Horoscopes (Déjà Vu), Hannah Perry, Serpentine pavilion, London, 2014, Image: Lewis Ronald
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.
Helen Shaw On Performa 17, NEW YORK
As long as I’ve been going to Performa, I’ve been grumbling about Performa. The framing is usually impossibly broad, the quantity of work overwhelming, and the caliber so varied that the bad stuff can sometimes argue against the excitement of live performance. Yet the biennial is a major, influential event, and—in our Instagram-ready, market-oriented art environment—its shambolic quality can also be refreshing.
One performance, though, snapped the whole project into focus for me. Estonian artist Anu Vahtra’s Open House Closing was a short walking tour of SoHo’s cast-iron district that emphasized its many vacant buildings, their histories, and the forces that now keep them empty. Most of Vahtra’s tour was factual—she told us that one storefront, unoccupied for years, rents for $143,000 a month—though she sometimes slewed off into fantasy with arch descriptions of building trash and traffic cones as “installations.” Vahtra used a portable digital projector to cast archival images of the anarchic artistic haven of SoHo in the 1960s and ’70s. The creativity and fellowship that had flourished there is of course long gone. Money is hollowing the city out. So during Performa, every pop-up venue, every sidewalk crowded with audience members queuing for a performance, and even the roving Barbara Kruger bus could be considered a little DIY victory against the blandification of New York. The biennial seemed intent on reclaiming space: it sprawled across the city, spanning from its headquarters on Broadway to a skatepark in Brooklyn to a church in Harlem. A Barbara Kruger billboard stood over the High Line, and Zanele Muholi’s gorgeous black-and-white portraits, shown on digital screens, stared serenely down at Times Square.
Kruger was essentially Performa 17’s brander-in-chief. All the printed programs displayed her hallmark graphic style: white Futura type on a red field. The biennial’s headquarters (a temporary venue, housed in a SoHo storefont, that served as a meeting point, information booth, bookshop, and event site) had been painted red and white. Her signs were everywhere you turned. The High Line billboard read, know nothing. believe anything. forget everything. The Brooklyn skate park was plastered with signs that said things like, plenty should be enough. In what was billed as her first performance in years—Untitled (The Drop)—Kruger opened a pop-up store selling not only Kruger-stamped merch but also the experience of standing in line (price: $5). Yet there was something antithetical about Kruger’s central position in Performa. Her text artworks are defined by their immediacy. While they demand that the reader/viewer think (whose justice?), they don’t take more than that suspended moment to absorb. Duration, which is the meat of performance, isn’t part of them.
But, then, one of Goldberg’s most impressive strategies is to persuade non-performance-oriented artists to step into the medium. This lends the biennial its star power, but also some of its weird weightlessness, since pieces by these relative newcomers can seem callow. Kruger is a master of spectacular cool, yet the pop-up store was a pretty simple critique of the art-world directive to “sell, sell, sell,” and even its flirtation with hypocrisy lacked bite. Similarly, writer and photographer Teju Cole’s Black Paper fell precipitously into art-student cliché. For the performance, Cole tucked himself into a bed at the center of the cavernous BKLYN Studio at City Point and pretended to snooze under projections of his photographs on massive sixteen-foot-long panels, as if “dreaming” the images, which ticked by at a rhythm meant to evoke that of the human heart.
A main highlight of the works by more performance-savvy artists was Brian Belott’s People Pie Pool, which, steeped in the Dadaist spirit, boasted competing marching bands, massive destruction (some violins got it in the neck), a drolly hilarious “conversation” that consisted solely of bouncing golf balls, and a series of constantly interrupted professorial talks. The nonsense went on and on, and yet the noise and silliness was, paradoxically, soothing. In the gorgeous The Body Is a House, avant-cabaret star Narcissister danced a series of eerie burlesques while wearing her hallmark plastic mannequin-face mask. Indeed, choreography-minded artists handled the biennial’s interdisciplinary nature with the most grace. Kelly Nipper, for instance, presented a haunting work, Terre Mécanique, that she made in collaboration with the Self-Assembly Lab, the new technologies research institution at MIT. As dancers writhed in black balaclavas—one, wearing a black-crepe dress, spun and spun like Loie Fuller—a scientist presided over a gigantic witch’s cauldron full of pale green goo, into which a programmable needle-arm extruded liquid rubber that eventually hardened into a flexible net. The piece was clever but chilling: the dancers were ultimately less compelling than the bizarre machine, and the audience’s interest in their actions seemed to fade as they beheld the great god Technology.
In general, however, resisting the forces of dehumanization is what Performa does best. By the third week, the biennial’s headquarters was a homey mess. On the final Friday of the exhibition’s run, people hung out on its wide bleachers all afternoon, sometimes napping or checking phones. A Yoko Ono Wish Tree sat ignored in a corner. A talk in which a curator showed images of Performas past on her laptop slowed momentarily: “I’m just so tired!” she said, rubbing her face. One table was full of potluck dishes. While Performa 17’s haphazardness at times seemed wrongheaded—the curatorial gatekeeping was simply not strict enough—there was an argument hidden in the overabundance. The mess and the potluck spread and the repurposed storefronts and the badly organized lines of people formed their own logic. As Vahtra showed us in her walking tour, New York can be so empty. Performa fills it back up.
Sink by Keith Hennessy, San Francisco, 2017
Text by David E. Moreno
“Capitalism excels at innovation but fails at maintenance.”
There is something queer about “Sink”, a political purge in heels, a ritualized communal healing, a street-smart shamanic journey. Something remarkable about how its vague threads, three distinct segments, loosely join together as a substantial art-performance and theater experience.
The brilliance about veteran performance artist Hennessey is that he lacks pretention. He is as present and honest serving hot toddies as he is wearing a fur babushka and fur coat while chanting a lament for all the cities and places around the world that have been shot down by gun violence, “Paris, Orlando, New York, Istanbul, Las Vegas…” Effortlessly he moves half the audience on stage into life jackets, (a segment of an opera he is collaborating with artist/activist Ai Weiwei for a performance in Greece,) giving them the lyrics and tune they must sing to the audience still in bleachers. Before long the audience is singing, “Fuck you” back and forth as Hennessey conducts, telling us when to sing like hip-hop and when to embellish with operatic intensity. “Sink” is unsinkable, heavy in content and reality, buoyantly hopeful in its alchemy.
