Hatice Utkan: During these turbulent times, how did you find the general art scene environment in Istanbul?


Andrea Pagnes: Last August we had the chance to stay only for two weeks in Istanbul, invited as guest teachers and performance artists by IPA. We spent the first week holding an intensive workshop on performance art praxis, the second one working and preparing the IV performance of our 2013 performance cycle ‘Thou Twin of Slumber’, which then we presented at Mixer Gallery, under the title ‘Pupae’. We hadn’t much time for further meetings with other Turkish artists, besides the ones, which were part of our ‘temporary community’ there, nor to visit museums and art galleries. Notwithstanding, by our acknowledgment and past experiences, what we can surely say is that Istanbul has an increasing international contemporary cultural significance, which has grown exponentially in the recent years. Places such as Istanbul Modern (the Museum of contemporary art) and Salt Galata are outstanding venues not just to exhibit, but also to produce art. Istanbul Biennale has become undoubtedly one of the most prestigious among the many around the globe. Istanbul Contemporary, the international art fair, already counts on the presence of some of the most important exhibitors in the art world.

To comply its historical and geographical position, this densely populated vast huge city is unique: it represents the crossroads of East and West since centuries. Here modernity and tradition come together to the point that something unexpected, different if not new, can always happen at any moment. We regret that we can say much on which measure these turbulent times, due to the crucial socio-political issues which we all know, effected the city art scene environment in general. To advance careful consideration on such theme, we should have had more time to research properly. However, the Turkish artists, art collaborators, hosts and friends that we have been working together during our staying, gifted us of their many worries and concerns specifically: we recognized in all of them a common urgency of facing openly and radically those problems, and how they can be rendered through their own work, in order to stimulate positive effects on the society where they live. This is, however, a big task, a mission almost. Two young Turkish performance artists, which truly impressed us for their enthusiasm, and more, determination, have been Burçak Konukman and Çiğdem Üçüncü. Nevertheless, being hype-enthusiastic and determined to produce whatever kind of art in response to specific socio-political issues, with the a priori declared intention of triggering some changes in the modes of thinking of the other people, should always be considered a double edged sword, if you are not well methodologically prepared and organized: you can create a sporadic consensus in the here and now of course, but you can also end up in an unwanted, sterile isolation.

Nevertheless, we think that the actual crisis can be highly fertile for the city (and the country) cultural scene: it is exactly in these moments that new cultural movements can take birth, but, for it, it is important to trigger effortlessly continuous dialogues and collaboration among the different generations, be it with or without the support of the local institutions, which are too often ruled by authoritarian logics aimed to preserve establishment positions. However, the openness demonstrated by Salt Galata and Istanbul Modern towards IPA platform is desirable for future developments in this direction, as it is even on such basis that new languages of expression can improve and find their adequate space to exist.


HU: How was your approach as performance artists to Istanbul performance art scene and IPA? What have you seen here and what would you like to see more or how it should be developed in an environment, like the one of Istanbul, where is difficult to interlace cooperation?


AP: We decided to come to Istanbul for three main reasons: the given opportunity of being part of IPA wearing the double hat of performance artists and workshop facilitators, being IPA an excellent platform of time based art practices; the esteem and affection we have for its founder Jürgen Fritz. And Istanbul of course, a vibrant city, harsh and splendid at the same time, with its perennial conflicts, continuously coexisting on the edge of precariousness, and where history is perpetually licking into the present. We came of course also for the possibility of listening, seeing, speaking with the people that have lived in first person what started in May.

On the other hand, we must frankly say that we didn’t meet with what you define ‘a performance art scene in Istanbul’, meaning it in a broad sense. The venues where the event took place were unquestionably outstanding, but we expected at least few more Turkish performance artists participating at IPA. We refer here to the fact that IPA Istanbul could have been an occasion to invite, for example (even just to give a lecture), one of the seminal performance artists in Turkey, such as Sükran Moral, which, with her work, has always challenged the position of women in society, denouncing courageously the violence against women or other underrepresented groups. We say this, not just for the ethical value of her art, but also because, due to the recent socio-political events, her presence, as a militant, experienced artist, would have surely triggered different dynamics inside and outside the event itself. We refer also at the renown ‘Standing Man’ of Taksim Square, initiated by Erdem Gunduz, whose lone demonstration sparked a form of protest, becoming a silent durational collective civil action, a static social revolutionary act, which blurred the edges between art and life. This to say that, perhaps, by involving more the Istanbul artist community, and assign to the event a more precise curatorial line, choosing artists (locally and internationally) whose work respond more poignantly to an actual occurring situation, the possibility to develop the cultural significance of the event itself are greater. To forge a strong identity is also due by the choice of right strategy and decision.

To answer your question more specifically, we must say that art cannot changes society in the short term: it never did and maybe never will, but it can gradually produce some kinds of effects on society. To think to performance art events, in essence, as gathering reunion where people converge to share ideas and give birth to process led actions is already a good starting point.

We perfectly understand that this is a very fragile topic for you, but this is for many others also. To cooperate healthily is a key-factor, but putting people together it is not an easy task at all. Thus the culture of dialogue is fundamental, a fruitful dialogue arises only when clear and grounded are the arguments of discussion, when many are committed to the cause and strong is their belief: this is a matter of consistency that comes with time and practice, and consistency can exist without fragility. IPA Istanbul is still a young creature: it needs its time to grow, a constant dedication, scouting new ways of possible collaboration, because these are the kind of events and operations that carry the new and an intellectual freshness within.


HU: When an artist make a performative work with his or her own body to demolishing the clichés of society and the art world, it is seen just as a ‘presentation’ to the audience or to the people involved in art. The approach and the perception to performance art is not changing, rather than being seen as an artwork of expressing oneself. People just see it as a way of presentation and never judge it or question it.


AP: It is not a problem of the audience itself, rather than of the performance artists and the organizers of performance art events: this is crucial a point, and it is increasingly detectable everywhere, not just in Turkey. It is presumptuous to expect always a so-called ‘super audience’ that come to see a performance, ready and prepared to question what they have seen in the way artists and organizers would like most of the times. The debate on how to change radically the perception of the audience, on how to educate the audience to look at art with different eyes has always existed, and it will exist always, because the times and generations are always changing. Art and theatre history are full of examples in this sense, we think for instance to the experimentations of the Living Theatre during the 60s/70s, or to a text such as ‘Offending the Audience‘ by Peter Handke, just to cite two phenomenal examples. Today, with the re-flourishing of performance art, there are some other fundamental factors to consider: first it is clear that if performance art becomes spoiled as a lieu d’habitude, “a commonplace in a society over time, it will be impossible for it to stir an ethical or political reaction." (Anatoly Osmolovsky). But there’s more: when an artist uses art (and its tools, his/her own body) animated by the good intention of facing socio-political issues, s/he usually ends up in producing just another arid statements (which most of the time the majority of the audience doesn’t need or care). In this way, it is like loosing the plot, because the artist is not anymore concern nor focused in making art – good art – but he chooses to use an art form for other purpose, sometimes even without being first adequately skill or trained.  It is a very delicate and complex question to find ways of how to balance art and concept in performance art. However, a good performance art speaks always by itself: it will be always able to produce some effects on the audience, no matter how nor which. The first thing that a performance artist has to do is to demolish his/her egocentric position (which is almost impossible), and it’s not enough yet, because there are other problems to consider and solve. In fact, often in performance artists there is a lack of critical thinking, of questioning constantly and honestly themselves while venturing in front of whatsoever audience.

You are giving me the occasion to quote and re-elaborate for the purpose some fundamental questions pointed out by two eminent scholars of critical thinking such as Dr Linda Elder and Dr Richard Paul (Their essay: ‘Learning the Art of Critical Thinking’), which we all ought to have always in mind while considering performance art. Therefore, here some: what have I learned about performing? Did I ever? What do I know about how processing well a performance piece? What do I really know about how to analyse, evaluate, outline, express or reconstruct a concept in a performance art piece? Where does my urgency to perform come from? How much of what I’m going to perform is of “good” quality? How much of it is of “poor” quality? How much of my way of performing is vague, muddled, inconsistent, inaccurate, illogical, or superficial? Am I, in any real sense, a performance artist, or am I just attempting to be? Do I know how to test myself in this sense? Do I have any conscious standards for determining when I am performing well and when I am performing poorly? Have I ever discovered a significant problem in my way of thinking of/making performance art, and then changed it consciously? If anyone asked me to teach them what I have learned, thus far in my life, about performing, would I really have any idea what that was or how I learned it? And in addition to all this: Am I abusing the gift of freedom, which is at the base of performance art practice? Am I authentic, sincere, honest, trained, and humble to be ready to perform at my best, or at least to try to? Am I driven truly by a pulsating urgency to tell my concerns through a performance piece, and at the same time acknowledged of my physical, mental and spiritual limits? Do I emanate a radiant energy when I perform, or I perform just to look for consensus, or whatsoever reaction of the others (audience) to feed my ego and get merely some sort of illusory personal satisfaction? Am I right, clear, stick to the point, skilful, functional to the cause/concept, or I just narcissistically presume to be so? Is my necessity to perform worthwhile, real, and profound? Am I capable of drawing from the source of my emotional intelligence when I perform, or when I perform I only produce just what I personally presume to be a new statement over other statements? When was the last time I changed my mind because someone gave me better reasons for his/her views than I had for mine? Am I truly an original creative person? What does it mean, for me, to perform? What does it mean to perform for the others? Do I really love what I do? Do I doubt? Is it my reason of life?

