collection of M HKA, Antwerp (BE)
curated by Azad Asifovich
Images Mathilde Geldhof/ Alex Martinelli
Augenmusik is a site and time specific performance by Katya Ev that reflects on the condition of France after the terror attacks in Paris in November 2015. These attacks traumatised the city, turning it into a body of collective pain. Ev’s work responded to the atmosphere of fear, and to the government’s declared state of emergency, through an intervention into public space and an appropriation of symbols of state power [...]
A strong signifier of state power and a signal of danger, in Vasilyeva’s performance the police siren is taken over by the performers, thereby shifting power metaphorically to the people. Entering through the strategic defence points of the city, the performers converged on the historical “Belly of Paris,” referring to the ancient Greek understanding of the market square as a space for practicing direct democracy. The polyphonic texture of Bach’s composition served as a metaphor for the political equality of voices, as opposed the contemporary understanding of democracy which reduces this polyphony to the single voice of the majority [...]
The performance triggered a strong reaction that revealed the sense of panic embedded in society. It disclosed a mutual distrust and aggression between the police and people living in the city. During the performance two of the participants were suspected of terrorism and detained for questioning, while other performers were actually protected by the police who feared that, due to the sirens, they might be mistaken for police and attacked. At the end of the performance soldiers came to Les Halles to investigate. The assembly of sirens replaced the forbidden assembly of people.
By following the canons of the local legal system, in Augenmusik Vasilyeva tested the borders of state power, through an alternative kind of public assembly as well as the use of state instruments as the objects of empowerment for civil disobedience.
M HKA library
A Conversation Between Katya Ev and Bart De Baere
Bart De Baere: What is there that should in any case be mentioned in this conversation, other than Augenmusik, which M HKA has committed to. [...]
I think one may distinguish three elements in your work. One is the performative dimension, which leads to the works being categorized as “performances,” and another is the fact that you focus everything into poignant images. Still prior to this double figure of performance and image, there is a contextual capacity, as if your work were something you weave: you look at different elements, and then develop a work that reconfigures those elements. For that reason, I like this notion of a “constructed situation,” which is certainly more precise than that of a “performance.” Your work might be seen as a kind of a constructed image, and even as an image, in the sense of a kind of a performative image, happening in each of your projects and aspiring to be continued. That’s something very different from a performance, and rather more like setting up a situation.
K EV: Yes, I am having difficulties defining it.
BDB: In any case, it may be interesting not to use the notion of “performance.” It’s too reductive. It seems to me that calling the works a “constructed situation,” or a “constructed performative image,” might be something that draws more attention to their specificity.
I think there is one more constitutive element of your works, which is their “afterlife.” This “constructed situation” or this “constructed performative image” is very intensely performative, very much in its own time and situation, an outcome of your contextual weaving. Although it happens on its own behalf, it also, and simultaneously, depicts. One can see the documentation as something of a side effect, an outer element, but it is also a continuation. This “afterlife” may get its own form of complexity, precisely because it came into existence out of these different elements. This “afterlife,” a kind of an echo, continues all of the components in the kind of weaving you practice: it somehow continues the capacity of the performative image you construct. The components belong together in their initial moment, but they may also be expressed once again afterwards through different modes of documentation. In the end, the work is the sum total of all the materials: the research and its documentation, including and up to their afterlife. None of these has priority over the other. There is no ultimate goal that transfixes the works in time or form—any element may continue to be of help. You may turn a work into a video, you may turn it into a single photo, or a series of photos, or into a contextual documentation, or into a re-enactment: all of these forms are possible.
That is what I think we should offer HISK, an analysis of the fact that you have these interrelated phases that constitute your work, each of which has its intrinsic value, like the life-cycle of a butterfly.
K EV: The afterlife of these projects is somehow the most difficult question, one that I feel it is not yet completely resolved; Robert Smithson, for example, was able resolve it pretty well with his notions of “site” and “non-site.”
BDB: Other artists resolve it in a beautifully designed way, such as Francis Alÿs, who accepts the given limit of the fact that communication happens within and through the art scene, and works towards that moment of appearance.
