that they invited Jankowski to participate and that the episode, titled “Gott ist auch nur ein Mensch (Even God Is Only Human),” remains their property.
Whose Work Is It?
The producers’ comments, which at some points resemble a technical treatise on the nature of creation, underscore the elusive, slippery nature of conceptual art. “Although the Münster episode… includes Christian Jankowski’s work, it is not part of Mr. Jankowski’s work and cannot therefore be presented within an exhibition or solo show,” the spokesperson says. “In our view a screening would be misleading, perhaps even alienating.”
Jankowski presented a very different version of events in a conversation with artnet News. The artist says he is the one who conceived the idea for a special edition of the show set at Skulptur Projekte Münster. The collaborative production, he claims, was also intended to serve as his contribution to the exhibition. (Due to delays, the show ultimately did not air until November, a month after the show ended. Münster’s curator Kasper König did not respond to a request for comment.)
“From my perspective, it is my artwork because I came to them [WDR] with the idea,” Jankowski says. “I pitched that I would play as myself in the fictional story of Tatort taking place during the Sculpture Projects.”
Ahead of the screening at Petzel, the artist says he was in negotiations with WDR and was ready to pay for the rights to screen the film; he also claims his contract included a clause stating that he would receive five copies of the film provided the producers didn’t object. But 10 days before the opening on June 28, WDR recanted and suddenly barred him from showing the work. He says the bureaucratic structure of the publicly-owned station made it impossible to find a compromise, so he decided to proceed with his original plan.
Is It Art?
“I always said it was also an artwork,” Jankowski insists. “It is not only an artwork, but many different things. If I don’t place this in the art world then I wouldn’t be standing behind my work, and I decided I have to stand behind my work.”
The controversy has raised some thorny questions surrounding appropriation, authorship, and the relationship between the art world and entertainment. Can an artist claim a TV show he guest-starred in as his own work if he shows it in a gallery context? Can mainstream television ever be seen as art? And in an era of collaboration, can copyright rules truly determine who created a work?
“I’m quite aware that I like to operate on the boundaries, and I have nothing against the discussions about what is art or not,” Jankowski says. “All of my work is based on performance and there’s a notion of involving other authors; multiple authorships are the basis of my art.”
The artist emphasized that his role was far greater than simply appropriating a TV show he appeared in. “It’s more complex than that,” he insisted. “Of course I didn’t do it as an independent artwork in a studio where I’m god and can control the materials. I work with vast commercial, political, and religious structures in my work and this compromise between worlds defines the shape of my artworks.”
Sacred Naked Nature Girls
By Coco Fusco
By the time the Sacred Naked Nature Girls brought their all nude show to Highways in Santa Monica, they were wrapped in wild stories about how, in other locales, irate feminists and horny fellows had joined forces to recast their work as pornography. The gals wanted to censure them—the guys wanted to jack off in front of them as applause. I went to see what all the ruckus was about and witnessed a rare instance of decidedly female energies melded together in a serenely powerful force. New Age neo-primitivists scoot over—here’s another spin on the body and the sacred. Their nudity wasn’t there to shock or offend, it was symbolic of their collective will to break down the barriers of the social and turn emotional vulnerability and personal memory into poetry.
Sacred Naked Nature Girls’ performance piece grew out of improvisational techniques they developed to explore what they call “flesh memory.” An intentionally sketchy script gives free reign to their intuitive and spontaneous method. They work through their views of how women’s bodies are codified in our society, and their use of fantasy to respond to and subvert such strictures. Skits are thematically organized around the pleasures and dangers associated with women’s bodies; they deal with exhibitionism and camp, erotica and violence, interracial sex, and female centered reverence for the body. Their idea, as they themselves put it, is “to create dreamscapes, juxtaposing reality, sensory elements, fantasies, body journeys and unexpressed consciousness.”
For the most part from theatrical backgrounds, the group consists of: Laura Meyers, Danielle Brazell, Denise Uyehara, and Akilah Oliver.
Coco Fusco Had you ever performed naked before working with each other?
Akilah Oliver One of the techniques we developed was working from flesh memory.
Danielle Brazell When I started working with Akilah, I was able to find a magic and a spontaneity on stage that I had not felt in any other situation I had been in in the past.
