Self-Portrait in the Midst of Performance Art, Part 1

/ by JAŠA (Mrevlje-Pollak)

vocation is a must and “the wake of a criminal”

Where to begin?


Describing the moment when everything goes quiet, where absolute fear turns into complete focus?


Gerhard Richter once said, “When I am painting, I am not thinking, I am painting.” I get this notion, I have always felt it and when I stumbled upon it as a young painter in Venice, it set me free. At the same time, another trigger, another thought came through, Kandinsky’s: “While I wait for inspiration, I need to train myself, so when it does come, I’ll be ready." Not only do I share the thought with these two classics, it is embedded in me, since I consciously started my “training” as a painter. I always stress, I never ceased to be one, a painter; when it comes to the way I think and use the creative process as a continued state of mind and things. The fact is, working on paintings, day by day, for weeks, months, years, pushes you through so many levels of conscious drifting, layers of emotions and intentional shifting, sleepless nights, eager mornings, dark evenings or ones of complete and absolute bliss; that’s painting, and as a process it prepares you for many other things. Performing is very close to that, and of course completely different. Why do you need to get up and follow a glimpse in your mind and find a way to put it out? The answer: you simply have to. Vocation is a must, and every time you react actively and you find way to turn that glimpse into material, a feeling of completeness seizes your body and mind. A drawing can obsess your thoughts, as can a note, a melody or simply a feeling, a hunch.


In performance, for me it usually happens like this: I get something in my stomach, a feeling, I tend to call it “the wake of a criminal,” since it always gives me this buzz that I am up to something, something cunning, something secretive. It usually comes as a reaction, to what I see in people around me intimately, or as a reaction to social issues. If I allow myself to go back, and share the beginnings, you, my reader, will understand it even more.


realities I can live

JAŠA and his mother (1981).
Imagine a boy who walks into an art gallery on the eve of an opening of his mother's architectural exhibition, a display of her last successful projects; a process you have been following up close since it was first in the air, in the family, all the doubts, thoughts, last minute changes, disappointments and, above all, excitement, this continuous running up the mountain with this drug-like high of projected expectations. Openings as a social event are a sum of "hard to deny" protocol and unwritten rules. And to me, it always felt like an awkward non-dance, as if everyone and everyone's reactions bind into one huge collage of expectations, high up in the air, but really standing and walking on two tiny legs, threatening that it might all collapse very soon. I hated it. Always did. I had a feeling that, given my smaller perspective, I was 9 or so, I was witnessing a charade. It felt as if everyone is a part of a script that somebody wrote, that nobody knows, but obeys and follows without questioning it. Don’t get me wrong, these were usually the nights when I came out covered in lipstick, because all the happy mother’s friends determined not only that I grew, but that I was showing hints of my future as yet to be.


I wanted to shift the gravitating mechanisms within a show

I had my first solo show in second-year high school, and when the day of the opening approached, my nervousness was growing. I did not want to go in that same state, the two situations, works on the walls, and us, celebrating my “you did it.” So I came up with a script and melted in with the works, I simply removed myself from the visible script and put myself into my own. I removed myself from the social tissue of the opening; I wanted to break what "openings" for me represented. I started understanding them as an event, as another medium of expression. From this perspective, my role as "the" artist of the show simply became a role I chose not to play. It was the first time that I decided to mold “the obvious,” and came up with a concept for the opening, I constructed a procedure for the public. At the same time, I had my own script which I started calling "the invisible script." In a way, I simply wanted to shit on the gravitating mechanisms within a show and the rules of an event, an opening.


Performance, for me, became an option of existence, which I completely feel in love with, a state of mind and things, a state of reality; a temporary state, but then again, which reality is not, temporary.


