Thursday 11 June 2009

The Voice and Everything Else

From speaking to gibbering, from whispering to roaring, from singing to yelling, the voice is more versatile than any musical instrument and more malleable than any material. However, its close ties with words put the voice under pressure for meaning.What do we hear in inarticulate voices? In voices that cannot speak, whose language we don't understand or which have nothing to say?

This two-day workshop aims to explore the above questions by kick-starting with a look at the work of the Futurists.

The poet F.T. Marinetti was one of the first to mix words with non-verbal sounds in his recitations by sampling natural and mechanical noises with his voice. A similar obsession with noise shared by the Italian Futurists generated visual representations of sound.

After looking at sonically inspired Futurist paintings, participants will be guided through a listening session, a series of graphic notation and fun vocal exercises which will consider the relationship between sound and image, and launch a hands-on exploration of the voice.

The workshop will provoke thinking on the hidden meanings of vocal production, it will examine the voice as an emotional barometer, and uncover the strong political undercurrents suggested in the way something is voiced. It will conclude with an exciting group vocal performance - for those who wish to participate - which will bring graphic notations generated by the group and the sounds of selected Futurist paintings to life.

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Wikipedia Art Embassy at the Internet Pavillion of the Venice Biennale

Adventures in "performative citations" initiated by artists Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern will be featured in the program of the Venice Biennale via the Internet Pavillion. More to come...

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Talk Show

Just wanted to flag up the show at the ICA, which ends this weekend. I've added it as a link under our related links.

The show and related events address the act of speech- I can't believe i didn't know it was on until now.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings...

Just wanted to flag up the notion that just because the symposium is over, it doesn't mean that the discussion has to end here.
I'd be interested in furthering and continuing our discussions as I feel there was alot of ground that we didn't cover. Also, listening again to my own conversation and the ensuing discussion I felt there was alot of emphasis in the end on process and technical issues and less about the critical content of the work at its relationship to the theoretical concerns of my project especially in relation to the role of documentation, given the historical context. I think the discussion could be opened up alot more for all of us.

I came across an article today which I'd forgotten about which might have been a better text to have discussed, given our collective concerns. It's a piece by Philip Auslander and it's called 'The Performativity of Performance Documentation'. It nicely takes up the Phelan and Jones texts and points toward the performativity of documentation itself as 'the act of documenting an event as a performance is what constitutes it as such.'

Anyway the text appears in Performance Art Journal 84 (2006), pp 1-10. You can also access it if you have an Athens account on

It's definitely worth a read. I'm looking forward to ensuing conversations. Meanwhile, don't forget I'm performing (running and then singing) tomorrow (Wednesday 27th) back at BAC with the Running Ensemble which forms part of Amy Feneck's project 'You'll never Walk Alone.' Love to see you there if you can make it.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Ann Liv Young - The Bagwell in Me at BAC 19.05.09

Last night, Simon, Matthew, Susana, Lia, Veronique, Elsa and Michelle attended Ann Liv Young's The Bagwell in Me.   

I took the liberty to take some photographic documentation with my mobile phone.  We'd like to  discuss the immersive encounters we experienced there during the symposium. 

Thursday 14 May 2009

Vital bodies and the images that love them

My dedication to the performed image stems from an interest in language and the way potential signs and symbols escape formation and remain fluid. In art, figures in a state of process, or becoming, have been related to notions of the ‘grotesque’, ‘perverse’, ‘biomorphic’, discourses of indexicality or simply ‘forms’, leaving them to occupy ambivalent territory in the imagination. My question is: Might there be more productive approaches to an analysis of these representations which clearly reference outside themselves?

My research at Goldsmiths involves an exploration of connections between my artwork and both classical and contemporary interpretations of key concepts developed by early 20th century process philosopher Henri Bergson. I probe Bergson’s insistence upon the notion that life and reality are in constant flux in order to explore how this central claim relates to the status of the radicalized figure in art. My investigation traces links between the virtual Bergsonian body, (a formless body of dynamic vital energy, or what Bergson termed as élan vital, which lies just beyond the periphery of representation), and the actual body of flesh and blood, (the body defined by static forms and outlines produced by perception). Bergson claims that all representations fall short of the real way creatures live in time. Relating to this, through my artwork I search for unbounded symbols created by the body which access what could be called a 'Bergsonian vision'. Drawing upon Bergson’s concepts of ontological becoming, duration, intuition, pre-visible change, and unified consciousness, my investigation explores how manifestations of the figure existing outside the periphery of formed semiotics may be interpreted in a way which embraces and validates intuition as an indispensable mode of consciousness. I also explore the paradox of producing a static set of marks to indicate a non-static subject or set of events. Bergson’s work demonstrates, (rather performatively, I might cheekily add), the struggle with describing the process of living thought with the codified language of static words. Similarly, I am interested in investigating the gap between static representations of the body and the body as it truly is – vital, dynamic, evolving, possessing in various characteristics and modalities which lie well beyond representation.

My multi-media artwork lies at the center of this investigation as the above theoretical interests have naturally arisen from my practice itself. The abiding commitment to the body in motion in my artwork has grown out of the intuitive necessities for exploring non-indexical pictorial perversities, working with the figure as a linguistic tool, and drawing links between the body and the wider universe of energy & potentiality. My interest in amorphous signs and symbols led to my theoretical investment in themes of flux and ontological becoming, which is where Bergson’s still fresh and progressive insights become essential.