K EV: I feel close to the conceptual logic of Smithson, in which a “site” is about an intervention in a place, opposed to the “non-site,” which is about embracing a kind of absence. My formal interest is in process-based works and the temporal structures of subjectivity, not in sculptural or static forms.
BDB: Perhaps the core moment is that of the constructed performative image …
K EV: Yes, that is very subjective, because it is linked to the experience of a person, and the key question is how this person feels ...
BDB: Moving a Mountain by Faith, by Francis Alÿs, is also a pristine “constructed performative image.” We have a beautiful, lavish installation documenting it, with beautiful videos, and beautiful materials. In a certain way, though, the “resolvedness” of that takes some of the focus away from the performative moment itself. His work exists in-between these two states, in-between the performative and the documentary state. It is as if the performative was already dominated by, or included in, its afterlife. In your work, the fact that this is less clearly the case is certainly a quality.
BDB: You have a script. This is also consideration you include, the use of a map, or a script; it is also one of the possibilities of the work’s afterlife. It is not only about documentation; for Augenmusik, you have, in a way, too much documentation, and for Blue Room not enough ...
K EV: Because I did not want it [...] For Augenmusik, I was also thinking of a video form as an autonomous work, but I have not had an opportunity to produce it yet. I wanted to make an installation of twenty-four surveillance screens corresponding to twenty-four walking itineraries, to synchronize all the videos into that one timeline, and to insert black screens where the documentation was missing. It would look like windows that switch on and off. I wanted the screens to be exactly like at a real police station, of different sizes, and hanging like a mess. That’s how I directed the video documentation.
BDB: You work on the borderline between what society accepts and what it doesn’t. You must be quite aware of the fact that there are always conditions, in contrast to our Western societies, which grotesquely pretend that society is free. How do you imagine that political, cultural, and societal changes may affect your work?
K EV: My work draws its origins from them. It is a constant, fluid back and forth. I couldn’t imagine my works as unrelated to the novelty of the historical presence.
BDB: Instead of starting from an analysis of a context, it starts from an acknowledgment and a rendering visible of the conditions. If we compare your methodology with Femen—you’ve already offered a beautiful and very consistent answer with the synapses, but I’ll ask this again all the same—we notice that they work with an output-oriented effectiveness. Is that something you would consider for your work?
K EV: My work makes use of the activism model, yes, it belongs to that family.
BDB: One of our reference artists in Antwerp, Guy Mees, was a hero for us because he was the ultimate anti-hero. We have one of his works from the 1960s in the collection. It is called Lost Space, a prism made of embroidery with black light emanating from its inside. He once said to me: “If I were an American artist, I would have made it room-size, but I’m not.” For him, the reduced model was the right scale. In activism, as I experience it, you have a topic, you turn the topic into a specific goal, and you take a path the authorities do not expect. One of the important components in this is the mediatization. Femen is an extreme example of that, in a most precise way. For you, the mediatization is part of it, as is the amount of people who see the work in an art context afterwards. But it is not the ambition. You count it in, but it is not—at least, so it seems to me—part of the performative image. It is something that may or may not happen.
K EV: You’re right, I am not very interested in mass media. For Axe de la Révolution, it just happened, I didn’t expect it at all, it was crazy. In this specific situation, the performance was seen as such a contestation and transgression that all major television stations came. Actually, I would rather not have gotten that much attention because, in such a tense context, our actions could have landed us in jail. Since then, I’ve moved my focus away from activist performance and towards the subjective experience of time and temporal structures, in an almost phenomenological sense.
Still, activist artists remain an important influence. I like Alexander Brenner, an artist and activist based in Moscow, for example; in a famous performance at the Pushkin Museum, Brenner was naked and shouting, crying: “Why did you not invite me to this show?” It was super radical, but also super fun and humorous. It is very subtly political, in his case. Or Anatoly Osmolovsky, who, with the activist group E.T.I., used human bodies to write a vulgar Russian word for “dick” on Red Square. Of course, they were counting on media attention, but there is an immediate symbolic efficiency in the proposals. For me, the media effect is only secondary. What interests me is how a work responds to the place, site, or situation in which it happens.
