What is performance? What happens when we document it? How is the most accessible art form also the most exclusive? In this panel, we speak to Thiasos Collective (comprised of Elena Lo Presti, EG1, Stella Kajombo, Isa Bascuñana, Dora Miyaki Everington, Ezgi Kaya and Maddison Collymore), Chantay James and Rhian Lloyd about the highly contested 'rules' of performance, and how we might reimagine the way it operates.
LISTEN TO THE AUDIO TRANSCRIPT OF THIASOS' INTERVIEW HERE: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_ldEo3Sihk0jwL0MbYnsr3johfnnYPxH/view?usp=sharing
Thiasos Collective - '100 Brushes'
MN: Could you tell us a little about yourself and your practice?
RL: I use drawing, film, performance, costume, writing and other forms of making to tell stories.
TC: Thiasos is a collective of seven artists that met during our Bachelor degree in Fine Art at the Arts University Bournemouth. We began to work and create collaboratively, exploring themes around intersectionality, intimacy and mutual care. Our individual interests in performance art came together and we took influence from one another’s performative styles to develop Thiasos. The conversations that we share and the flow of energy based on personal connections are translated through our art with works centered around rituals, simple movements, sonic art and sisterhood.
Our name “Thiasos” comes from ancient Greek: a θίασος (thíasos) was a group of women usually devoted to the god Dionysus. A very famous thiasos was Sappho’s: her thiasos was a teaching-based community on the island of Lesbos, and provided education on the arts and on affectivity to womxn. Using this name in modern times comes with an understanding of what these communities really were in the past: the sole only-women space for learning and growing outside of a patriarchal society. Like Sappho’s thiasos, our collective’s main goal is to share, research and grow together both personally and artistically; creating a space where it does not exist and taking full advantage of it.
CJ: I am Chantay James, a creative post graduate Fine artist from London / Essex. I am passionate about starting important conversations within my work in order to express shared and individual experiences, due to overlooked intersections within the art industry and society.
My work in particular includes a process of digital art, photography and performance, which blurs the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation, as well as the critical portrayal of women, whilst addressing the lack of black female acknowledgment within western art. Ultimately, my work places the black woman in art history - where she would usually be absent.
I do this through a development process, as mentioned above, starting with performance, photography and digital art which eventually progresses into large scale paper and/or acetate prints, presented either 'traditionally' or as an installation.
I also enjoy working with people. It builds confidence, allows for personal growth, networking and genuine friendships to form. It is important for me to use others in my work to demonstrate inclusivity, reiterating this shared feeling of absence. It is also interesting how my very own absence from the work speaks volumes.
From 'Revelation' - Chantay James
MN: Marina Abramović famously said:
‘To be a performance artist, you have to hate theatre. Theatre is fake… you sit in the dark and see somebody playing somebody else’s life. The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite…it’s about true reality’
To what extent do you consider performance to be a reflection of your ‘true reality’? How do you define performance? Does it benefit from definition?
CJ: I feel as though the performance stage within my work reflects a sense of true reality which is not only mine to own. It reflects the absence of women like me. It can also be felt by many who have experienced any sense of rejection or neglect.
Yes, it does also include me within that reality and in some ways replicates my position in being an artist in the 21st century. But I feel by allowing other models to embody and recreate these moments in history reiterates a shared reality between us all - creating a new one. My work generally uses this ‘new reality’ within its depictions, as a form of empowerment. In other words, the performance created in fact displays a false reality from a factual one, in turn, helping it prove a real one.
Moreover, I feel the outlook on how people outline the reality of performance art is based on how they individually define it – that’s if it needs defining. I see performance as a whole, being the art of telling a story through embodiment. Regardless of how stagnant the performer is, it is the ‘intention’ to specifically appear immobile that makes it a performance. This defines my work fully, as I could incorporate movement into the poses through transitions, yet actively decide to capture the subject’s performance as a moment in time. Sometimes, by defining performance art, the act of an individual experiencing the work instinctively is taken away, resulting in expectation.
I prefer to think of my work as incorporating performance in a less traditional way. It challenges how performance intersects with photography, digital work and fine art itself.
