Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue.
Brussels, 24 September 2019
by Juan Duque
WILL I AM, 2019, Performance installation by Juan Pablo Plazas
Galerie Mieke van Schaijk, ‘s Hertogenbosch, NL
Presented at APA (A Performance Affair) edition 2019,
Reproduction, between 5 – 8 September, Brussels, BE
‘Las cosas se duplican en Tlön; propenden asimismo a borrarse y a perder los detalles cuando los olvida la gente. Es clásico el ejemplo de un umbral que perduró mientras lo visitaba un mendigo y que se perdió de vista a su muerte. A veces unos pájaros, un caballo, han salvado las ruinas de un anfiteatro. Salto Oriental 1940’
Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ in: Ficciones, (Emecé Editores, S.A., 1956), 30
‘Before we start…’
sentence said by Juan Pablo during the performance at 9’55”
To write about performance is most of the time a problematic endeavor because there is always this feeling of re-creating a situation where the notion of ‘presence’ is delayed in relation to the actualization of the present.
To play with this existential ambiguity, you can decide to position yourself as a writer that catches the halo of a ghost, or to perform like a meticulous inspector who is recreating a crime scene for a forensic report, describing but also reveiling the hidden aspects of past actions.
For this text on Juan Pablo Plazas’ performance ‘WILL I AM, 2019’, I am surfing between both positions, creating textual fragments which can be situated between a description of the event, quotations from external texts and subjective appreciations. I have chosen these intertextual possibilities by making a direct reference to the playful and generous gestures that Plazas’ performances give to the public, allowing them to enter but also freely leave at any time during the development of the performative narrative he constructs.
A large textile tapestry depicting what looks like a large world map with words embroidered into it and made of a patchwork from different fragments of textiles, could be read as a diagrammatic territory that is standing up in the space as a freestanding object.
The performance starts with Juan Pablo inviting somebody from the public to help him change the position of the tapestry from vertical to horizontal – from wall to floor. The helper from the public follows the instructions given by the performance artist, who is carefully describing the actions out loud. Following this participatory intervention and starting from his right side, Juan Pablo performs a sort of ritual, slowly walking around the perimeter of the tapestry which is now laying down on the floor, playing with the phonetic plasticity of each word by emphasising and stretching the sounds while reading and calling in a melodic way, compassing the rhythm with a clapping gesture at the turn of each corner while naming the words stitched onto the tapestry. Each word represents one of the discarded names of the art works present in the installation, from which at the end he chose eight.
This ritual can be understood as a sort of alterity from one reality into another, an action that proposes a different lecture of the object induced by the spatial displacement or deterritorialization from the vertical visual understanding of the tapestry where the aesthetical object for contemplation and subjective appreciation appears into the horizontal realm, which is the original position of the tapestry while being made. This action played backwards in front of the public can be interpreted as a re-territorialisation, where the object is brought back into the position where it was ‘born’, induced by sound and the bodily rhythmic disclosure of other haptic senses.
After setting up this territory, Plazas takes a sitting position in the center of the tapestry inviting the public to do the same. One first chooses an embroidered name and then sits on top of it, as if embodying the name. After this invitation he explains to the public more about this action and names those involved in the creation of the tapestry.
By returning the embroidered fabric to its birth position as a sort of remembrance and in order to explore in more detail, and touch its genesis, Juan Pablo intends to reveal and share the forces and dynamics invested in the creation of this collaborative object with the public.
This process is particularly important in relation to the artist’s interest in communicating through his work how the objects are made, and what form of knowledge is gained and invested in their creation.
A present by Erik van Lieshout for Juan Pablo, 2016
Brouhana, by Juan Pablo Plazas, originally made for the exhibition ‘Eight’, with Sylvie Eyberg and Tania Nasielski, 2018
Fishing lamp by Juan Pablo Plazas, version 2018
Fishing stool, a present by Luth Lea Roose, 2015
Keboob, courtesy David Bernstein, part of the project ‘Something to hold onto’, by Rosa Sijben and David Bernstein, 2019
‘Diptych: William Carlos Williams’, gift of Andres Baron, 2019
Bench made by Juan Pablo Plazas and Juan Diego Thielemans, 2019
Piece of a broken shelf
Blue leftovers fabric from Ana Maria Gomez
Lotus by Raymond Loewy
List of objects present at the installation and performed by the artist.