I utilize various techniques which indicate an aesthetics of the in-between: composite, hallucinatory approaches to dealing with time and space; the use of ephemera such as light and movement as modelling materials; attaching the camera directly to the body; the painterly application of light directly to the photograph’s surface. I also frequently employ marks and modes of an incidental variety including blurs, fractures, fragments and gestural assemblage. All this in effort to whittle pictorial proclivities within lens-based media into unexpected formal and symbolic distortions.

In my research I aim, through text and visual artworks to examine challenges and potential solutions to appraising the dynamic, vitalist body of ‘emergent forms’ and becomings in art. I examine Classical Bergsonism in light of recent re-evaluations of process philosophy (via Brian Massumi and Gilles Deleuze) and key contributions from feminism and queer theory (via Elizabeth Grosz and Judith Butler), and art itself, which together (I hope) will provide fresh theoretical insights for analyzing the significance of the figure in formal and symbolic states of flux. This structure will provide critical tools from which to re-evaluate the status of ‘bodies in process’ in art.

Lash, S. 2006. Life (Vitalism). Theory, Culture & Society, [Online]. 23 (2-3), pp. 323. Available at: (SAGE Publications) [Accessed February 9, 2009].

Wednesday 13 May 2009


My interest in communication media derives from the fact that they "erase" physical distances and boundaries and enable affectivities that are beyond the sphere of physical proximity. With the Internet and later with the World Wide Web, I would say that this process is amplified or even "exploded".
I am very interested in the spaces, of inter-human relation, that one can "open" within the communicational media. These can be spaces of intimacy, of empathy, of desire, of fantasy, but also of the fascination by the technological, which can have an almost magical dimension. And in these sense, I am not interested in performing on a stage, in its classical assumption, because a stage can be an hierachical space. But I am interested in establishing relations and connections that can subvert hierarchies, which are constructed in a rhizomatic way and crossing transversally a number of question that are important for me, as an artist and as a person.
Some projects of my practice that occur through an online platform, are not concerned with producing an "object" and do not happen in a public sphere, but rather through performative practices that re-use models of encounters, gestures and communication of everyday life. In one level there is a re-examination of the meaning of being together with others, of a brief encounter, of the dynamics of intimacy.
But the performances have a double side: they are always based in a premise that is often deceptive - because the motive is always an excuse or a decoy to engage with someone; but they also intend to be a "true" bonding experience - I intend people to be together with me through sharing knowledge or cultural memory. This encounter is technologically mediated: as I and the participant are not sharing a common physical space. And as all the performative actions are different with each participant, the notion of audience (in its classical sense) is not very operational in this context.
I am interested in thinking and reflecting how can we create and produce intimacy between two (or more) people in a determined context: by this I mean a context located in the art world, which is also located in technologically mediated situation, and which has always some rules (which are being tested if they can be broken...). And also what operative devices can we use to produce such an encounter?

Confession Room

Secrets, confessions, excavations…

Over the past few days, we've had the pleasure of conversing on the topics of performance and perfomativity.

Themes of the confessional, sharing secrets, achieving deepened creative liberty, interpersonal connectivity, and personal excavation, have been constant treads throughout our conversation.

This gave me the idea of creating a little space for confessions to be shared…a place of off-loading, of writing secrets down, casting them outside of oneself like lines of intimacy extending out into the world, of acknowledgment and unearthing, of celebration, ownership, therapeutic community and self-examination.

So here’s an invitation to you. You are cordially invited to join me in this virtual confession room to anonymously explore, off-load, own, celebrate, purge, acknowledge, bring into the light, hold up to the sky, magnify. Please remember this is not about guilt or anything even remotely Catholic. It’s about celebrating secrets and activating latent creative energy! I think many of our secrets contain critical clues to our hearts’ deepest desires. And sharing them can help facilitate a lighter, freer, more creatively liberated way of living.

Click here to visit the Creative Confession Room.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

confessional modes

I must confess that I am quite fascinated with all your different backgrounds, processes and desires that fuel the practices.
For me performing - or have someone to perform with me or for me - has always been a process of being with others. Of connecting with people and connecting to people. Even if it is just for a brief encounter. I must say that I hardly work with people with whom I don't have or I don't engage in a personal relationship. Affect, as a human bond, is something that is part of my work. That affectual relationship can be in the present time - be happening now - or it can be in the past - as a memory, as a reposition of something that was hidden or erased. I am always both terrified and attracted by the sheer vulnerability of performing. Because I am not pretending to be someone other than myself. I really am there being myself. And I never quite know what can happen, and I like to allow space for things that I cannot predict, to improvisation, to decide and change things now, as things are occurring. Maybe it is too romantic, but I quite like the idea of performance as a gift. As something that you offer without wanting anything back.