CF How did you decide to work together?
DB Besides sleeping with each other? (laughter)
Denise Uyehara We had worked a couple of times in the studio and then decided to work out in nature. We went to Azuma Beach.
Laura Meyers We went over to an isolated area and spontaneously disrobed and went into the waves and started doing mirror exercises in pairs and then in a group in a circle. And it was very magical because it happened so spontaneously, suddenly we were nude and you couldn’t tell what year it was, what century. That was our first performance. When we turned around there was a smattering of people.
AO And a guy kayaking.
DB The men came up over the hill, appeared out of nowhere.
CF Let me get to the male reaction to your show that came out of these “flesh memories” because those reactions have, to an extent, transformed the work, or at least the original intent. What did you make of the reactions of some men, for instance the ones who wanted to masturbate in front of you, responding to you as if you weren’t there, as if the performance were a porn movie?
LM The development of the piece has been influenced by both male and female reactions.
DU Our experience in discussion is that we’re always drawn straight to the men’s reaction. I’d actually like to talk about what we do before we even thought about the male reaction, because so often when people see the end product they say, “How did you deal with those masturbators?”
LM Over the course of the performance we have learned how to take care of ourselves and how to deal with our audience.
DU One man came up to me after the first series of performances we did at Highways and said, “I’ve never seen a woman move before, I’ve never seen a woman squat or sweat.” He said, “I’ve made love to them, but I’ve made love to them in the dark. They’ve always been an object, this thing. For the first time in my life I’ve been able to see five women move in very beautiful ways, in very harsh ways … when you slap your body your body swells. Your body is an organism, you’re alive.”
CF Certain theories of performance maintain that there is a transformative process when a performance takes place in front of an audience. What about the women’s response to your work?
DU It has been very positive. Our piece has some pretty intense moments. We do a piece dealing with rape and rape fantasies. In the second set of performances we did a scene in total darkness. We wanted to create a safe place to empower the women in the audience to speak, to howl, scream, cry out if they wanted to. And the men would not let the women speak. We said we wanted to wait ‘til a woman spoke and there was some silence, and finally some women did.
LM The women were saying that it was not a safe place. And so we said, well come down on stage with us. There were 130 people crowded into a space seated for a hundred and it was 12:30 at night. The men started to get enraged. Four or five of the women came down to the stage. In Boulder there were a couple of women who left very upset after the rape/rape fantasy piece. We were coming in and opening wounds.
CF There are certain schools of feminism that say: Look, there’s no way to deal with sexuality and violent sexuality and violation that isn’t to a certain extent catering to the desire to see women be violated. Therefore, women who are feminists should not represent rape in their work. There are other positions which assert that sexuality is about acting out, it’s better for these things to happen in the realm of the imagination than for them to be suppressed which creates even more desire for them to happen in real life.
DU The rape story evolved out of group improvisations and the associations we each made listening to one another. Danielle was talking about a scenario—going to the beach on a beautiful day and her fear about being raped. And when she did act out the fear as an exercise—she’s talking and telling the story, I was amazed that certain key words she was saying brought up erotic pangs in me. That was very, very scary and made me feel guilty. And I said, let me try to do a simultaneous monologue with you about an erotic situation with similar key things going on. It’s a beautiful day, I go to the beach, and then a man takes me by surprise and instead of rape it’s more like a fuck and we have mad erotic passion. There’s this standard thing that rape is a violation and erotica is when you’re in control and you can do whatever the fuck you want because it’s your fantasy. Danielle was working on a place of fear in rape, while I went into heavy erotica and then pulled myself back and thought wait a minute, what am I doing? If I were raped, how would I ever be able to feel erotic again?
CF At one point I noticed that your bodies seemed synchronized as if to illustrate how fine the line is between pain and pleasure.
DB We both had to go to a place of fear to do that piece. As a performer I want to raise questions for you as an audience member. I want you to take a look inside yourself and find out what comes up for you, where you go, what incites anger, rage inside you, what memories do you have, where is your shame and where do you want to take that.
CF What do you mean by flesh memory? The concept appears to be crucial to this piece.