The general installation of Plaza’s work comprises a constellation of several sculptures, objects, images and fragments of text, some created for other exhibitions, some lent by friends and other in the ongoing process of making while performing. In my appreciation, this collective constellation of external and internal references gives to Juan Pablo’s installation work a collective character, which I would like to address based on what the art historian and theorist Beatrice Von Bismarck1 has extensively elaborated as ‘actors’ and ‘actants’. She refers to the performative character of the exhibition situation and the shift between roles and tasks by all the components in play, implementing Bruno Latour’s sociological perspective, and calling the exhibited works ‘actors’ and the things that people have helped shape, ‘actants’. In the work WILL I AM, the lent objects and the objects produced during other performances and brought into play can be perceived as ‘actors’, and the tapestry or the bench made by him in collaboration with Sylvie Eyberg, Tania Nasielski, and Juan Diego Thielemans as ‘actants’.
In collective exhibitions, as defined by Beatrice von Bismarck, actors and actants are creating temporary constellations by performing consecutively shifts in their subjective perspectives, not just within themselves but also to each other, taking the position of ‘the other’ in an interweaving process of ‘othering’, embodying different positions and functions which correspond to the social changing circumstances during the time of the exhibition. In Plazas’ performance there is a constant shift between subject and object, stressed, for instance when the artist demonstrates the mechanical properties of the sewing machine while making the letter I, which, from a different perspective, the public point of view, could be read as H. Later in the performance, the constant shift occurs again when the object Keboob is carried by the artist as if it was a baby that he was trying to lull to sleep.
1. Beatrice von Bismarck, ‘The exhibition as a collective’ in: Cultures of the Curatorial, (Berlin: Sternberg press, 2012), 289
The dramatology of the performance is developed through the intertwining of two main sound components, one is the voice of the artist talking to the public, between fiction and reality as in storytelling, about the possibilities of ‘learning by mimicking what somebody else is doing’. The other is the sound of the sewing machine called ‘LOTUS’, carefully displayed and staged between him and the public.
While Juan Pablo develops his story, he is simultaneously trying out the different functions and possibilities of the sewing machine. With this action he is learning from the machine in the very location and by doing so, sharing knowledge with the public while embodying knowledge from the performed actions.
The two sequential lines of the artist’s voice and the sound of the performing machine are pierced by changes in Plaza’s sequence, either in narrative – including personal anecdotes, or by standing up and walking around the set, performing other tasks. These events enabled the public to either re-catch the focus or to leave the performative stage.
A major moment in the dramatology in the thirty-five minute performance duration is accentuated at the minute eighteen, when the artist stops his sewing task, stands up and plays a song on his mobile phone that introduces another action as a lullaby: he takes Keboob, an object of organic shape that resembles a baby or a cocoon, and carries it like a baby and starts to dance for two minutes. While he is dancing/stretching, he also tries to put the object to sleep.
These parts of the performance – especially the strong connection to ‘fertility’ that the baby-shape and the nurturing gesture embodies, plus the constant storytelling and external references carefully explained to the public, at a slow pace throughout the installation – reminded me of a masterly gesture enacted by Joseph Beuys on November 26th, 1965 at Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf, called ‘Wie Man dem toten Hasen die Bilder erklärt’ or How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’.
A quote of a quote
‘My NAME is Alice, but—’
‘It’s a stupid enough name!’ Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. ‘What does it mean?’
‘MUST a name mean something?’ Alice asked doubtfully.
‘Of course, it must,’ Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: ‘MY name means the shape I am – and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.’
Lewis Carroll, ‘Humpty Dumpty’ in: Through the looking Glass. And what Alice found there. (Chicago, New York: Rand, McNally & Company, c1917), 92-93
While Juan Pablo is sewing in front of the public, he develops a comparative situation that starts from his dislike to be seated on chairs because, as he elaborates, ‘you can see a chair from a distance but you are missing its view while you are seated on it. The same happens when you are riding a horse… Same happens with our names, we carry them but we are not totally conscious of their presence in us until we are called out by somebody else…’ Through this comparative action, the artist questions the process of self-identification – we are given a name – and its play in the construction of the self in transindividuality.