Palpable sensations

Palpable sensations Michelle, are an apt description of something I try to perform in my work both in the doing and in the viewing. To begin with, I’ve always been a great believer in doing and experiencing things for myself – it is a great test of self-knowledge- about discovering one’s own capacities and limits and of knowledge about the work. That’s why I’ve always been more comfortable being the performer in my work because I know how far I can push myself and I am able to push myself further than I would be able to others. It’s also a great test of knowledge of the work through experience- how can I talk knowledgably about performing the work without performing (in) it myself? Yes, this is about sensitising the body to experience and to live it and feel it- that’s why your own engagement in Lygia Clark’s work through your own investment in the experience is so important.

In my running work I have had to train myself to run the distances that I run. I am not a natural runner and this was not an activity I was particularly engaged in to a great extent before I began to make this work. I was trying to think of a physical activity that was very straight-forward, that did not require any special or additional equipment in its activity (other than shoes and basic clothing) and that could take place in a number of different locations and environments.
I wanted to push myself and to find an activity that I would find difficult to do and to find that tension where there is always the potential of possible failure. In this work, the tension of possible failure comes not only in the activity of running itself, but in the production of the image (whether it is recorded or live). And sensation carried through the image through its movement as an image (or images) which is directed by my (head) movement as I run, with the sound of my breathing as a constant reminder of the experience and sensation of the activity.

When I was away I met for the first time someone who suffers violently from motion sickness and it occurred to me also for the first time what the effect could be on someone watching this work. This gave me some cause for concern as it was not something that I had considered or thought of before. I was quite shocked but at the same time horribly fascinated at how violently another's body could react to the palpable sensation of seeing an image.

Confessions....Sensitising The Body

I want to confess that my body has been in hiding.
I am a performer but I have been performing through others.
I'm neither proud nor ashamed of my actions.
The time has come to experience the live again.

These photographs are documentation of a series of experiments I developed in Brazil with American artist Julia Kouneski to re-sensitise our bodies to live our research physically as opposed to an engagement with text alone.... If my body has been in hiding as a performer, this feels like a crude start but one that finds it's root in the early psychotherapy of Brazilian artist Lygia Clark who developed sculptural objects that evolved into mediating tools for healing. She named it the relational object. It's relational quality was defined by it's direct placement on the body of the participant, so that subject and object were in direct contact with each other. Several people experienced a "dissolving" of the self into the object (I'm not sure what the object would say) but tactility (to return to Lia's choice of the word palpable) was given as much weight as the visual.

These palpable sensations were a crucial re-awakening of the hidden capacity of my body to perform. We are still left with the documentary evidence lacking the physical sensation of the live act.
Talking of the body, I must go for a foot x-ray... I need to know whether I have been walking for 6 weeks on a hairline fracture...

The physicality of an image

Lia, the questions you pose about the performing (and peformativity) of an image and your earlier question regarding experience in the ‘doing’ are key concerns of my research and my work with the moving image. The title of my thesis: Re-presenting the Physical Act : Strategies for an Exploration of the Physical presence of the Body through its Screen Representation addresses these questions head on by proposing re-conceptualisation of the materiality of the body through its physical presence as an image.

At the heart of my concerns is the direct relationship (or interrelationship) between video and performance that has been prevalent since the 1960’s and 70’s when video was emerging as an art-form in its own right (and the question the emergence of video as an art form rather than just as documentation is key here) It is my belief that the body captured on video not only stresses its very physicality and existential presence as an image, [as a physical document and tangible record of an action or an event], but also in the very direct relationship it has with the viewer, in processes of spectatorship and communication, through which I suggest its physicality becomes concretised. This directly has to do with what an image ‘does’ and it suggests something in the performativity and ontological presence of an image (something that happens in the image itself and in the experience of viewing it) that is different but nonetheless experiential in the moment in which it is viewed.
So it is not suggesting that it is the same kind of experience as the experience of watching a live performance with live bodies, but what it is suggesting that it is another kind of performance in and of itself. It this way it goes beyond the idea of the product by including the image as part of the performance (or performed) act. In this sense it tries to hold onto the idea of the experience as a current experience rather than one that has transpired.

I tried to give a sense of this when I first set up the seminar performance ‘A Demonstration of Practice’, by having a live feed of my performance to camera that I was performing to the audience, projected simultaneously as an image directly on the wall behind me. By doing this I was not trying to set up binaries of this is me ‘here’ and this is the image over ‘there’ but presenting both ‘here’ in the experience and moment of viewing and doing. Jillian’s reference to the Butler text is key here. Also, what Amelia Jones refers to as ‘Body Art’ (as distinct from ‘Performance Art’) , as works that

‘may or may not initially have taken place in front of an audience: … that take place through an enactment of the artist's body, whether it be in a "performance" setting or in the relative privacy of the studio, that is then documented in such a way that it can be experienced subsequently through photography, film, video and / or text' (although I would contest the experience as being subsequent).

Jones' articulation and examination of this term is particularly relevant here since it posits the emergence of a trajectory of practice that explicitly implies not only the (physical) presence and existence of the body in the work from the start, but also points to a wider examination of the term performance through its functional status within the broader context of art practice (in photography, film, video and / or text…) and its relationship to the viewer. Jones defines this relationship as one of 'intersubjectivity' : 'a site where reception [in the viewer] and production [in the art work] come together’ and is largely informed by Merleau Ponty's phenomenological writings which see the body in terms of its 'lived' experience and its relationship to others constituted through the reciprocal relationship between ‘seeing’ and ‘being seen’.