TC: We were all friends before we formed the collective, and because of those conversations and the shared space of Feminist Society our collaborative practice inevitably evolved to reflect our reality and friendship. We are in constant conversation about intersectionality and what it means to be a womxn, reflecting on our shared and personal knowledge that stem from varying life experiences and cultures. We are a sisterhood and this is the basis of our practice.
When we approach performance as a visual media there is an element of theatricality involved, for example in our costumes. We don’t necessarily agree with what Marina Abramović defines as performance art: in any form of performative arts (whether it’s in theatre, in front of a camera or a fine art performance), the performer is playing a heightened version in order to perform, and they propose a somewhat overt personification of human interactions and emotions.This is a natural part of performance, when putting oneself in front of an audience of people.There is a complex relationship between performance art and theatre and though they are somewhat separate there will always be commonalities between the two. For Thiasos what is most important is the connection and intimacy, safe space and sisterhood, we want this to be translated and felt within our audience members too. While Marina’s quote is giving a generalised and universal definition to what performance has to be, we don’t think that her definition benefits our current practice. Performance art can embody both a reality or an act, it is boundaryless and we wish to keep looking inside ourselves to see what can be communicated within our collective and then to our audience.
RL: Though I find it an interesting sentiment, and may be true of Abramovic’s work, I think all performance is a kind of theatre, so I suppose I disagree with her on that. The gladiators in the Roman arena were performing, whether or not blood was spilt. In some ways I think that the bodily reality does not detract from the relationship between audience and performer and the dynamic that this creates. This is obviously no bad thing - performance can help to show the ways that we all act for each other all the time. I’m not sure I can begin to define performance! I’ll get back to you in maybe 20 years, when I hope to be more wise.
I feel as though the performance stage within my work reflects a sense of true reality which is not only mine to own. It reflects the absence of women like me. By allowing other models to embody and recreate these moments in history reiterates a shared reality between us all. In other words, the performance created in fact displays a false reality from a factual one, in turn, helping it prove a real one.
Costume by Rhian Lloyd
MN: In Live Art UK's ‘In Time’, Richard Kingdom argues that ‘rather than a commercial transaction with a dealer, the artist [engages] in a direct, non-financial exchange with an audience.’ Is direct, tangible engagement with or awareness of an audience essential for your performance practice? If so – how has the closure of public spaces during lockdown affected this aspect of your work?
CJ: Having direct awareness and a tangible engagement with an audience is not essential for my performance practice. Particularly as the performance element is only one part of the entire process. Honestly, I see the processes that bind my work together also as a form of performance.
I do not feel this is essential in my work as the engagement stems from the subject’s relationship with embodying and reclaiming, rather than an exchange with a physical audience. I would not, however, rule out having an audience present for this part of my work as experimentation. It would be interesting to observe the impact and change it creates.
However, the closure of public spaces has limited access to renting studios, meaning I have had to utilise areas within my house where the performance can take place. This has definitely expanded my creativity, but consequently the images taken remain strictly for the purpose of the pose being developed - rather than the performance images being solely utilised, due to the background space not being in a clear open space.
RL: The financial aspect to performance - or lack thereof - is part of what draws me to it - it is quite separate from the art trade which seems to value certain objects as being sacred. I do a lot of video at the moment and very little live performance, so I haven’t been affected by the loss of performance spaces in the way that many people have been. Although video is more sellable and not as direct, the distribution of video can mean that people can ‘have’ it wherever they are, which is direct engagement of a sort. Though personally I do not frequently perform in front of a live audience, I mourn the current loss of public spaces, on behalf of those who do, and selfishly, because I miss experiencing others performing live.
TC: Engagement with the audience is definitely key to our performance work: when we started, this was embedded in the way we approached any new project. For example, our work ‘100 Brushes’ (2019) was performed for our degree show. The work consisted of six Thiasos members dressed in white, six hairbrushes with contact mics attached and two speakers to amplify the sound of hairbrushing. We sat in a circle on the floor of the large open space and brushed one another's hair ritualistically 100 times, whilst whispering to ourselves our count. The foundation of the work was to have a calm, collective, almost meditative mood amongst our members throughout the performance. The live act was essential to create a mood that communicated a feeling of intimacy within us and with our audience, expressing the importance of communal care and contact between people.