Our names become even more ‘present’ to us when they are pronounced by somebody else, and it is through the internalization of that external sound in the performative action of hearing our names and embodying the name that we can recognize who we are: as something different but related to the others. Everything exists in relational dependence.
At the end of the performance the artist reads an erratum from a poem by William Carlos Williams. The erratum allows Plazas in its correction of misspellings and mispronunciations to articulate the end of the performance, coming back to deconstruct the spelling of the name ‘William’.
‘WILL I AM’ is a name that Juan Pablo Plazas considers ‘the most generous’ because every time a person named William pronounces it, he is not just saying that he is William, but also that he is giving the other person a mirrored image of his name and the possibility of becoming him.
‘I AM WILL I AM’.
To close the performance, Plazas makes reference to a piece given to him as a present by the artist Erik van Lieshout in 2016, consisting of the name ‘Juan Pablo’ made of black tape and framed in black. He explains that his first reaction was that his name was stolen from him and given back as a mirrored action. Plazas also refers to this present as something ‘terribly violent’ because the gesture implies giving him something that already belongs to him: his name.
Extimacies. Public moment after a residency of Esteban Donoso and Thiago Antunes at Penthouse Art Residency, Brussels, invited by Gatien du Bois.
Brussels, 21 August 2019
by Juan Duque
Working in close collaboration with external participants, after an open call to take part in 1 on 1 meeting sessions, the performance artists Esteban Donoso and Thiago Antunes spent two weeks practicing embodied knowledge, taking the institutional format and the very specific location of the residency venue, a penthouse in a downtown Brussels hotel, as a provocation to problematise the political relations involved in the practice of hospitality.
Donoso and Antunes have developed a series of body practices such as bondage in somatosensory stimulation, the projection and translation of spatial and temporal memories through storytelling, and the writing of scores while embodying in-situ phenomenological explorations. Researching together, the performance artists have been reflecting about different forms of knowledge gained from the place itself during the residency time. By doing so, they questioned the multilayered intersection of agreements while negotiating between body, time and space.
At the public moment after the residency period, the slow time spent in conversations with the visitors and the possibility of slowly discovering photographs of the encounters, nourished me.
The photographs were carefully placed in a sort of intimate, humble position: in hidden corners and at the bottom of the walls, respecting not only their aspect of privacy but also the power relations embedded in the encounters that took place on the same location. Even more than feeling welcomed, I experienced a different kind of body constraint – one induced by haptic empathy and reciprocal negotiations – that allowed me to experience the exhibition space comfortably.
I lay down on the hotel bed wearing a headphone. A soft female voice guided me through her memories of that very room, her voice describing the view of a half experienced, half imaginary skyline of Brussels. I looked out of the window following the score through the headphones. I saw Brussels, I imagined ‘otherwise’ inclusive infrastructures, institutions where different bodies, objects and events could coexist, trusting one another for a longer period of time.
Hospitality, a word frequently quoted lately in cultural practices, is being often mistaken for welcoming, which is the first encounter in a complex set of political relationships embedded in the process of hosting. After welcoming comes inhabiting. Host and guest have to negotiate the differences and similarities structured by power relations, as well as re-arrange the spatial and temporal conditions that hospitality implies, such as displacing while simultaneously re- contextualizing: hospitality-through-inclusiveness.
Time is a key aspect when practicing hospitality: it needs constant developing and following-up after the hosting period in order to counterweigh the strangeness produced by the displacement of the different components involved (people, objects, institutions) while they readapt to a new location. Nowadays, most of the cultural practices and critical theory produced around the topic of hospitality lack critical questioning with respect to the continuation of these relationships and the caring for the consequences that result from inhabiting.
Donoso and Antunes both took care of the laces and knots, presenting a possibility for the continuation of hosting, while caring for the mental and physical constraints, and by doing so, created a flexible structure in a poetic way. Switching roles while performing a play of power as a dialogic agreement, and the physical action of releasing, based on mutual confidence and care, guaranties the consented possibilities for the slow construction of flexible knots. The performance artists highlighted the elasticity of mutual agreements, opening up the possibility to imagine otherwise institutions, otherwise publics and aesthetics.
Who will be next to care, proposing possible ways of longer-lasting hosting explorations?