Performance as Activism from Tbilisi to Berlin (interwiev with Australian Art magazine JANE )

Performance as Activism from Tbilisi to Berlin

interwiev with Australian Art magazine JANE

By Nina Mdivani, New York, USA, July 2022




Andro Dadiani and Monika Dorniak are two contemporary performance
artists living parallel lives in Georgia and Germany respectively. What
unites them is their struggle against the patriarchy and the repressive norms
they perceive as being outdated and detrimental to their ability to define
themselves as they are. Both describe themselves as interdisciplinary artists breaking down barriers between body movement, text, research, and
visuality. Andro’s struggle as a queer person within a conservative country
shows the authentic yet conflicting and dangerous, isolating path they are
taking to make their voice heard. The artist needs to wear a mask during
their performances to preserve their safety. Monika provides a good insight
into how community engagement can precipitate societal change and how
art can continue to be activism while remaining an aesthetic experience.
The bodies of these two performers act as instruments for their spirits, for
their independent and critical thinking, and for their reasoning.

NINA MDIVANI: Andro, what was your path to performance? And
why do you always wear a mask when you perform?

ANDRO DADIANI: My path includes jealousy, mistrust, and dissatisfaction. It seems that disturbing calmness, as one would disturb beauty, is my
metabolism, and this undercurrent finds its course through performance,
poetry, or visual art objects. Poetry led me to performance. A catalyst for
my poetry was the events that took place on May 17, 2013, in the capital of
Georgia, Tbilisi. On the main avenue of the city, 30,000 religious fanatics
ran after 30 homosexuals and an equal number of human rights defenders. In most countries, the government would have resigned [after this] or
would have been replaced by its constituents, yet we still have the same
government, and to this day it rules the country with utmost violence. This
wild environment forced me to commit to find an aesthetic and moral form
for my inner urge of self-expression that is now titled Andro Dadiani. Dadiani is a creature with a changed face, with erased features and a modified
voice. With these changes, I define myself against cruel, ruthless family
members and from everyday surroundings.

Monika, within your artistic practice you have incorporated methods
of visual art expression and performance art. When did the latter start
being important to you and why?

MONIKA DORNIAK: Growing up in a working-class family in a small
German village, I was surrounded by the repetitive processes of intensive
manual labour. People had no time for arts and culture, and yet my Polish
father regularly invited Polish folklore dance groups to Germany, advocating for an intercultural exchange between peoples. After my father’s sudden
death in my early childhood in the ’90s, the Polish culture that he tried to
implant into the German scenery quickly faded. Throughout my adolescence, the homogeneous societies that surrounded me provoked feelings
of alienation. This fuelled my critical thinking and urged me to seek new
worlds.
Reading Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt as a teenager, I got inspired to write scores and poems that I transformed into my first performative video works and photographs. Being part of the first generation in
my family who entered academia and managed to break free from abusive
patriarchal patterns, my first performance works symbolised liberation and
resistance, and sought to unmute the silenced and oppressed voices of my
ancestors. At that time, I was guided by the avant-garde ghosts of past histories. This hauntological basis also led me to move to Berlin in 2008, where
I quickly became part of international queer and feminist communities, in
which fluid identities were explored through avant-garde and spontaneous
performances in clubs, on the streets, and in the parks.
Around 2011, when I saw the French choreographer and performer Boris
Charmatz run naked through the ZKM museum, next to Marina Abramović’s early works, I realised that not all of my idols were dead. In the years
that followed, I came across the groundbreaking works of Ana Mendieta, Carolee Schneemann, and Rebecca Horn, who helped me to break free
from the internalised shame that my Catholic upbringing and the trauma of century-long censorship through the patriarchy had planted in my body. The bodies of my female ancestry were turned into “commodities” by patriarchal systems, which were dictated by Christianity to accelerate capitalistic practices, as Silvia Federici taught me in recent years. Unlearning the internalised patriarchal patterns became an integral part of my early
performance works. In The Human Anatomy is Adorning Itself (2009–
2011), I “unshelled” myself from the oppressive memories of previous generations through a year-long process of living like a nomad and the parallel
creation of a wearable sculpture series consisting of materials that mimicked the human debris.

Until now, I have been devoting myself to performance art where I seek
for ways to destabilise the rigidity of identity, language, and knowledge. In
recent works, such as Walking in Two Directions (at the Same Time) (2022),
I combine wearable sculpture, spoken word, and repetitive movements to
translate the multilayered facets of intergenerational trauma. Sculpture is
mostly a rigid medium but it can be vitalised and softened in combination
with performance. The process towards the production of a performance is
always an important part of my work, and is turned into a phenomenological layer, which may, or may not, be perceived by the audience members
in the final results.