It is important to realize that to perform – as anything in life - is a very serious thing. We believe essentially that the role of an artist to continue to work at his/her best, for what s/he can, sustained by a profound belief, and being conscious that the constant learning processes and confrontational but positive discussions, are the foundations on which to base fruitful research, letting the audience free to take their own conclusion, without asking for too much, and then let’s see what happens.



Istanbul, 2013

eBent: What do you understand as performance today?

VestAndPage: An action – that could be both collective and individual. An action aimed to determine through the process of its making new possible ways of comprehending the ordinary configuration of things, or simply to deconstruct it, in order to delineate some differences. Specifically, an interactive action, organized, capable to offer a variety of meanings, and characterized by the communication of some open-minded sense. Finally an action profoundly ingrained to the context- whatever it is, therefore spiritual, mental, social, political, poetic- in a sentence an action primarily real, without loosing – in its approach and manifestation to the world – some aesthetic and ethical qualities such as personal growth and transformation.

eB: What do you think that not is performance?


VAP: What it does not derive from a real urgency or necessity. A performance is not “a mere story to tell” like it happens i.e. in classic representation (theatre or similar). Performance’s main task is to carry on and bring out meanings, expressions- something that must be certainly said as “emergency”. Like the metaphor in literature, the performance could be seen as a form of economic expression which is come to a definition during the process of its making, based on the constituent limits of a live action, as well as of movements, objects, images. However, in art performances virtuosity and pretentiousness must be banned as they cause distraction, boredom and non-sense.

Which main elements do you think that make up the performance?


VAP: Necessarily at least one self-conscious person (the performer)- who is determined and capable to carry out, shape and give evidence (to an audience or even just to him/herself) the clues of his/her life experience, as well as visions, dreams, ideals, grief, feelings, emotions, and suffering. Then, what emerges out of it - what is manifested - is then simply configured by the performer’s personal perspective, style (ideas), poetics and decision.


eB: What is performatic?


VAP: Generically speaking the word “performatic” is an adjective that can be adopted to identify some “elements/tools” which in a performance enter to play a role (determinant) of “device or/and source of inspiration”. Some useful examples: the Hemispheric Institute in a meeting of Performance and Politics has recently proposed the development of a vigorous argument against the “regulatory” rules on identities, speaking of Performatic Borders, the Identity Trafficking and Sweatshops of Memory. A clear definition is also given by Juan Francisco Gàrate when he write about the “performatic relation of things”, pointing out that a performance today supposes the conversion of all the objects and places as new contexts.

Which importance do you think that has the body in the performance? Can you argue it?

VAP: The human body is the essential presence in a performance.

He is the basic material of confrontation between humans and their surroundings, humans and their social interrelation and interactivity, humans and their definition of objects, space and time and art in itself.

eB: Which importance do you think that has the live presence in the performance?


VAP: As it has been said above, it is essential and determinant.

Without the human live presence, anything is reduced to an installation, or turned into a mere staged setting.

eB: Do you consider fundamental that the own artist executes the work that he/she has created? In the case of negative answer, can you argue it?


VAP: No, it is not fundamental, although of course the intensity can vary because of the different inner energy and different state of mind of “replica and re-player”.

Whatsoever human presence is the main point and necessary fundament- it can be whatsoever human person executing an action (or doing nothing).

Performers that present their actions by themselves often are related strongly to these actions and issues of theirs, but in case and artist wants to talk about topics that do not concern him personally but he needs however to talk about, it is completely lawful, permissible and honest that he gives this part to people he feels more appropriate to present that action (and this can be other artists, private people, or the visitors themselves that are requested to be active- being trained and prepared before, or even being thrown into the context abruptly).

eB: Which role do you concede to the public in the performance?


VAP: Even a private action, meditative, made just in solitude it may be defined as a performance. It could be that later one talks about it, or makes a verbal, photo, sound, material or video record of that experience to present it later, or even not.

That is very conceptual, but the basic understanding of Performance should be this- not always it is right and even possible to ask for an audience, although the energy that an audience has and give is surely determinant (both in a positive or negative way).

For our own actions, we often prefer to work “activating the audience”, involving and enrolling it to become a participant-companion of our actions, to achieve a collective shifting of energy and ideas. For that matter the contact, even intimate, with the public is very strong in these moments, it is an energetic surplus for both artists and spectators.

eB: Which changes do you think that the use of the new technologies (video, internet, etc) have they produced in the current way of making and understanding performance?

VAP: Making a performance- during the creative process, Internet is a vast database to get inspirations and collect materials.

Videos can be shot to be part of the performance, underline and highlight situations, intentions or helping to transform surroundings creating a certain climax.

Understanding a performance- Internet is a tool that spreads ideas into the World.Anybody who wants to inform about Performance Art nowadays has easy access to many portals that help to get closer to the intention of the works, as well as to get to know about the artists.Videos used during the performance have the described effect above- it can help the spectator to enter in a certain mood, or to feel part of a whole, or to understand special highlights that the artist feels to be important.Videos, used after the performance, can be a useful documentation of the work itself- they can be precious documentary material, witness, heritage, promotion, information or work of art in itself.

In our work we like to invite video-artists to document our performances and elaborate the material after. In this way we transform the experience that we have previously made into a cross-artistic union: the video-artist is glad to have the material to work with, and we are glad to have the video art work of the video artist later as “prolonging” of our action.

eB: Which importance do you confer to the sense in a work of performance?

VAP: Without looking for a sense, an action deprived or that doesn’t look for it is a mere emptiness, pretentious vacuity or just an action used as an excused.

Personally we like to work conceptually and elaborate meanings, signs, symbols and their possible influence on the action itself and spectator, because we have a certain defined “intention” with my actions (which is more a need, a necessity, an urgency) to arrive to stimulate a certain emotion or reaction.

But we accept also actions that just refer to themselves, to the “chance”, or to the nothing, as that the portray life as it is somehow, and if we consider life as it is, there are many possibilities.

eB: In the current artistic practice, do you consider that the performance has a unified discourse?

VAP: It has not, and that’s what makes it alive. There are so many movements and versions, so many artists working on specific thoughts, that the field is vast and various, just like life in itself. As for painting or any other artistic genre in general there are different schools and movements and groups, so the same is for Performance Art.

In the end it is all about us, our society, system, we as human beings with our plurality of perceptions and actions, our different backgrounds, our culture, education, and life experiences.

eB: Do you consider positive the preparation and the previous essay in a performance? Which role does the improvisation play in live performance?

VAP: Again we have to say that Performance Art is life in itself.

Although someone can prepare, rehearse, try and work it out, a performance will always consist of unexpected reactions, circumstances, therefore improvisation, errors, intuitions, failure, truth, sincerity and honesty.

Performance Art is absolutely not about virtuosity, it is not a theatre play that we can rehearse for some weeks before presenting it on stage, training to be a brave dancer, musician, story teller.

It is of course very important to be prepared, concentrated, self-conscious, which means that we know what we use and why by trying to get into a general mood of what we want to pursue consciously with one performance.

Nevertheless we can’t ever guarantee that during the contact with the two of us as partners, the space and the public there will not burst out something different or -mostly- much more than expected.

The topics chosen by performance artists are usually very current. This means that it is relevant to today because of the short time between conception (corruption) and performance.

Unlike conventional theatrical work, performance art doesn’t rely on a rigid script, demands spontaneous creativity, and seeks to make the audience think.

Interestingly, performance artists are often fiercely individual characters, though the subjects they pick usually c-enter around compelling social issues and gloomy situations. Sexuality, gender, politics, human rights abuses, killing, tortures, forced labour, forced relocation, flagrant violations of religious and nationalistic icons (in short, all the “no-no’s”) are all perfectly legitimate subjects in performance art.


eB: Do you agree with the affirmation: "The performance has become an artistic genre with its own language"? Can you argue it? If you have replied affirmatively, describe this language.


VAP: We agree. Rules from other disciplines like theatre, dance, music or visual genres do count just partly within the code of Performance Art. It is good to know about basic techniques of these fields and surely helps to make the performer more conscious of what he is doing and what can be the possible sorted effect on the spectator/participant.
Performance Art combines these single words and expressions deriving from these different genres and cultures newly, it’s a sort of universal code grammar, an Esperanto that combined many artistic languages, that works with signs, symbols, actions adopting and evolving methods, an activation of senses, emotions and memory lined up by traditions and backgrounds.

What we associate to Gold is maybe not what a Peruvian Indio associates with it, so fixed western symbols do count only partially in Performance Art, and are to be re-evaluated and tested in each new context, action and place. But as always with languages, first we have to know a language precisely in it’s structure, grammar and with all his lexical references, to then be able to de-construct it and create civil poetry.


eB: The language of Performance art for you is:


VAP: Compelling. Challenging. Beautiful.

eB: Would you like to add anything more?


VAP: It often seems that today artists (and particularly action artists) are all doing a complete useless job, but in all times people have always had “a manifested need to make art”. Therefore the task of an artist is – and will always be - to question the presence of Man in this world, which is always more than a condition.

