Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Europe’s well-known festival for experimental and performing arts is taking place in May every year in Brussels. The festival lasts for 3 weeks and is a huge implant of creativity, innovation and risk. This year the festival celebrated its 18th edition with a focus on language and public debate. Therefore, a lot of social-political debate and implication, and a program that included film, lecture performance, contemporary dance and performance art. For access to the festival’s database and archive click here
Sanja Mitrovic’s performance Speak is designed as a speech contest between the artist and fellow performer Geert Vaes. Famous speeches are reenacted by the performers with the purpose of reinterpreting the text and the meaning of the discourse without taking into consideration the original context.
World-known speeches are opposed, some examples include Barak Obama’s A New Beginning, Egypt June 4, 2009; Martin Luther King, Jr. Beyond Vietnam, NY, April 4, 1967; Adolf Hitler, Speech on Foreign Policy, Reichstag, Berlin, January 30, 1937; Vlaclav Havel, The Future of Hope Conference, Hiroshima, December 5, 1996; Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms, Washington, December 6, 1941 etc.
The spectator is confronted with one speech at a time, and after each round he has to vote for his favorite speech. The difficulty arises when trying to define the reasons of voting: what do you choose when you vote? Does your vote go to your favorite speech or to your favorite performer? Or do you choose for how a speech has been performed?
The performers are not only playing a historian’s role, but become also the creators of new meanings for old speeches, due to their personal interpretation and subjective way of performing.
Speak incorporates an ambitious urge of debating around the theme of political speeches, but ends up presenting the obvious theatricality of speeches and fails in addressing a political question towards art or an artistic question towards politics. Nevertheless, it’s worth seeing it, it may disturb you!
The most tonic/vivid and yet reflective performance, mixing the borders of possibility and potentiality in performance art, was Antonia Baehr’s performance Abecedarium Bestiarium CREATION- Portraits of affinities in animal metaphors.
The performance consists of multiple stops each revealing a letter that names an extinct animal or a crypto zoological element. The script for each mini performance was written at the artist’s demand by friends or acquaintances.
The sum of the mini performances creates a fictional alphabet of mystical animals: the Dodo bird, the Tasmanian tiger, the Mermaid, the Dolphin etc. By enacting the words and actions from the scripts, the performer accomplishes a panoply of endangered human features. Each performance is different because every time the performer chooses different letters. Here are some examples:
The horses: the relationship between two good friends, who painted horses when they were young and for whom the Art school becomes the main reason for not painting horses anymore. The story is told by visual means. The performer is handling a video projector and manipulating different images and drawings of horses to create action and a story. Poetical, sentimental, graphic.
The cat – the limit between tenderness and aggressiveness, between domesticity and wildness. The performer is using her body, gets undress and finally uses her breasts as puppets on table. Provocative, asexual, groovy.
The mermaid: a sound intervention that reproduces mermaid language, that is created in front of the spectator’s eyes and ears by mixing different old tapes, registration and voice overs. Imaginative. Nostalgic. Vulnerable.
To sum up, Antonia Baehr’s (in German read bear) is recreating in her Abecedarium a selection of extinct features that are represented by archaic animals but that are actually part of our spiritual human mythologies. Untraceable characteristics are made visible by the invisible means of performance art. Is this art? The question is addressed with every gesture of the performer, and every time the answer is suspended between: 1. Who cares as long as you love it, 2. Of course it is art – look how far it’s going, 3.It’s so simple and yet so complex 4. As long as it makes the invisible- visible- it.is.art.
by Alexandra Pâzgu
Alexandra Pâzgu is an artistic researcher and practitioner, interested in contemporary dramaturgical dynamics. Currently enrolled in an artistic based Ph.D. at UBB Cluj, with a proposal that links dramaturgy to conceptual art.