It would be challenging for Thiasos to intimately connect with audience members through more digital platforms when we are so bound to ideas of physical kindness and care, a concept that becomes a direct interaction with the audience through notion, action and sound. The idea of working with a smaller audience is appealing to us to better form spaces for nurture. Rules for social distancing, face coverings and cleanliness will provide a parameter for our collective to work with, bringing new and interesting ideas we wouldn’t have worked with prior to Coronavirus. We are enthusiastic about the accessibility of online spaces and will be developing performances that are accessible to the widest possible audience both in the physical space and shared online. We believe it important that all members of society are able to access art and we hope that other performance artists begin to bring this awareness into their live works too. Everyone should be aiming to open up a culture of care and awareness for others.
MN: To what extent do you understand performance to be an act of collaboration?
TC: To us, performance is innately collaborative. In terms of collaboration between the performer and the audience, we acknowledge that there must always be some cooperation between the two parties in order for the performance to not only be presented but accepted and received. In our practice as Thiasos, collaboration has been intrinsic to the work that we build together. Our performances develop their meaning around our communal gestures and research: while the final performance outcome is, in itself, a shared act, it is the process that brings us there that makes it an act of collaboration. There is an agreement to let our ideas adapt and shape to fit the others, which allows collaboration to go from our movements, bodies and space(s), to our mindsets, exchanges and lastly, our performative result. Ultimately, we hope for that connection to show within our performances.
RL: It can be, but I’m hesitant to say that it always is because performance can be very self-centred and insular at times. There are always other people involved in some way, I have found - people who help you carry things, or help you hire spaces, or tell you why your SD card isn’t working. In performance you are often more reliant on the kindness of others than
some other ways of working, so whilst performance can be a collaboration between audience and performer or multiple performers, it is also a collaboration between the performer and the world.
CJ: A vast amount of my work is done through collaboration, which I feel can also be interpreted as an element of performance due to the constant interactions between me and the model during the making of the work. Although it does not include a live audience to observe and directly connect with, effectively the model and I, as the artist, collaborate and engage on a personal level, resulting in capturing specific moments with emotion, energy and interpretation brought by the subject with my guidance.
I see performance as being an act of collaboration to a great extent, whether performed directly in front of an audience, alone, with a model, or as documentation. Irrespectively, there is still an ‘audience’ present and these acts are for the purpose of engagement towards this audience when presented - both direct and indirect.
There also seems to be a continuous element of collaboration, as the work performed by the individual proceeds on how the artist considers the audiences' perception.
I suppose it is a question of whether creating pieces with intention of understanding and the influences of the audience’s perception can mean there is a form of collaboration present? Can the camera be the audience? I believe so.
Becoming Hildegarde - Rhian Lloyd
Art has at times created boundaries between people through its lack of access, whether that is through geographical location, gallery ownership, monetary values or even its context. Thiasos believes that in order to expand owned understandings of art and art spaces we have to step out of what we know. In order to de-elitise the art spaces given to us, we must first dismantle our understanding of where art belongs and who it belongs to and learn to adapt and create movable art. We see performance art as an incredible tool in doing this.
MN: Thiasos – you met and formed at university, but now live all over the world. How do you negotiate your collaborative performance practice with this distance/in a digital space?
TC: Thiasos turned to digital spaces at the same time as the “rest of the world” and due to the pandemic we are now based internationally. Recently, we have made our Instagram page public; before the page had been a method of communication between our group and a place to archive our work personally. Now we are able to create more awareness of our collective by sharing our performances, as well as our current thinking to engage with other artists. Our social media has become a way of showing what Thiasos is about. While we have discovered new ways of working, accessing and sharing art we also consider it important to acknowledge that there are artists who were operating digitally before lockdown, artists whose lack of access to physical spaces meant working creatively online.
During lockdown we found new collaborative ways to come together, including developing a workshop that would operate with our geographical distance: following the popular game of Exquisite Corpses, in the form of writing we produced six collaborative texts. We found that this story writing methodology worked well with the impossibility of meeting physically, whilst other methods of communication we’ve adopted include using online mind-mapping and experimentation with sound. The invaluable time has provided us a chance to redefine our aims, by revisiting our manifesto and focusing on what Thiasos is to us - devoting time to deeply understand our collective in a period of reflection.