(“Sink” is one of four works linked through the project “freedom?” )
New Noveta BY SAIM DEMIRCAN
Could this viscerality, this hysteria, be political?
Sometimes I get fixated on a performance. Deep down I think it’s because I’m a fan of the live experience itself, and like any fan, I get riled by the object of my affection as much as I cherish it. I imagine this enthusiasm for ‘liveness’ derives from my teenage years spent going to gigs, being part of a shared social event, waiting to receive that adrenaline rush that occurs once the music starts.
To experience this exhilarating rush of excitement, laced with a palpable sense of fear, is something I’ve not felt at a live art event for a long time. In recent years much performance has shifted to the choreographic, favouring script and rehearsal over improvisation. New Noveta stands in stark contrast to this, and I’m keen to find out what lies behind this need for catharsis. Could this viscerality, this hysteria, be political? Is it a letting-go, a loss of self-control in opposition to the pressure of conformity – to capital? For now, I can’t wait until their next event.
Tino Sehgal at Foundation Beyeler
By Dorian Batycka
From May until November, the artist Tino Sehgal will be presenting a series of six artworks, what he calls “constructed situations,” at the Foundation Beyeler in the picturesque Swiss city of Basel. The starting point for the exhibition is a work acquired by the institution in 2015 entitled This You (2006), the only one of Sehgal’s works intended to be staged outdoors. The work consists of a single performer—or “interpreter” as Sehgal calls them—who confidently serenades passersby with a recognizable pop song, after which the interpreter announces the name of the artist and the title of the piece. This You is installed in the blossoming Berowerpark area on the museum’s grounds in the Basel suburb of Riehen, overlooking sweeping vistas of corn fields and vines covering the Tüllinger Hills. Above all, This You brings into focus the idea of the park as a place where social interaction takes place, the substance of which becomes a series of performative interactions expanding the traditional notion of an artwork beyond something immovable, silent or fixed.
Once inside the museum, purpose built by acclaimed architect Renzo Piano in 1997, one of Sehgal’s most intimate and sensuous works, Kiss (2002), is on display alongside a sculpture by Constantin Brancusi entitled L’Oiseau (1923/1947), a work selected from the Foundation Beyeler’s collection purposefully by Sehgal. Its placement alongside the Brancusi—a sculpture referencing movement—is both thoughtful and well placed. In Kiss, two performers are immersed in an ongoing frolic of blissful intimacy. The cavorting couple move in slow sequences—fully clothed fondling and petting each other intimately—seemingly unaware of those around them, thereby creating a discernible distance between them and the audience. Unlike most of Sehgal’s other works, such as the work installed outside, Kiss requires no audience input whatsoever, it’s completely self-contained, internally immersive, languid and erotic. I saw it as an homage not just to Brancusi but also to other artists from art history as well, notable among them Gustav Klimt, the Austrian Symbolist painter who became iconic for depicting the immersive language of embrace in a work on canvas bearing the same title.
The intricate choreography of Kiss thereby becomes like a garden of amorous relations in the museum. It’s one of Sehgal’s most pioneering works, rousing a libidinous sense of desire in the viewer, effectively transforming the Foundation Beyeler into a kind of temporary erogenous zone. Expressively, this quality—acute in Kiss more so than the artist’s other works—unleashes a seductive force into the Beyeler like a potently strong aphrodisiac. And it is in this context that the show—and Sehgal’s works in general—become genuinely experiential, transgressing the idea of spectatorship and the cult of the object as it has spread across centuries of art history.
Tino Sehgal continues at Foundation Beyeler (Baselstrasse 101, 4125 Basel, Switzerland) through November 12.
Editor’s note: The author’s lodging and travel expenses were paid for in-part by Foundation Beyeler arranged by Goldmann Public Relations.
INTERVIEW BY KATHY NOBLE
Creating fragmentary choreographies that take movement from everyday life, the British-Polish artist generates a non-normative space of intimate estrangement—a space of friendship, desire and queer alliance.
Did you train as an artist or a choreographer? How did that evolve?
I took part in a pilot project at the Universitat Der Kunste in Berlin, which was an experiment in working with an expanded choreographic practice. I was later invited to Beirut to participate in the Home Works Program at Ashkal Alwan; it was focused on performative practices that year, which really influenced my work. Now my practice is in both gallery and theatre contexts.
I was living on the seafront at the Corniche. It’s a favorite place for people to roller blade, so I began to do that. Alongside this, I was reading Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology, which is very choreographic and speaks to the spatial arrangement of relations and the possibility of setting things, and each other, in motion. In the end, I developed a choreography for roller blades during which the performers would recite poetry to one another.
Was that the work you showed at the Swiss Institute?
Yes, although there have been several iterations. I often take mundane queer activities or social choreographies and develop a work from them. I work by finding affinities between things, materials that I place in dialogue with each other to produce a slippage. This also happens in collaboration with the performers—I’ll approach them with some materials and structures to which they in turn answer. I always observe the spaces in between, the relational and how that allows you to make a space together—a space of friendship, desire and queer alliance.
Who are the performers you work with? Are they dancers? Friends?
It’s a combination. I generally meet people through friends or chance encounters. Serendipity. In viewing the work, there is a sense of watching friends being together.
Are there particular artists or choreographers who have influenced you?
Aside from the explicit poetry references, Felix Gonzalez-Torres has influenced elements of this, such as “clocking” each other in Us Swerve, while Derek Jarman’s Blue (1993) influenced the gesture of painting nails blue.
Gonzalez-Torres dealt with potent ideas of queer activism in a very poetic and pleasurable way, breaking complex ideas down to simple, beautiful gestures. Your approach to these references feels akin to this.
Absolutely. I relate to his way of working by zooming in on and de-synchronising simple, found materials that manifest a certain affect and its politics. In my work these are gestures, movements and spoken word. This procedure can result in more minimal work, for example Federico (2015), which is an 8-minute choreography just for the hands, in which two performers touch each other’s fingers in various constellations. Or it can lead to more composite choreographies in which I stage a dialogue between various sources.