AO There is a text, a language, a mythology, a truth, a reality, an invented reality as well as a literal translation of everything that we’ve ever experienced and known, whether we know it directly or know it through some type of genetic memory, whether through osmosis or our environment. Our body holds its own truth and its own reality that may or may not correspond directly with what actually transpired in any given situation. We are trying to tap into the multiplicity of languages and realities that our flesh holds. Flesh memory is more than just memory, it’s the way we re-invent scenarios and worlds and languages and images to transcribe what we see, what we feel, what we think. It’s a language that’s activated in our bodies. Through the process of working improvisationally, that text can be gotten to, at least parts of it, and transcribed into a performance language.
CF So it’s not rooted in actual experiences?
AO Flesh memory holds actual experiences, it holds imaginary experiences, it holds memory that may or may not be a direct result of what we’ve lived.
CF What are your memories of your first reactions to having people masturbate as a response to the work?
DB Something that Akilah brought up is that in Sacred Naked Nature Girls we are in fact sex workers.
LM A friend who used to be a stripper was completely shocked that someone masturbated in our performances. At the Hollywood Tropicana club there are referees who tell the men to keep their hands off the girls. We were very naïve. I did go into denial about its impact on me, but after a while I realized that I was really pissed off.
DU Once someone tried to take our picture during the performance and I stopped the show and grabbed the camera. We were playing with how do you see, how do you see us, how do you see yourselves watching us, how do you see your next door neighbor watching us watching you. Our nudity was another way to express a naked reality.
CF We should talk about the sacred, and then about nudity and nakedness. I have a hard time with the New Age concept of the sacred. I hear the term used and experience a typical New Yorker reaction—aargh!
DU What is your idea of the New Age concept of sacred?
CF An animist kind of spirituality. There are moments in the piece when you’re treating each other’s bodies like totems, like fetishes, pouring things on them and finger painting on each other where I sensed you were moving in that direction.
DU When we say that we are all sacred.
CF Shades of neo-tribalism, right? But without scarification and body piercing.
AO I like to try to marry the sacred and the profane. What I call the profane is life with its ugliness, scars, all of that. There is a sacredness in the profane, a spirit in material, and they intermarry, they don’t separate from one another.
CF Why does that get represented in the piece as marking each other’s bodies?
LM It’s a scarification ritual. It’s a metaphor for what we’ve gone through in the performance. We’ve undertaken a journey, we’ve shown all of our wounds. Then we mark them because they are physically, absolutely beautiful. I have an intense attraction to scars, a physical scar on the face like that little mark you have is sexy, there’s something about life being lived.
CF Why are the sacred and the naked and the natural critical?
LM We instinctively know what’s important in our lives spiritually, but it takes time to sit and listen. Our process is that we sit and listen to each other and learn to trust, that’s where our magic comes from and that’s what’s most sacred. We go on stage as four very strong women, naked, all coming from very different experiences. What happens is not scripted and it will never happen exactly that way again.
CF It seems that the concept of the sacred is about looking for unity, looking for ties. There’s also a stress on difference in the work. As a group you represent four different ethnicities: Anglo, Jewish, Asian, and Black. You all make jokes about and deal with the racialized sexualization of women in the piece and talk about interracial relations between women and among women. One of you comments about not wanting to have a relationship with a white woman.
DU That was me. I’m serious about it but I also need to get some perspective and so my comment is supposed to be funny. I say, “Well I don’t date white women.” I’m playing tug-of-war with Laura …
LM And I ask you, “What’s more important, your political agenda or fucking?”
DU And I say, “Well, fucking, of course. And who was that Asian chick you were with?” While that’s happening Akilah and I are having another dialogue about wanting to touch and to kiss.
AO And to kiss again.
CF Akilah’s monologue was a moment in the piece when the exploration of racial mores was most apparent. Her experience of being a black woman on stage was being dealt with; more specifically what it means for a black woman to allow herself to be whipped on stage. It’s historical flesh memory and it’s a reference to slavery. It’s particularly dangerous territory for a black person to take on in performance. The violence of the history Akilah refers to is somewhat tempered by the fact that an Asian woman does the whipping.
AO This is what I call genetic memory, or cultural memory. I feel it really intensely. I feel slavery very intensely.