Crash in Progress, construction of Dafne, summer 2003, top Simone Settimo & Jaša, bottom Peter Furlan, Giorgio Andreotta Calò & Simone Settimo
On the morning of The Relations, I woke up, as I unfortunately do, when I end the installing and preparations part, completely beat up. With years, especially after Dafne, the huge installation we pulled off still as students with CIP in Venice, it became some sort of a sign, that not only is it happening, but that I am in the so-called “zone,” getting closer to the completion. Trust me, it is addictive, as it is so extremely physically and mentally overwhelming. It usually starts with stiff fingers (due to drills and heavy lifting), headache (dehydration and so many voices) and foggy eyes. The best thing in these moments is that, usually, I am not alone, there are people closest to me there, and they share the same intensity of the moment. A shower becomes the first moment I have to myself, where I regroup my thoughts.


"before the concert"

On that day, under the shower, I was going again through the eight individual performances and their faces, an amazing group of people who responded to our open call. The morning, according to the plan, was reserved for the rehearsals, in which I needed to lay out last individual instructions and bind the performances into one homogenous situation. Within all of this, I need to be constantly and simultaneously within my role as a performer, as well as a director. Sometimes, in the midst of all the positive commotion and expectations, tiny secluded spots, like a shower or a dark corner in the tool room in the gallery, becomes my moment of "before the concert" - a stark combination of absolute fear and an assassin's steel-like focus; a vortex moment where it makes no difference whether my eyes are open or closed, my ears covered or not, the director, the role, the act, the idea, the emotion, all of it becomes this pulsating instant, right-here, in-between and before.


JAŠA, 2016
In the Crystal C project, I needed to mark this moment with a drawing on the soles of my feet. It's a drawing that represents two characters from the Crystal C text, left foot becomes the Mother or Night and the right is the Father or Day. I could call it a ritual, but my utter respect for traditions around beliefs does not allow me to take these things too lightly or, on the other hand, it did become a personal ritual that marks the moment I described above, and grounds me into what's coming next.


Utter / the violent necessity for the embodied presence of hope, Outside structure in the Pavilion of Slovenia, Jaša, 2015
As I walk into the space, which is almost ready, I feel a strange mix of extreme confidence, even though it all clings to this completely organic moment of performance. When all the elements fall into place, I simply know that it will happen. I know magic will happen. But the preparations are so vital to that, that it usually takes me way too long, I run around until the last moment. It's like tuning this enormous instrument and there are so many tiny particles that need adjusting, so many details that need to fall in place in order to react accordingly once everything starts.


to get as close and as familiar as possible (with a space)

Utter / the violent necessity for the embodied presence of hope, inside structure during a performance of one of the 29 weeks
On the opening day of Utter, at the Venice Biennale, after months of preparations in the studio and a proper hardcore month of installation on-site, I was so exhausted that I needed to hide within the structure; I lay down on the floor of my tiny space on the first floor, which was above the bass woofer room. As Junzi started his performance with blasting sound, I let the instrument, which just started, something I’d dreamed for such a long time, give me the energy back, and it did.


In The Relations, it was very similar: we had technical complications until the last moment, and even though I am usually surrounded with people with incredible capabilities to fix things and understand the media, it simply does not feel right yet. I need to be in there until the instrument is perfectly ready. This was another day where I allowed myself an illusion in the morning, that I will finish early, get back home, a friend’s place in this case, and get some quiet moments to myself. That didn't happen. On the other hand, there is something about shaving and washing in the sink of the technician’s backstage gallery’s spaces. As performers started arriving an hour before the doors opened, I was still fixing the last cables, and that was the final signal to start.


At Crash in Progress, we even felt the need to sleep over, spend a night in the spaces where we were exhibiting, I guess it was all in order to get as close and as familiar as possible with the space, in order to use its potential to the maximum. A work has to be in absolute dialogue with the space.

As initiation for my performances for years now, I first take off my shoes, even if I plan to use them in the performance.


I need to feel the floor.


(to be continued)

JAŠA (Mrevlje-Pollak)

is a Slovenian artist who lives and works in Ljubljana, Venice and New York.