Andro, how have your tasks as a performer changed today?
Andro: Psychology says that a five-year-old child has already formed a
psychological type, then the cream of culture is poured into their vessel,
and information gets into various chemical reactions within that solidified
construct. Probably the same happened to me; the information changes,
yet the lens of doubt and dissatisfaction is permanent. The most important
person in my life abandoned me! They did not die; they left me on the street
like a dog. The total mistrust and loneliness that arose from this made me
braver. Now I am even more ready to stand up against the masses and the
democratically elected officials with their bewitched truths, and I will be
responsible for this, standing by my own opinion.

Monika, you use choreography extensively as an artist. Do you see choreographing others as an extension of your performance? What initially prompted this direction? Isn’t it harder to direct others rather than
to perform yourself?

Monika: My move from solo performance to choreography in my early
twenties was concurrent to my involvement in the Berlin queer and feminist
community. I realised that I was not alone with these feelings of alienation
and, ironically, the sense of not belonging to a society due to class, gender,
or cultural backgrounds. After I presented my project The Human Anatomy
is Adorning Itself at a local art festival in Berlin, I was approached by dancers who felt connected to my sculptures and performance, which led to my
first collaborations in dance and choreography.
In 2013, after studying psychology for three semesters, I obtained admission to do a Bachelor of Arts in Choreography and Dance at the
University of Arts in Berlin. While it was an inspiring opportunity that
brought me closer to dance professionals, it was also an alienating experience. The other students all had professional dance backgrounds,
while I “only” came with my autodidactic and raw definition of performance art. Consequently, I decided to drop out of art school, because
like in most academia, I felt displaced. As a first-generation academic,
I feel that up until the present, universities follow conservative and elitist
approaches that diminish the experiences of everyone who does not fit into
the box. This experience also motivated me to find alternative concepts of
education that can be accessible for everyone. During my studies, I was
approached by Rory Pilgrim, who commissioned me to choreograph a work
that he was presenting in the Netherlands. This project led me to apply choreography not only to performances but workshops and interactive research
pieces too.
My definition of choreography is unconventional and intuitive and less
didactic. My experimental scores aim to challenge the dancers’ agencies
and [allow them to] perform as independent subjects rather than objectified
bodies. While synchronicity can be mesmerising, I try to break free from
it to form an alternative and truthful alliance between my dancers that is
less uniform. In some of my workshops, such as Collective Synchronisation (2016), I applied my research in psychology and biology and used
biorhythms, such as pulse and heart frequencies, as a score. In connection
to my ongoing interest in folklore, I was looking for approaches to reclaim
our post-digital bodies that are embedded into neoliberal worlds that carry
the traumas of past generations. I use choreography as a form of activism and turn it into modes of collective healing and/or as a tool for critical reflection. In the era of the Anthropocene, we are all sub/consciously conditioned by multiple external rhythms.
Urban landscapes as well as the internet are not neutral grounds but are
formed by algorithms that are designed by mostly white and upper-class
men. In my first choreography, Emological Symphony (2013), I am reflecting on the impact of technology on the human body. The performer’s biological data—heartbeat, temperature, and breathing scale, measured with
digital sensors—was converted into a live soundtrack that again impacted
the dancer’s movements, causing an eerie codependency between human
and technology.
In comparison to working on a solo performance, the process of choreographing requires one to move out of the comfort zone and into a new learning zone. I think that such collaborative practices are needed [now] more
than ever. The post-pandemic situation has forced us into isolation, and we
need to build new grounds to come together anew as a community.

 

Andro, what role does the audience play in your performances?
Andro: I’ve been told that I have to separate work and life from each other,
but how should I do this? My Archimedean point is performative. Separation could be done by those who play their professional roles; for me, the
whole is indivisible. Because of the isolation I am currently experiencing,
I have separated from people. The depressed feeling of disappointment and
drama have vanished them for me and “me” for them—although this disappearance is even more sensitive; it creates emptiness. In the words of
Kafka, such a unity is characteristic only of inanimate objects. Every year,
I did at least three to four performances. Now, it’s as if my body is not my
own anymore; it’s as though my body has been wiped from the eyes of
the audience—the performer’s body. Now, from my loneliness, from this
real dream, my audience can only extract thoughts and remote feelings/
impressions.