For example the work I presented in London for Block Universe was constructed around two sources. The first came from being in conversation with artist Andrew Hardwidge, who was also a performer in this work. He introduced me to an entry in Pascale’s Pensées, where the King dances to distract himself from sadness. Pascal was writing about Louis XIV, who set up dance as a discipline in the Western tradition. We put this in relation to Throbbing Gristle’s “Discipline.” Genesis P-Orridge’s raw, unruly wildness was relearned as a piece of choreography, thereby making a discipline out of it and working with that tautology and absurdity. I like things that reflect upon subjectivity and the medium of choreography itself—choreography in equal parts as discipline and as an escape from discipline.
How do you feel about the performances being translated to a gallery setting? There’s a kind of voyeurism that occurs, where one set of people is performing, another is looking, and there is no demarcation between stage and audience.
The voyeurism of witnessing intimacy is interesting to me. I’m interested in the audience “being with” an intimate situation, one that is not necessarily being performed for you, but is occurring in the same space. I am trying to bring attention to the materiality of movement, gesture and affect, which often occurs through repetition. It’s not about objectifying the performers, but trying to visualize the materiality of relations.
The emotional matter that occurs between the performers is the “object.” This “object” is the stuff that lives in-between the systems, structures and languages we use to communicate, which I guess you could describe as affects.
These affects are the materials of the work, while the choreographic montage is a catalyst for an experience. For my exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery, I wanted to work with various modes of time, so the exhibition unfolds through “episodes” and “fugues.” The episodes will occur every two weeks, while between these are fugues, where we zoom in on specific moments from the previous episode and extend, re-distribute and diffract them. There will also be periods when the gallery is closed while we rehearse, so the space becomes a production house, too. It’s quite a complex structure, and everyone will have a different experience of the work.
What are the ideas behind the work?
The work is about the overlaps of desire, distraction and nothingness, whether it be the of“doing nothing” that happens in friendship and love, or the sense of nothingness that accompanies alienation and experiences of finitude, detachment, loss. It’s important for me that it’s always fragmentary, that there is resistance to complete representation. There is a group of eight performers who will appear in different constellations in each episode, using found social choreographies and cinematic, literary or dance and art historical references to create affinities across social practices, art forms and time. For example,“cutting shapes” from House music, or handshake choreography as a form of greeting between the performers. Throughout the work, there are different gestures of holding yourself—gestures that you use without thinking—for example, the way you’re folding your arms now and then touching your face—but which I’ll isolate and turn into a structured choreography.
The meaning of human gesture is fascinating to me. The structures and systems we exist in only allow us certain modes of behaving, which can feel very repressive. As much as you are dealing with a queer identity politic, there is also much that seems to address the broader structural systems we inhabit and the codes of behavior they enforce.
Yes, absolutely. I work with gestures and structures that are symptomatic. I choreograph ways of spending time together that are at once concrete and abstracted, so that they reflect on more base structures through which desire and subjectivity are mediated. I want to give space to the excesses and lacks in meaning. I don’t think the work is as much for a queer identity politic as for queer politics of dis-identification, which is about Othering, about being in the non-normative spaces of intimate estrangement.
It’s frustrating that these spaces are non-normative, seeing as they’re so often about relating to people freely. Of course, the concept of “freedom” has long been used to politically defend institutionalized misogyny, racism and homophobia. Especially now, everything that has lurked under the surface is leaking out, and so the spaces in which we relate to one another are becoming more binary, more polarized. There’s no space between the “normative” and the “non-normative.”
I think “non-normative” is exactly about spaces that don’t operate through exclusion, but rather create a vulnerable commons which resist structures of hegemony and exclusion. One of the main means of disciplining now is the production of subjectivity and particular kinds of relations. Affect is now capital. What I’m interested in is working out the paradoxes of that complexity. The question is, how does one make hopeful work now?
About Space Walk from Michele Rizzo with Emma Daniel & Valerio Sirna.
By Clara Amaral
I was thinking about the difference between adding a word before or after Space. For example: open space, closed space, middle space vs. Space walk. Obviously, it is possible to talk about walking a Space, but we never really say: —That Space there is really calling for a walk, I will go and walk it. Maybe the Space that is a field asks for a walk, or the Space that is a beautiful avenue asks for a walk; an anonymous space doesn’t ask for a walk. But if you ask me, that looks like the best space for going for a walk. To Space walk. And that would be the moment before the Space becomes something, before the Space becomes the highway, the beach, the football field or even the theatre space. The Space that shows and talks the invisible, the imagination, the potential.
While watching Space Walk from Michele Rizzo, I had to think, “how is it that a closed circuit becomes an open space?”
Visceral but lifeless: violence + the value of the image in Venice Biennale winner Anne Imhof’s Faust
by Hadden Manhattan
Anne Imhof the artist emerged in the libidinal shadows of the European financial project in Frankfurt. Before entering the city’s famed Städelschule art academy, her first improvised work happened in its red light district — a boxing match in a strip club. A band played. Noses were bloodied and broken.
The architectural history of the building has long proved challenging for exhibiting artists. Replete with square columns, it was designed by Ernst Haiger in 1938 under the Nazi regime. Imhof encloses the kitsch palatial structure with temporary steel security gates. A couple of Doberman Pinschers are being calmed down by their handler, a muzzled aggression that foreshadows the action inside.
As well as being the German word for ‘fist,’ the title is borrowed from Goethe’s restless protagonist who sells his soul to the devil, later inspiring the overture by 19th century composer Richard Wagner, whom Adolf Hitler famously admired. Can the latent allusions to fascism implicit within Imhof’s work maintain criticality, or do they encourage a dark public fascination with the totalitarian theatrics of power?
Within Haiger’s original knave-like interior, the artist has constructed a platform in toughened glass, a material motif of an investment bank. This architectural mise-en-abyme — sharp transparent geometries set within an austere neoclassical interior — offers a disturbing read of contemporary Germany. The nation’s dominance within today’s neoliberal framework was itself born from the uterine shell of an autocratic regime.
