Against the present
The two productions couldn’t be more different in their artistic languages and forms of expression. What connects them is that they shared the virtual stage on the opening evening of the ‘Choreography and Performance of a New Generation’ festival. And the common challenge of tackling a present that wants to know everything and, as a rule, pretends to already know everything and just about enough. Of formulating a response, a resistance, a counter-concept, even a sense of counter-culture – of confronting this present with a ‘counter’ that meets what lasts head-on in what is in the here and now. Both productions challenge the supposed meaningfulness of this politically and economically upheld present, identifying this present as the actual adversary. Sunset Z by Julia Zastava and Funkenstein by Kidows Kim declare a challenge against this present.
The imagery of the medieval-shaped chain hood, with which Zastava covers her head as a performer, speaks for itself: it’s an assumption that something needs to be defended, to be protected in the fight against a distorted claim to meaning. Her jacket with attached wings and claws, the heavy shoes and a sword that she picks up in the course of the performance ride towards this present, accompanied by the sound of galloping horses. Zastava put many of her motifs on paper in drawings before converting them into three-dimensional objects for the performance to inscribe them into a space she has arranged using video projections, light and fog effects as well as a series of beings and configurations that defy clear categorisation. What are these motifs, located between nature, living beings, dream configurations and objects? Two lights for eyes flash from the physiognomy of a pile of leaves, fragments of animal skulls and hands lurk on the ground, next to a circle made of the words ‘Deep Angel’ – a comment on a circle of fire projected onto the wall like a title that no longer cares what it is meant to denote. This is accompanied by a soundscore (in collaboration with Lucas Henao Serna), the roaring of a motorcycle, the buzzing of flies, the clinking of glasses, the jingling of money and the ringing of an incoming phone call. The visual phantasmagoria of the staged arrangement is in constant dialogue with an acoustic presence that speaks out like a set piece. It sounds like road traffic, another phone call that remains unanswered, an invocation, an urging, an appeal that isn’t heard by anyone, a failure, an act of resistance, a reaching for the sword to impale a heart and roast it in the circle of fire. A struggle with beings and configurations that have no name, no suitable name exists that would describe what one would want to shout out. A struggle with a present that refuses to listen also means a struggle with oneself, with a voice that starts to sing, singing for its own sake, singing that is meant to overcome fear and time, the barking of dogs still fresh in one’s ears, the echo of a distorted voice…Everything we hear, see and presume to recognise in this performance refuses to make the kind of sense that is supposed to give meaning to this present, to provide a narrative for what it is actually about. A challenge is being declared against all this knowledge, against the claim to know (almost) everything, it’s a fight with this present and against it, a fight for the moments that remain unheard and are cast off.
The fact that Zastava had to translate the planned performance into an online format due to the COVID situation, allowed her to use the camera (in collaboration with Lucas Henao Serna) as an actor in its own right, and to stage a perspective through angles and editing that would not be available to a live audience. The camera doesn’t document the work but takes the audience’s place. It defines another level in addition to the sound, making it possible to zoom in on details, to take one’s time, pay attention to details, to the transitions between the names that one would give things and the forms that emancipate themselves from their meaning. Far from recording the performance, all the elements of the piece take on the role of performers: the configurations and objects, the camera work, editing, sound, light and the artist herself, who moves slowly through the room, pausing here and there, holding a gesture, a pose that appeals to the image, to a gaze that goes beyond the conceptual, beyond the present and towards an exit that is identified as being ‘Designed by Aliens’.
The perspective of the alien, a feeling of radical alienation in the face of the present, also characterises Funkenstein by Kidows Kim, who introduces himself as a “hidden monster” that has plummeted into this present – “crashed down on an untouched land”. Unlike Zastava’s spatio-temporal phantasmagoria, the set of Funkenstein is simply the corner of a room, the ribs of two radiators marking the boundary in the foreground, on the right wall a calendar from 2019, which, however, promises ‘Good Luck Every Year’. The camera is fixed, observing the entire piece from one angle, like a witness, and it is even addressed directly during the performance: “Look at me…You know me, you know me well…Do you know why I tell you this?” A hand covered by a nylon stocking and a head covered by a nylon stocking with knotted pigtails make the performer unrecognisable, transforming him into a ‘monster’ that addresses its virtual interlocutor by way of inserted texts. The sound of technically distorted sucking, chewing, scratching and squelching serves as the voice to utter the ‘unspeakable’ text that accompanies the performance like an inner monologue, like thoughts that nobody wants to hear, nobody can understand, not even the monster itself, to which everything that surrounds it seems peculiar and strange: “…a damp and pungent smell dominates the world, this place is full of dirty air.” Invisible – “I am transparent in the multicolored crowd” – the performer feels his way into the room and to the corner, every movement seems to inquire what this (own foreign) body is that moves, wonders, in a place that alternates between hideaway and dungeon. In his performance, Kidows Kim investigates the body as well as the space in which he finds himself and examines his state of mind. There is just as much searching and trying attached to every gesture as there is an effort not to curb the amazement by rash answers. Just as the monster is connected to the Latin verb ‘monstrare’, the act of showing, the state of mind is meant ‘show’ itself rather than be described by words. Just as a ‘de-monstration’ is intended to show political dissent by people gathering and ‘showing’ with their bodies that their words have not been heard or understood, Kidows Kim ‘de-monstrates’ the set breaking point that separates his feelings from the supposedly relevant present and its eloquence. This separation is associated specifically with a reference to having been abandoned, to the end of a relationship: what remains of the end is a feeling of not being able to understand anything, a lack of comprehension that seems more appropriate for the present than any attempt at understanding it. “It is because of him, my fucking Francisss…erasing me from his heart…I still want him.” The monster or the monstrous manifested by Kidows Kim is conferred to the present itself in this arc.
As different as the works by Julia Zastava and Kidows Kim seem, they do have something in common as well: they both declare a challenge against a present whose promises and claims to meaning they confront with a language that refuses to call the next narrative by its name. As a criticism of this present, the mere plea for a corrective, for a different narrative, would not suffice. With their work at the limits of the production of meaning, they pull at the figure of the narrative form itself, hence at the point where the truly performative in the performance begins.
Andreas Spiegl studied art history at the University of Vienna. He has headed the Institute for Art Theory and Cultural Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna since 2016, where he teaches and conducts research in his position as Senior Scientist.