Art is a constant, continuous research on Man and to perform arises from the need to reflect on our problems, on the relationship with ourselves and with the others. When we have competence on humanity (which means Poetry), then we can also approach and use technology in a right way. To understand technology (its use and meaning) is a pure creative act as well. However it is also important to remind that we are not mere “ machines”, but that we can only relate them to us, and vice-versa. To understand and comprehend the external world (what is around us) is always part of an analogical process- we are not software’s- we indicate many different similitude, and then we try to translate them in many other different terms, always with our body language.

When technology enters to be part of our artistic and creative work, it is not mainly to transform it into something spectacular or particular (here is the mistake), but mostly to ingrain into different and more various metaphors, which are always other ways of economic expression, in the sense of quickness and synthesis.

Being contemporary means “to bare and tune our own Self into something”, and to deal at the same time with one and the others’ own economical being and creative one.

We still believe that today has still more and more a sense to talk about (and re-consider) the concept of social sculpture formulated by Joseph Beuys, in which society as a whole has to be regarded as one great work of art (the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk) to which each person can contribute creatively.

Whoever produces something, s/he does it with an aim, a goal, and the production it is never a mere end in itself- it is always related to an object, that is “production of something”. On the contrary, an ethic action (or moral too) is always an end in itself, because to act ethically is a goal, and the desire is desire of reaching that goal. The goal of the production is something else from the production itself, while the goal of the action matches with it: to act ethically for good is an end in itself.

It has been Aristotle the first to distinguish the actions of Man in two different forms (Ethica Nicomachea, Book VI)- the poièsis, which is the direct action aimed to produce an object that is autonomous and extraneous to the producer him/herself; the praxis, which is related to actions that have sense of themselves inside themselves. All moral actions, positive or negative, which are not aimed to a whatsoever specific production of objects, fall within the idea of praxis, which has been the predominant concept of the meaning of the term action in all European languages. To act as practice, which in this case is the equivalent term of morale.


“Poïesis is a word that etymologically derived from the ancient Greek term ποιέω, and actually it means to make. This word, the root of our modern "poetry", was first a verb, an action that transforms and continues the world. Neither technical production nor creation in the romantic sense, poïetic work reconciles thought with matter and time, and man with the world… In the Symposium (a Socratic dialogue written by Plato), Diotima describes how mortals strive for immortality in relation to poieses. In all begetting and bringing forth upon the beautiful there is a kind of making/creating or poiesis. In this genesis there is a movement beyond the temporal cycle of birth and decay. "Such a movement can occur in three kinds of poiesis: natural poiesis through sexual procreation; poiesis in the city through the attainment of heroic fame and finally, and poiesis in the soul through the cultivation of virtue and knowledge… Martin Heidegger refers to it as a 'bringing-forth', using this term in its widest sense. He explained poiesis as the blooming of the blossom, the coming-out of a butterfly from a cocoon, the plummeting of a waterfall when the snow begins to melt. The last two analogies underline Heidegger's example of a threshold occasion: a moment of ecstasy when something moves away from its standing as one thing to become another. (Cavalier, Robert. The Nature of Eros: Plato’s Symposium. CMU Philosophy Department Web Server. Carnegie Melon, n.d. Web. 6 Aug. 2009).


Finally, we do not have to forget the importance to determine a style, as “carrier” of precise qualities with specific meanings within themselves- a style that enables to define social, cultural, spiritual values, that belongs to an individual as well as to an entire society.


Emotion: Imagination = Thought: Idea.

In and Out = Acknowledgment and Knowledge.



What else?



Florence and Barcelona, 2009

IPA | Hatice Utkan - Interview with Andrea Pagnes (2013)



The following email conversation took place in early October of 2014, upon the acquisition of sin∞fin The Movie (2013) art film trilogy by VestAndPage (Verena Stenke and Andrea Pagnes) for active Video Out distribution.



Jeremy Todd (Outreach & Distribution), VIVO/Video Out:  Despite what I think of as the primacy of performance art within your collaborative practice, there's a cinematic lushness too (perhaps informed by Romantic and Surrealist painting?).  There's a particular visual sense that permeates the trilogy coming into VO distribution -- it's very striking (and meticulous too given your modest production budget and resources).  This is perhaps too big a question to start things off, but I'll ask anyway:  How do you understand or situate your work in relation to histories of performance art and cinema?  Do you?


VestAndPage: We work primarily context specific and site-responsive. We avoid as much as possible any form of conceptualization a priori that could derail us from the anthropoetic approach we decided to privilege and focus towards art and life. Questioning continuously us – as humans - in the here and now, we quest for an ideal authenticity, and though we know we cannot prove it, we are inclined to think that all things specifically human can be traced to a common origin yet unknown. We reduce at the minimum degree our personal intention and will, as we prefer to remain open to contamination, eventually be informed, and discover. For us, this is to see where the influences came from and where they lead us.

The question of ephemerality of Performance art and its documentation has always been a crucial one for us. We started to produce the sinfin The Movie trilogy as we have been invited to an artist in residency in Patagonia. We knew that in that land so far away we would not have no (human) audience witnessing any possible live performance produced there. Being the body still our main medium, we had to search for alternative ways of production.

To start saying “why performance art on film”, we see crucial a work of Vito Acconci, “Indirect Approaches” (1973), in which the question of the “medium” is raised and its effects are investigated thoroughly. To acquaint the performative quality of the poetic image on film, the experimental Super-8 films that Derek Jarman began making in the 1970s are for instance an invaluable source of inspiration. Well, all his oeuvre is.

For every action that we imagine coming to life and take shape along a creative process, firstly we ponder on what this action really needs - in terms of time and space - to communicate its core at the best, or if a simple photograph is enough to express the meaning thoroughly, or if moving images (video) are needed, or if it is necessary to perform it live in front of/with an audience?

For " sinfin The Movie" we started off with individual actions and moving images that could stand alone as metaphors. The next step was to take these single moving images and merge them into something wider, a score-non-score (as the films are produced without an a priori story board). Then new layers were added to the merged video material by inserting field recordings and stream-of-consciousness writing texts by Andrea Pagnes.

We ourselves were always surprised during the process of making on how things fall into place and reveal their hidden meanings to us, without that we had to be stitched to a too constrictive conceptual framework conceived a priori, but keeping things fluidly organic, and therewith let anything open also to the imaginary of the audience to think further - we wish to inspire, generate free reflection and not to state.

Our creative process is mainly informed by dreams and remembrances, as this is how we often work - with a realm too far too close. Then our philosophical background plays a large part in it. More than a romantic or surrealist influence, which however we do not deny, to be more specific we see and consider our outcome as an attempt where to merge together existential and metaphysical aspects. Actually "sinfin The Movie" lingers between reality and another subtler veil of reality. Only like this we can provide new imagery while still responding to current states. Trying to going beyond the contingent elements of our sensory experience, we are mostly concerned to investigate the most authentic and fundamental aspects of reality, in the broader and universal perspective as possible. Of course – being two individuals – our point of view is always partial, failure is naturally contained in it, but generally we are not interested to deal with our individual empirical determinations. It is “that which” that is in between the attempt to overcome the unstable elements, changing, and accidental phenomena, and what we see as eternal, stable, necessary, absolute, that we wish to acknowledge, to try to grasp the fundamental structures of being, the immanent and transcendent of material bodies, in the incessant search for an answer to the question "why being rather than nothing?"

For example, in the second episode of the trilogy shot in India and Kashmir, the scenes filmed in the ruins of the archaeological sites have a symbolic value of transience, also linked to the nostalgic feeling of a time unrecoverable. Obviously, there is something evocative in all of this, perhaps for the ideal of a "Civitas Metaphisica" that has been lost and that basically never existed, and even if it would have existed, now at our eyes it appears irreversibly devoid of its fundamental identifying topographical elements. Therefore those places, though they may appear enticing at first sight, however, are "emptied", unreal, almost likewise a "Theatrum Mortis” spectral fifth.

As a result - and inevitably - the documentary objectivity can only leave space to a new vision of poetry, with its process that unfolds and reassembles reality, making it coexist with our imaginary and more, our inwardness.

This is also evident in the first episode filmed in Patagonia, but more in the third shot in Antarctica, because in these vast and uninhabited spaces, any idea – you want it or not - inevitably begins to occur far away from the ordinary world.

The stinging sense of melancholy and astonishment we have felt while living there, the tangible realization of the human frailty even just for the mood of a weather constantly harsh and unpredictably changing, the solitude, the silence, the emptiness, the merciless ruthless beauty that shine from a nature immense and desolate, come to reify this complex of feelings in dreamlike visions which however, for what is human-too-human, are pulsating of life.

It may be quite hazardous to place this work of ours into a historic line, if we were to do it ourselves.  We are of course inspired by various outstanding works that have taught us and continue to teach us a lot. For the cinematographic aspect, surely are important the techniques and principles of great directors like Werner Herzog, or the Dogma group, with whom we share also the profound believe that art does not need thousand of dollars funding for being good, but a vision, the guts and commitment to follow it out of a profound urgency. Then Pier Paolo Pasolini almost predominant, anti-virtuous use of the fixed camera with long shots to reach the zero degree of the image, the pure image, and the particular way of Alejandro Jodorowsky of structuring metaphors. We may further see aesthetic similarities with the beautiful performance film work “Die Klage der Kaiserin” by Pina Bausch (1989), or with some moments of "Buster's Bedroom" by Rebecca Horn (1990). About Derek Jarman’s short movies we have already mentioned above.

