KO. Fluid practices

(Full text version)

Sergio Patricio

Conference Reflections on Transformation: Shaping the Future, Transcending Disciplinary Silos and Exploring ‘Lived’ Knowledge Systems University of Graz, Austria


Ko = water in Mapundungun (Mapuche language). The reflection revolves around how we divide the waters in time-based media practices in the current context of environmental emergency + war. The analysis begins inspired by the Mapuche people about interconnectedness with rivers and lakes, raising a question about art practices today. Ko’s idea is based on how water flows from the sides (positions, political strategies, visions) and divides territories. How to make performance art sustainable? To answer this question, a capsule is presented around the ecology of time-based media as a fluid art practice. To understand in three steps this observation selected exponents from around the world and Austria helps to make a final selection of three performance artists living and working in Vienna, observed as different currents of one sea with leitmotiv and policy paths. The aim is to use this classification to speculate on how they could improve sustainability in the next decade. Ko speculates on how practices use these territories divided as a sea with currents. Where bodies could achieve the awareness needed especially in terms of water crisis scarcity and safe access. The final thought claims attention to fluid thinking to find solutions and build a sustainable community.

Keywords: Mapuche, fluid practices, performance exponents, water crisis, sustainable performance.

“Ko” is a concept in Mapundungun, Mapuche’s language [1], and it means water.

Mapuche people are natives of the southern regions of Chile and Argentina. They have a rich cultural heritage and a deep connection to their ancestral lands and natural resources, including rivers and lakes. In Mapuche cosmology, water holds significant importance. It is considered a sacred element that sustains life and plays a vital role in their spiritual beliefs and practices. Mapuche people traditionally believe in the spirits of water, known as “Ñamku” or “ñumman” [2] which are guardian spirits associated with lakes, rivers, and other water sources. These spirits are revered and respected, and ceremonies and rituals are often performed to maintain harmony with these natural elements. To gain a more in-depth understanding of their culture, and their relationship with water (Ko), please visit José Bengoa [3], who has written extensively on indigenous issues in Chile. As well as Ana Mariella Bacigalupo [4] anthropologist whose research has focused on Mapuche shamanism and spirituality. Her work delves into the spiritual aspects of Mapuche culture, including their water connection.

Mapuche people historically used natural landmarks such as rivers and lakes to demarcate and define their territories. These natural features served as boundaries that helped determine the extent of their ancestral lands. Rivers, in particular, played a significant role in defining Mapuche territory. They often used the term “butalmapu” to refer to their territory, with “butal” meaning “between” and “mapu” meaning “land” in Mapudungun. So, “butalmapu” [5] signifies the “land in between,” implying the land between two rivers or other natural boundaries. This concept and idea of in-between and deep connection inspired KO as a reflection to attempt a classification of some practices related to body, time and fluid art practices.

On the other hand, water as a metaphor or symbol, can be used to represent divisions or connections among people. Philosophers and thinkers have often used water as a unity symbol, flow, and interconnectedness [6]. Water is constantly in motion, flowing and changing its form (liquid, solid, gas). Humans may draw parallels between the ever-changing nature of water and the impermanence of life or the dynamic nature of reality. [7] Water can also symbolize boundaries or divisions and might be used as a reflection of the human tendency to create divisions and borders.

KO attempts to divide waters in the current context of performance art in Austria, Vienna specifically, especially now in environmental emergencies + war. Where resource scarcity [8], and environmental displacement [9], moulded time in a rough context where divisions and radical positions make art practitioners isolate themselves or collaborate.

To understand briefly the history of time-based media, category: performance art, we have to keep in mind these exponents: Abramovic/Ulay [10], Vito Acconci [11], Bruce Nauman [12] Jochen Gerz [13], Valie Export/Peter Weibel [14] and Sanja Iveković [15], and try to understand the nature of those practices based anytime, anywhere personal experiences and social situations, «no rehearsals», delivered alone in front of the video camera, using the private space is subject to public surveillance, a collective body propagated by the history of images and by the visual media” [16]

To understand what happens today in the Austrian scene it is crucial to take into account the three decades of evolution of performative practices.

The category: last three decades of Austrian performance artists must include Hermann Nitsch [17] controversial and provocative ritualistic and violent actions, a key figure in Viennese Actionism [18]. Valie Export [19] challenged traditional gender roles and explored the female body’s representation. Otto Muehl [20] has intense and often shocking extreme actions. Günter Brus [21], Viennese Actionism founder, pushed the boundaries of the human body’s endurance. Dorit Margreiter; architecture, urban spaces, and the body [22].