 

Monika, what role does community play for you as an artist? Has its
role changed over time? Does it change from country to country?

Monika: Some years ago, I came across the book The Anti-Social Family, written by Michèle Barrett and Mary McIntosh in the 1980s. In the
socialist-feminist critique of the nuclear family, the authors reflect on the
importance of kinship and community to establish an equal society. Growing up in a dysfunctional family that carried much patriarchal trauma, I
had to turn to communities that taught me alternative practices of care and
love throughout my life. Queer and feminist communities turned into my
temporary safe spaces, as well as meeting points for critical reflections,
which inspired my work as an artist. As social beings, we require allies with
whom we are able to translate our seemingly utopian worlds into reality.
Communities allow us to grow and be vulnerable; these are antidotes to the
capitalistic and neoliberal grounds that we are all part of.
The contemporary dance and art community in Berlin provided an important framework for my first steps as an artist, but I first tasted the essential flavour of community through the experience of my Polish family. As
a political activist, my father was connected with the folklore cultures in
Poland during the Soviet occupations. Folklore is seemingly outdated, but
throughout history its practice made it possible for oppressed communities
to resist the authorities and maintain their cultural identities by practising
rituals. This is a very psychosomatic process. Two years ago, when I interviewed two Palestinian friends of mine for a journal article, we spoke about
dabke as a form of resistance, and it reminded me again of the importance
of folklore communities.
Having spent my twenties in Berlin and London, I am heavily influenced
by the international communities in both cities, and as a feminist I learnt to
follow an intersectional approach. Despite all of the pain that I continue to
experience as a woman, I have the privilege to be able to choose abortion
freely in Germany, whereas my family members in Poland are denied this
right. Communities nowadays are complex; they are hybrid forms that connect through the internet and local and global spaces. However, more than
ever we can experience that there are correlations between the struggles
of our past and present, and we all will carry the memories of war in our
bodies as long as there is no justice—or, in Martin Luther King’s words,

‘No one is free until we are all free.’ Hence, as an artist I want to use the antidisciplinary approach to continue building bridges between communities
from different countries and backgrounds, in order to resist the status quo
and provide the safe spaces that I very much needed throughout my life.
Andro, as you mentioned, so far you have completed 27 performances.
Could you outline the most important one for you?
Andro: To tell you honestly, all of them have one meaning and a simple
trajectory leading to the present day. The past is certainly not the climax.
I don’t know what will happen in the future, and these days, after several
months of intense play, I got 1932 points in Block Puzzle. Now I’m trying
to push my own achievement and surpass it a little bit at a time. For those
who are left alone with porn and news programs, this game is a sentimental
ritual of relief with its own order, time, pace, and nerve irritations—a kind
of lyrical cadence of my life’s performance.

 

At different times, you have worked in open and enclosed spaces. Probably your performances have evoked different attitudes and reactions
in the viewers?

Andro: Yes, all space, time, and environment are affective in different ways.
For example, Independence Memorial lasted 24 hours, and I stood on one
leg, every hour evoking different emotions in the audience. When I was
tired and falling down, I felt special sympathy from the viewers. They came
and encouraged me; they asked me to stop the process. During heavy rain,
a boy came, and he did not leave me until the rain stopped. Georgian state
security services and the police also watched me all day. They could not
understand what these strange, non-violent, and incomprehensible protests
in front of the President’s Chancellery meant. I got used to the fact that my
outside work is often the source of incidents with the police and security
services, and I’m slowly learning how to deal with them. Every space has
its own user, every environment has different expectations, and if the work
is conceived in a contradictory or oppositional manner, it requires different
metaphorical dialects. It asks for a different dialect in a theatre and on the
street, in the exhibition space and in a private home. The same with the
duration of the performance: an 84-hour and a 10-minute duration would
always have different expressive voices.

 

What did this performance, Independence Memorial, signify for you?
Andro: Thirty years have passed since the fight for freedom started in 1989
in Georgia. We are still moving in a closed circle because the independence
declared in 1991 was just the introduction to freedom. The country has lost
20% of its territory. More and more cities and villages are separated from
the amputated part of our state. Internal occupation of our country may
be called religious—ethical, moral, sexual, and urban controversies which
diverge citizens from each other. With the indifference of the heads of country depending on undefined forces and on the absence of education and on
poverty, we continually lose each other, our future, and territories. There is
still a big fear that we can lose our independence.