Lia, your proposition of images that are themselves performed is very close to what I have been trying to do in my work, particularly my latest work ‘Live Run.’ In this work the ‘doing’ is everything and so is the construction and reception of an image whilst the ’doing’ is taking place. Over the last year I have been developing moving-image/performance works that use mobile camera technologies to record a series of long-distance runs. Starting from a premise of stereo sound and vision, I have two cameras attached to my head in order to record my viewpoint from each eye (and ear). What is recorded is the run in its entirety from my eye-view and experience of running the event. What I wanted to develop from the start and what I finally had the opportunity to work on during my residency in Banff, was a ‘live’ aspect to this work, where others are able to see my viewpoint (through the image) literally as I run a particular course, through the simultaneous performance of the run as it happens and its screening. I have only just scratched the surface and I was able to start something that is still very much in progress, but it is the closest I’ve got to so far to what could be described as the production of a work where the performance in both process and activity is in the image (or in the intertwining of the performance and the production of the image) and it is very exciting.

Svelte Minds and Thinking Bodies

Jillian, I think your point that performance breaks down the binary of process and product is absolutely key. I think this achievement descends, in part, from feminist ambitions which sought to challenge the tendency to fetishize subject (be it a person or art itself) as object, and experience as consumable relic.

I posed that question hoping to highlight what I suspect to be a false duality between process and product. It’s a question that poses an artificial choice, but like Jillian and Michelle, it’s a choice I too have grappled with in my photographic work. I suspect we can have both and perhaps even find a way of approaching potential answers which would validate the product more. It’s the notion that the product must be somehow solid and tangible in order to be taken seriously as a “product” which points to the privileging of certain senses and modes of perception over others. Objects, as relics, provide a kind of comfort by proving to us that an experience has transpired, but somehow not completely vanished. There’s that choice between investing oneself fully in an experience and deciding to retain the distance needed to produce a relic. This is a debate I frequently think about when I feel the urge to pull out the camera during an extraordinary moment which pervades my senses. It’s so circular; you feel an impulse to create an image-artifact of a moment of palpable presence, which will in turn solidify the bond between desire for the present and distance from it.

I'd like to propose we explore going beyond these so-called relics and documentations for tomorrow. What do we think about images which are themselves performed, in which the performance is the image? Is the separation between the two an absolute divide or merely another false duality in disguise? At what point (if any) does a documentation transcend itself? Though forms of documentation can't enable us to fully access the present which is now past, perhaps they can help us touch a new moment. What is the value (if any) of new moments created via processes of documentation? The photograph of Michelle's aura in particular makes me want to probe this dimension of purely visual events or events which are solely made possible by appropriating optics traditionally used for documentation.

Lastly, the distinction between performance and performativity remains key to our discussion as it evolves. I think Jillian’s excerpt from the Butler text goes to the marrow of the contrast. It immediately brought to mind Yvonne Rainer’s late 70’s performance, The Mind is a Muscle, in which Rainer deconstructed dance/performance by stripping its gestural customs away and instead presented a performative dancer–subject who defined her subjectivity on her own terms.

Til tomorrow...

You had to be there.

Monday 11 May 2009

Performance vs Performativity

Lia, my instinct is to respond that process is everything, which goes completely against what I said in my earlier post, that process is irrelevant in my work. In performance, where documentation always fails, process IS the product.

Perhaps this accounts for the prevalence of process as the main content in performance (in the downtown dance community of New York, at least). There is no product in live performance, so people (artists and viewers) hold on to form and structure as if it were pottery, like they can touch it. When I try to imagine my performances, try to grab them and hold them, anything which I made (video, movement, sound, lighting) seems flimsy, and what I grab is an audience through time. I feel differently about this with my videos. So is the actual live performance the process or the product?

That goes back to our initial question for this symposium where we were trying to decide between performance and performative. I think this quote of Judith Butler is of relevance:

. . . It is important to distinguish performance from performativity: the former presumes a subject, but the latter contests the very notion of the subject. . . . What I'm trying to do is think about performativity as that aspect of discourse that has the capacity to produce what it names. Then I take a further step, through the Derridean rewriting of Austin, and suggest that this production actually always happens through a certain kind of repetition and recitation. So if you want the ontology of this, I guess performativity is the vehicle through which ontological effects are established. Performativity is the discursive mode by which ontological effects are installed.
Judith Butler, "Gender as Performance," in A Critical Sense: Interviews with Intellectuals, ed Peter Osborne, 111-112

I want to go ahead and post this to further our conversation.

Process Vs Product?

In the last few years I have been wrestling with the question you posed Lia.  

Partly because I felt that my product could not sum up the vast and varied experiences that were formed in the collaborative making process.  I'm not sure it's about one eclipsing the other.  This feels like dangerous territory that we're entering, because I don't want to say outright that "the experience of doing is key" but in truth I live by this motto and the artists I research were promoters of this position.  It would clearly help if the product itself was not "uninteresting" and thus it would be less of an indulgence to ask artists to let themselves go in experiential processes. 

