All the World's Future
let’s start this conversation with your statement, “I try to be a blank page which allows them to tell, to protest”. What was the beginning of it all that led you to this realization? What should the audience make of it?
When I travel, strangers confide in me. They reveal secrets. They talk of the conflicts within their lives and surrounding them in their city or country. Maybe they share with me because I am a foreigner and I won’t see them again. Somehow, they feel their secret is safe with me.
As an artist, I didn’t expect this would happen—that I would be so approachable, or know how it would play out in the expression of my art. I travel, and explore and look around to see what is invisible, to make it visible. I want to discover what is not upfront and not obvious, and make it able to be observed.
I’ve met many people on my travels. One woman shared her stories and secrets with me. She told me, “You are like a blank page.” I liked how that sounded. However, it is not my motto. For a moment, I share an intimate connection with an individual. I am a sponge. I do not judge. I do not react. I am an observer of the stories, and then a participant of performances. The stories merge together. I hear them, select from them, concentrate them, so those who view my performance can see the experience. Above all, it is collaboration.
When I was a teen, I volunteered in a charity. I gave out food and taught French classes. I met with homeless men, women and children. Whether in Paris or around the world, the homeless feel invisible. This work inspired my first performance. As I jumped off a bridge near Notre Dame, I wanted to draw attention to the homeless Parisians. A homeless man played his saxophone spontaneously nearby. Afterwards, some of the homeless came to speak to me. They didn’t know what I wanted to express, but somehow, they knew what I was doing was for them. Tourists approached me. One even filmed me and wanted to send me the video. This is when I realized I could make ideas and feelings visible to others.
You have studied in Paris, London, Los Angeles, and your art work is about very different realities: Looking for territories, Israël, Facing China Taïwan, Aral Revival Kazakhstan... What are some of the challenges you face in order to understand and experience life in another “world” or new/ever changing environment?
This challenge you speak of is real. To live, study and work in a safe, vibrant place is a big contrast to the places of conflict I go for my performances. Of course, I try to understand what is happening, but it is too short a time to say I truly understand. I could spend one year walking in Taiwan or Kazakhstan, and I still wouldn’t fully understand. I go to listen. This is art. I am not a journalist. I cannot pretend to tell a thorough story. People help me understand from their perspective by sharing one or two feelings or stories. I layer what I hear into my art.
The places I go to are in crisis. Tense energy saturates these situations. Sometimes when I position myself, the environment I am in changes, changes, changes so quickly, it creates its own subject at the moment. It forces me to connect to the now. This experience I try to capture along with the connections I have made with the men and women I meet.
Through your performances, do you try to be as true as possible to the story line, the people, to the outsiders or something else entirely? Are you more concerned with expressing what you see or do you ever question your memory, the situations, etc.?
When I travel and perform, people give me an overall view of their economic, demographic, and ethnic situations. They often speak of war, ecological disaster, and censorship. I will never say—and I don’t think anyone could say—that in one short visit, one can understand all the many layers of a society. I try to bring individual experiences of these subjects to my artwork.
I try to be as true as possible in a sensible way. I do not trust my memory! But I do trust my sensibility. These are not literal expressions. I want my performance to combine all the experiences of crises from one place and time, and I take steps to make each performance a collage. I do not photograph my interviewer. I use myself, not the individual, (who may very well be endangering himself or herself), to express his reality or her humanity.
“Nice to be dead” – what is your intended message of this performance? What can you say about being alive?
“Nice to be Dead” was performed in Paris in 2013, at the School of Beaux Arts de Paris. Having attended the school, it was exciting to perform as an artist, not as a student. The school is located in front of the Louvre. The performance was open to invite-only. I contemplated how to link my actions to a society—Paris—that is already highly charged with history and meaning. I researched what kind of shape I could build and what new creativity could be possible.
If you look at the structure surrounding the performers, you will see it is transparent. I fashioned it to show how my life exists within a bubble in Paris, a place with extensive history, art and creativity.
So within this dynamic environment that I live in, I wanted to explore the idea of what is left after you dispose or reject the contents and connections of your life history, habits, home, friends—how do you feel in your body? What is left? Another way to consider this idea is if you are close to death, you realize all that you have to lose. You realize how much you want to live. So I wanted to engage in an act where you had to get back to life.
This performance involved myself and two other women. It was futuristic in its look and poetic. I used smoke to fill the bubble; the only way to breathe was through the tube. A microphone magnified the breathing patterns.
As they observed “Nice to be Dead,” the viewers were not sure what to do. As the smoke filled the transparent cube, our breath became labored. Should they break the cube and free us? Nobody knew how to react. Should they stay passive and watch? Should they assist us in escaping?
This is always an interesting part of performance art. The audience has to choose between having a passive, receptive, perspective or an active perspective. As the artist, you cannot control how you are perceived or how the audience will react.
Do you have a specific audience in mind, or would you prefer it is viewed and critiqued by everyone?
When I make a work, it is intended for the local viewer. It is an expression of their stories, feelings, and secrets. This is sight specific. Those who live in the context of the story, they understand. In the art world or for a non-local viewer, it is not the same. The art world puts the performance into a different context. Placing the performance in a different location yields a different reaction and feeling. Thus, another layer is created. The sculpture or video or photograph is made to be viewed by everyone. However, it is not to educate—that would be arrogant on my part. It is to show the situation and to make others aware. It is a way to keep fighting, to continue the debate.
The piece keeps working beyond me. It continues to spread the message. It isn’t only about what I want people to see as an artist, but how they react to it. It goes back to the reality that a performance has many layers.
How easy is it nowadays to be totally “nude”, is it really easy to perform and express everything clear of judgment, premeditated choices, ideas, etc.?
Of course, not. It is not easy to be nude. It is interesting, when you are nude, you give everything you possess. When I go to a site, people tell me their stories and secrets, so I do not want to hide underneath a costume or a plot as I would if I was in a play or game. Clothing has strong social meaning. Lingerie makes an action sexy. When I am nude, it is blunt, direct and intense, and not sensual.
Naturally, I make a program out of my idea. I sketch and plan, and finally, I must jump. I give all I have with no cover. In this act, I risk everything when I perform, because people risk everything when they share with me.
I cover myself with color to express a project’s “stimmung.” This is a German word not found in French that conveys atmosphere, sensation, and mood. So color extends the story and creates another layer. Yellow can represent illness or brightness or warmth.
Awards, commissions, holdings of your works – it must be great to get recognition even from the people in power. Is there ever any sign of struggle to deal with in order to have all the freedom your work requires and still obtain funding by a variety of institutions or organizations?
There is no struggle to balance what needs to be said with obtaining sponsorship or funding. I am invited to do what I focus on: to speak loudly for individuals who cannot speak for themselves. The invitation is never conditional. The message I convey is not dictated by the funding.
What are your upcoming performances?
I am working on several projects for future performances. I ask myself, “What can I give the audience?” I try to relate my artwork to the viewer. I want people to be active, not passive—and participate within the performance. The performance has a fixed time line. I want that audience to have a permanent impact that captures the performance’s duration. I am working on sculptures that will show physical contact. I do not make any compromises.