Who is your ideal viewer then?
Andro: The one who will come as soil ready to be sown; the one who will
take my seeds of doubt from the performance and will think through it
afterwards.
Monika, the modus operandi of performance art has always been more
or less tied to activism or political statements of some sort. How do you
personally feel about these, and what political and social and ecological
processes do you address with your performances?

Monika: Willing or not, as autonomous members of a pluralised society, we
are all political subjects. Our bodies are social, and the social is political. I
feel that in the post-pandemic years, the concept of the “performative” has
moved away from the stages and back into the streets again. The presence
of the collective body is essential for the power of public gatherings, as
Judith Butler writes in Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly
(2015), and I feel that the increase in global protests in recent years is a new
and powerful form of “performance art.”
Coming from a working-class family with a migration background, I dedicate most of my works to the struggles of those who are not present enough
in the arts and academia, and who were not able to express their voices in the past and present. What drives me as an artist is the alienation and anger
towards the status quo that I have observed from early childhood. I believe
that as long as I can feel the anger of those that were and are oppressed, I
will make and do political works. I believe that performance art in our time
is expanding to new conceptual and political forms, whether those are protests or immediate interactive formats that are embedded in the community
and environment.
In my most recent choreography and performance, Amplification of Fluctuations (2021), I was searching with five dancers for a ground of connection within a pluralised society. Together we reflected on the tensions that
exist between the different groups of our society and sought for connection
points. Rather than presenting the result in a white cube or a cultural institution, it was important for me that the work was presented primarily for free
to the general public. Despite many bureaucratic issues, we managed to perform in the park of a local district court in Berlin where mostly people with
migration backgrounds meet. I was interested in the tensions that would
arise when we moved outside of our echo chamber, and was surprised to
see that the work managed to bring together people who would usually not
meet. I believe that we require more conversations that may make us feel
uncomfortable at first to provoke an actual change within our society. Only
under such conditions can culture have an influence on politics.

 

In your opinion, Andro, what is the essence of contemporary performance as an art form, and to what extent is this change taking place in
a Georgian context?

Andro: To tell you the truth, I don’t know what the word “contemporary”
means. I’m still looking for the meaning of this word. When Rachmaninov
wrote his Third and Second Piano Concertos, there were already schemes
and series of Schoenberg’s atonal music. In this context, it can be funny to
understand the music of Rachmaninov or early Puccini—although we must
remember Baudelaire, who noticed that the contemporary moment is a time
that is slipping through our fingers. What distinguishes Rustaveli from Eliot
is a different form, a different continent, a different language, a different
culture, and a different century—and yes, it is a lot, but did anyone dare to
call them less contemporary? On what continent were they read and misunderstood? In this sense, contemporaneity and territorial boundaries seem to
be cultural constructs. I think the main superimposing force is the energy
stretching beyond time, form, and space. This is a self-sacrificing effort to
find one’s own voice, to love it, and to stand bravely with this voice against
the judgment of the “righteous.”

One good example here seems to be your engagement with Dante and
your resulting performance. Purgatorio indicates a certain closeness to
his metaphorical journeys. Where does this affinity come from and how
is it tied to your performance?

Andro: The need to travel, to go somewhere for rest, is foreign to me. I can
travel through good literature not only in space but in the past and in the
future. I can touch untouched spaces. Literary reality is a wider reality than
an objective reality. Working on my collection of poems titled Purgatorio—which is the first homoerotic collection published in the region—was
a story of exile. For three years, various publishers postponed printing the
book, and after many disappointments I saw it as a social and political act
to publish it, stubbornly working on it. As the title suggests, there are social, political, and mental problems raised in it. As the title also says, the
environment needs to be purified. The screaming, disturbing colour on the
cover digs into the viewer, and the integrity of the book as an object creates
a sometimes brutal and sometimes gentle imitation of the purge.
Homosexual people are often referred to as people without roots, without
the past—‘Where were you before? Why did you appear now?’ they ask
me. With this title for the book, and with Dante Alighieri’s reminiscences
inside the book, I am saying that I am close to the genetic memory of the
world. You often hear that Georgia is a country of poets, that for Georgians,
poetry is sacred and does not have a social class, so finding a place for a
homoerotic voice expelled from the culture is a political statement to me.
I did a performance to coincide with the presentation of the book, together with artist Tato Heliashvili and composer Anri Kiknavelidze, and we
performed the 84-hour act of the journey to Purgatory. From Dante’s text,
scientists have calculated that he entered Purgatory with Virgil at 4 a.m. on
April 10 and travelled there until 4 p.m. on April 13. I exactly repeated this
period of time in the performance. For 84 hours, I was sitting on a horse,
half of which was already in Paradise. I was sitting backwards on the horse,
which was a reference to the Georgian past. People perceived to be in opposition to culture were put backwards on a donkey while mud was thrown
at them and they were kicked out of their community.
My readers came to the performance, and the last phrase of the book reverberated out into the exhibition hall. The space told the audience through
my voice, ‘Hold me close, hold me closer. Touch me, touch me more.’ The
guests were hugging me; there were COVID restrictions, but many people
came and trusted the energy of poetry and performance. Out of several hundred guests who hugged me for four days, not a single person got sick. My
heart vibrated from the inside of the costume to the poems. From an audiobook, the audience listened to my poems, and in this way they entered me,
the book, and we travelled together like Virgil and Alighieri to Purgatory.

