Self-Portrait in the Midst of Performance Art, Part 2

/ by JAŠA (Mrevlje-Pollak)

feeling of urgency

The Relations, Frieze London 2016
As I step into the space, I know I will allow myself to feel in a different way. I will let out what I have planned, structured. But right before, my head gets flooded with so many voices, a state of mind I am so familiar with. At a very early stage of my growing up, I started hearing voices. For years it frightened me, but I found a way to embrace them and understand their meaning. In a way, they are nothing but bulked-up emotions, which unify into a singular voice. Now imagine multiple knots of emotion simultaneously expressing themselves through voice. I fought not to simplify them or make them the core of my work. Again, I need to stress that my art is not about me, but how I can channel and use the medium in order to communicate a reality. As I step in, I see and hear every element, time slows down, but inside of me it is running faster, because I need to predict every next move, I need to follow the structure, and as I move, I need to choose the best next element, according to what is happening. I need to immerse myself into this continuous in-between space that I have been developing for years now.


The Relations, Frieze London 2016
I never was a drummer. In The Relations I allowed myself to use drums as a sculpture, an amputated set. A rolling beat, a manifested drive, the feeling of urgency, I wanted to inject that into the performance from the beginning. I practiced many different versions, but did not yet decide which approach I should finally use. Then I sat down and lifted the pink drumsticks and it was completely clear to me what I am to do. Again, letting it go, but staying tuned in to the surroundings, to feel the rhythm, the tension, the atmosphere. The drums were only the beginning of a four-hour long performance.


performance as a word, an athlete, an actor, a dancer, and fear of failure

The Relations, Frieze London 2016
For me, performance in its core embraces failure, and in this way it is closer to reality. It stays in the realm of reality and therefore does not interpret or reflect reality, but is reality. I have never been a fan of extreme performance in sense of body mutilations. For me, the effect of the emotion, of the pure shock, of pain was, in a way, too simple. I prefer a notion of pain, a more complex feeling, which comes to you in a more sublime way. Especially because works that initially shocked me and created an immediate reaction faded quickly. The more sublime approach grows on me slowly and tends to stay. If performance art discovered ketchup after real blood, my generation was facing mostly the feeling of detached realities, so the initial idea was to feel the reality within the given moment and use the body as a vehicle for feelings and consequential behavior, reacting to space and time as a concept, a mind structure on which you need to play as one plays an instrument.


can I fail?

This is probably my greatest fear, as I start on the drums: will it work with what’s around me? At the same time, I’m thinking that the drums part is the most difficult part for me, but still, at the last moment I decided to start here. And facing fear is not at the core of my interest, to push the limits definitively, to see how far I can stretch, but again, not in order to meet my breaking point and showing that to you, I am not interested in that. I want to use myself as part of the whole image, as an element in the composition of the big picture, the picture I felt the urge to paint, to communicate. It is mainly about how I behave, how I move in the space that is breathing a certain atmosphere.


The Relations, Frieze London 2016
The Relations is all about voices, these different, seemingly isolated circles that work autonomously by sharing the same space. Like a useless mechanism of which the actual function seems to relate to an abstract form of expression. To express, to utter, to loop a gesture and loop it again into another gesture. In seven months of repeating actions within Utter I’ve crossed, along with everyone else who had passed through, day by day, six days a week for 29 weeks; I’ve crossed so many moments of complete despair and bliss that continuously meet each other in one spot, my state of mind. The presence is what I can communicate, is how I feel you, the other, a stranger close to me, within my most intimate circle, yet I can decide to push you out, let you stay on the outside or lure you closer in. All things get a stronger gravitation once the actions start, the body feels heavier, words get an iron-like weight, movements are too soft or too fast. Every sound can miss its point and all elements can go out of tune. Every unpredicted element can become a trigger of complete cacophony and chaos.


I used to embrace chaos as an absolute moment of the truth of things, mainly of my state of mind, my screaming inner voices, and it only felt true, if this inside became the outside, and only then could I control it. And this is how I started The Relations: I start firing instructions to one of the performers, whose role was to whisper instructions to the other performers. I had to test the grounds, throw in the intensity, so the element of suspense could be developed later on. As I work on my element, the invisible script, when pointing out to everyone during the rehearsals that, besides what we constructed, I will infuse the space with an injection of untamed energy. It is about creating this notion of “anything can happen.” When this is within the space, the perception of the public (and the performers), anything can happen, though it never does, but it constantly tip-toes on the edges, and that turns the element of fear (of the unknown mainly) into excitement and an element of letting go. This is where my moves blend with how I make you feel. And as strange as it sounds, it is not about personal feelings, but about conducting the feelings that, with every step, get a wider perception of the whole and how it feels, as one. Through experiencing the piece, it can and usually does press on one's spectrum of memories, and it becomes one.