MN: In the age of social media, documentation of performance art has become more accessible than ever before, both for artists and their audience. Documentation has long been a highly contentious aspect of performance – some see it as enhancing the accessibility of a work, some as the creation of a new, distinct piece, while others, such as Tino Sehgal, understand it as ingenuine to the traditional ephemerality of the form, and problematic to its long-term preservation. How do you understand documentation? Do you feel it destabilises or enhances your work – or both, simultaneously?
RL: It’s a big question! It certainly completely changes a work to document it. Personally, documenting my work has become unavoidable due to the way that examination is conducted in arts education, and I greatly admire artists, particularly students, who are able to avoid documentation. At the same time, however, it is a great privilege to be able to spend time making things which have absolutely no potential for distribution or financial gain, and it isn’t something that everyone is able to do. I do think of documentation as creating a new piece - there are many performances that I know of only through written descriptions, which is fascinating to me, and in my own work it is something I try to approach in a considered manner rather than defaulting to documenting everything in the same way.
TC: Having performed “100 Brushes” at The Truman Brewery, we then scheduled and performed it multiple times, once mainly for documentation purposes. Looking back, we found there was a difficult balance in maintaining the authenticity of the work whilst having it understood by our members; repeating the performance transformed the act, making it lose some of its original genuinity. While it destabilised our perception of the performance, at the same time that documentation process has helped us to present ourselves and our projects to a wider audience. Documentation is valuable as a resource of reflection, allowing us to observe and be critical of our performances, moving us forward to more progressive and thought-out works.
Instagram Live, for example, is a resource that allows us to record and share live, keeping some of the ephemerality related to the specific moment the work is performed at. In a version of “100 Bruses”, it enhanced our work because it gave us visibility outside of our geographic position and this live function could be a tool for making our future performances accessible whilst still authentic. Documentation has enabled us to share and understand our explored concepts, aesthetic and performative style and we will continue to use it, but as an addition to our artworks.
CJ: Documentation is vital for my work's development and process. It plays a constitutive role, due to the intention of using specific poses which are truly staged expressively for the camera itself.
I do not feel that documentation of performance is ingenuine or destabilises my work personally - it in fact enhances it greatly. It allows for another form of performance to occur - that being the process. The process can be interpreted as a performance as it includes development, engagement and actions from its audience – the camera, me as the artist and the model who embodies each pose through transition. Using this element of documentation as performance seems to reiterate the interdisciplinary context behind my work when bringing contemporary and traditional modes of representation together.
Using ‘creation of a new’ to describe documentation being an aspect of performance similarly relates to how I perceive this part of my practice. It looks at the corresponding branches of both "digital" art and performance art, and thus how they interlink through perception, history and tradition.
From 'Revelation' - Chantay James
MN: What role does space play in performance? How does a context change the work?
CJ: I believe that the role of space in performance can set the dynamic of the entire piece.
When I observe how space has an impact within my work, it is clear that it asserts itself in several ways. Specifically, when using ‘physical’ space within the installation room or studio to shoot my models, a blank room is necessary. Metaphorically, it fills this empty space like a blank canvas. This form of space plays around with the physical aspect where the performance begins and ends. A physical timeline even.
Furthermore, watching this performance intersect this once territorial period of space – historical western art, I recognise ‘Space’ now being defined in terms of context, through historical and contemporary stages. Transmitting centuries, re-establishing history and challenging modernity. This contextual outlook on space within my work can also be interpreted through its use of mediums and how digital manipulation interacts with traditional painting and representations. By breaking down these elements it is clear to see how they contribute to the impact of the elements before and after them.
RL: I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently due to social distancing measures, not just in regards to performance but also sculpture, live music and readings, lectures et cetera. I am very wary of the limitations of space, and how experiencing events mediated through a screen, sitting in the same location you might work and sleep in, can hinder an experience.