My research is concerned with two different but connected concepts, Anthropohagy and Syncretism.  To varying degrees I utilise these concepts in my practice as a methodological position. Brazil has provided the base for my research, both in the art produced there and in the antropofagia movement, adopted by Brazilian intellectuals in the 1920’s. Anthropophagy (antropofagia) stemmed from a Brazilian indigenous Tupi Indian custom of cannibalism as a means to absorb the vital potency of the other, to become the other.  The movement promoted forms of cultural cannibalism that used or adopted cultural influences from outside of Brazil, absorbing it into the culture to produce new forms.

Linked to anthropophagy is the concept of syncretism (a term appropriated from theology) explained by Jean Fisher as relating to ‘the dynamics of the transaction between self and other, [to] contamination as the trigger for the production of difference, from which one can begin again.’[1] Through this role the artist can temporarily inhabit the world of their subject or spectators to seek an extension of their artistic intent that is, arguably, more parasitic than collaborative.  In doing so, production is inevitably affected, promoting space for the difference that Fisher mentions. 

I continually seek groups and individuals to join.  Call me a leach if you like, but I feed off their knowledge and this continual contamination can be mutually rewarding for both parties.  Time plays a key factor in this.  The collaboration, contamination, host/parasite connection has it's limit.  In my case it is always temporary, but temporary in the sense of months and years rather than brief encounters.  

Veronique, your emphasis on gesture is important, because perhaps the presence of our bodies within a group is as potent as the spoken word.  On a formal level, entering a group as an outside body inevitably affects it's dynamics. Sometimes my experiences in groups (here I think back to my work with mediums in Scotland) were outside of language, based in phenomenological encounters, in theatre and in ritual.  The impact of my body in the group was undeniable as the stranger who was attempting to fit in.  In this sense, there must be something in the attempt itself. Surely this is a performative gesture?

In this way the photograph of my aura sums up my time with psychic phenomena. It was something I could not pinpoint or find answers in.  I felt absorbed into the immersive theatre of the seance arena, but I cannot tell you what was smokescreen and what I believed actually happened.  What was important was that my investment was:

emotional, psychical and physical.

[1] Fisher, Jean ‘Some Thoughts of Contaminations’, Third Text, no 32, 1995

Background: Lia Chavez

My interest in the body and performance is an enduring one. The fracturing and fragmenting of the body, the collaging and re-assemblage of it and its ultimate reinvention...all these things are so action-oriented and performative. The decoupaged cyborg body; the beautiful grotesque body; the evolutionary, vitalist body; the body which (re)writes itself into existence; liberation bodies, liminal bodies, unfixed, transformative bodies, unstable bodies, bodies in formatura and on and on... These fascinations have roots deep enough to be unconscious, so discussing the background of my practice is more a process of excavation than explanation. Messy, imprecise, partial. Michelle, your words about those influences imbedded in a life’s worth of previous experience and actions resonate deeply.

Looking into the past seems like a fairly concrete approach for now. I can point to particular events, such as dancing from the age of 4 and loving it almost as much as I loved painting which was introduced just as early. The dialogue between performance and visual art was totally natural and uninhibited for me from early on. I recall as a young dancer being more fascinated with the abstract shadows on the stage than what the audience saw frontally. I remember being far more drawn to feeling my body from within than to relating to it as a mirror image of what the audience would see. The intense relationship to the mirror that ballet demanded felt silly and awkward to me, but internal sensations severely preoccupied me. Dance surprised and delighted me by placing me squarely in my body; this feeling of embodiment was an otherwise foreign feeling throughout my childhood. Even if that fourth wall between the audience and the stage could be completely dissolved, the audience was still “out there” rather than “in here”. For me the intriguing points had more to do with a question of space, the physical and psychic space of the dancer; the sensation of the joy of flying when dancing, (or perhaps that of a ferocious movement which jarred new sensations or psychological states to life); dance as a private, intimate union with ones’ highest self. It was dance that introduced me to the freedom of roaming the imagination. Just talking about what dance meant to me upon its initial discovery urges me to speak with my child's voice - naïve and romantic .

My onstage concern of the internal evolved into an offstage ritual of dancing in the attic of my family home for hours on end, (perhaps this is beginning to be a bit of a “confession” - to use Michelle’s great word). It was a secret place where I could access the pleasure of that connection without audience or inhibition. Dance became a sort of self-hypnosis and sacred rite, a way for this disembodied child to connect with an embodied and free existence. This utility of dance redefined it entirely for me and at the age of 18 I decided to pursue visual art instead of a career in dance. Dance however remained a faithful companion as a ritualistic, self-exploratory and experimental practice.

A few years later during a residency with Amnesty International USA Women’s Human Rights Team, I created a phototherapy project through interviews with brave and generous survivors of domestic violence and rape. Working with the camera, this was the first time I was able to begin visualizing the liberation body in others which dance had helped me personally develop earlier in life. The camera, often the subject of criticism for disembodying its subjects (and deservedly so), in this case helped facilitate a restoration of embodiment for many of the women involved. This experience introduced me to the photograph's strange power and potential to help heal fragmented bodies and psychological fissures. Shortly thereafter, I moved to the UK to continue my research in gender studies, human rights and visual cultures at Oxford. It was during this point in 2004 that I first entered my own images. Being immersed in feminist discourse triggered a necessity to bring my body and performance and even the (lens as) audience back into the forefront of my life, but this time via the image. The image enabled me to begin to map out the sinews between the symbolic, metaphysical body, which I had intuited through dance, and the actual, physical body. I realized how the performed image empowered an interrogation of the politics surrounding representation and of the audience gaze, which were things I desired to confront. It was also during this moment that I grasped for the first time that the frontier of feminism was one of total reinvention of the self. This idea seduced me to no end and for the first time I was able to connect the dots as to why I was so drawn to the work of artists like Marcel Duchamp, Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Claude Cahun, Cindy Sherman, Orlan, the dance company Pilobolus, Francesca Woodman, Elsa Schiaparelli and other artists who have redefined the body and incorporated the chameleonic in their work.