Around the space is a considered disarray of ambivalent objects — tubes, an electric guitar, concrete sinks, sodden towels — that evoke Imhof’s personal history working as a bouncer at Frankfurt’s legendary nightclub Robert Johnson. It’s the world of nocturnal violence with the lights turned on. Performers move languidly but with precision. Hands are on throats, tenderness contorts into aggression; simple gestures of walking are slowed down, glances become gazes. The dynamics of control pervade these actions. The micro-movements demonstrate how organic beings buckle under abstract powers and systems, evoking the current political tensions as right-wing ideologies start to take hold.
Anne Imhof “Faust” at German Pavilion, Venice Biennale
Susanne Pfeffer interviewed by Noemi Smolik
Noemi Smolik: Could you say a little about what informed your decision to pick Anne Imhof for the German pavilion?
Susanne Pfeffer: I spent a lot of time doing research. As part of this process, I also discovered several new artists. The question of what constitutes the now—our contemporary reality—was of crucial importance to me. Today, we are confronted with the far-reaching effects of technological change. A new subject arises that is both hormonal and extremely networked across media. Our perception and our movements increasingly take place in virtual space. The effective mechanisms of power and control are inscribed in the body. I find the extent to which we cede to the capitalization of our bodies, while simultaneously bridling at this process, remarkable. This is a fundamental transformation requiring reactions and responses. Consequently, finding an artistic position that tackles these issues in contemporary language seemed imperative to me.
NS: Imhof stages performances, an art form that appeals to a growing number of young artists. How would you account for this development?
SP: Anne Imhof describes herself first and foremost as a painter. The image she creates encompasses painting, installation art, sculpture, sound, and performance. There is something quite cinematic or virtual in how she brings together those various components. Because of the new possibilities of digital editing and the sheer quantity of visual material in circulation, the significance of the image has changed dramatically. It is no longer about individual motifs or the materiality of a sole image. Rather, the image is always already composed of a panoply of other images. In this regard, I find the concept of the postcinematic quite interesting. In today’s world, the camera is itself part of represented and depicted reality. These different levels of pictoriality pervade Imhof’s work. In light of the contemporary importance of biopolitics, re-engaging with the body and corporeality will become ever more important. There is an immediacy to performance that affects us precisely because our access to reality is heavily mediated.
NS: It was said that Imhof’s performances are “meditations on contemporary power structures”. To what extent do you agree with that view? And if so, could you elaborate on it and give an example?
SP: I think that is indeed the case. The body, not least in the way in which it becomes an object of capitalism, is a vector of these power structures. Never before could power be projected with such speed, which makes it harder than ever to pin it down. We need to challenge the new mechanisms of control through new conceptions of the body in order to develop an adequate political language and plan for action. In her performance works, Imhof creates a kind of script that lays out gestures and motion sequences in minute detail. There is a sense that power structures are lurking in the background, invisible to the audience; in this, there are interesting parallels to social codes. At the same time, the performers consciously break with the strictures of the script and begin to improvise. The resulting tension is deeply engrossing. Alongside these moments of other-directedness, the individuality of each performer really comes to the fore. Individuality is key to Imhof’s work. It reveals the power structures and encodings at work in society and the manner in which they shape our body through technology and pharmacology. Still, a resistance persists in gestures small and grand. Watching Anne Imhof’s performers, you realise that they, too, want to become images. They constantly seem to strive for their transformation into consumable images. Media representation is innate to these bio-techno-bodies: they seem forever on the verge of transformation into pictures ready for consumption, and yet their subjectivity is waging an endless war against its own commodification and objectification.
NS: The androgynous qualities of the performers in Imhof’s works have often been emphasised, with some critics even speaking of a “gender-free erotics”. What is your take on this reading?
SP: In Angst (2016), various sequences involve shaving, a motion that is as tender as it is political. Sharp razorblades traverse the skin. The performers shave the palms of their hands, their navels—areas that do not necessarily have erotic connotations but are symbolically charged. After all, the navel is arguably the most visible relic of our birth. I think that sexuality today is experienced as something self-referential, belonging to oneself rather than issuing from a relationship to another person. Anne Imhof’s work represents a post-gender sensibility.
Places for introspection – Rodrigo Sobarzo intervied by Sonja Jokiniemi
Could you tell a bit about yourself?
A very interesting and challenging question to answer right now! If there’s something like ”liquid identity”, it is exactly what I’m experiencing at this very moment. A bunch of principles and values that used to glue my life together for quite some years now are surely drifting, and as the earth plates of the planet move ever so slightly, there are huge repercussions and consequences to that almost imperceptible motion.
Going straight to the core I guess my life revolves heavily around my work and I’m not satisfied with the medium that the ”performing arts” is or are. I’m trying to change my medium due to a lack of effectivity or inclusivity that I experience within this art form.
How did you first become interested in materials and inanimate bodies? How has this interest evolved or transformed from the earlier works such as United States up to current creations such as Prins of Networks?
It’s a very curious subject since the interest, as I see it now with some years’ distance, was never the object or the inanimate itself. Primarily my interest lies in non-direct ways of communication, non-direct ways of touch and addressing, moving towards this utopia I have labeled as Au†is†ic Movement. I dream of the performance space as a place for introspection and naturally I started working with objects since they were in between me (the performer) & you (the audience). And I found that by directing all my attention to them I was reaching out towards you and your perceptual body.
I feel as a development, although I find development a tricky word, it went from macro to micro spaces. Before I was more fond of architecture and bigger, wider gestures in that contained performative space. While now I’m more and more keen to research the imperceptible, the smallest part of the biological chain, the insects and the micro-organisms (like algae).
Could you describe your first choice on materials? What makes you to work on specific bodies in each piece?
I would define it very intuitively. I always, as a body, carry desires to encounter or experience certain materialities and textures. And I’m very sharp in not trying to understand that desire, a suspension of disbelief. And usually form and content always match no matter your active effort in trying to link them. Just because we inhabit that space that’s fertile with interpretation, I usually find myself as the role of the suggester or something more updated, so that I’m thinking more and more now I wish to become a ”ghost performer” or achieve a ghost-like presence.
How do you see the role of the human actor in your works and has this changed over time?