BDB: If we go through the classical notions of performance, I have a list of them here … the body does not exist as a body but as an experience, and as an actor in the image. The space is a holistic here and now, with all its capacities and all its specificities, expectations, limits, laws, and regulations. I’d name this form “a constructed performative image,” but such a description becomes nearly a mathematics of words. It wants to become something and the something is very focused and precise. If we look at the documentation, it seems that for the afterlife you don’t have an answer, but always a multitude of possibilities.
K EV: No, I don’t have an answer, and it bothers me: I would like to have one. There may be the afterlife in the form of a new event …
BDB: Like a re-enactment, or like what we did with Augenmusik in Ghent ….
K EV: Not necessarily. There are broader possibilities still. It may be a performative conference, or any type of live modality. In the case of Axe de la Révolution, I once did nothing more than narrate it through a series of one-to-one conversations with the public. That was for a solo show that lasted two weeks. Or it can be a very distance re-enactment, because the works are so site-specific, and their site-specificity is part of their nature, so the re-enactment has to contain that as well. It has to keep the key problematics and formal elements of the initial work, though the mise-en-scène can change completely. That is the first modality. A second modality is the archive, in an indexed way. A third are the new and autonomous artworks that come out of or strongly echo the initial performance, as when elements of the performance (documentation, props, etc.) are transformed into a new work. It could be a sculptural work, a video, or an installation. If I were to use Robert Smithson’s terms, this would be a kind of “non-site.” However, it is very paradoxical to try to render the evasive and shifting nature of a performance—an event—within the static form created for an exhibition space. We can almost say that the site-specific practice works against its own final location, be it a museum or a gallery. Another way to think of a site-specific practice for me is through an analogy with the notion of a readymade, a found object: I am working with a “found place” (a term used in environmental theater), or even a “found situation.” This is about approaching the context: the geography of a place, its social, political, and historical dimension—outside of representational terms [...]
Après la performance Axe de Révolution à Moscou, Ekaterina Vasilyeva offre une nouvelle réponse poétique à l’actualité, cette fois à Paris, pour interpeler le corps urbain, l’ordre de sa topographie et l’expérience de ses habitants, alors que l’esprit révolutionnaire ressurgit de la République.
Pour Augenmusik, vingt-quatre personnes partiront à pied, simultanément, des vingt-quatre portes de la ville en tenant entre leurs mains un gyrophare lumineux bleu, accompagné d’une sirène émettant un son discontinu. Ils convergeront vers le marché au centre de la ville Lumière.
Une fois réunies, les sirènes se révèleront orchestrer L’Art de la Fugue, de
Jean-Sébastien Bach, jusque-là décomposé et méconnaissable. Les marcheurs poseront à terre les gyrophares et les sirènes et s’en iront. Cette montagne de gyrophares lumineux, de sirènes, de câbles continuera à fonctionner jusqu’à l’épuisement des batteries. Avec Augenmusik, les poètes chassés de la cité idéale par Platon y reviennent en empruntant les axes de navigation menant à la place du marché. Centre de la vie
sociale et lieu de rassemblement où se pratique la démocratie directe de la
polis grecque, le marché est aussi le coeur de l’économie marchande, et donc du
Porté en grandes pompes par des sortes de pèlerins, le gyrophare, détaché de son utilité première, l’état d’urgence du véhicule, et ramené au rythme de la procession, en vient à éclairer par sa couleur, le bleu royal, la vacuité du pouvoir. Les sonorités synthétiques de la sirène trahissent l’harmonie originelle. L’élan centripète des marcheurs, l’union physique des corps, fait renaître le commun, jusqu’à ce que le finale recompose l’unité de la partition morcelée.
Bach mène au sommet dans L’Art de la Fugue, sa «musique pour les yeux» : «To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit» (eng. - écouter avec les yeux c’est tout l’esprit de l’amour, William Shakespeare, Sonnet XXIII). L’égalité des voix musicales, fondement de l’écriture polyphonique, rejoint le principe de la pluralité démocratique. Oeuvre la plus controversée de Bach, considérée comme son testament musical et laissée, selon de nombreux musicologues, volontairement inachevée, elle s’interrompt dans sa version manuscrite à la mesure 239 du Contrepoint XIX.