Since then, my more recent work has grown to engage photography, video, painting, experimental music, installation and, faithfully, dance. I’ve gone on to treat the body in space as a metaphor for intense conscious and subconscious experiences, whether in photographs, movement-triggered sound installations or sensation-based videos. My previous use of classical ballet has evolved into a use of less structured, post-modern improvisation and gestural action arising from internal sensation, contact between bodies, trance-like states and free-form semiotic and automatic writing games. My practice has also developed into an engagement of other dancers in addition to myself for visual experiments which use intuitive, hypothetical or imaginary events to generate imagery. For example, my most recent such project (see image below) engaged highly-skilled dancers from Mikhail Baryshnikov's dance company, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and The Juilliard School to create a series of large-scale unique Ilfochrome prints which technically combined contact improvisation with traditional photography, the static silhouette system of the photogram and direct, painterly application of light to the photograph’s surface. Painterly interference is also a recurring theme, as I am always looking for ways of challenging pictorial tendencies within photography in order to bring a greater sense of performativity into the formation of an image. I desire to make instrumentalized images, images which express the same logic as improvised movement. Images that express a visualization, a reception of the subject founded in gestural knowledge. In the words of Jean Luc Nancy, "The gesture is the knowledge that doesn't know in advance but knows only of something as it produces it."

So here's a question which takes me back to Susana and Jillian's posts: Why make the doing as central as the work generated? Is it necessary to insist on an equal valuation of process and product, or might one rightly eclipse the Other?

"Go", 2008, Unique Ilfochrome print, 108in x 144in
Created by Lia Chavez and William T. Hillman

Sunday 10 May 2009

background: Michelle Williams

Susana, I had no clue that you were a serial communicator, that you spent your time constructing links with strangers. I wish I had known this about you before. I'm glad that you mentioned this because I feel we can derive so much of the performer that exists in us today from our childhood actions.

I was never so bold, but I did spend a great deal of time lying under armchairs and sofas, remaining very still. I'd lie flat on my back and concoct relationships from those I knew together with an imaginary entourage. We would play and live out a mix of dramatic, romantic and mundane encounters under that sofa while I remained static.

As an aside, the need to talk and communicate has always been important. At 18 I had my own radio show, albeit at the local hospital. I liked the idea of talking in a space where it was a matter of life and death. (This comes with a preoccupation with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1947 film classic of the same name)

I would have to enter the belly of the hospital which was covered in pipes and littered with wheelchairs and broken beds to play music requests to elderly patients. There were times I was convinced nobody was listening, but somehow this did not matter. The idea of my voice being carried into headsets around the building sustained me. Perhaps I love the sound of my own voice.

This aside, my background is in performance. My early works in the main dealt with physical presence made present by my voice. Like you Susana, I found it important to have intimate audiences to talk to. I would recite elaborate monologues often explaining physically destructive acts against my body. Often the theme was falling, hurting my knees but getting up again to try again. Writing this now I realise that there was a real lack of physicality (rather like my prone state under the sofa as a chid). When I did deal with my body, it would often be place myself within an environment. To fit my body into it, in such a way that the environment and I became two separate entities made for each other.

I left London in 2003, I moved to Amsterdam and lived there for 3 years. It was in Amsterdam that my work shifted from me to other individuals. I became a documentary maker, while juggling my video work, documentary films began to take over. It was always a guilty secret, but one I can reconcile myself now.

My interest in the lives and position of my subjects was really linked to storytelling. Storytelling has always been important to me. Filming other people was a highly voyeuristic process that I enjoyed. I offered those who participated in my films greater autonomy (through sharing the editing process) or a blank canvas to “perform” to camera, believing that my eradicated presence was still implied by the movements of the camera or my voice off screen. While I still maintain that filmmaking is in itself performative, this process is undoubtedly more passive than being in front of the camera.

I also enjoy the performance of bodies in internal and external environments. For many years now I have filmed people through windows, hours of footage of people living in their homes. Its terrible but I can't help watching their gestures from long range. I don't know why I'm confessing this all to you, but somehow its all linked.

My documentary work is now finding new routes into a feature length fiction film: Mère Folle, which I am co-directing with cultural theorist Mieke Bal.
Please check out:

Coming back to the idea of a lack of physical presence, things have changed recently. I have just started to put myself back in front of the camera, to come out of hiding. No doubt we will discuss this in the symposium. It is an important step for me. Perhaps it's something I felt that was important as a younger performer. The moment of putting yourself on the line and risking something in the live context.