I consciously operate trying to equal the human to all the rest of the elements within a live performance but I often experienced that’s not enough. So I really crafted, on the go, a way of being, maybe inspired by this Au†is†ic Movement and moving overall towards this ghost-performer. I like to erase entirely that need for attention we all possessed and appear almost like cancelling my very own humanity, just because I’d like, when I encounter humanity again, to experience it differently or vividly just by having the opposite before. Many audience members have questioned my non-communicative way of performing as negative but I find already the questioning a huge advancement, just for the sake of creating topological irregularities within the ever-so-uniformed-human-centered performance world!
Such as in your works RemoTe sense and Prins of Networks natural elements seem to be important research grounds. Could you tell more about your interest on nature and ecology? What is their relation to the virtual?
I’m quite obsessed with erasing the difference between Natural & Artificial. For me there’s no such a thing as ”separated” from this world as it all ”emanates” so clearly from the life on this planet and beyond! Even the human-made stuff, how could it not be natural as we are a natural force too and whatever we create, no matter how artificial, it intrinsically belongs to, and only to, nature. I don’t seem to comprehend this division so I dive quite fluidly between one and the other, the natural and the virtual. I feel like both are empowering each other and the potential this encounter brings is mind-blowing.
Could you describe the role of sound in your work?
I feel like sound is this utopia I’m aiming at. It does not discriminate bodies-objects, geographical location, social hierarchy and economical implications. It is immediate and can be massively distributed and experienced no matter where in the world you’re standing at. It knows no boundary and yet holds not-identifiable form or shape (it is invisibly audible). It is as massive as natural forces are because it derives from electricity, which derives from water whom we hold responsible for bringing life into the earth. I know no source more direct to a sense of origin of life that sound in itself! And music producers hold this key, they shape electricity which has a huge impact in our lives because its form resembles the one germinal life source we know of.
What kind of role hapticity and affect play in your work?
I think hapticity is definitely the result of the work itself (if there is any) and affects are the knowledge that are the source of it. This thin boundary between what is tangible and what is not is primordial to our existence and this sense of undefinable or in-its-way-to-become is definitely the ultimate wisdom I know of. A state in where nothing is named and yet words are read & seen as images or symbols… in itself, for me, sounds like the perfect place to be.
Rodrigo Sobarzo de Larraechea (CL/NL) studied at the SNDO in Amsterdam and was a resident at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. His work seeks to envelope its viewer into visual introspection. Only a deep-seated introspective experience can bring humanity into re-vision, into implosion. Furthermore he possesses a strong interest on subculture and sub-cultural production by means of digital connectivity throughout various internet sites/networks and social media: Au†¡smo. Rodrigo is performing his work Prins of Networks 28.-29.4.2017 in Kiasma, Helsinki.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ Interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
The New York art scene is not dying, as so many think. Dash Snow, Dan Colen and Ryan McGinley: young, spontaneous, easygoing, feminist women. They use every medium from Instagram to sculpture, performance to fashion, and are audaciously open and independent. At the center of this emerging scene is 22-year-old India Salvor Menuez.
Seven years ago, India created the art performance group Luck You, performing in galleries and on the Internet, and making sculptures, paintings, and films. She supported herself by modeling for photographers, designers, and painters like John Currin and brands like Miu Miu. Her appearance in Olivier Assayas’s Something in the Air kick-started her budding career in cinema, and she is Currently working on directing a film, curating exhibitions more, and performing.
OLIVIER ZAHM – I’m very interested in you, your generation, your friends. It reminds me of the early ’90s.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Is it difficult to survive in New York?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Financially, it’s more and more difficult. Having grown up here, I’ve seen a lot of kids who can not afford to live in the neighborhood.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Where do you live?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I live in Chinatown now. I live with my boyfriend, Jack. You met him. Tall, quiet.
OLIVIER ZAHM – He’s an artist?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah, he’s an artist, and I have a very modest little apartment, and then I have my studio in the house.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Were you born in New York?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – In Brooklyn, but I lived in London for three years, from the age of six to nine. That’s the only time I did not live here. My parents split up, so I went back and forth between Brooklyn and Chinatown. I was very much downtown for my teen years. You’re here in New York.
OLIVIER ZAHM – What do you like about the city? Do you meet a lot of people?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I think if you allow it, the city can offer its version of open-mindedness. I mean, you can also stay in your New York bubble, which a lot of times you have just to survive, to keep going. At the same time, you take the train, and you’re confronted by every kind of person of every age and socioeconomic situation and personality type. Open-mindedness from a young age.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Did you look at art as a child?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – When
I was young, my dad was an industrial designer, then he made clothes. My mom was a stylist, and she made jewelry now. I was surround ed by creative people. My parents had very young, so they would take me to things … My parents were not really in the art world, but on the periphery, and definitely around creative people.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Was your father a fashion designer?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – He was an industrial designer, doing spaces in Japan and furniture in London. Then he did a small clothing line, which he did not longer have. He makes music now, secretively, all day in his room. When I have parts in the city, I get him to DJ. My parents are pretty cool.
OLIVIER ZAHM – How old are they?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – My dad’s 51, and my mom’s in her late 40s.They have a youthful energy. I go out with my mom. But since they separated when I was seven, they each have a new person and a new kid. When I was 12, 13, becoming a teenager, it was kind of perfect that they both had kids because it distracted them, so I could run wild around the city. It was great.
OLIVIER ZAHM – How did you escape the dangers of the city, the drugs, the drinking?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I used to party a little in high school, but I never got into drugs. I’m always shocked when people of my generation are still – I mean, so many amazing people lost their lives to heroin.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Did you know Dash Snow?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I did not know him personally, but I used to see him walking around, pushing his baby, Secret, on the Bowery. He was only slightly removed from my generation. There’s definitely a lesson to be learned. Maybe if he did not have drug problems he’d still be around. You could argue that the work would be different, I guess. I do not know. Craziness can make for really good art, so I guess you have to deal with people being crazy. I’m not saying he was crazy, but it’s a little crazy to kill yourself.
OLIVIER ZAHM – What ‘s the risk for young people in a city? There are always parties and people proposing drugs.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Especially when you’re a cute young girl. Learning how to say how to say how to make a grown -up. No to doing free modeling. No to taking my clothes off.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Do you have a problem with nudity?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Not at all.
