A.E.Zimmer: With this festival, you’re negotiating a gap in the public understanding of performance, both from the perspective of the artist and audience. As a burgeoning series, how does MPA-B try to engage those unfamiliar with performance art?
Florian Feigl: We learned that there exists quite an interest in events that provide an introduction to performance art, its history and traditions. Besides the professional and already-interested audiences, "first-timers" like coming to watch lectures and video presentations.
We drew two conclusions: There exists a sort of visual illiteracy regarding performance art. People want to get an idea about where to place what they might witness, experience. People are dubious about what to expect when going to see performance art; naked people inflicting pain on themselves is a common expectation. There exists a very restricted imagination of rather conceptual approaches. However, this year’s edition of MPA-B included a series of practical workshops directed to both professional practitioners and students as well as non-professionals and amateurs interested in a practical approach to performance art. Due to basically nonexistent funding, fees had to be charged for the workshops, but it would be great to offer this possibility for free.
Francesca Romana Ciardi: A lot of how MPA-B engages those unfamiliar with performance art has to do with visibility. Obviously, the media has played an essential role in this. This year, for example, we were featured in a number of national newspapers, online platforms and radio interviews which helped us bring the relatively unknown world of “Performancekunst” to a much broader audience. Thanks to this kind of exposure, we were able to better promote our program, which this year featured a wider range of performance projects and a greater geographical outreach than last year, which arguably catered to a much more diversified audience. From performances, site-specific actions and lectures to book launches, talks, exhibitions and participatory initiatives, MPA-B 2012 offered such an assortment of projects that we have seen the emergence of a new audience engaging with the performance art scene of the city.
A.E.Zimmer: What is required when cultivating an appreciation for live performance?
Francesca Romana Ciardi: To start, it is important to have an openness and receptivity that go beyond the simple expectation of entertainment.
Florian Feigl: Very generally, a certain openness to unusual and surprising impressions to be witnessed on a visual, intellectual, and emotional level. Meaning to, intellectually and otherwise, take part in processes that above all mean to question one’s own points and perspectives in order to make for new ways of thinking, seeing things differently, take part in processes that most probably would not have been accessible without the performance, no matter whether you are an audience member or artist.
A.E.Zimmer: Do you think a sense of community is facilitated by the experience of live performance? Is this community necessary for performance art to thrive?
Francesca Romana Ciardi: I believe live performance carries with it a sense of reflection, wonderment and ritual, and in the shared space of its making and doing, it connects people as if they were part of a constellation that expands and merges with presence and time. As makers or viewers of live performance, we carve out and fill a space that speaks to our experience and which, for as diverse as it can be in its individual manifestations, can consolidate us into a community. However, I believe this affiliation or projection of belonging to a community (here I am paraphrasing Benedict Anderson's notion of imagined communities) is not necessary for performance art to thrive as it is a very resilient, independent and self-determining art form and a very individual, personal and self-involved journey can advance regardless of its existence within a more or less definable and intangible grouping.
A.E.Zimmer: What are your hopes for the future iterations of MPA-B?
Francesca Romana Ciardi: I hope MPA-B will evolve into a fully sustainable entity, with the ability to offer micro-collaboration grants to its program partners to develop performance art projects that can be incorporated into its framework. Through sustainability, we envisage the possibility of expanding our program, invite international guests and create partnerships with local institutions and universities to further promote dialogue, critical discourses and practice-based exchanges between performance art practitioners and the public. Ultimately, we hope to be able to reclaim the space and prominence that performance art deserves within the city's cultural panorama mainly dominated by subsidized dance, theater and music festivals; to celebrate its breadth, experimentation and creative force and to allow it to enrich the city culturally and artistically in new meaningful and groundbreaking ways.
This is the second half of Performa Magazine's interview with the organizers of Month of Performance Art, Berlin. The first half is posted here.
This interview has been edited for clarity. All photos courtesy of Leon Elias Donath for Month of Performance Art, Berlin.
A.E.Zimmer is a writer and regular contributor to Performa Magazine.