“sinfin The Movie” has also been compared by a critique to share a cinematic philosophy with Ron Fricke and Godfrey Reggio due to its rejection of narrative and the trust in the intelligence of the audience.

We are not interested in glossy or glamorous filmmaking, neither to work with a team of specialists. This experience begun as we wished to explore what happens when two artists with different backgrounds in visual arts, theatre and writing, decide to use the camera as an additional medium to see, translate and express their urgencies.

Same to our live performances, the trilogy searches for the essential quality of authenticity, which we believe Performance art must have. All the actions of the three episodes are authentic and not staged or prepared (as i.e. in Matthew Barney’s outstanding “Cremaster Cycle”). They are spontaneous responses to the surrounding and have never been repeated twice but shot on site and only edited basically. The setting is authentic, as it is exactly what we found going and being there, in those places. No special artificial lightning or post-production effects are applied. Also the final editing had to be authentic too for us, so the sounds, cuts and final flow are reduced to the minimum.


VO:  It's remarkable to consider the "one take" aspect of your process with these films given the grand visual presence they have.  Perhaps there's something to that modern imperative of location, location, location in this context.  I must admit that Matthew Barney did cross my mind the first time I viewed them, if only because of the graceful athleticism you all seem to share in common.  The trilogy could perhaps be interpreted as a kind of metaphysical dérive in relation to the actual landscapes involved (you're certainly not downing bottles of cheap brandy, chain smoking gitanes and stumbling through urban alleyways reconstituting the post war city) but there's also a kind of lyrical, emotive expressiveness sited in your bodies throughout the trilogy that makes me think of modern dance.  Is this of interest at all when developing ideas and actions?


VAP: If we consider "modern dance” as one theory – here more than a practice – related to the investigation of movement, therefore not merely as a category or discipline of the arts spectrum, and not only circumscribed to the physical human body, but expanded to thoughts, spaces, objects, space, and all the configuration of the things, we guess it could be said so.

The search for an authentic expressiveness of the physical human body is a strong element in our work, though we do never copy, train, refine or re-produce movements, as it is mostly the case in dance. We abandon and reduce because we are not interested to impress, i.e. showing how good we are to make a jump. On the contrary, we wish to express – therefore say/communicate and pass to the other - what “a jump” is for us, the meaning that resides behind the movement that allows us to jump, and why - or if - we really need to make a jump in that particular moment and circumstance. Here, for us, the issue of the question is not “how to make that particular movement at its best”, but “why to make that movement, and if there is a real need – for us - to make it as such”. For example, we don’t have to wobble if our legs are not injured just for the intentional decision of wobbling, but if we have to pass through an expanse of blocks of ice floating on the shore while being blindfolded, we will have to wobble – wanting or not – to keep our balance to avoid falling into the cold waters.

This to say that for us any movement that we look for and make is never to represent, but arises as a conditioned response. Our movements are momentarily, once-in-a-time driven by a certain condition that provokes them in the very instance, and then, they are no more. Smoke will never raise again the same way it did a moment before, it doesn’t even need to make the effort to do so, because it is like as if it knows that there is an infinity of other movements still to do: the repetition would be a loss of possibilities, and any effort would be futile because beauty mainly springs through randomness.

We do work a lot searching for these places or moments where our bodies have to respond in one way or the other, again, the most authentic as possible.

There is no striving for virtuosity, which we consider - with all due respect to any virtuoso - for us and our practice a desolate, momentary one-way-street as it excludes the possibility of discovering beauty through failure (a most human quality).

We’re aware that we’re both fortunate enough to be gifted with bodies that still - in this moment - allow us to be free and flexible in nearly any condition we’re up to.

We don't idealise, or iconize the body in any shape just for the sake of a mere (temporarily) aesthetic image - history has taught us that these behaviours will just lead to further social conditioning and confusion that takes us still farther away from the core. The aesthetic concern must always be attuned to the ethical: they have to be innervated one in another.

Hence we are interested in the body as a hyle - an organic matter, the mechanical stuff we’re composed of and that contains subtle content, more subtle bodies, to go beyond the biological.

The Arab theory of the “three bodies”, where three words exist and subdivide what in English would all be called “the body”: body-body (physical), mind-body (mental) and psyche-body (spiritual), are deserving impulses of creativity.

In the best cases, these three bodies are equally strong present in an art action, so that the image does not only speak in through the physical body which may be intended as superficial, but allows provoking further other and more subtle movements of the other two bodies.

To generalise: an athlete mainly trains the physical body, an academic the mental, a monk the spiritual. As live artists we can use and train all these three bodies, if we choose to work for it.

Of course the physical body is perhaps the most direct tool of communication between humans, into which mental and spiritual dialogues can confine.

However, for us it is important that this communication activates also other factors, what is non-human: objects, then spaces, time, history, and as you rightly said, “Location”, which in our work is always determinant. Here again we refrain from idealisation and stereotyping. It has been explicitly difficult to not being seduced or fall into a typical National Geographic or Hollywoodian aesthetics scheme, when being in places like Patagonia, India or Antarctica, where any photograph or shot simply looks great. A kid or a fool can easily takes a good photo there, as those places carry such strong imagery, but with respect to their history, uniqueness and powerful configuration, we wanted to listen more to them, to finally maybe find other expressions, other stories that these places can tell to us - and to be inspired by them and - in the best case - translate them in a performative action. Not to portray or describe how they are, but what they make us feel and think.

We always feel uncomfortable when we realise that we’re imposing an idea of ours onto some place or someone else, as we consider this attitude as a sign of our own ignorance towards what is the other, what is different from ourselves. To do so, it would just tell of our incapacity of listening because we suppose that we already know what to say. We first need to listen. It is important to be open to positive infection given by the space is hosting us in that moment, instead of importing and pouring pre-fixed schemes from our culturally conditioned mind set into another, completely detached context from the ones we are used to. To exclude the possibility of being always freshly inspired through spaces, people, objects and time, even while following a certain investigation, would be a loss of opportunities, acknowledgments and a stolid renounce to grow.

So then, we are not incline to favour an art which you can export/import, impose onto something, and which remains the same, no matter at which latitude. Instead we effortlessly privilege a process that always has the freedom and the intelligence to adapt to the given circumstances, in alert and ready to respond attentively and sensibly to the unpredictable and the previously unknown, for one of the meaning of life is also the art of meeting and encounter.

We usually try and focus to strip down actions and reactions to a most human, universally accessible code. However, obviously each context has its own peculiarity, and in any context you will operate – wanting or not – you have always to consider that the human factor (yours and of the other) plays a determinant role. A performance artist will inevitably provide with his/her presence and cultural background the addition of his/her very human factor to the spatial, temporal, social and cultural context where he/she operates. Likewise to say projecting his/her own human factor into the context where he/she performs.

More than anywhere else, we have experienced the issue of identity and the delicate mechanisms of subsequent identification out of context of origin in a foreign land while working at the second episode of the trilogy in India and Kashmir, as also the focus was on the Social and Spiritual.

Being there, witnessing social contradiction and conflicts that we had previously just acknowledged by Western information, we had almost to make a tabula rasa of our beliefs, to work not critically and remain purely open. If at the beginning of our journey something might have appeared “wrong or strange” to our eyes, with the days passing by, we started doubting not just on what we were witnessing, but more on us ourselves, as there, probably, we were the “wrong and strange”.

So then the challenge has been to not apply any culturally conditioned prejudice, mind sets, politically or historically imposed schemes, though still responding with our provoked sensations to what we lived and saw.  It was a like walking on a tightrope or vaulting on a balance beam continuously. Probably this episode was conceptually the hardest to realise. As a saying goes: water doesn’t distinguish between earth and dirt, so yes, this was our task.

Fortunately we had the time and possibility to be helped by wonderful people, who gently though determined introduced us and unfolded their context. For example, some friends accompanied us to visit the still highly militarised zones of Kashmir; some others introduced us to people of various social classes with whom we interlaced profound dialogues and relationships. The encounters we had there, just as those ones we had in Antarctica with the Argentinean scientists and the military, were crucial for us to access a part of the reality we suddenly found ourselves drawn into, and to understand better social, geopolitical and historical concerns of the area, which then again could turn into material for our artistic process.

On the other hand, to introduce our context or subjective position as European artists of today to them, we always prefer the direct exchange, simple, genuine, curious, open, very human. A nomadic spirit primarily animates us, as nomadic is also the history of our families. We feel to be citizens of the world, more than belonging to this or that country.  Travelling quite a lot, we look for spending qualitative time with people – no matter who they are -, and we enjoy it, speaking, eating together, and sharing life moments. Here any exoticization of the other goes down rather quickly, as you share “that which” that makes us all the same, and friendships are being made.