OLIVIER ZAHM – I saw a beautiful picture of you naked, by …
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Kate Simon. She took some nude and non-nude pictures. That was years ago, in my first apartment.
OLIVIER ZAHM – And then you modeled for John Currin. He was one of my first friends in New York City. He had a little studio in the beginning of the ’90s where I used to stay.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah, I did a couple of months ago.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Did you get big breasts on you?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yes, some are much bigger. But all of his girls have a mutation in some beautiful and amazing way. So I look different in every one.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Dreamy, sexy women.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah, I love
OLIVIER ZAHM – How did you meet?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – We had a mutual downtown friend, Silvia [Cincotta]. She cuts a lot of people’s hair. She’s really funny. She’s really cool. She cuts their kids’ hair and was, like, helping him find girls. She showed him a picture of me and invited me over. He has just gotten to see how he feels. We kind of clicked. So
I came back for many, many sittings. So I got to know him in my own way. In that setting, John’s very vocal, very open. He shows you pictures from classical art to cheesy porn, and he says it and that. He talks about how to mix colors, and he feels like a master class. But you’re naked.
I do not know. It was really cool.
OLIVIER ZAHM – John Currin looks for the right position?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I have a real sensitivity with hands – the way you put your hands, which I really enjoyed learning about.
OLIVIER ZAHM – You’ve been modeling since you were very young. Do you like to model?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I learned about it through doing it.
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s a source of income, is not it?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah. But even before that, I was doing random jobs to pay the due because, honestly, I do not make much money from my art. It’s very rare that
I make more than I spend. After paying rent, I put all my money into my art. So modeling became a way to support myself. Right now, I’m making zines for the thing I’m curating, buying cloth to make costumes for a performance, and buying food for my performers. It all adds up pretty quickly.
OLIVIER ZAHM – New York is expensive.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah. Since I basically moved out of the house when I was 18, I was lucky to do a little lookbook here, a little thing there. You start to meet photographers you like, like you, and suddenly a community emerges out of the madness. Really, there’s room for making art projects that can be supported. I do not always like modeling when I do not like the photographer, or if I do not think the pictures are going to be good, or if the concept is stupid. But if they’re going to be good pictures, it can be fun, like a performance.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Is not painting your hand art form?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I have not shown my paintings in a couple of years. I’ve been shy about them.
I was doing a lot of figurative work, but I have not painted it in a while. Mostly I’ve been making prints, etchings on copper plates.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Personal works?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Well, something beyond the performance work, which is what I mostly focus on. My visual art is more private right now. I’m making etchings, though I’ve never shown them. I’m focusing on performance.
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s funny that you’re shy about studio work, but not about performance.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – It does not seem like the natural order of things.
OLIVIER ZAHM – What Else Do You Do?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Well, I do a book club reading series that is more of a curatorial platform for other artists to show their performances. Sometimes I perform, but often I’m just the host, kind of keeping it together, reaching out to different artists. The last book club, the 10th one I did, was at MoMA [Museum of Modern Art]. It was a seven-hour day.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Seven hours?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Every minute the museum was open.
We have been going to three minutes past closing time. It was really crazy. That was in February.
OLIVIER ZAHM – How many people did you invite?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Almost 50 different performers, and some of them had other performers in their pieces. Then there were two 15-minute open-microphone sec tions. Anyone could come and do something, which was really crazy – insane, actually. But it was great because all the work was really dif ferent. One is so serious you want to cry; The next is, like, ridiculous camp, and you’re laughing.
OLIVIER ZAHM – How did you find 50 performers – through friends?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah, you just kind of start doing it. Viva, who has a collective called Buoy. Viva’s mom had a performance group in Connecticut made up of older women in their 60s, who do it for fun. I had no idea what they did. I had this opportunity to do something at MoMA. I could have made it more about me, but it felt really exciting to bring in people who would never have the opportunity to do something at MoMA, maybe. No offense to the artists.
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s like an Occupy MoMA event.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – A bit, goal MoMA was into it, which was really exciting and surprising. A lot of people were surprised by it, which was great.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Did you perform as well?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I was consumed with organizing and maintaining the whole day, so I decided not to do any of my own work. My own performance has become quite complicated, involving more people.
OLIVIER ZAHM – What do you mean by “complicated” – the costumes, the make-up?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Well, I think of it visually. One character I’ve been doing a lot, which I created for myself to do, started as a way to show movement. I have high respect for dancers but felt shy about danc ing. So this is a character that dances – which made me feel less about it.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Like Pina Bausch choreography?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah, Pina Bausch. One of my best friends is studying at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Holland. I visited the European dance scene in Europe. To me, it’s performance art. Lines are blurring, so performance art can include dance. It can include sculpture. The set is architecture, sculpture, paintings, costumes, and dialogue, which is everything I like. The character I dance is named Chibi Cherry.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Chibi Cherry?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah. The first performance, a year ago last January, was a very simple solo piece, with projections and a prerecorded music element. But it was dance. Since then, my perfor mances have become more complicated, with more characters, more costumes, bigger sets. There’s dialogue. Right now, I’m working on a piece That Does not include Chibi Cherry goal is stemming from ideas Involving her. This big room will be in a huge public bathroom.
OLIVIER ZAHM – On the street? In a museum?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – In an art space in Queens called the Knockdown Center. It’s a massive industrial space, really nice, turned into an art space. There is a bigger piece called Authority, which FlucT and some people from Oceanfront Studios put together, in which, during two hours, the audience splits up and walks through at different moments. It’s something like choreography, installation, and performance.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Is your Chibi Cherry some kind of surrogate for you?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – She’s my way to investigate why I perform, who I perform for. Things like that, I guess. She’s my vessel for asking those questions.
OLIVIER ZAHM – You’re questioning performance itself?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah. The last Chibi Cherry I did speaks about that. I did it in the dome at PS1. John Cage – John Cage – What I Really Are After the Fact. So I’m working off of that kind of a dialogue. But the dining scene was in a dimension, a symmetrical table with characters lying under the chairs, representing the bottom of the hierarchy, and then twin girls sitting at either end of the table. They have a matriarchal central figure, who sat in the middle of the table and had these big bread hands, which the twins ate. Then, on top of the matriarchal character, there was a Gollum character, saying different things. The idea was a dining scene that represented a hierarchy.
