Interview by A.E.Zimmer
Top: Ilija Šoškić, Panoptikon 2012 (-1969). Photograph © Monika Sobczak.
Bottom: Boris Nieslony, A Feather Fell Down On Venice. Photograph © Monika Sobczak.
In Venice, in the suggestive location of Palazzo Bembo, a new exhibition made its debut on December 8, 2012, entirely dedicated to performance art: the 1st Venice International Performance Art Week.
Under the title "Hybrid Body–Poetic Body," this first edition featured the contributions of 31 artists: pioneers such as Yoko Ono, VALIE EXPORT, Hermann Nitsch, Ilija Soskic, Boris Niesloni, established artists such as Jan Fabre, Lee Wen and Jill Orr, and other emerging ones, set forth a series of live-actions, installations, videos, movies and meetings.
Some numbers of this first edition: Over 2,000 visitors at the opening; more than 9,000 in the whole week; over a hundred newspapers, magazines covered the event.
These results have been quite unexpected to the festival's founders, Verena Stenke and Andrea Pagnes, considering the timing—the Venetian winter—and the novelty of such an event, in a city not so accustomed to performance art.
A.E.Zimmer: How did the idea of the Venice International Performance Art Week come to life and what is its identity?
Andrea Pagnes: In the summer of 2011, Jennifer Macmillan Johnson, President of the Cultural Association Studio Contemporaneo (the event's promoter), introduced me to Rene Rietmeyer, Director of the Global Art Affairs Foundation, at its new Venice location of Palazzo Bembo. For my work as a performer (as VestAndPage, with Verena Stenke), he proposed that I conceive a project specifically dedicated to performance art. I immediately imagined the maze of rooms in the palace lived by artists in action enhancing their art during its process of making, thus giving evidence of a conflict: whether and how vital but ephemeral art can be documented, without losing its content and substance. Gradually, the vision of a live art exhibition, which could transform continuously day by day, begins to shape clearly to me.
Why "Hybrid Body – Poetic Body"?
I wanted to line up a very accurate indication since the very beginning. The question of the body (the artist’s body) as a means of expression is, in fact, the fundamental feature of the entire project. Hybrid body as indicator of form and substance in constant transformation, even if it’s put at risk or subject to manipulation; a body carrier of meanings while in possible extreme situations, element from which, in the here and now of the performance, just as in life, it is impossible to ignore, and then poetic because it is genuine, a place where emotional intelligence resides to come true, a holder of authentic and immediate sense.
Zierle & Carter, At the Edge of Longing. Photograph © Monika Sobczak.
Performance art in the past and the present: which differences do you find comparing your actual experience to the one at the beginning? In other words, the necessity to play the double role of curator and performer as you do remarks also the need that today Italy lacks a methodical study and more in-depth history of performance?
Performance art, by its nature, is a “non-discipline” in continuous transformation. One must live it inside his/her own flesh to try to understand it as much as possible. The more you practice it, the more you can comprehend it. It is dynamic and complex as the life itself. It says that simplicity and essentiality, synthesis and intensity, are the most difficult things to reach. It is research and exploration into the human. The multiplicity of languages and expressions we use today there wasn’t sometime ago. There are different styles and emergencies related to the place of belonging and the ways of leaving of each artist. This is positive because generates thoughts, knowledge and continuous inspiration. If technology, ecology and emotional intelligence are just some of the topics that are most frequently treated (since nowadays they are those the world focuses its attention on, however), the analysis of the individual placement in political situations, or special social conditions, always remains and is particularly pointed out in the works of artists from countries where certain achievements in this regard are slow to come.
Performance art, over the years, has contaminated so deeply certain avant-garde experimental theatre, dance, and cinema, that the term "performing arts" is now far too abused and also generates some confusion even among the experts, and not only in Italy. Looking at examples from the past and present, I think, though, that performance art has always wanted and wishes to speak through a quality work, an essential value, the one of authenticity: it has to refer essentially to our true inner self—the place where there is no pretense—beyond what we want to or believe we are.
It's true, however, that in Italy the study of the history of performance art is perhaps still too superficial because of the lack of specific publications and improper teachings, although it is an art form of great interest, especially among the young people.
How did you select the artists?
For their historic itinerary; adherence to the main theme of the project; also for their cultural consistency, with respect to a certain ideal of performance which bases its raison d'être in the practice and constant dedication. Finally, militancy—something which I see tactile, physical, and which emerges clearly from their ouvre: In other words, when performance art is their real-life project, devoting themselves entirely to it, without compromise.
Although it is a term that I don’t like, I am interested principally in the "specialists" of performance art, but today I can’t—for intellectual honesty—recognizing as valid a few sporadic raids or targeted interventions by artists who are not performers in the strict sense.
In this first edition, Yoko Ono, VALIE EXPORT, Hermann Nitsch, Jan Fabre—whose works are milestones of the performance art movement—participated with interactive installations and videos. Live interventions by masters such as Ilija Soskic, Boris Nieslony, Jill Orr, Lee Wen, Gonzalo Rabanal and young emerging in the international arena with durational outstanding actions contributed to make the Art Week extremely vibrant. There has been also be a section dedicated to the students of the Academy of Venice, and a Fringe section where we have invited to participate young international performers to present their proposals too. During the mornings, we have set a program of artist talks: the public could meet the performers directly, debate and discuss with them, and listen to their life stories. We had also four bloggers, who wrote daily about the event, among them Randy Gledhill, the Director of Live Art Vancouver; and Francesca Romana Ciardi, co-Curator of the Month of Performance Art in Berlin (Celeste Ricci and Chiara Cartuccia the other two).
Top: Manuel Vason. Exhibition view. Photograph © Monika Sobczak.
Bottom: Yoko Ono, Night and Day for Venice, 2012. Installation view. Photograph © Monika Sobczak.
What does mean to be a curator of performance art and a performance artist today?
First, I think is important to seek, as far as possible, a certain historical continuity in terms of open confrontation between what was (and still is) and the new, especially for this art form, where the artistic value often coincides with human qualities. The overall vision will be always partial, of course, but at least we will avoid slipping on the shoals of another hypertrophied platform of global art.
As a perfomer, what I try is to reduce the apparent boundary that exists between art and life with my work, the constant practice, and again I'd like to conclude with a renowned phrase that many have already said, "if you dream alone it's only a dream, if you dream together it's the beginning of reality."
That is to work and act even in the art to reach this goal, but dutifully with full consciousness of the time and the world in which we live in. It is a pure matter of responsibility towards themselves and others.
The next edition?
We are now investigating new possible funding sources. It will be probably held in the second week of March 2014, at Palazzo Mora, another fabulous building that the Global Art Affairs Foundation has been starting to renovate these days.
It will be titled "Ritual Body-Political Body," always having in mind and heart, as Lee Wen wrote about the Art Week, that ”this is not a circus, this not a show, this not a biennale, this is a meeting of artists and people who looked for the pearls in the rivers of human civilizations and came to share what they found.”
BBB Johannes Deimling, Blanc #9. Photograph © Monika Sobczak.
More information about Venice International Performance Art Week can be found here.
This interview took place in December 2012 and has been edited for clarity.