Still we did encounter moments - within in the collective, not so much in the individuals - in which the clash of culture and identification occurred. Just to tell one of many situations experienced in India, when we were shooting the short scene of us both standing still with our heads covered in a cloud of silk among the vivid traffic of one of the busiest streets of the Old Muslim part of Dehli, we didn’t consider that someone in the crowd could have perceived our action as a strong provocation. We were both dressed properly and decently, but still apparently the mostly male passer-by on the street, projected something into this image which was not our intention and that we were not doing at all. They supposed that we were kissing beneath, and as one of the oldest mosques of the country is just some streets away, our presence was obviously unwanted, and some got very excited and threw stones on us. The street had been suddenly filled with hundreds of people watching us and curiously taking photos with their mobile phones, most of them were more curious than aggressive. But obviously, as our heads were under the silk cloud, we didn’t see any of these going on. We just heard Vikash, our assistant, who should have just to start the camera, discussing in Hindu with the crowd and then coming to us saying: “It’s better to go now”. Another time, dressed in the same way while shooting in one of the most beautiful forgotten stepwells of Delhi (Gandhak ki Baoli), nearby the archaeological sites of Qutub Minar, taxi drivers and families silently watched the whole scene. Soon after they came to us saying: “Thank you. You must be very good people. You looked like two saints to us all.” Altogether, these were rather surreal moments for us, but the excitement on one side and our unknowingness on the other, in the end really shaped these images more than we could have conceived beforehand.

Urban and social contexts and cultural and religious symbolism are matter that opens into huge discourses, and of course we do work mainly with our own cultural connotations, though on every new place we continue to learn.

To sum it up, all the identification schemes are something that we are aware of as well as of what they can provoke, but it is not something that we explicitly work with, as we look for a poetical language that can be universal, as poetry is and must be. Here again “authenticity” is what counts the most, as the above mentioned scene show that life provides a much better script or concept than any artist could ever draw up with, and hence that it is life that brings the most shining revelations.


VO:  Given your European base and the busy, global logistics involved with your practice lately, an awareness and interest in VIVO and Video Out is pleasantly surprising (but of course, not completely unexpected).  Could you talk a bit about your relationship to the centre so far?


VAP: Chance wanted our professional path to come across VIVO and Video Out twice in the last year. Given the always very pleasant contact and the important work developed by VIVO and Video Out, this seemed like a sort of unspoken invitation for us to let this connection grow.

In September 2013 we performed Thou Twin of Slumber: Hemolymph at VIVO as part of the LIVE! Performance Art Biennale, curated by Randy Gledhill. There, the dedication and collaborative work that we encountered with the VIVO team, our performance itself, and the feedback of the Vancouver audience that assisted that night was simply wonderful for us – it was a great experience to perform there.

We still remember wholeheartedly Paul Wong (whose work we admire) coming to greet us after the performance, saying: “You guys tonight made me feel to believe in Love again.” To heartfelt words like these the only answer is to listen in silence. Paul kindly offered us a bottle of red wine for cheer, and left.

Then, as curators of the VENICE INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE ART WEEK in 2014 we were doing research on documentation material of performance artists working on the theme of the Ritual Body – Political Body, and on this occasion we came again upon Video Out, having already selected two milestone works by Paul Wong (60 Unit: Bruise and In Ten Sity) to be included in our exhibition. We then discovered more artists of great interest to us in the distribution catalogue/archive.

So altogether, independently from where one is based or heading to — if collaboration is fluid, pleasant and has already proved fruitful, it’s worth it for us to have it strengthened. We sincerely appreciate the work you’re doing and the precious support and opportunities you provide for artists, as well as the communities and publics that go along with that support and opportunity. We’re honoured that Video Out considered our work worthwhile for being included for distribution, and we hope that our contribution can repay this with inspirational and poetic moments.


VO: The trilogy must have been exhausting to complete.  Were you working on other stuff as it was wrapping up or did you need some time to recuperate first?  I’m also wondering if you can talk about anything currently in development?


VAP: We spent this three years period (2010-2012), which encompassed the production of the trilogy with one episode each year, preparing the logistic frameworks for the single episodes, while travelling with new live performances and producing mainly performance cycles, in Latin and North America, Asia and Europe, lecturing, giving workshops, and writing.

We were rather tight about the production schedule of the single episodes: the artist-in-residences, in which we produced the performances and film material, had a duration of 30 days in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego; up to 2 months in North India and Kashmir; and 3 months in Antarctica (with post-production in Buenos Aires). So this was the time frame that we had to follow, as we wanted to finish these residencies with consigning the final episode work completed before leaving. We didn’t want to carry the material unfinished away from these places; it was important to keep the spirit of those places even while editing the material, and also to put an end to it. One could always improve, change, re-change, consider and re-consider the editing, but here again our approach was just like it is in a live performance: what goes, goes, and it is just what it is, remaining as such after this period of time. We didn’t touch the editing again after we left the residencies – though of course, sometimes we think that this cut or this sequence could have been different now. Nevertheless, we have decided to leave things as they have fallen into place at that time. We can’t erase errors in life and in time, and we think film can work this way too. It is just a matter of acceptance, and then to let go of what we have found, and, if anything, pass it to others who will watch it as we have found it.

Once we had finished the first episode in Patagonia in 2010, we still didn’t know where and how the second and third episodes were going to be produced, though we knew that sinfin would become a trilogy, as we were working with the conceptual frame of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s trilogy Spheres.

So we had to search and apply for possible occasions to produce the other two episodes.

After Patagonia (where we focused on the question of the Individual and the Couple) with CONFL!CTA Contemporary Art and Science Research, the artist-in-residency in India (to investigate the Social and the Religious) at the Sarai Centre for the Studies of Developing Societies came up as a possibility to produce the second episode. Still we didn’t know where to realise the final one, but it was clear that it would have to be an extraordinary place as the subject of this concluding episode is Nature and the Universe. Yes, we were dreaming about Antarctica for this, knowing that it would be impossible for us to go there, considering the costs and that then you’ll be just hanging around on a ship…  But once again things fell into place, and through a rather impressive series of coincidences the opportunity came up for us to apply for a one-month residency at an Antarctic military base, as part of the Cultural Program of the Argentine National Antarctic Direction initiated and run by Argentinean artist Andrea Juan. The application process and the bureaucracy for it were so complex and difficult that we thought we would never be chosen for it, and that Antarctica would remain a dream forever. After our submission, we didn’t hear back from them for a long time.

One morning in November 2011, we were sitting in a coffee place in Singapore after a long and inspiring tour on performance festivals in Asia that followed our residency in India, and checked our mails. There it was written: “In 6 weeks you’ll leave with a military plane from Buenos Aires for one month to Antarctica, you better get ready.” It was a most amazing, moving moment.

Two weeks later, while we were still on our last night of the tour in Bangkok, we received a phone call saying that Verena’s father had died unexpectedly. So we had to be there in Germany, while at the same time preparing ourselves for the journey to the South Pole and the production of sinfin there. A lot of once-in-a-lifetimes came together in these dense few weeks. It was overwhelming, and artistically it charged us enormously.

To talk about the present, currently we’re fully taken by the preparations for the 2nd VENICE INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE ART WEEK Ritual Body-Political Body, which we curate and co-organize. It is a seminal live art exhibition project, which will take place at Palazzo Mora in Venice on the week of December 13-20, 2014. The project will present works in exhibition and live program of over 50 artists working in performance art — from historic documentation of pioneers to live works of established and emerging artists from around the globe. Among those we’re glad to exhibit are two video performances by Paul Wong from Video Out Distribution, as well as a selection of Indigenous artists’ live video works curated by Doug Jarvis from Open Space, Victoria B.C. We’ve also had the pleasure of hosting as visiting curator the Director of LIVE! Randy Gledhill, who has contributed to the event with his poignant writings, reflections and poetic considerations.

Meanwhile, we’re also continuing our current live performance cycle Dyad, which speaks about the danger of dichotomies, attachments to dualisms and the paradox of ego. The next chapter will be shown on October 16 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig, Germany (presented by Galerie KUB).

In November we’ll be in the UK to hold a challenging 24-hour intensive workshop on notions of Failure and Ability in the framework of the event Tempting Failure in Bristol, and we have been invited to visit the SPILL Festival in Ipswich. We continue to produce texts, as reflection on how, why and what to perform is an urgency for us.

Concerning new moving image projects, we are currently verifying the logistical aspects of two new proposals, which we hope to be able to start next spring (2015).

One is an experimental film collage, a rather complex project about exile, history, memory and belonging. It will document a long durational performance walk of 600 miles along the Baltic Sea, as Verena will actually walk, exactly 70 years later, the path that her grandmother and other members of her family had followed by foot and train, under constant attack, on the great exodus of those expelled from East Prussia at the end of World War II. Andrea will follow, scouting into his own Marrano gypsy origins, adding a second layer interlacing with Verena’s more recent family story.

The second one is again a more poetic, nature-responsive project in the line of “sinfin The Movie”: a performance-based film tetralogy on the four seasons, with performances by both of us and poetry, to be realised in the beautiful, ever-changing woods and forests, as well as in the enormous salt mines beneath them, and the ruins of the castles of South West Germany, where we’re currently living.


VO: Thank you Verena and Andrea for this wonderful opportunity to engage with the ideas and working processes within your collaborative practice. It’s been very informative and a great supplement to the work coming into distribution.  We look forward to your next submission to Video Out.


Vancouver, 2014




Karolina Lambrou: A performance piece is very much affected by space, presence/absence of the audience and duration. How do these elements physically and thematically affect your actions?


VestAndPage: In Performance art the context is everything. It is from the actual spatial configuration of the context that we start to analyse all the other aspects. Our work is mainly site specific. Even when we perform in the white box of a gallery, or the black one of a theatre, we need to stay there quite a long time to perceive the energy of the actual space, meet and talk with the people involved in the space, the technicians who work there, in order to be collaborative together to set up a piece that could be effective at its best. We need to inhabit the space, not simply enter it, and become part of it.