OLIVIER ZAHM – That’s you.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah,
I always play Chibi Cherry. I’ve done one performance Where the role of Chibi Cherry switches A couple times from me to Alexandra Marzella. We did something at the Miami and Basel art fairs. The piece at PS1 was a way to explore performance, but not for the audience – a performance about a performance, a part of a quantum physics
. Everyone influences the work.
OLIVIER ZAHM – So you approach performance like a choreographed painting?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah.
I did not study choreography, so my approach to choreography is loosely based on images. I start with a visual tableau, and how relationships or movements can come out of that. Maybe it’s like structured improv, with aspects of improvisation in the movement.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Do you like Vanessa Beecroft? For my generation, she was the woman using performance in a very visual way.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Definitely. There’s a community of perfor mance artists in New York. It’s inter esting because with performance, if you were not there, there’s only the documentation, which is never enough.
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s also anti-commercial in a time when art is such big business.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of performance work being done about that.
A friend of mine, Giovanna Olmos, has presented a performance piece, called How to Sell a Digital Painting, where she basically does a live auction and sells a digital painting during the performance. It’s an amazing piece, talking directly about that. The artist, Sara Grace Powell, makes a
critical criticism, going through it …
OLIVIER ZAHM – Is not performance art a way to spread a message?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Definitely. There is a lot of political performance art.
OLIVIER ZAHM – A product with nothing to sell. But what’s also surprising for your generation is your anti-internet position, during a time when girlfriends and boyfriends are texting when they eat or even take a shower.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah, take a picture of the salad while you eat it. But I think there’s a lot of, like, anxiety in that, and in being that generation. Isolated, dependent. I mean, the whole FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out] culture.
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s crazy. People, including myself, can not stay a minute alone, like, the reflex to check your phone.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Always something to look at. People like Alexandra Marzella are making a work of art.
A lot of people video it and watch it on a screen.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Why do you think performance is a comeback today?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – There is something for everyone. Performance art is so open in terms of what it can do, how it can be.
So I think it’s alive and well.
OLIVIER ZAHM – So how do you know when you’re going to be a girlfriend?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – That just ends up happening. I’ve been curious to make sure there are no guys. It’s not even on purpose.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Is that politically incorrect?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Well, it’s been the other way around plenty enough times.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Are you a feminist?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I’m abso lutely feminist. Feminism’s simple. We want equality.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Are you drastically feminist?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I’m not a man-hating feminist.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Are you radically feminist?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I could be more radically feminist. I could be more radical everything. But I’d say I’m 100% about woman being equal. You know, we should move away from just the kind of issues of white feminism and look at the broader global issues of feminism. Inequality is just a part of the world dialogue. People are really upset about feminism, racism, gender equality, and sexual liberation, which are all intertwined.
OLIVIER ZAHM – It ‘s interesting that you naturally and spontaneously act within a group of friends – and girlfriends – which is also noticeable in the way you dress, creating your own style, which is difficult to define, actually, even impossible to define. I do not know what it is.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Thank you.
OLIVIER ZAHM – I like that you have a sense of community.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I think naturally evolved. I have a lot of female friends – especially female artist friends – because I think it’s really important for women to support each other. There are cultural attitudes suggest That we’re in competition with each other, qui I think is a shame. Supporting each other – is really important. Being a female artist is not always easy, especially in New York. Though I do not know where it might be easier, either. Sometimes, though, I feel like young guys can also be intimidated by a bunch of women supporting each other. But a lot of my friends are older.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Your artist girl friends tend to be very pretty. Is that feminist?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Deter mining what a beautiful long conversation.
OLIVIER ZAHM – They’re all beautiful, maybe.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – People are themselves beautiful.
OLIVIER ZAHM – That’s true. But there are now a lot of young women artists.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Still, I’ve definitely been put in situations where I’m not considered seriously as an artist because I’m a woman, and because I’m a model and have a lot of followers in Instagram. So to certain curators, I’m not taken to be a serious artist. I’ve been cast aside in certain situations. Going back to why I commit to a community: it’s not only nice to do projects with friends, but it’s also nice to have a community to discuss ideas in a safe and productive way.
I’m so obsessed with the power of context and how the context shapes the way works are seen, so the more control I have in the context and the more interested More I feel comfortable making work.
So I can create my own group, then I can make more intelligently within a context, instead of being, like, picked up at random A white cube as a group show by a bunch of artists of whom I do not know what their practice is about.
OLIVIER ZAHM – You were in the [Olivier] Assayas film [After May, or Something in the Air]. He’s a friend of mine from a long time ago. When did you start acting?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – He’s so sweet, so amazing. That was my first film. That was my first feature, nearly four years ago. It’s on Netflix, I think. Since then, I’ve done maybe 10 movies. A lot are independent, so they have not been released yet. There are a couple on Netflix.
White Girl premiered at Sundance Film Festival. It’s from a New York female director. You would love this movie.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Who shot it?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Elizabeth Wood. It was inspired by her life as a 20-something, moving to Bushwick and dating the local drug dealer, thinking everything was going to be great, and then …
OLIVIER ZAHM – Lifetime up a nightmare.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Yeah – a shit show. But it’s such a smart film, about race and gender. It really pushes it. You think you’re watching a sexy, fun movie, and then it goes so dark. It was at Sundance. Then I had a role on Transparent, a TV show that I’m obsessed with. Our friend Hari Nef is in it. Jill Soloway’s a genius. I’m shooting a feature this summer as well.
OLIVIER ZAHM – You’re working a lot now as an actress.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – Another film is premiering at the LA Film Festival in June, where I play the lead who has autism: My First Kiss and the Involved People. It’s a very long title. I also shot and co-wrote a feature film called Technology , directed by my friend Maiko Endo, a Japanese female director. She’s friends with, like, the Safdie brothers and Eleonore Hendricks, and used to work at Cinema Nolita.
I got to know her because she used to live here, but then she fucked up her visa, so we’ve been working in other countries. We are looking for a couple of weeks ago in Iceland.