I'm still thinking about your impromptu phone calls Susana. I have a confession that sometimes in the PhD seminar, I open my mouth and I have no clue what I'm going to say. I do it to myself in an attempt to shoot myself in the foot, to look foolish for the sake of it, to see if I can salvage my position. I think I've scraped through, but you'll know now when I haven't. I think failing is key, and the potential of embarrassment and what you do in the aftermath is something that is at stake for me in the live moment.

Background: Véronique Chance

My background is also not in performance but in Fine Art/Printmaking and my interest in performance and performativity (and my interest in mediation for that matter) probably comes from the frustration l had for three years on a very traditional mono-disciplinary degree course at what was then Manchester Polytechnic.
At Manchester we were not ‘allowed’ to cross-disciplines and those that did had a very hard time or were punished with a lower classification of degree. I towed the line and tried to push the boundaries in my own way, by making large-scale works that required a lot of physical effort and which involved a process of piecing together prints in sections to make images the scale of theatrical backdrops. But I was not satisfied: by the time I finished the course I felt I had learned a lot of traditional printmaking processes and techniques, but very little else and even less of anything in a critical sense.
The year I had at Glasgow School of Art, immediately following my degree taught me far more than the three years at Manchester had done. Although still ‘taught’ under disciplines, the approach was far more open and multi-disciplinary, with the understanding of artistic practice being about an exploration of ideas and processes that come from a variety of sources and situations in everyday life (as well as from art), and an attitude towards the making of art that considered a more methodological approach. I was in a Printmaking department, but I could make objects, I could use photography and I could use text (and texts) in the making of my work. I could also make work that did not go on walls.

I’m not sure exactly when my relationship to Performance came about. I say relationship because that is what I consider my work to have- a relationship to performance rather than necessarily being a performance in itself and I have never called myself a performance artist (or any other kind of artist for that matter, although recently during my residency at the New Media Institute in Banff, I found myself using the term ‘media artist’ to describe myself, whilst at the same time being fiercely critical of the use of the term).

My relationship to performance is in some ways an uncomfortable one. I think this is because I was always petrified and self-conscious as a child of performing on a stage. I grew up in the environment of a small boys boarding school in Kent that my father taught in and I found myself on occasion (my father also being the English teacher), being coerced into playing small bit parts in school drama productions. My fear was not so much a fear of being on stage in itself, but a fear of the spoken word and particularly of forgetting my words, however few they were (and they were always very few), and of speaking out of turn or in the wrong place. So my relationship to performance has been more one of gesture and action, rather than one of utterance and one in front of a camera, rather than live.

My first attempt at a live performance came on the PhD in my second year, when wanting to describe the methodology of my practice in relation to the concerns of my research project in a seminar presentation. I have never been a big fan of ‘PowerPoint’ presentations in the discussion and presentation of art and I was trying to think of how I could make an alternative, but effective presentation that could throw up a number of questions that were central to my research concerns (namely the relationship between the physical presence of the body and its screen representation). I have also never been a big fan of reading out a presentation (although I have been guilty of this on several occasions, due to my fear of forgetting my words).
I began to think about my ‘method’ of practice (of performing in front of a camera) and how I might perform or ‘demonstrate’ this as a structural process. Mediation became a central to this, not least through act of bringing (or transferring) to a public arena what normally took place in the privacy of my studio, but also through the setting up of a live video feed that became part of the structure of the performance as a live event. In this (new) situation, the different ‘elements’ became props and characters, with the recording camera, a centrepiece of the event, through which all the elements connected and combined, in the position of the starring role. This strategy was designed to raise questions about the liveness of performance and its representation in a very direct way. It was also designed take the emphasis away from me as a performer, whilst also drawing attention to that very act.
The performance itself (as it would have been performed in front of a camera) was based on a simple exercise routine that I had practised and learned and that was to be performed on a silver exercise ball (the significance of the ball had to do with the idea of introducing a simple prop into a routine; the significance of the exercise routine, stems from my interest in the relationship between physical exercise, physical exertion, gesture and the repetitive act).

In a similar way to my fear of forgetting my words, I became fearful of forgetting the routine, but somehow the challenge of the event and the performance as one of physical gesture (rather than one of speech), made me overcome my nerves (no-one would ‘know’ the routine in any case).
I was also tickled by the very idea of performing an exercise routine on a slightly over-sized silver exercise ball in front of an audience.

I’ll leave it there…

Saturday 9 May 2009

backDROP: Jillian Peña

In response to Susana’s text, in my performance work, process is nearly irrelevant. The piece only exists when it is being watched. This is true not only in my performances, but also with my single-channel videos.
I verbally address the audience in the work, guiding them and giving them instructions that they chose to follow or not. The viewer becomes the subject, and without that, there is nothing. In my work, therefore, everything but the live transmission is like a decoration, a pointing to it. The video, the sound, and the performance material contextualize the experience. In a generic way, I use common landscapes and pop music to create location and emotion—even if it is the recognition that you should have a certain emotion, but don’t.
I use contemporary dance frequently as decoration. Dance proper within the work is a common language between the work and the viewers, as my performances are presented frequently in the dance community. I propose that the dance is located in the audience body—in the witnessing of the performance and the audience’s subjectivity. In this action of attempting to activate the audience body is a central theme of the work—connecting to an other and forming a relationship.

