Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Biljana Bosnjakowich, titled "the vitruvian woman", as part of Chiba&LaPupazza at Okidoki Gallery, Neukölln Berlin, 0ct 3rd 09
So I just posted this on my facebook status because I was moved by a small piece of performance art in a gallery that my new Italian friend Sara had taken me to in my local suburb of Neukölln in Berlin, which was a group exhibition organised by Italian artists. I said 'Alexa Wilson saw a performance in an exhib last night where a woman lay naked on the floor and encouraged people to sit around her touching her as she joined people's hands gently across her body. . nice and unexpected for berlin. something quiet, something ...gentle.. something honouring of vulnerability. cool to see small children also observing with curiosity. no irony, no rock n roll, no ego. simple. .'
Then Cat, the editor of this review site, wrote to me 'yellingmouth!' and I thought I don't know who the artist was though, but then I realised that not only does this performance sum up alot of things I think European progressive performance really has to offer right now in 2009 going on 2010, but we ARE in the digital age and I can easily find out who she was. And this is the strength of this age.. so here we are creating and sharing webs of community, experiences and ideas.. across the world, across the net- with my Italian friend opening me up to a world of Italian artists in an underground Berlin gallery, Cat encouraging this website for caring community performance and so it goes on. And really, I need to say and share this stuff actually because it is part of a wider trend right now, helps me feel there is hope for the world, is very much a direction which interests me in performance and makes me just feel more normal to write about it. So here it is...
The exhibition is called 'Chiba&LaPupazza' (Italian for 'Feed' and 'The puppet') presented in Okidoki Gallery and is a mixture of photography, painting, installation, object art, illustration, music and performance. And there's also a great feed.. which goes with the title of the show. Free (often vegetarian) food in a community based- artistic context is not unusual in Berlin, which tends to have a former east, communist-anarchist-community arts vibe about it, with lots of food collectives around putting on free food nights everywhere. Not only Italian artists present work at this exhibition, there is also a heavy presence of Japanese artists with live electro music, video and object art. Being Berlin right now there is alot of nudity in the photography and I am not surprised to then see a naked performance. Infact I have seen nudity in public in non-creative contexts. It doesn't seem to be a big deal to bust out nudity in Berlin in public.
So all this understood, a female performer (Biljana Bosnjakowich) enters the front room of the packed and pretty small gallery, covered in white paint and nude, to lie in the middle of the floor like a starfish, facing up. As I am standing outside, I have to crane my neck to see over people's heads or between their legs to see that she has joined up the the black lines/markings on her body with those of a circular type grid marked out on the floor- which I had earlier noted and thought was some kind of basketball court or sport-like demarcation of space. So I read it as making her body somewhat like a known territory for games or sport, aggressive, competitively fought over etc.
She lay there for some time. The audience had that combination of anticipation caused by waiting and bordem as they sat and stood patiently expecting something to 'happen'. People left the room as the silence became more uncomfortable, so I was more able to see as- and I'm not entirely sure what initiated this process, perhaps the performer beckoning- about 5 or 6 people, both men and women, slowly came and sat around her body, touching her with theirs in an alarmingly gentle and respectful way. It was not what I was expecting.
It was actually disconcerting to see people in Berlin responding in such a kind way toward vulnerability. They even had beer in their hands, as most people tend to here. I didn't know what to make of it. Then Alice, the performer, began to touch people's hands and faces gently, with fingers which created some kind of gesture towards measuring their bodies. Then she started to join their hands together, in pairs or groups, across her naked body. Some of them touched her body gently with their own hands. She undid some hands and joined them with others. I noticed a girl around 10 or 12 sitting in a chair looking directly down the event with totally patient curiousity. Oftentimes here I have seen the small children of Berlin witnessing some really amazing event or world-class international artist do their thing and thought 'lucky little bastards' and 'they're so cute' and how they will grow up so so cool. And so they should, its the new skool way.
So finally the group left her, and again I've no idea what initiated this as I couldn't see very well. She then got up, the lights went dark, then (maybe accidentally) on again as she then ripped a video camera off the official looking videographer of the evening to leave the room. I wasn't sure if this was staged or not. Ambiguous. People clapped. She returned to thank everyone, including the Italian community who had supported the event. She sounded American when she spoke english but was fluent in Italian also.
Upon discussing it with my Italian friend after- we decided the circular grid was actually Leonardo da Vinci's famous drawing of a male body splayed with anatomical circular measurements around it. Was Biljana Bosnjakowich therefore addressing issues around the female body, which does not fit the male archetype or (art) world, having and doing its own measurements of others from a position of powerful vulnerability? I really couldn't say. All I was really left with was a feeling. A feeling that something special had happened. Something rare. Something I have not seen yet in performance. In a typically 'rock n roll' internationally urban cool gallery environment in a city which is renowned for 'anything goes'- that a naked woman lay in her ultimate vulnerability (visible from the street) on a concrete floor under harsh lights inviting people to sit around her and hold hands. It drew me in, it took away a sense of separateness that I may have as an urban dweller, it softened me, it certainly softened those who participated, and it gently asked all involved (including viewers) to question the power of vulnerability to transform social relations in a healing, loving and community way. There was no judgement, no irony, no pushing away or harshness. It was fresh, both for Berlin and the world (of performance too) because it was not trying to be anything other than people relating- genuinely, real-ly, in the moment, in a respectful way to female bodily vulnerability. I thought it was very powerful in a quiet way.
Within context I know that Europe has a lot of somatic and healing performance processes and ways to offer. I have done alot of workshops to this description since being here. I know it has been happening for sometime but it seems to be gaining momentum at a pivotal time in world history- with the threat of planetary destruction upon us. Gone is the need to harshly strip bare, or push to the extreme, or deconstruct, or ironically and sardonically entertain to make a point or say something via performance.
We are looking at a new era of what is real and truthful here in this world- through the existential lens/platform/vehicle/artform that is performance- using the live body presence to do so. If there's anything I've learnt from being here it is that if performance/choreography is putting itself on a pedestal of spectacular virtuosity or even deconstruction in the privileged western world at this time in history in pretentious or elitest ways to only the privileged that maybe its day is over- and it certainly pails completely in comparison, in my humble opinion (lol), with an emerging underbelly of work worldwide- whether performance art or improv based- which aims to meet and transform communities in a genuine attempt to make the world a better place, starting with being real in respectful ways. To me, all else seems shallow, egotistical, just dull and somewhat lazy... when faced with so much to actually change. Sometimes I want to tear my hair out. So yay for the likes of Anna Halprin and a legacy of powerfully healing community work.
And thanks to Biljana Bosnjakowich for sharing the love. The world needs more of it as we know, and I hope to pass it on... to beloved Aotearoa. Which has so much potential for genuine love as well. If only we could really realise it. Europe is defs not the be all and end all of everything of course, just more stuff. Lots more stuff. Thanks Cat for reminding me! It's all about sharing.