CF In your monologue you ask something about Harriet Tubman.
AO I ask, “Did Harriet Tubman ever fuck anybody or was she too busy?”
CF To me, that was the ultimate transgression. (laughter) It did stir an enormous emotional response, making me realize how I’ve been socialized to have a very limited idea of Harriet Tubman as a human being.
AO Often black women are not looked at as human beings, we’re mothers, martyrs, caretakers, sluts, we’re Harriet Tubmans, but we’re not human beings. That scene, like the rape/rape fantasy scene, crosses a lot of lines inside people’s heads.
CF What about the campy element of the piece?
DB Girls just want to have fun, Coco.
CF In the early ’80s that phrase stood for a reaction against a puritanical sort of feminism. It meant let’s stop rejecting our bodies. Let’s be sexual again. But to me the camp isn’t about you just wanting to have fun. It’s more about self consciousness, about ironic embarrassment about being naked on stage and feeling the inclination to act girly.
LM It’s part of my intent to open up and get away from these labels we put on ourselves. Each of us introduces ourselves as different people every night.
DU At first we called that section, “True Lies”. Originally it was an exercise in which we had to be someone who we were not. And then afterwards, we realized that we were inadvertently revealing things about ourselves. We do very eccentric things in that section. Though I’m naked on stage throughout the performance, I’ve managed to find a way to feel in control of how I’m presenting myself. There are times when I’m very conscious that I want people to look at me in a certain way and I hold my hands out and I stand there. Camp is about playing with all that.
CF Comments about your work often refer to the piece as an allusion to ’70s feminism, particularly because of your use of nudity. How do you respond to being interpreted as a return to the ’70s?
LM I’m ecstatic that this work would be seen in a political, historical performance context. I have studied what happened in the ’60s and ’70s with actions and happenings and performance art and I do feel like we evolve from that history. However, we have a different sense of the body.
DU We have the ability and privilege to do the work that we are doing today because of the ground breakers who came before us. In terms of our work, we didn’t sit down and study the ’70s and then come up with this group. There are cultural influences and experiences that have affected our art. I get tired of people who were performance artists in the ’70s coming up to me and saying, your work is what we were doing before. Recently I went to a performance art discussion in which the big names from the ’70s were speaking and it was all white people. That for me is somewhat alienating culturally. I went to an exhibition about the history of performance art which started with the French artists who had made a puppet show with shadow puppets that they got from the Javanese. (laughter)
CF The introduction of the non-Western through the concept of performance in art helped European artists to break rationalism and realism in theatre and the visual arts at the beginning of this century. As for the originators of these practices, according to many Europeans they, “didn’t know what they were doing.”
DU But they did. Every culture knows what’s sacred. We know. So I get really angry when people try to plant a little American flag and say, “But that was done before … “
CF The concern and fear of the loss of the body’s physicality is a ’90s thing. It has to do with our relationship to new technology. Performers are poking holes in themselves and sticking things into their bodies as ways to remind themselves that they’re physically alive. And another thing is the importance of the search for the sacred. Testing the body in the ’70s was largely done as a critique of the artist as a maker of objects for sale. Much of performance art now is about finding sacredness in a totally mechanistic and hyper-industrialized, hyper-technological world.
DB A world in which we don’t feel we have a lot of connection, a lot of culture, or a lot of history.
By Ellen Söderhult on Linda Blomqvist
To listen with all senses
In a piece of writing on listening, the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy asks what it means for a being to “be immersed entirely in listening, formed by listening or in listening, listening with all his being?” Later he continues: ”What secret is at stake when one truly listens, that is, when one tries to capture or surprise the sonority rather than the message?” […] “What does to be listening, to be all ears, as one would say “to be in the world”, mean? What does it mean to exist according to listening, for it and through it, what part of experience and truth is put into play?” Maybe The Sound by Linda Blomqvist together with Madeleine Lindh and Sandra Lolax could be considered a form of answer to Nancy’s questions. An answer in the sense of a response, an echo or a proposition. Or, it could be considered a different, embodied and materialized way of asking these questions.
The Sound in this way becomes a soft, calm, sincere and dedicated reminder of the differences between looking for something, and a state I would describe as, allowing oneself to listen with one’s whole body and all of its senses and all of its abilities to perceive. To be listening with one’s whole being.