I’m particularly interested in performances that leave the gallery or studio space - Gillian Wearing’s Dancing in Peckham (1994), to choose a rather obvious example, is as much about the shopping centre and the people within it as it is about Wearing - their looks and comments, and the incongruousness of the situation. The same performance would be so
different in any other location. Space and performance are so closely tied that they often become one thing. This happens with performances that exist in a digital space, too.
TC: Performance as a medium is characterised by its space and situation, and the performer embodies the space that it exists within, fundamentally responding to it much like a perfect puzzle (or a puzzle that does not fit according to intention). A big, empty hall can be thought provoking because of that emptiness, and a complex amusement park is multifaceted, offering something unique and fun. We believe space to be a crucial component in performance art, and that a performance needs to be first considered by identifying the characteristics that space inhabits.
As an example and insight into our collective practice: in February this year we were working to develop a performance set to be exhibited in May, responding to a specific space: unfortunately this was disrupted by Covid19. This project was going to be a collaboration between Thiasos and various artists brought together by the curator Kevin Bellò, who offered his home as a site for artists to respond to. The space was a functional home room and it was interesting to make a project specifically relating to its environment, especially that environment being someone else’s domestic space.
We chose to focus on the theme of “home” and what that meant to each of us, rather than looking at the structure of the house or who it belonged to. The notion of “intimacy" has become important to Thiasos for its idea of safety, sharedness and for its sense of belonging. In order to represent intimacy within the characteristics of the space we spent a night at the house, studying it in reaction to the performance. Despite our inability to make the final performance happen, it was an interesting experience to discover how selecting a space can influence ideas of spatial awareness, audience participation and choreography.
Performance art is sometimes considered the domain of people who ‘know about art’, and it’s important to consider this when making work. Performance art is quite unique in this way because it doesn’t necessarily require any money or resources, and it doesn’t have the weight of history behind it in the same way as painting does, for example. I’m still a little conflicted about this myself - performance art is by nature characterised by both accessibility and elitism.
Thiasos Collective - 100 Brushes
MN: All of you are multidisciplinary artists. How does performance intersect with your other practices?
CJ: It is the foundation of my work. The starting point which determines the next stages of its process. The documentation of performance through photography plays a joint significant role, as photography captures each pose in time, allowing me to develop them into digital art pieces by incorporating renaissance aesthetics through photoshop, as one of the main softwares. Without this stage the work may simply lose its context.
Yes, each stage of my work acts as a piece on its own. But it is together where the final outcome truly excels and is understood.
As the artist, I believe it is important for my work to reflect what is important to me, especially in non-traditional ways, where the audience get to unravel each layer and create their own interpretations. Multidisciplinary work helps me to do so, bringing all stages together, carrying the performance throughout.
RL: I’m still not entirely sure! There is this pressure to turn yourself into a brand, and I try not to give in to the parts of me that want everything to fit into some kind of marketable, coherent whole. Sometimes I find links afterwards or, for example, I will draw a hat in a drawing that then becomes something that I could make into a costume for a video. They
intersect very loosely, really, but in my head it all links together in some vague way.
TC: Below are snippets from each of our members currently active in our collective. As a mode of care and nurture we like to allow members space and time away from the critically engaged debate, active creativity and workload when needed. This allows us to maintain a healthy creative space. Find below our individual responses on how performance and Thiasos intersects with our multidisciplinary practices:
Isa: Despite the variety of forms that my p introduced me to performance art. Therefore, it has been through our work together that I have been able to experiment with it freely. Although lately I have been devoting my time to develop my work as a writer and curator, the collective constitutes a steady way to keep me in contact with the more practical sides of my work.
Maddy: Throughout my degree performance was a medium I often used, occasionally combining it with sonic discoveries. Thiasos allows me to continue performance and I enjoy the cultivated space for sharing and play. Nowadays, I am interested in concepts of community, care, access and inclusion, as well as facilitating nature for myself and for others within a fine art context. Thiasos is a space for us to bring a current interest or fascination, which continually influences me, my politics and my art.
Elena: I work as a multidisciplinary artist with a focus on ceramics and writing. When working with Thiasos, the realisation of projects is balanced between discoveries and compromises: this duality introduced me to new elements now vital to my practice. Thiasos has also embedded performance and sonic art into my installations. Working with people from different experiences than my own has enriched my artistic concepts: I have found new depths in my production, with thanks to this space we have created for ourselves and for others.