In the last two decades, some artists I recognised are; Philipp Gehmacher [23], creates innovative and thought-provoking pieces. Katalin Erdődi [24] with immersive and multidisciplinary artwork about identity and social issues. Michikazu Matsune [25]; challenges cultural norms and explores the boundaries of human expression. Christina Lederhaas [26] tackle topics like identity, gender, and societal norms. Julian Turner [27]; an intersection of technology, politics, and the digital human body. Søren Berner [28] identity, transformation, and rituals with participatory elements.

Therefore, which ones do I pick as a new fresh generation of Austrian performance artists?

Austria, specifically is noticed by a diversity of styles and approaches in performance art, from traditional forms of theatre, dance, visual arts, or experimental practices with historical significance. Viennese Actionism had a profound impact on the development of this art form.

Even if this article proposes a territory divided by water, it is important to switch this idea to a sea with currents because the performance art’s territory itself is fluid. Whatever, my three picked artists in Vienna are:

The duo Dorian Bonelli & Frederik Marroquin, Bonelli “experiments with transformation, shapeshifting, blank space and communication processes, he said, considering, his transsexuality a messenger job between the genders” [29] Marroquin explains “The transition between everyday life and artistic exploration is fluid and I use the resistance as a material on an equal footing with objects and drawings” [30].

Barbis Ruder The philosopher Lona Gaikis points out the connection between subject and economy based on Barbis Ruder’s work, The artist’s starting material is her body, which she repeatedly places in the field of tension between emancipation and capitalism”[31]

The duo Larissa Kopp [32] & Florian Aschka [33] Elisabeth Priedl says: “Queering the KHM means taking a different, diverse, above all non-heteronormative look at the artworks in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. It means questioning a traditional order and the ‘operating system’ of art, including the people involved."

The selection criteria were creating a sub-category “action art” where many other artists could not fit into that classification box. Anyways, I recommend visiting the art practice’s outcomes from Doris Uhlich [34], Sunny Pfalzer [35] and Lau Lukkarila & Luca Bonamore [36] from a dance current.

Time-based media art; category performance art, Sub-category; action art. Defines what fluid practice is detected on the three artists picked (5 total individuals), The seawater was divided into three currents; leitmotivs that I observed as a path:

Concrete path, the politics of actions as a leitmotiv: Where actions are more abstract, mining sense into the concepts. Narratives left behind to empower concrete physical demand. This fluid sea current corresponds to Bonnelli & Marroquin.

Endorsements of discourse, the politics of affection as a leitmotiv: where diplomacy, economy and laws affect the narratives of actions and their presentation. This fluid sea current sea corresponds to Ruder.

Cause/effect path, the politics of messages as a leitmotiv: Where the effect that produces the actions is the axis, instead of the physical material. Compositions directed to make an effect on the audience. This fluid sea current corresponds to Kopp & Aschka

Firgure 1: Posibles leitmotiv’s path

The artists were also selected by the criteria of sustainable artists in terms of using recycled materials, producing their art in the community and pushing borders about sharing resources. The three of them are a good example of how possible is to make sustainable performance art nowadays and for the next decade.

How to make performance art sustainable even better?

Sustainability in performance art can refer to both environmental sustainability and the sustainability of the artist’s practice itself. Reduce the carbon footprint of your performances by using public transportation or carpooling instead of personal vehicles when travelling to venues or events. Choose performance venues that prioritize energy efficiency and sustainability. Use energy-efficient lighting and sound equipment. Instead of printing promotional materials, use digital platforms for marketing and documentation. Collaborate with organizations or venues that have a commitment to sustainability and incorporate eco-friendly practices into their events. From my perspective, is to build a supportive network within the performance art community. Collaborating with other artists, sharing resources, and community support can be essential for long-term sustainability.

A general characteristic is the collaborative spirit often leads to interdisciplinary and boundary-pushing performances. This spirit of collaboration made the associates explore societal issues such as identity, gender, politics, and cultural norms in their work. They often use their performances as a platform to comment on and critique contemporary issues. A tradition of transgressive and provocative performance art has been since Viennese Actionism.

How to observe a possible application of a long-term sustainability solution to the water crisis?

The water crisis is a pressing global issue, and movement-based art can be a powerful medium for raising awareness and inspiring action. Water Crisis is about how one of the most expensive elements on earth is getting into a problem, related to territories, distribution of wealth policies and climate change. Water scarcity is often exacerbated by unequal distribution. Some regions have an abundance of freshwater resources, while others face severe water shortages. This imbalance can lead to conflicts over water rights and exacerbate social and economic disparities. Climate change plays a significant role in the water crisis. It alters precipitation patterns, leading to more frequent and severe droughts in some areas, while causing intense rainfall and flooding in others. According to the World Health Organization, around 2.2 billion [37] people lack access to safely managed drinking water services.