The durational aspect offers us possibilities to explore unknown territories, the ineffable, liminality, inner dialogues and inner silence, inner actions between ourselves and in relation to the audience. In a durational piece some patience from the audience is required: we know that we don’t necessarily get this always, though we have met attentive and participatory audience quite always. Clearly anything here is mainly a matter of presence/absence. When we operate in a prolonged state of deep concentration, our beings (and bodies) transform likewise magnets. No matter the kind of action we’re doing in a specific period of time, there will be always someone attracted by empathy, reacting, joining, and leaving, in this way contributing to aliment the energy we’re spending, at different degrees.  In a durational pieces, what for us is important is to reach in essence a condition of ‘constant giving’, letting the audience free of taking, receiving, comprehend, or let it go.


KL: Do you think rituals should return back to our everyday lives as a means to express our violent impulses outside the community? Why are ritual forms so strong in your work?


VAP: We thank you for this question Karolina, because it is crucial.

Human beings constantly have daily rituals in the everyday routine. Depending from the perspective from which someone wants to see at daily rituals, they can be seen as a way of shortening the leap between art and life; practices to softening the tension between control and chaos even through the disruption of regular, well-ordered patterns of the conventional; recoveries which reduce the senses into one, or “deadening the senses to promote familiarity and knowledge with the world that allows one to tune out essential information” as artist Scott Benefield beliefs.

And there is more, especially if we look at the mystery, which every person carries within him/herself. Rites and rituals have been studied from antiquity and in modern times have become objects of study in anthropology, ethnology, and sociology. The Gale Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, at the voice ‘Rite and Ritual’ says that a rite is “a well-ordered action or group of actions performed precisely and repetitively, where meaning and aims are generally opaque, and of no obvious practical purpose.” Rites and rituals are related to the sacred, and have always to do with a sense of pure healing, be they religious, magic, or, more simply, of everyday life. Also Sigmund Freud and Gustav Jung underscored the sacred character of these practices. They are ingrained in our human nature since ever. Therefore, we don’t think they should return back, as they have been always part of human existence and still are, only that we have to be able to recognize them as they transform with the becoming. And they are not just means to express our violent impulses outside the community, because rites and rituals were and are to build up a community, to gather people together in a condition of collective, mutual sharing.

In our performances, we often organize and use various rituals, be they in relation to nature, ancestral reminiscences, or our private sphere. Anthropologically, communities built through rites and rituals new ways of communication (with the others, and also the invisible). Rituals can offer also a possibility to approach and enter an archetypal state. In Celtic tradition some fest celebrations were used to reach a suspension of time. Even a rave party is a ritual basically: raves are likened to trancelike tribal rituals, where ravers (people) celebrate their unity and shared uplifted state, giving and receiving freely from one another. Dr Russell Newcombe wrote: “raving could be viewed as a transcendental mind altering experience providing psychic relief to alienated people in a secular repressive and materialistic society.” Terence McKenna views the rave “as an explosive re-emergence of the repressed human drive to free consciousness from its unnatural ego-cantered state.” There are also a large variety of holistic practices that allow to reach a state of hyperconsciousness to see better through the configuration of things, and therefore healing the Self from the toxic clutches of the conventional that the systems exercise on us people. In conclusion, among different forms, the essence of rites and rituals has been always the same.

In Performance art, rituals can be surely seen as a moment of epiphany to supplement the performance, but actually, for us, the performance itself is a ritual, an anthropoetics experience.


KL: Performance art has reached the mainstream and is being acknowledged and appreciated now more. Why do you think that is?


VAP: As Jorge Mitchell wrote few years ago about a performance of ours, younger generations (thus not only), now even more consciously, probably have been starting to understand the essential: “the representation on a support is out-dated. The image comes to life and goes to the world. Now it is directly inscribed on the bodies of those who watch over the living flesh.” It seems becoming mainstream, but still is cutting edge. We hope that it remains so, because this is what determines its ‘vitalogy’.

Performance art emerged fully already many years ago, during an historical period of huge socio-political crisis, then a decline followed, but since few years we are witnessing a new burgeon, almost everywhere, probably because the whole world is heading towards a new dramatic global crisis unknown before.


KL: Do you consider your performance pieces as teaching situations?


VAP: They are learning situations for us. We consider ourselves as learners.


KL: Do you consider that language makes narrative less pure? Is performance art for you a visual language in its purest form?


VAP: It depends how you adopt and use it. There is importance in each thing said. If someone want to make a narrative performance, it is fine. The narrative aspect is another material to conceive a performative piece. Every human being has a beautiful story to tell, an experience to share with the others, no matter how, or with which chosen tool/media, but it must be done well, as Oscar Wilde already indicated.

Performance art is for us primarily a practice, which means more than a visual language in its purest form. That is that we consider Performance art prior to any label, etiquette and whatsoever statement. ‘Visual’ in this case sounds like an adjective too reductive, as ‘purest’ too absolute. We consider the performance a lived experience, where the ephemeral is qualitative, where all the senses are well activated, and so the spirit, the mind, the memory. Already Laurence Wiener in 1969 said that an artwork is never squared, but it continues to shape and transform into the mind of the fruiter.


KL: Do you repeat any of your work? If yes is it affected and developed by new events in your life?


VAP: It happened that we have been asked to repeat a particular performance piece. For instance, last year in Taipei we have replied Panta Rhei V three days in a row, because the event organizers wanted so for audience reason. The performance came out technically better day by day, but honestly we disliked the feeling of ‘mechanical reproduction’ of the piece: it was like feeling loosing progressively the freshness of action into us, and more the unexpected, which in Performance art are among the most important factors. Also Balada Corporal I, Balada Corporal IV and Speak That I Can See You have been repeated quite several times, in different periods, spaces and countries, with different settings due to the necessity of responding at the best to the various hosting sites, places and locations. And yes, it is true, new events in our lives affected those pieces, but it is also true that at a certain moment we felt also that these works have came to their end: there was nothing to discover anymore for us. We usually prefer to work in a mood of constant creative process, along with the becoming, likewise saying that each performance we conceive and present is the consequence of the previous one, and the anticipation to the next one, that’s why we like to work mainly on performance cycle projects.


KL: What sort of reactions do you get from the audience?


VAP: When we perform we don’t have any expectation. We enter in a state of deep concentration and full awareness always: this is our first concern. It happens then that at a certain point of the performance, we feel empathy with the audience: we perceive somehow their energy, inner reactions, positive and negative feelings. It is something special and unique, like a wave, triggered by an invisible force, which operates between them and us. We surely know that someone may find us cryptic, but is always the emotional fact  ‘that which’ that counts the most, both for us and for the audience, at least in our performances, and for it we work. We give, and in the moment we give fully, we also receive something. We are deeply thankful for it, to the ones that come to watch us, or to experience together with us. It is a blessing, no matter in which part of the world we are to perform. We are aware that there will be also always someone who won’t like, agree with, or appreciate what we do, but this is part of the game.


KL: Do you base some of your concepts in philosophical theories? Do certain philosophers inspire you?


VAP: We ‘update’ ourselves continuously. We study and read always: essays of different kinds, philosophy, science, literature, anthropology, politics, sociology, and art in general. It is a constant training, as anything can become source of inspiration. Then the world is our studio, where to learn directly, confronting ourselves with, and practice. All our performances are however also based on precise philosophical concepts, as we believe necessary to forge a theoretical armature to enforce the art actions, which then in part can be seen as a rendering of those same concepts. For example, for the performance cycle Panta Rhei we looked firstly at Heraclitus; the movie trilogy sin ∞ fin has been primarily inspired by Peter Sloterdjik’s analysis on the subject ‘spheres’; for the performance cycle Thou, Twin of Slumber, of which here in Cyprus we presented 3 chapters (Cocoon II, III, and IV), we took at first inspiration from Shakespeare and then from psychoanalytical studies on the concepts of Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death).


KL: In some cases performance artists adopt the concept of sacrifice in order to eventually cancel out sacrifice. Hence, their performances can be seen as the re-enactment of sacrifice to re-imagine the social contract otherwise, beyond scapegoating and beyond the idea of re-birth. I find that this is a concept related to your work. Can you elaborate on this?"


VAP: If you have noticed this aspect in our work, we thank you for it. For us, it is actually this “trying to go beyond…” which we mainly search for, in our own personal way of course. A brilliant dissertation on this topic can be read in the journal of Anthropoetics, 5, no. 2 (Fall 1999 / Winter 2000) ‘The Sacrificial Aesthetic: Blood Rituals from Art to Murder’, written by Dawn Perlmutter. And also the recent book of Maggie Nelson ‘The Art of Cruelty-A Reckoning’ is very illuminating in this sense, as “cruelty defines the limits of the human and can be found within the human nestled right up alongside love” (J.Halbertsam).

Now, our questions are: in Performance art (some) is cruelty a necessity? And must the use of (personal) sacrifices always be soaked by some kind of cruelty, or there’s more beside and beyond this?

In her essay, Dawn Perlmutter quotes Georges Bataille, when he wrote that ‘…sacrifices are to bringing life and death into harmony, to give death the upsurge of life, life the momentousness and the vertigo of death opening onto the unknown … if we now consider the similarity between the act of love and the sacrifice. Both reveal the flesh.’ I see in this last sentence something very pertinent and revelatory at the same time, at least for us.