EG1: I use feminism in my work as a tool for responding to issues and conventional stereotypes that I see happening in Korean society. I don’t expose my existence as a woman, as an individual in my work: rather I see my perspective, my viewpoint, as my subject. Thiasos pursues a feminism that is different to my personal practice, it is a more current way of thinking: we share ideas and make our relationship into performance art.
Stella: My practice is tied to narratives of postcolonial implications on the black identity within race, gender or class: I attempt to draw out an understanding of the “self” within the western social and institutional backdrop. I do try to actively give voice to black identities, hence why I have in the past featured in my own performances. Performance for me has been intrinsic in visualising identity and enabled the storytelling of pivotal and complex historical moments. Thiasos has taught me to embrace free and live moments within performance, expanding my understanding through the connection of an incredible and global network of womxn whilst also enabling me to share my experiences in an open and inclusory space.
Rhian Lloyd - Soil 2040
MN: Rhian – as a video artist, as well as a performance artist, you habitually document your performances (for example, ‘Becoming Hildegarde’) – how does performance impact the video editing process? Do you understand other video works you have made (for example, ‘The Selector’; ‘Soil 2040’) as performance?
RL: They are performance of a sort, though when any kind of documentation is brought in it becomes part of the piece - when I make film pieces they tend to be heavily edited in a way that makes the artifice of the editing very apparent, not least because I often attempt to include Premiere Pro features that I haven’t learnt to use. When I am using media to document a durational performance I tend to lean towards more seamless, ‘naturalistic’ editing, though perhaps I need to interrogate why this is. I suppose the difference is that in videos such as ‘The Selector’ and ‘Soil 2040’ I was working with pictorial space from the beginning: in the latter, for instance, I filmed the whole thing in a green corridor (in lieu of a green screen). It wasn’t about documenting what was there but constructing a certain image on screen, and the ‘performance’ is more in the editing than it is about the physical action, which is just a means to an end. It’s as much of a performance as the process of drawing is to the end product, I suppose.
MN: Chantay – in your project ‘Revelation’, you engage with performance in the sense that your models adopt, co-habit and repurpose historical artistic spaces through their poses. By documenting this performance through photography and digital art, appropriating the visuals and aesthetics of the Renaissance era, this dialogue between the contemporary and the historical becomes even more textured. Can the transhistorical dialogues that take place in your process outside of the shooting stage also be understood as performance?
CJ: I believe it can - I understand performance as a means of becoming, reliving, living and essentially telling a story. Honestly, by placing these models within these periods and allowing them to fully embody these poses, they act as performances through a transitional process. Yet the transhistorical dialogues in terms of editing, that occur outside of the shooting stage, could also be understood as performance to a certain extent. Naturally, the performance does not end until the piece itself is finalised. As mentioned above, when looking at the studio shots as blank canvases being ‘painted’ (digitally edited) into this historical renaissance aesthetic, this process acts as performance through transformation.
Essentially the model is still adopting these spaces. Only when she is fully evolved does the performance end.
On the other hand, i see these transhistorical dialogues that take place in terms of direct conversation as separate from the performance. It is how the model utilises our conversations, her understanding to the project and personal beliefs which makes the performance.
MN: Sibylle Peters and the Theatre of Research’s PLAYING UP is an artwork that is presented in the form of a game to be played by children and adults, with the intention of exploring how Live Art might encourage connectivity across generations. Accessibility for the work was increased over lockdown when LADA shared some of the instruction cards from PLAYING UP to their Instagram. How might performance be used to de-elitise the art world and bring people together in ways that other mediums/spaces may not? What challenges does it face?