We did part of the postproduction
OLIVIER ZAHM – This is a very specific aspect of your work, but very specific.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I studied a bit of theater at Hunter College when I went there, as well as fine arts. At the same time I learn technical things. Every new role involves a specific approach, a new approach. You have to adapt and collaborate with the director and find who is this person. Acting has given me a lot for my performance work.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Do you remember your lines?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I just had the craziest memorizing task for a new Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe video piece. I play a role in it, which involved pages and hyper-specific science fiction-like monologue. It was so insane, but I did it. I just shove it in and make it happen.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Thank you for this interview.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ – I’m happy to be doing this interview with you because I know you, and I know the magazine, and I know the other people in the magazine, so it feels natural. It’s part of a natural growth, not forced. You know?
By Gia Kourlas
Meg Stuart and Dana Michel
Two contemporary dancers confront the complications of the performing body.
There aren’t many stars in contemporary dance, but Meg Stuart is one: she shines bright. An American who made her name in Europe more than two decades ago—she now splits her time between Brussels and Berlin—Stuart explores the tension between dance and theater with an exquisite nonchalance. Using movement as her base, she is an excavator of sensations. But right on her heels is the young Montreal-based Dana Michel, who is cementing herself as a fiercely powerful voice with her raw and rich explorations of identity.
Signs of Affection (2010) focuses on the hands, which Stuart shakes in front of her face while Greg Fox performs a vigorous drum solo. Planted on one spot of the stage, she rubs her hands together, claps on occasion, and wags her head until her body vibrates uncontrollably. In I take it back (2007), the context is the end of a relationship. After a series of poses, in which Stuart hugs herself from behind or runs the tip of her elbow down the inside of the opposite arm, she delivers lines that start out with “You know when I said . . .” and conclude with “I take it back.” It goes like this: “You know when I said I can’t live without you? I take it back.”
Both pieces have elegance, though neither particularly sparkles. The pace of the evening is problematic—pauses, both between and within pieces, have an unwelcome eternal quality—but the second half of the program is stronger. XXX for Arlene and Colleagues (1995) was created as a response to the dance critic Arlene Croce’s 1994 New Yorker article “Discussing the Undiscussable,” which explained her refusal to review Bill T. Jones’s Still/Here and how that production related to the trend of “victim art.” Jones’s work dealt with the terminally ill.
Stuart was outraged. Croce’s provocative essay is one of her finest, one that made a healthy challenge to the prevailing, politically correct downtown orthodoxy—at least in my view. Yet Stuart’s response is interesting, too; she darts around the stage and performs manic, repetitive gestures before assuming a stationary pose facing the audience. As Serge Gainsbourg’s “Je t’aime . . . moi non plus” plays, Stuart taps her foot and wiggles her hips; incredibly, she freezes, or paralyzes, half of her face.
Just as mesmerizing is All songs have been exhausted (2013), in which she approaches her body as a living archive of memories, dances, influences, and fantasies. The stage, lit by Gilles Roosen, is dusky and dark, creating a velvety backdrop for Stuart’s quicksilver gestures. She touches her throat and caresses the air with her fingers, both birdlike and delicate. As part of the score, William S. Burroughs talks about how, in a dream, the important thing is “to see your hands.”
With her loose white top and mop of blond hair, Stuart has an otherworldly glow. Her shadow, more animal than human, looms largely behind her as she becomes more skittish. She takes off her shirt and dons a long wig that grazes the floor before she stretches onto the stage, face down like a creature in the wild. It’s affecting, but hardly as searing as Michel’s Mercurial George (2016).
Performed at Abrons’s more intimate Experimental Theater, Mercurial George is an excavation of identity in which Michel embodies a character who appears to be homeless. Seeing it right after Stuart’s solos is revealing: Michel seems to move from her subconscious as she explores the notion of marginalization. She occupies a liminal state—is this a dream or is it real?—that requires the viewer to pay close attention. Michel’s visceral, character-based explorations, a rare blend of exacting and strange, give nothing away. She doesn’t sell herself, and she’s not desperate to please. I see Dave Chappelle and Charlie Chaplin when I watch her move; she is that precise and dexterous.
At American Realness in 2014, Michel presented Yellow Towel, a spellbinding, disconcerting look at race and stereotypes through the trigger of a yellow towel, an object the black dancer used to wear on her head as a child as a way to emulate her blond classmates. In Mercurial George, seemingly a companion piece to Yellow Towel, Michel is even more intense in the way she distances herself from her audience and becomes absorbed by her surroundings.
Wearing a pair of white tights and sneakers (purposely too big) with a shorn head (later, she dons a dreadlocked wig), she slithers across a darkened stage strewn with debris—bags, a ball of dough, a faux fur coat. She crawls inside bags, which no doubt double as shelter, and pulls out objects, including ginger root and miniature cups and saucers. During this private ritual, there’s no self-awareness; she performs as if the audience isn’t there. The only instance we meet her gaze is with an image on a mask depicting her own face, which she wears on her forehead like a crown. As she continues her tasks, those eyes on the mask—her eyes—lock onto ours.
Yet we are integral to the theatrical experience: As Michel uses her body to physicalize the precarious mental state of her character, we do what we aren’t allowed to do in public. We stare. This is the unbalanced person you look away from in discomfort, the person you assume is too far gone to be helped. All the while, Michel holds nothing back in this crystallization of solitude. It’s achingly brutal.
Michel picks a piece of invisible lint from her tights and flicks it away. She mutters under her breath. She doesn’t make direct eye contact. Her body stutters, then stops. She pushes on. As dazed as she is shuffling from one prop to the next—stabbing at a bag of white rice with a barbecue fork so that it showers over the stage like snow, or stumbling through the space in a faux fur coat—she is also durable. She has wit.
Exploring the unstable body isn’t new in dance, but it has rarely felt quite this real. Unlike Stuart, Michel gets to the very essence of vulnerability with a brand of presence so intense that you forget you’re watching a performance. Suddenly, the body is as agile as the mind.
Gia Kourlas was the dance editor of Time Out New York from 1995 to 2015. Since 2000, she has regularly contributed to The New York Times, where she writes dance reviews, news items, essays, and features. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Dance Magazine, Dance Now, and Vogue.