(Where do I want to take you? I want you to fall in, lure you in, enhance the gravity poles in the space, shifting gravity, creating this dream-like, drug-like experience that is the reality, at this moment. My responsibility is that I will guide you through, as I am letting it completely go, it’s a dance with your attentions, how you feel and where it all can go.)


As you can see by now, I am constantly drifting away in this text, or better, shifting from a conscious stream of letting you know how it feels when emerged into a specific process and how it came to this. It is intended to be so, because it is even closer to how it actually feels, the mind loops, those I impose on myself or on people I work with, and those that I meet during the process. Everyone that has a relationship with the creative process of any kind will recognize the structure, and see the shades that differ, one from another. What I need to stress is that none of it is intended to falsify a myth in order to inspire you, it's the other way around. It is about deconstructing the myth, especially the one that art as a medium per se can offer. That is why I’ll always say: “It is not about me, I am talking to you." There is no performance without a public, there is no artwork without the spectator,


the second eye

One of my first influential teachers, Tone Rački, once said, during a drawing class:


“You are drawing a glass, an object in front of your eyes, please do not try to put yourself into this drawing! It is possibly the only thing that does happen automatically, since it is your hand doing it. It is you who is drawing, so do not say it twice, concentrate on what you are drawing and on the process of communicating that.”


The Relations, Frieze London 2016
The way I understand the performance is practically the same. So when I sing “I can give you a song that dances on your lips,” I am not focusing on my personal emotion, or seeking out some inner drama that will enable me to transfer an effective emotion to you. I am concentrating on the color and intensity of my voice and how it travels to you, how it can outline and outlive the moment and establish the dialogue with what just happened and what is about to happen, in relation to the general feel in the space (which includes every collaborator and the public) and all of its operating details. It is the over-drama element that drove my initial dislike of the relationship with performance art, or over-serious art in general. I found it too simple, to one-way, the effect was too obvious, I was usually drawn more to the moment before, and the one right after, by not hitting that obvious note.



loops that will enable me to see

In The Relations, it was all in the construction of the singular elements around this missing note, which became unforcedly the dominant, but in a silent way. It has to do somehow with how perception tends to work on contrasts. In the midst of chaos and intensity, clearness can come forward and, in the moment of silence and stillness, something disrupts the image, an electrical glitch, an impulse. And the more the event develops, the more I act upon these impulses, balancing the two and more, in real time. The notion of balance of some abstract kind becomes the missing note; it's the invisible script, or simply something that is not there in the space, while everything else is following its course. If the "before the concert" started it all, the "after the concert" is how I get there. The strangest thing is that every time I find myself in the midst of it all, I already know that it will be impossible for me to get out of it afterward, that I will find it completely impossible to “come back,” and it terrifies me every time it happens. Because I am afraid to lose what I have just managed to structure in my work, for my reality and me. It is the moment of complete anger at myself, this need to constantly trap myself in loops that will enable me to see while it is happening, the limits of what I have just loved. Since I do not want to leave this space, these people, the illusion of endlessness disarms me and pushes me deeper into hopelessness, this terrible feeling of being at the back of the bus, while returning from one of the best and most liberating school trips, the moment you realize it is ending. I’ve trained myself, and I am still trying, not to fall into the automatic “what’s next” mode, in order to save myself. I let myself feel completely desperate, angry and consequently the last doors of letting go, during a performance, sigh open.


Above All We Are Not Done, New York, 2016
All the perfections, tunings, on time, on the spot, become the most organic thing. Everything and everyone flies, all is fluid and charged with this incredible feeling of here and now, of this tip-toe-ing on different edges of thoughts and realities, and it is here that I let myself realize that it did happen, that all the impossible happened, that all the difficulties and obstacles were just part of the process and that we pulled it off, me and everyone included. It is here that when, for the millionth time, my skin gets electrified, that I know that this right here, right now, is (my) reality.

JAŠA (Mrevlje-Pollak)

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