The Sound makes space for a different world, where my eye doesn’t look for a narrative but rather rests from interpretation and the search for symbols or signs.
The piece makes space for other ways of relating to known materials and directs my attention to different qualities. Sound is foregrounded and the listening proposes a different way of seeing. Tonality, force, direction, weight and momentum become a form of starting point for experiencing the performance. The sound of something juicy, the sound of stone against stone and a soft foot reaching, falling towards and pushing against a hard floor. Sometimes the smell of a cigar pushes towards me, sometimes I long for more dances because it is so pleasurable to see shapes passing by. To watch the bodies, hard but rounded, spiraling skeletal bones giving direction to an arm, whilst strong leg muscles push against the floor, taking off for a jump. The danced phrases are executed and choreographed with precision and hold a feeling of dance being precious.
The Sound captures me in a pleasant experience in which I see dance as a form of sound. All my senses are listening for, and are sensitive to, the timbre, density and other such qualities that I, in the moment, don’t feel any need to name in order to experience, but relate to listening. When I listen to sound and music, the sounds surround my ears, I allow the impressions to hit me, the experience to enter my body through the eyes, skin and bones, as much as through understanding.
The movement material is carefully choreographed, as a well written piece of music; measured and complex (but not in order to live up to, or agree with predetermined ways of using dance). The Sound is a piece of dance art that shows how contemporary dance can be critical without being oppositional. It is not a counter move against technique, history and narrative but a serious proposition with weight, without irony and without anxiety over the low status of dance as an art form.
In that sense the piece is exactly a contemporary piece of dance, it develops or implicates, it continues, influences and takes part of an ongoing, collective innovation within the dance field, but simultaneously relates to the forces that are of our time. It simultaneously relates to what dance can be, or could be, it proposes a way to be with dance that is both anchored backwards and into a potential future. It negotiates dance into the present.
The shift of focus from understanding to listening is interesting in relation to ideas of the binary opposition of active and passive, as well as to definitions such as entertainment and art. Without judging either or, it would be interesting to consider how they respond to, or are responsive towards different needs, how they name and underline different aspects or functions? Such distinctions or reflections around what one is expected to be responsive towards, in what context, genre, style or form seems ideologically interesting in a capitalistic consumerism. This can be considered to promote recognition over reconsideration, understanding before perceiving, calming or entertaining before wondering, investigating or un-grounding.
In the same way that art and entertainment can exist within the same experience, genre or artistry, maybe the differences between listening and understanding are floating and overlapping. Or it is simply not the one or the other, but sometimes what a situation proposes us to be attentive towards? As Timothy Morten puts it, “allowing things to affect us is the minimum unit of acting”, proposing a shifted understanding of passive-active or actant-object. As I sit through the show, I think I notice the experience of having the material inform me, affect me and pass through me. Making a distinction between the binary couples none the less makes me aware of how my understanding of the world forms and informs my experience of it. It also reminds me of our inevitable participation in the world, as the future approaches and becomes present again and again.
The Sound activates my senses and makes conscious the activity or perceiving, in listening and in the steps between sensory input and understanding or meaning-making. It brings out how habit, expectation, recognition and mirroring are present in, and affects perception of the external world. In a way, it brings out our complicity and participation in that reality. That reality which we every day reconstitute through our convictions, habits, dreams, relations and material being. In that sense it is a subtle testimony of the arbitrary aspect of the notions of active and passive, as in the idea that the audience need to be activated. As a member of the audience I for sure felt very active. So active that I approximately 80 min later exited the theatre calm, tired and happy for having had the opportunity to be all ears and eyes for a while. Happy to have attended to the slightest change of direction or variation in tension in a hand movement whilst listening to the sound of hairspray or to the three voices joining in a song and to the feet and legs meeting and leaving the floor in a well coordinated big jump. There I was, feeling more like an alertly attentive body then a determined head, more ears and skin than brain. It was a beautiful experience to listen with the eyes and with the skin as well.
Castor Troy on Michael Koptev
The celebrity, which had already been recognized before the war as one of the main freaks of Luhansk, scandalous fashion and organizator of the sensational “shows of the extreme fashion” of the theatre “Orchid”, Michael Koptev visited Ukrainian capital on October 28.