RL: People are very wary about performance. I think one reason might be that we are still so frightened by people behaving in ways that we don’t understand. It’s a threat to the order of things, which is why projects like PLAYING UP are so important. They give adults and children a license to involve themselves in a use of their bodies that goes beyond our idea of movement as being as functional as possible. We limit ourselves in this way. Of course performance art can be alienating - it is sometimes considered the domain of people who ‘know about art’, and it’s important to consider this when making work. Involving children in performance art projects is one way to make people feel as though it is for them, and not
just for a very middle class, white art establishment. Performance art is quite unique in this way because it doesn’t necessarily require any money or resources, and it doesn’t have the weight of history behind it in the same way as painting does, for example. I’m still a little conflicted about this myself - performance art is by nature characterised by both accessibility and elitism.
TC: The artwork PLAYING UP positively showcases that art truly is for everyone and so it should be. What Peters and the Theatre of Research have done well, is to flatten the hierarchies that art worlds have developed for hundreds of years. They have fundamentally gone back to art in its basic form which is: the process of connecting and communicating with one another.
Art has at times created boundaries between people through its lack of access, whether that is through geographical location, gallery ownership, monetary values or even its context. Gallery spaces have been important in contextualising artists' work, but unless you are an art student or a person that is interested in art, access to a gallery may not even be an option for most people. Thiasos believes that in order to expand owned understandings of art and art spaces we have to step out of what we know. We see performance art as an incredible tool in doing this.
“Participatory performance is incredibly important to us as it allows the openness between the artwork and the viewer to enable understanding in a way that is beyond looking, and to connect with different people. Just to share a personal example, growing up in Malawi I went to a state school where I remember the school would bring in external performers who used satire, comedy, and music to discuss political and social issues such as health or how young people could protect themselves if they were sexually active. These conversations are incredibly difficult for African parents to have with their children, particularly where they may not even expect them to be sexually active or if it’s at times taboo. However, these performances embedded theatre so that it would enable adults to ‘talk’ to the youth about sexual health and various other issues. This is exactly how performance art can be a tool for change and enable connections between different groups.” - Stella Kajombo, 2020
To finally answer your question, in order to de-elitise the art spaces given to us, we must first dismantle our understanding of where art belongs and who it belongs to and learn to adapt and create movable art. We must acknowledge one another when operating within new spaces to respect those that were there before us in order to break down societal boundaries between age, gender, disability, class and even distance. And although there may be various challenges in creating work that is fully accessible, it takes these first steps in order to move towards accessible art for all.
MN: What do you see in the future of performance?
CJ: I honestly see the future of performance including an immense mixture of traditional and contemporary aspects. Creatives are really pushing the boundaries in terms of how art can be viewed in general, let alone in terms of performance. By this I mean the use of technology is ever growing at a fast rate, exceeding limitations of virtual reality.
I think performance is going to be perceived as something other than strictly performing in front of a live audience because of this. Hopefully, making it more ‘acceptable’ to those who cherish the physical interaction and engagement live in the artists presence. This may generate different conversations, understandings and an education on what performance means to different individuals and artists. I believe that it is important for Performance Art to be looked at as interpretations, rather than what is acceptable to society. Essentially it is down to intention, interpretation and interaction. Whether towards an audience or camera, with others or alone.
RL: I doubt I am qualified to say, but I am excited to see the boundaries of performance being stretched even further, which I think is inevitable in this very unusual part of history we find ourselves in. I hope performance will continue to be used to question power structures and injustice, as well as providing a way to decode the strangeness of being. I am very lucky to know people making brilliant, thoughtful work, and I cannot wait to see what they do next.
TC: Referring to our response in question two, about ‘the performer playing a heightened version of themselves’: we imagine daily life to be reflected in the future of performance art with changes in speech and communication, bodily movements, social interactions, and disguised facial expressions.These components will take effect on performance art.
Live performance has the ability to bring atmosphere and mood to fill an entire space, which is quite incomparable to viewing a work through a screen, meaning we must adapt to the new circumstances. It is important to mention that, before a performance happens, there is communication. Changing our way of communicating will be essential to our upcoming projects. In the future of performance we see a new way of talking, between us and with our audience. What we mean with a new way of talking is respecting and acknowledging each other’s distance, schedules, time differences. Adapting performance to these needs will involve utilising other media, digital spaces, physical distance. All of the mixed media work we are developing now, has the potential to become performative if and when we are able to next come together. We look forward to reconvening as a group to produce our next intimate and safe womxn space, between Thiasos.