By placing my work in the contemporary dance community, I am questioning the ontology of both dance and choreography. In my recent performance, MOTHERSHIP, the two performers created all the movement, yet I called myself the choreographer, and them the creators of movement. While it is understood that to choreograph is to create movement, I propose that the term is about direction and production, and that movement is something that can take shape in a body, an audience body, or a space. Recently, young choreographers in New York have used dance movement made by other choreographers, both historical figures and those currently active within the community, but retained the title choreographer. Although appropriation has been common for decades in fine art, this is new territory for dance, and is the subject of my written element. My research will look at this directly not just through content, but also through form, as I appropriate the structure of the book Exhausting Dance, by Andre Lepecki, a popular contemporary dance theorist. Choreography translated literally is dance writing, and I wish to approach this research in a similar form as the work itself.

Unlike Susana, performance was at the center of my entire education. I began dancing at age three, was trained by Baptists who told us that our bodies were vessels for the lord, performed with a ballet company, and worked as a stripper. I later found the contemporary dance community of New York, where all these elements in my practice background were utilized in both my work and that of other choreographers. I currently develop material for my work through dance improvisation and stream of consciousness narration. I am committed to placing my work in both the dance community and the fine art one, as the separation between the two is extremely outdated.

background: Susana Mendes Silva

I have been always fascinated by artistic processes. And, in general the processes or the modus operandi are very influential in my work. What I mean by this is: that knowing and understanding the process that lead to a specific artwork was and is one of the most interesting things for me. I think that one of my fascinations is reappropriating and recombining processes.
In a wider sense I believe on of my thematics is the permanent process of combining and negotiating between different elements. Those elements come from stimuli from art in general, from media culture, from everyday life, from my own life experiences, from the places and situations that I am working with. It is a practice of interweaving. I am very interested in dislocating or subverting either concepts, dichotomies, rules, prejudices, points of view and even common situations. In this sense my work can be seen as committed to an ethical and critical vision about art and about the world.
Due to the nature of my practice, I am interested, in the written element, to explore and to write just about one branch or a specific part of it. My interest in the subject, that I propose to develop, derives from my practice, specifically from my performance and performative practices. Since 2002, I have experimented and developed performance projects that are conceived for a one-to-one (or to a very small audience) encounter, as opposed to an audience, as a group of people attending an event. In some of these performances there is no recording of the event, as the performance rely on an environment in which confidentiality, secrecy, and empathy are required. There can be some images or descriptions of what happened, but there is no voyeuristic access to what really happened between the performer and the participant. Either one participated or not.

If I look back in time, I believe my interest in mediation goes back to my fascination by the telephone and by the playful and performative uses I made of it. In the 1980's as a child and as a young teenager, I would pick up telephone directories, and I would phone unknown people pretending I was someone they knew or just trying to engage with them in a conversation. This was always easier if I had a pretext to do it. Even, if it was a false one. I also loved pen friend clubs, because I could exchange letters with unknown people of my age, and some of them were based in distant countries. And I grew up in a world where telecommunication devices were not only affordable and available to an increasing number of people, but they were rapidly developing and becoming more mobile: telephones, fax machines, walkie-talkies, walkmans...
Since the mid 1980's, my brother had a citizens' band station (CB). This is a radio service that is a two-way, short distance, communications service that can be used by any person for professional, recreational or domestic purposes. The CB was very popular during the 1970s and throughout the 1980s. It had some similarities with Internet voice chat rooms, although its use was much more codified, because a number regulations and rules had to be respected. However the CB allowed people to communicate with one another in a quasi-anonymous manner. It was also regarded as an alternative communication device, as it was mainly use by people who needed a way of communicate that did not rely on the landline telephone network. There could be multiple speakers at the same time on the same channel. People talked about their lives, a specific theme, or you just to give traffic or weather information. One interesting thing was that a number of people would become a special kind of familiar strangers: I knew them because I usually talked to them and knew things about their lives, however I have never met them personally. We would have to use a codified language - a specific slang - in order to be only understood by each others, and in order to respect the common space. Some days were really special: when at night and with specific weather condition we could speak with people as far as Spain or Italy (because by the law no citizens' band user was allowed to use a signal amplifier in Portugal, and that would limit the geographical range). Since the wide and rapid developments of mobile communications, especially mobile phones, and later the Internet, the CB has lost much of its original function and allure.
When I was about sixteen or seventeen I worked during the summer in a local radio station, and I remember quite distinctively that thrill of being in the middle of a sunshiny day inside a sound-proof studio and imagining all those different people that were listening to the program on the beach, in their cars or homes. When I was allowed to use the microphone, it was as strange as appealing to imagine my disembodied voice in all those places.
I started using the World Wide Web, at home, around the end of 1997, and that was a huge breakthrough with the email and chat software. The computer was no longer an isolated device, but was enabling people to establish de-territorialized connections, and access and share knowledge and information in new and unexpected ways. However, in those days, the speed of the connection was still very slow (I remember always had a notebook, on my desk, to draw whilst I was waiting for a webpage to download), and it was also a very expensive commodity.

Maybe, I should also add almost as an endnote, that my interest in performance and performativity does not arise from my education, as I have never studied Performance Art in an academic context. I studied Art and Design in High School and Visual Arts/Sculpture at the Fine Arts Faculty of the University of Lisbon.