Having lived for 25 years in Luhansk, I’ve heard a lot about his “fashion shows”, taken place in HC of railroad, seen some photos, but personally I prefered not to visit them. It was not because I didn’t want it, it was curious enough, but consciousness of Luhansk dweller had the associations with “total facepalm” in spite of a little number of prejudices.
A lot of people from Donbass, Crimea and other Ukraine had to build once again the paradigm of life values, once again to divide anger from kindness, reconstruct destiny. So, when I knew that legendary Mike Koptev, stayed to live in occupied by “LPR” Luhansk, is going to visit the capital, I decided that I must go on this event.
It took place in “School if Kiyv Bienalle” on Lviv square, where a few hundreds of spectators gathered. They wished to see this living legend by their own eyes. Koptev with some of his models were drunk enough, which was in the harmonic conception of the event.
As I could draw the conclusion, the main topics of the current performance were Christian faith and “folk”: there were domes with crosses on the backs of the models, symbols of redemption were dazzling on the wrists, backs and sometimes on the other parts of the bodies.
The mannequins in clothes and with haircuts, which could be called correctly torn for pieces came out on the podium under the dark and twilight music. Make-up was corresponding: deliberately careless strokes of lipstick, dark shadows and bright blush, plenty of dark shades. Facial expressions are stressed meaningless missing. Such appearance of the girls pushed me to compare all this show with Donbass, from where couturier with his retinue had come themselves.
Meanwhile, the soundtrack was becoming more horrible and “thrash”. Michael Koptev once again appeared on the stage first after the music pause, organized for models to re-dress in the new toilets. Michael was shirtless below, he had cossack cap on his head and his hand was gripping an opened bottle of vodka. The costumes of the mannequins became more bright and cheerful, bright shoes with high heels also appeared on them. Koptev had cheerful manner of behave too, he began to come closer to the spectators and tried to clink glasses with them by his bottle, if somebody was holding the plastic cup with coffee. The mannered young man with expressive make-up in tights and biker jacket also appeared on the stage. The crosses and domes became to appear less. Defile has been continuing under the grim cacophony with lots of mids. At the end of performance maestro himself and models were passing by the stage in the new toilets. Finally they dragged a huge, related somehow of thin branches cross. It was left in the center of the podium. The show seemed too extravagant for a lot of visitors with I talked later. But also there were such people who frankly wondered the show.
“Dear Kyiv people, I love all of you! The problem is that I love you more than you love me”, claimed protagonist from the stage at last. As for me, Michael Koptev has shown that he’s called the best trash-couture of Ukraine and all post-Soviet space by right. He squeezed the story last year and a half in hour and a half. It is the history of suffering, humiliation, violence and attempt to learn to live and rejoice once again, in spite of everything. At last I saw the redemptive nature of what is happening, which was symbolized by cross, woven from thin branches of human lives, our lives. He showed us ourselves under the samples from “Ave Maria” and monstrous guitar riffs, we were confused, lost and almost lost hope. All of us were equal. This artist saw happening in this way and he decided to shout about it in everyone’s hearing.
A lot of people with whom I discussed the creativity of Koptev said that they are not ready to accept it. Maybe we are not ready for a lot of things, maybe we were not ready in time?
But Koptev is asking questions: if love and joy are possible on the ruins? What is the limits of forgiveness and compassion? What is the price for redemption? And finally who will win – resentment, revenge and destruction, or perhaps an attempt to understand and forgive each other. Do we ready for such a questions? Do we ready to ask them to ourselves? The policy is absent in this play. There is nor Putin, nor Poroshenko, nor State Dept. with all its reptiloids. Koptev is interest only in people: those who are there and those who are here. Only people and their the price of their redemption, which has been already paid by somebody and somebody is only waiting for such reckoning. I’m not around agree with Koptev, but if I correctly understood what he wanted to say, I appreciate his point of view as an artist. The separate respect for him is that he came to us from the occupied Luhansk and really it is unknown how his fact of performance in the capital of Ukraine will be judged on his Motherland. The civil courage and bravery are needed for this, however also they needed to be openly gay and scandalous celebrity in the capital of “Lugansk republic”.
