Alex Bailey in conversation with Gianna Virginia Prein
Alex Bailey: I read something about ticks that appear out of their ‘Umwelt’ to attach themselves to e.g. a dog. From how I understood it, ‘Umwelt’ is the species’ environment. It’s its own world, which doesn’t belong to us. It’s like the species’ private place, the place that they inhabit and the things they do when they’re invisible to our perception. A space which I don’t have access to.
Gianna Virginia Prein: At first, I understood you saying ‘Un-welt’ (like un-world) instead of ‘Umwelt’ (environment). I noticed the paradox that the word ‘Un-welt’ creates, since it immediately denies the non-human world it creates by the prefix ‘un-‘. I think it would dispel human*-centeredness somewhat if there was actually a word for this condition. What meaning do places have for you when you perform for pets in their home with Krõõt Juurak?
AB: [looks at my dog who’s trying to crack a stick] You guys are sharing a life, right? So you have your own kind of ‘U*welt’ [smiles]. I think that the relationships that we set up to these animals are built on the spaces we’ve created for them, for us. We humans give them a home, give them a shelter. But I like to think of a place which doesn’t have anything to do with us. For sure, they are engaged in things outside of our cognitive sense of awareness, even if we spend a lot of time with them. If anything, we force them to become visible by our presence. They might have private lives within the space that we’ve created for them, which exists very much within their own communication. I think there’s maybe a crossover with the practice that Ian also wanted to encourage with us in rehearsal, which was about acts of ceasing to be visible in front of others. I understand this as how a group identity might function.
GVP: I also found that an exciting approach during rehearsals: the question of visibilities and lines of sight or different kinds of perception on stage. What becomes palpable for whom through which acts of (re-)presentation. Do you have preferences among your audience? Or do you try to block out what’s going on around you? [smiles] I don’t think so.
AB: Upon reflection, I can certainly say there are things I block out. It is a type of decision. As a person who has struggled with addiction, how I consume things is central to my grasp of responsibility and self-esteem. I worry about what my life would look like if my tendency was to block things out. But there isn’t really a preferred audience. I quite like it when an audience has a little bit of skepticism. I think my preferred audience is not something aligned to species, but it’s more to do with agency. If people feel like they can respond, react.
GVP: The encounters with the horses were, as far as I could observe, based on tasks of care and play. From the experiences you had with the animals, was there something crucial you worked on during the rehearsals? Something that inspired you to go on stage?
AB: There are always these ethical questions that exist, at least for me, whenever I come into contact as a ‘representative’ of this species with another species. I think Julia mentioned the word ‘extraction’. I think the word for me is ‘exploitation’, because I’m aware that, at some point, I’m going to draw upon these experiences to share and add to some aspects of cultural artistic production. So, for me, the ethical question is how to reflect those experiences in a way which shows that the thing we shared was made by a being that has just as much value in this world as I do.
GVP: Going into the stables and going into someone’s home to perform – did you see any parallels between your practice and what has happened so far during PARASOL?
AB: I saw parallels in body movements and choreographies. Especially some of the things that I’ve observed with what the hand represents; whether it’s like … [makes stroking movements] or if I go and grab something [appears to grab something inside his pocket to then open his empty fist in front of the dog’s snout, who seems unimpressed] –
GVP: She’s too old to be tricked.
AB: Ok [laughs], I want a young audience!
GVP: So, you actually have preferences! [laughs]
AB: I think a lot of animals that live around humans have a relationship to our hands. It’s usually something that gives food or something that gives contact, to stroke, or, in some cases, like with this gesture [swings an invisible stick], the hand can also represent acts of brutality. And then there is all of the materials connected to our emotions. Things like the names they give the horses. The fact that they have photographs, and then the photographs have love hearts. This encountering of people’s emotions is something that I can recognize from the domestic home to the stables, because people choose to engage through acts of love, or through an act of compassion. They want to be reminded of their humaneness, and this portal to reflection happens when they’re in connection to another being.
Alex Bailey studied at Sandberg Institute, Amsterdam, with an MFA in Fine Arts and has been living in Vienna since 2015. He has been invited to show his work, created with Krõõt Juurak, at brut Vienna, Dansehallerne, Copenhagen, and MDT, Stockholm. At TQW, the artist duo presented the performance and research project CODOMESTICATION.