Undoubtedly, in Performance art, each artist have had/has specific necessities and different urgencies in adopting forms of so called violent/cruel rituals or sacrifices, which are due to their own life experiences and ideals, historical periods in which they operated, and personal Weltanschauung. But one may rightly ask ‘what for?’ Again Perlmutter, taking into account the works of artists such as Gina Pane, Hermann Nitsch, Abramovic, Stelarc, Fakir Musafar, Orlan, Genesis P-Orridge, Bob Flanagan, Ron Athey and others, is very clear:  ‘There is no reason to doubt an artist’s claim that acts of self-mutilation and violence in their work provide a personal transformation for them. What becomes questionable is the decision to practice these violent rituals in the context of Performance art, which is then further complicated when the intention is to redeem or transform the audience’. I think she’s right also here, because – as Oscar Wilde already said – with the best intentions you’ll may end to make the worst work of art, and the intention of wanting to redeem or transform the audience if for some artists could be desirable, for others it could be seen as an aberration, an act of presumption, likewise the artist undress from his/her cloths to wear the ones of the priest or the hero, hence de-positioning him/herself from his/her actual role. There is a form of seduction in all this, and a form of narcissism too, which no artist can escape from, and the audience is there, attending. To admit this is a matter of responsibility, intellectual honesty and sincerity, which I see necessary, to be respectful to the audience, to the others. We cannot hide this human factors with well organized statements; if what we claim is maybe right, there is also the other side of the coin to take also in account and show/tell it to people. If I remember well, from what I read, it was Orlan one of the first artist to courageously open up with the question of narcissism in Performance art, a question that, however, it is not negative at all, as it can becomes in turn creative material as well.

So then, trying to reduce the factor ‘intention’ at the minimum degree (as you can’t avoid it, because it is always present), and having well clear that in presenting something to the public always some forms of narcissism and seduction are sooner or later activated, I can now venture in telling you what our actions of rituals/sacrifices are for us: they are not re-enactments, they are instead always renovated, as they were in origin, to try to re-establish a renovated close relationship between us two, and then, possibly, with the audience. Nonetheless, behind this, there is something more personal and profound: an act of reconciliation with my blood line, trying settling and resolving something that I couldn’t before, and that affectively brings me to accept the changes occurred in my life. It is also to try to reconcile my way of thinking and feeling with the ones of Verena, and then of the others (audience). I see in all this a way to become compatible, consistent, no longer opposed and friendly after a sense of estrangement and abandon, a place where to settle my interior conflicts with the external apparent differences, re-establishing a friendly relation between my Self and its opponents. Finally, it is also to accept that something can be difficult, if not inaccessible, because, paying tribute to Socrates, I need always to remember that are actually the beautiful things the most difficult ones.



Nicosia, 2013


VIVO/VOD | A Conversation w/ VestAndPage (2014)

Quinn Dukes: What led you to performance art?


Verena: I appreciate that your formulation of the questions implies that kind of crucial, conscious passiveness, which allows us to be led towards something previously unknown.


Andrea: Yes, just as pertaining in part to the concept of Panta Rhei, or ingrained in the precepts of Zen Satori. This brings us to understand in which way we perceive our process, by seeing our self- nature, deepening our experiences and bringing them into maturation to finally shape them into an art form, never abandoning the support of a continuous practice. It is a matter of comprehension, every day. Always from now on: looking backwards to go towards.


Verena: In the moment that we met, it was as if many previous happenings already were under a certain star - as with any guidance- though we might not yet have labelled with these words, nor prospected what would have happened. From this perspective, life itself meld with decisions and turns taken at crossways, answers to calls, steps through doors that opened, climbed hills, led us to where we are now and the art we make.


Andrea: The core of our main interests and artistic investigation is the human soul, and we first had to sink our hands inside our own soul to be able to speak about it. To try to understand what the soul is and how it moves, it requires a constant practice made through different techniques. By doing so, we found performance art the undisclosed territory, which could allow us to fully express this process.


Verena: Our trainings and backgrounds in visual art, theatre and bodywork, or Andrea’s long militancy in visual art, creative writings, and theatre, combined with philosophical studies, are all knowledge that gives consistency to our performative works. Each of them constitutes a leading hand towards performance art.


Andrea: The boundaries between all those disciplines began to blur when we found ourselves imbued together into an artistic and personal coexistence. When there are no more edges, also ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ progressively dissolves. This makes clear that ours is not just a mere collaboration, rather a communion.


Verena: I have been intrigued by the space between You and Me; the distance between Here and There; the instance between Now and Never, the power that triggers us to take one decision instead of another. As an artist it became necessary to connect these spaces and gaps in between, to work with this MA, the experiential place. This belongs also to the urgency of recalling what has been left unsaid, to puzzle the pieces back together, to dig in the dust, to imagine possible worlds and to map impossible ones, to uncover, to open closed boxes and reveal what resides inside. This ‘poetics of relations’ flew into and continues to infuse our performances, because it found its raison d’etre by performing together.


Andrea: I have been searching for ways to overpass dichotomies, trying to dismantle pre-ordered schemes of the configuration of the things to converge physicality with spirituality, the material with the immaterial. We are animated by ideals, dreams, utopias, inhabiting a world, which thus it seems to head towards a complete opposite direction, to a dystopian future, still it is the place to live, to explore, to understand, maybe the best place to live, as it is the only one.

Verena: Our performances represent the current state of how our life path, experiences and artistic research have evolved, devolved and developed over time. It is the way we have found together to give shape to our attitudes towards the world and ourselves, probably even more than towards art.


Andrea: As Wladyslaw Kazmierczak once brilliantly noticed, performance art is a silent, intense, committed, and dedicated struggle, task, or mission, for “the freedom of expressing momentous and significant ideas”. We agree with his words.

I found in performance art also the possibility to acquaint concretely ‘the supreme independence’ experienced as pure feeling and unadulterated passion, which Theodor Adorno indicated as “precisely the tool of society”, not in terms of narcissistic escape, but of social engagement, even though anything that an artist does could appear self-referential.

Some encounters I had during my artistic career were decisive and formative (as with Yoko Ono and Jon Hendricks, to name just two). However, it was while working in Social Theatre, alongside socially disadvantaged people such as convicts, former drug addicts, prostitutes, and psychiatric patients or differently abled people, that I realized gradually that the urgency to express artistically my concerns, worries, thoughts, fears could have come to life through my own body only, and not through a whatsoever support. This experience significantly determined my approach to arts, focusing more and more on personal conflicts and social responsibilities.

However, as it happened to me previously with painting and sculpture, which I left for a while because they were giving me the sensation of hiding myself behind a curtain—the art work itself-, on stage I could no longer stand to ‘interpret’ my fears and concerns just for the sake of a role to be played repeatedly. To feel and express fully myself and the world around me in the way I see and perceive it, it was not enough to enter into my fears and concerns just to re-enact them: I had to become my own fears and concerns, and find a way – the best way for me - to do just so.

There never was anything strictly intentional that led me to performance art. It was as if I found myself performing, without having fully realized it yet.

The encounter with performance art has been the most natural consequence once I began to take confidence with my own body, to reveal my wounds, and to put myself at risk the way I always felt and needed without actually realizing how to do it properly. It was consequential to abandon gradually the constrictiveness given by theatre roles to play and artistic supports to rely on. I let my spirit to speak through my body only. I allow space for my body, in all directions, lately taking into account the axiom: ‘my body asking your body questions’ (Helena Goldwater). Considering the body in all its meanings -physical, mental, spiritual, etc.-, I came to the conclusion that the body doesn’t need to yield to lies at all to express some truth, be the truth -specifically in performance art- not a simply de facto reality (to say it with Heidegger), but a dynamic act, source of poetic images, never ending, never concluded, ephemeral, non-static, being motion detection.

The seeds of this new approach to art flourished in the early days of my relationship with Verena, and by being together, sharing the same ideas, performance art became for us, the perfect place.

Verena: Many significant distances are made on the spot. When we have the sensation that nothing is happening, it is in these moments that the most significant process arises.

Two episodes of my life are coming back to me now as we’re writing to you, so I suspect that they have something to do with your question. These episodes led me, in some way, to what we are doing now-- decisions taken consequentially in response to a strong sensation of being stuck.

The first one was at the age of 21. I decided to enter a 3-years apprenticeship instead of enrolling at an art academy or university. After one year of free studies of Fine Art, I envisioned myself 10 years ahead. I got startled by the image that appeared: I saw myself as a 'woman artist' - independent, non- ordinary, enigmatic, not outstandingly successful but with that certain parfum de l’autre. I foresaw being stuck both characterially and spiritually or in the worst case, broken by years of physical and emotional excess, distress, appearing to be profound but living on a slippery surface. I couldn’t live in these apparent extremes of these times anymore - the long nights, the parties, this so-called independence, and the so-called freedom. I still went to submit my map for enrolling at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, only because of Beuys, but he is dead. When I entered the main door, the first thing I saw on the wall was an inscription saying something like ”If you study here, you are the elite”. I turned around, raised my heels and left. The same day someone promised a world to me, telling me that if I’d just dressed sexy, my art might have sold very well even by its own. Suddenly this world had lost its colours and shapes. It morphed.

Supposedly I was not yet ready - or ever able - to play it properly. It felt as if I was loosing shape, rather than gaining substance.