Katherine Chan on MascallDance Society’s new production “OW
“OW”: How does it feel and what does it look like?
Founder and Artistic Director of MascallDance Society, Jennifer Mascall has been an
investigator of movement for over 45 years. A conceptual creative, her choreography
resembles a creator designing a new world. When she manipulates space, the changes
affect the movement of bodies, which then influence sound. While attuned to bodily
movement, the artistic director also works consciously with the space in-between.
Approaching MascallDance’s 30th Anniversary, Mascall continues her investigation of
sound and dance with the new performance “OW”, premiering in July. Her inquisitive
career-long quest bleeds into this latest creation: “OW” anticipates a relentless search and
expansion of possibilities in the many worlds sound and movement could create together,
with each element examined in the choreography.
Joy Harris for Contemporarycruising.com
performance art VS performing arts
Performance art, as formalized by artists in New York City in the 1970’s, largely explored how the body, normally used as an instrument in canvas painting and sculpture, could be seen as a material, an instrument, and a work of art in and of itself. Its differences between the performing arts were subtle in many ways, especially when seen alongside choreographers and musicians who were working in NYC at the same time.
Composers Phillips Glass and John Cage were interested in a type of collaboration that fell outside typical compositional methods. Phillip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach,” a 5-hour opera, included installation, movers, musicians, and singers, was compositionally based on sketches and storyboards, and lacked narrative. Composer John Cage, who regularly wrote music for choreographers Merce Cunningham and David Tudor, taught an “Experimental Composition” class at the New School. These classes, which have been since considered “Happenings,” included performance artist Allan Kaprow and helped to influence Fluxus.
Performance artists were also trying to break free from traditional discipline and technique, but I believe their work was different than Rainer, Brown, Glass, and Cage. Performance artists were more concerned with exploration than they were a final dance or opera. Their final product was not something that could be replicated via dance notation or a score. It could not even be accurately documented through photography or video. It was an action that existed in a moment and then evaporated. It was a work of art – strictly in the present tense – that had not really existed before.
Performance art’s ephemerality was epitomized by Marina Abramovic’s “Seven Easy Pieces” at the Guggenheim New York City in 2005. Though the show recreated historic works by innovators like Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Valie Export, Gina Pane, and Joseph Beuys, Marina Abramovic simply created a copy of something that was long past, thus losing its temporal and environmental context and ultimate poignancy. Instead of works being viewed in small, sparsely attended galleries, they were seen in a large institutionalized space. Instead of works being performed by all types of bodies, they were all seen on Abramovic’s. That is to say, though the actions could be mimicked, they could not exist in their true form again.
If the original choreography of the 19th century ballet “Swan Lake” by Marius Petipa and the score and libretto of 18th century opera “Orfeo and Euridice” by Christoph Gluck are still being used in existing theatres, then the difference between performance art and the performing arts is that works by Nauman, Beuys, and others cannot be recreated. And though you might consider them “lost,” because of this, their influence on contemporary artists is uncontestable. Valie Export, and “Tap and Touch Cinema,” for example, continues to influence artists who are concerned with voyeurism and participation.
As it has evolved, performance art continues to have a relationship with music, dance, and other performing arts. Artist and former dancer Tino Seghal finds movement indispensable to his works, as seen in “These Associations” performed at the Tate Modern in 2012. Janice Kerbel and her operatic work, “DOUG” was short-listed for the Turner Prize in 2015. But other artists, like Adrian Piper, do not use performing arts disciplines in her works at all. And yet, all can be considered performance artists. So, what does this mean?
Performance art has the capacity to include all types of collaborators, influencers, and technicians in order to create structured and/or improvisational works that have a unique temporal quality, one where specific actions are pushed into the world – seen or unseen – never to be experienced in the same way again. This is in contrast to the definability and recreation inherent in the performing arts. And though the two forms overlap in significant ways, it is important to consider them differently. When seeing performance art we must temper our expectations. We must embrace what might be seen as mistakes or foibles as evolutions of a process. We must reimagine the beautiful. We must connect what seems irreconcilable. This is what makes performance art both difficult and breathtaking, absurd and perfectly reasonable.