Monika, I am curious to hear your different perspective. What do you
think about the current state of performance art in general? You mentioned there is a recent “faith crisis” in dance and performance from a
Western perspective. Why do you think this is the case, and how do you
see this crisis evolving?

Monika: Recently, I talked with my colleague Louise Trueheart, who observes a faith crisis in dance. This seems to be both a spiritual and artistic
concern. To devote a life to dance without knowing the outcome could be
considered a form of spiritual practice. It made me think how such a spiritual practice can be maintained within neoliberal and capitalistic structures
that are fuelled by competition and the striving for individual power.
Our society has had to face immense restrictions due to the pandemic within the past two years. Some have experienced it more than others. Care
workers, especially, have had to face the consequences of the spread of the
COVID-19 virus. As cultural workers, we’ve had to take a step back from
our stages and act in solidarity to prevent a further crash of the system. I
believe that this shift of awareness is not only something negative; it should
also inspire us to think about the elitist perspective that performance art
has achieved and how we can start a new form of performance that is more
avant-garde and radical again. The issues that care workers were facing
existed before, and so did the faith crisis in dance and performance. How
can we change politics through performance, especially when it is merely
presented to a cultural bubble?
These days, I am more interested in performance that is created by communities whose voices have not yet been presented in the arts, whether
that is due to class, gender, or cultural backgrounds. To move out of the
faith crisis, we need to provide space and institutions that allow long-term
changes, rather than repeat colonial, exploitative practices that continue to
work under the concept of patriarchal hierarchies.

 

What are your next projects, Andro and Monika? What political or
subjective problems will they refer to?

Andro: As I mentioned before, people and I are in the condition of being
the living dead for each other, and I don’t know when this will end. But
whenever the next performance is, this condition will probably show itself,
showing a person who not only lost control over their muscles and spine
but cannot even flesh out the word for thought and will not be able to give
a name to this condition. That’s why the work will simply be numbered Op

I want the image of myself to be a simulacrum, a copy of an original
that got lost. I want to find such a dotted form, which can be perceived in
emptiness and could simultaneously be a vessel of interpretations. I want
the thinking around these interoperations to be the main dynamism about
this figure.
Monika: Until the end of this year, I will be working on my series The
Aesthetics of Knowledge (2019–ongoing). I am experimenting and questioning how far a non-human agent can become a collaborator for a performative action that appears to be a sculpture. Since 2019, I have been aiming
to involve stones and other organic particles as non-human collaborators
as part of a sculpture series that continues to transform itself through a

variety of factors. The work is certainly inspired by my personal feeling of
solastalgia, the alienating feeling due to the rapid changes in my environment. We are increasingly feeling the impact of climate change and live in
a time in which we have to newly consider our relation to the world and
build new bridges to our environment that are based on the knowledge of
our folkloristic ancestry. I am expanding this series at present as part of a
residency program in which I am working together with an optical research
department.
Furthermore, I am developing a new performance based on my continued
research on intergenerational human trauma, by analysing the symptoms of
anxiety together with a dancer. As part of this process, I am also working
together with scientists in psychology and biology as part of an interdisciplinary residency in Jena.
I am also excited to continue working on my radio show at Refuge Worldwide that features traditional and contemporary forms of folklore from
around the world that use folkloristic music and poetry as forms of resistance. Last but not least, I continue to resist the fragmentation of our world
and spend time repairing my personal trauma together with caring communities surrounding me. This creative process may be never-ending but [it is]
nevertheless essential for the past, present, and future.
fin.

 

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