My urge was to go back, to recover that discipline that I met with when I had been an athlete - to learn to run again, and fight, stand up, to show myself as responsible towards a task, with a clear mind, vision and process. I needed to un-liberate myself. Free myself from all those supposed 'freedoms'. I needed someone to tell me what to do, every day. So I signed a 3-years apprentice contract at a theatre (backstage). I had a boss, who told me when to come to work and what to do there, who scolded me when I didn’t work well or came too late or left too early. These three years were crucial, as things were clear and tangible. There was no point of fuzzy interpretation - or whether the work was well done, or not. Either you were doing work that satisfied the needs and requirements set in time, or you didn’t. These judgements were based on efficiency and clear, transparent professional codes, not on nebulized or over-theorized ‘maybe’s’ and ‘but’s’. Still, theatre work is a work in an ivory tower, but

I got repulsed from the world of artists and artsy and artism. It appeared to me a deceitful soap bubble and I saw no place for myself in this game.

The handcrafts that we did there had a very clear purpose.

It was necessary for me to fathom and recover the factors of real urgency, purpose and necessity - not just the pleasure - of a task. I required changing result with motivation. We tend to confuse motivation with result: for example, art is not for pleasure. I don’t think having pleasure in making art shall motivate an artist, but pleasure can be one possible result. A task is accomplished out of necessity caused by a purpose. Pleasure, hope, provocation, anything in this realm of sentiments - are variables that form a possible result, but they are not the incentive for making.

For me, this is the purpose for being now, here, where I am after those years. I feel a responsibility towards the path that provided the circumstances. The objective is to do what I have been led to do now with the utmost consciousness, commitment and professionalism. Not just because it’s fun, because most of the times it is not fun, it’s very challenging - physically, mentally and spiritually - and risky. To be in progress, disputed, re-defining everything anew every day and repeatedly questioning existence.

The second moment was more prolonged. It was after some years that I had already worked with Andrea. I always had an autistic tendency in my introvert nature, I am born in the woods, and I’m a lone wolf. To be with more than 5 people at a time is very tiring for me, and requires quiet an amount of concentration and energy from me. I had - and still have - the tendency to search for works and situations that allow me to retire on my own in a secluded space, for days without seeing anybody. Even in a performance I can reach this stage, also in front of hundreds of people. But I understand that this is not an entirely procreative living, as there’s a world inside, and a world inside. I demanded to see where else I could go, out of my old comfort zone. To touch, and be touched, which means to be connected, a sensation in which I profoundly believe and that empowers us all. The recent VestAndPage collaborative people-projects, such as the VENICE INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE ART WEEK (that in two editions gathered over 100 professionals from around the world for one week in one place for one cause), show me how important it is to continuously confront us with others as persons and artists. And performance art, being firstly an art form on human scale, allows and asks all this.


QD: Do you approach your video work differently than your live performances?


Andrea: Our practice is site-responsive and process-led by the context, not staged or rehearsed, but based on spontaneous developments. We don’t produce ‘video performances’, which are individual, stand-alone performances for video. In our performance-based film works, we puzzle together single actions into a new, prolonged context. We assemble them organically to form an autonomous story generated through the process of making. The camera records what a possible witness would view. Yet the films are not at all documentaries. One of the issues we investigate principally is the one of perception.


Verena: A basic difference between the film works and live works is surely the actual perception of duration of an action. In live performances, we privilege extended time, preferably not less than two hours. The process reveals itself for the time passing.

Instead in a film work the process is uncloaked by finding the links between pieces and actions that happened apparently disconnected. A film work is like a worm-whole, where space-time deludes in trivial boundaries. Sequences can be changed, and time shortened or prolonged. There is no continuity, while a live performance is strictly linear, due to physical limitations in time and space.

If live performances are likewise alchemical processes, films are metaphysical attempts. Combining performance art with filmmaking allows us to device an explosive theory of perception. Film can take us one step beyond to make the invisible visible, rendering dimensions that we cannot easily access in the factual realm we’re mainly moving within.


Andrea: Paradoxically, film also enables us to enter deeper into the substance and impact of an action, though it is mediated through two-dimensional, immaterial moving images; but in its non- linear qualities, a film as a whole can probably shift perspectives much more than a live performance could.

Often we talk about this strong alchemic quality of live performances produced by the action ‘lived on the skin’ of the agent/executor (the artist/performer) as well as the audience or any participant. Whilst this direct skin-to-skin/sight-by-sight sensation tends to gets lost in a film work (though not always, i.e. Vito Acconci’s Indirect Approaches, among others), it gets substituted by an over-dimensional quality, which allows us to see the reality with different eyes and to question our perception of it as such.


Verena: We try to reach the same effect also in our performances, activating a climax close to the state of dreaming, exactly for the reasons above. Both techniques question our perception of reality and of our being within reality, and at the same time they offer us the access to an endless field of surprises and possibilities.


QD: Are there current working performance artists that influence your practice?


Andrea: There are several artists that we admire and whose works are burnt into our retina, but I don’t think that to say that ‘they influence our practice’ would be the most appropriate expression.


Verena: I have issues with the word “influence”, too. Ever since, influence and conditioning is something to which I react allergic. To not diminish the fact that other artists and works are very important to me, I’d prefer to say “artists that encourage me”.


Andrea: We follow our own line and define our own style, considering the style as the idea, in a straight Flaubertian sense. As we’re always working in two, we’re already influencing, infecting and contaminating each other continuously. It is as if there’s not much space for other ‘influences’.


Verena: If to speak about ‘influence’ in all its positive and negative connotations of conditioning, as Andrea says, at that point my greatest influence is Andrea, who again is being influenced by me; so in the end we’re auto-influencing one another reciprocally, as two communicating vessels.


Andrea: Maybe call it “inspiration” instead? Philosophy, poetry, art history, ancient rituals and mostly life are my ineluctable sources of inspiration, as my work is also to research. Here the list would be probably endless. As to performance art, I think that an artist is in duty to know as much as possible which artists have preceded him or her in determined actions, gestures or specific uses of material. Declaring these processors openly, paying tribute, respect and even to perpetuate a legacy, is something that does rarely happen. If in our performances I use the glass as a primary material for my own way, it is my duty and intellectual honesty to know and recognize that -before me- Chris Burden and Boris Nieslony, just two among others, have used glass as a performatic material in their specific way and for their specific reasons. If I insert dozens of needles in my face while talking about war, I’m in duty to get back and pay tribute to Linda Montano’s Mitchell’s Death; or to recall Terry Fox’s Defoliation if I set on fire an environment.

These are not re-enactments, rather it is to rely and entrust ourselves on what has already been, to add additional meanings to meanings that have already passed.

We usually appreciate the works of performance artists that can generate reflections that are not encircled in arid declared statements. When we started to conceive the live art exhibition project VENICE INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE ART WEEK, it was for the necessity of establishing a gathering reunion in my hometown, with performance artists whose works we highly estimate, privileging a variety of different styles and expressions that can fit a same concept or core.


Verena: It would actually be interesting to hear if someone sees the influence of someone else on us, so this would rather be a question that I’d pose to our audience or critics... Someone said recently that our film works got him to think of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle. That’s a very honourable compliment of course, and it’s interesting to see that someone might perceive our work to be influenced by him. We don’t rely on the sophisticated technical means that Barney uses, and he is exceptional in applying otherworldly aesthetics. However, the drive to reach the edges of idealisation, for me is too close to artificiality, something that we’re not looking for at all.


Andrea: It is like if anything is destined to remain entrapped into the void of a post-postmodern mortis.


Verena: Probably we are a bit too sensitive to anything that smells of iconography-cult. We are friends of the subtle bodies. We mostly look at masters who work independently, and who indicate how crucial it is to clearly ingrain aesthetics with ethics: Werner Herzog, Ron Fricke, and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

They have taught me a lot about what an artist can be and do. These are artists that encourage me; anytime I feel like stuck into a doubt, when I need inspiration (in the sense of ‘gaining back the spirit’), reading their interviews and texts gets me back on the track.


Andrea: We pay a lot of respect to artists that work outside of cultural schemes, because in this way a work of art can carry a universal notion, so that viewers of any cultural background can access it. It does not merely reflect cultural-specific concerns or aesthetics.


Verena: To finally cite a work of a contemporary performance artist, uncompromised and life changing: Marilyn Arsem’s current long durational process Marking Time is for me a radical and existential proposal that humbles our race to the bones. As she herself describes the piece: “Meditations on time, on what is needed to move forward through time, on moving through one’s life.” I have never seen any other live artist going so deeply and uncompromisingly into the core of the grief and the loss: a long, very long, walk along the burning edges of the triangle of intimacy, nihilism and magic. For instance, in Derek Jarman’s Blue what appears to be a same issue is different, though maybe so close in essence.

<!--[if gte mso 9]> 0 0 1 3067 17485 *** ********** * ******** ** 145 41 20511 14.0 <![endif]--> <!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 14 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE <![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]--> <!--[if gte mso 10]> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Tabella normale"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:EN-US; mso-fareast-language:JA;} <![endif]--> <!--StartFragment--> Who’d I like to give credit here, because I often come back to what they gave and give, and how their being continues to encourage me on my path as an artist and person: Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono, Pina Bausch, Tehching Hsieh and Christoph Schlingensief.<!--EndFragment-->

PERFORMANCE IS ALIVE | Quinn Dukes - A Conversation with performance artist duo VestAndPage (2015)