So then, in my opinion, movement-based media art practices, are the first bodies to connect with the environment, The first process of individuation is the process of eating, sleep, fatigue energy, body fluids and sexual changes as you age. but one of the things that are not recorded by books of inscriptions in texts or languages is the structures of movements. Rituals, ceremonies, and traditional dances have been an integral part of many societies for centuries, serving as a means of storytelling, preserving cultural heritage, and strengthening community bonds. Artists can use movement as a medium to raise awareness, provoke dialogue, and advocate for change.

When it comes to the water crisis and movement-based art, one possible connection could be the creation of performances or installations that explore themes of water, scarcity, and conservation. Such artistic endeavours can engage audiences on an emotional level, encouraging them to reflect on the importance of water and their role in addressing the crisis. Additionally, collaborations between artists and environmental organizations can further amplify the message to other artists, cultural facilitators and institutions.

How movement-based practitioners can address the water crisis or any other environmental issues?

There is a deep connection between the fluidity of water and the fluidity of the human body in movement-based art. The concept of the body as fluid, adaptable, and expressive resonates with the essence of the movement itself. That is why performance art and action art usually return to the body, it would help to translate and transfer a fluid movement of awareness about these issues.

Movement-based art emphasizes the embodied experience of the performer and the audience. Just as water flows and adapts to its surroundings, the human body can explore a range of fluid and dynamic movements. This fluidity allows artists to express emotions, ideas, and narratives through their physicality, and half agree with Slepian and Ambady that “Bodily movement can influence cognitive processing, with fluid movement leading to fluid thinking” [38] Half because that body and thinking are separated? If they are not fluid, what else can be more than a “super machine” like human bodies bombing and sweating 24/7?

The an urgent need for sustainable water management practices, international cooperation, and long-term solutions to address the growing challenges related to water resources in a changing world. It’s essential to note that the situation can change rapidly, and the intersection of environmental emergencies and wars presents complex challenges for governments, organizations, and communities worldwide. International cooperation and sustainable practices are increasingly crucial to address these interconnected crises and work toward a more stable and sustainable future.


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List of pictures:

  1. Mapuche. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pueblo_mapuche 2.Abramovic/Ulay: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/mar/02/a-pioneer-and-provocateur-p erformance-artist-ulay-dies-aged-76
  2. Vito Acconci: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283737
  3. Bruce Nauman: https://farticulate.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/115589.jpg
  4. Jochen Gerz: http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/2146-steine/images/3/
  5. Valie Export/Peter Weibel: https://www.mumok.at/en/blog/appetizer-valie-export-en 16. Sanja Iveković: https://awarewomenartists.com/en/artiste/sanja-ivekovic/ 17.Freiling: https://zkm.de/de/publikation/medien-kunst-netz-media-art-net-0
  6. Hermann Nitsch: https://www.nitsch.org/en/aktionen
  7. Vienna Actionism: https://www.mumok.at/en/vienna-actionism
  8. VALIE EXPORT: https://awarewomenartists.com/en/magazine/valie-export-image-espace-corps/
  9. Otto Muehl: https://www.estateottomuehl.com/
  10. Günter Brus: https://www.artnet.com/artists/g%C3%BCnter-brus/strangulation-action-for-the-film-of -the-same-a-BXax6Nf1_YoLG10DazkD4Q2
  11. Dorit Margreiter : http://www.doritmargreiter.net/projects/shorthills.html
  12. KATALIN ERDŐDI https://kajetjournal.com/2021/09/22/erdodi-what-leaps-out-of-history/
  13. Michikazu Matsune: https://www.michikazumatsune.info/works/peepingm.htm
  14. Christina Lederhaas: https://clederhaas.wordpress.com/about/
  15. Julian Turner https://julianturner.org/bruxellisation
  16. Søren Berner: http://www.sorenberner.com/portfolio.pdf
  17. Dorian Bonelli: http://www.dorianbonelli.at/en/
  18. Frederik Marroquín: https://www.marroquin.es/projects/deu/bpit365d.html
  19. Barbis Ruder: https://barbisruder.com/pitch-control/
  20. Larissa Kopp: https://www.larissakopp.com/uploads/3/0/4/8/30489350/portfolio_neu_mai_2015.pdf
  21. Florian Aschka: http://florianaschka.com/portfolio
  22. Firgure 1: Possibles leitmotiv’s path.