“Immediacy of live bodies is efficient way of transferring raw experience”

Ethan Folk
We’ve started to exchange thoughts somewhere between Belgrade, Zagreb, Dubrovnik and finally finished our interview in Madrid.

Main idea was providing our readers an insight in different art perspectives, stories of the bodies, wealth of spaces and new experiences through Seattle based Vernae project. Although Vernae won’t have any more live events, it persists as unique performance and it will be encapsulated in film by the end of winter.

What draws you to pursuing art? And how was your professional life before hitchhiking through Europe and Asia, and before beginning your conclusive synthesis of Vernae and the fragmented performances in Belgrade?

Making art feels right? I previously studied and worked as an engineer in the aerospace industry. I think this background (combined with my lack of any formal art training or study) gives me a perspective which can be very different from (and often complementary to) that of my peers.

Could you point out any similarities and differences between independent conception of art in US (Seattle scene) and Europe (Belgrade scene)? What are the creative processes like? Do you face financial and city council obstructions and what type of audience is drawn to your performances?

I can’t say with certainty about the situation in Belgrade, but it certainly seems that in Seattle institutional (financial) support is more accessible. That being said, we had a tremendous amount of non-financial support from the institutions we collaborated with in Belgrade (Perpetuum Mobile, Ciglana, Bioskop Zvezda, Dom Omladine, and The Drugstore). And this project wouldn’t have ever happened in Belgrade (or, perhaps, anywhere) if it wasn’t for the vision and trust of INEX Gallery, (particularly Curator/Program Manager Dušan Savić) – who initially invited us to Belgrade in the form of a residency, and subsequently provided an immense amount of artistic, logistic, and networking support.

Vernae

You’ve been working with various partners on the Vernae project for more than a year. Beginning with the initial idea of the first short film, can you briefly describe the process of going from the original idea to the Belgrade performances?

Briefly? No! I can’t even begin to recall all the different twists and turns in my (our) different conceptions of Vernae. Since its beginnings as a short film created in collaboration with The House of ia and Alice Gosti, it has shifted in scope, medium, and personnel – but the thread that has remained central is this: the desire to present human actions and states which transcend performance. To access raw impulse, urge, fatigue, or overwhelming emotion. And this idea, for me, is what has dictated the long and twisting evolution of the project. After our first installation performance in Seattle, it became clear that the immediacy of live bodies was, in many respects, a more efficient way of transferring raw experience to an audience. I like to think that all the installation components are there primarily for the performers – creating an immersive environment (sound, sculpture, costume, material) is essential to performers being able to access the states we are interested in. An audience gets to benefit from immersion in the environment, too, but that is secondary. So I suppose it is this line of thinking that has driven the massive expansion of the aesthetic world and designers/creators/musicians.

Again looking back at Vernae… In Drugstore (July 2) the audience notices four performers – Tyler Wardwell, Patrick Kilbane, Calie Swedberg and Brace Evans. Additionally, the Vernae performances in Belgrade are held in six different geographical locations. Could you explain to our readers the roles of the performers and the meaning of the geographical dislocation?

The geographical dislocation is a method of accumulating meaning by repeating similar or related actions in different environments. The variety and spread-out timing of sites/performances allowed us to actually create and then re-synthesize the performer’s new experiences in each event.

One of the main reasons we came to Belgrade was to take full advantage of the wealth of spaces which were available – where else would we be able to make work in a 150 meter long brick factory, on the roof of a Yugoslavian cinema, on the façade of an experimental art space the banks of the Danube, or in a massive slaughterhouse which currently houses raves?

I’d prefer not to go too deep into our conception of the “roles” and relationships, for reason’s I’ll address in your next question. But I suppose I could say briefly that Tyler Wardwell (the co-creator of this event series) was, in his performances, an embodiment of site. This is related to an idea that was developed by our Dramaturg, Hanna McFall, about Abbadon, which in the Hebrew bible refers both to a place of destruction AND an embodiment of death. So in this way, Tyler’s body and interactions/activations of various parts of the “machinery” of a site can be viewed as extensions of the site itself. Similarly, the role embodied by Brace Evans is an extension of the audience.

The relationships and rituals embodied by Calie and Patrick are embodiments of resistance and release, about shame and grace, about self-dissolution and the dissolution of others, about death.

Vernae

While watching Synthesis in Drugstore, it seemed to me like you are taking a step back (philosophical sense) by re-thinking theatre and making performances in a ritual way, like you’re trying to find emotions in instincts and repetitive modes. Were you ever worried that the audience may not be able to grasp the hidden layers encapsulated within the actor’s bodies and their actions?

For me, it’s not necessary that an audience “gets” the meaning of a role, or relationship, or action. What I think is important, and what I think does get transferred, is the internal logic of these systems (or rituals) that we have developed through rigorous processes, together, over the course of extended periods of time. No, I’ve said that wrong – it’s not important that the logic is transferred, or understood – its just important that it exists (for us, the developers and performers) – I think that the mere existence of this kind of deep structural basis will impress itself upon to an observer, even if they don’t actually discern the specifics or rules.

But yes – we were curious how Belgrade audiences would respond to an event in the rain where, to superficially summarize: performers are basically walking back and forth along a straight line for 3 hours. We were pleased to find that perfectly-sized audiences showed up for each event. We were more pleased when a majority of them stayed for the entire performance, and we were delighted when we had audience members who subsequently came to each event.

Following the closing exhibition in Belgrade’s Inex Gallery, I assume Vernae will take a short creative break. What are Vernae’s and your future plans? Could the Croatian audience hope to see your work sometime soon?

Vernae is now being edited and should be complete by the end of Winter. I have said before that Vernae won’t have any more live events, but I feel deeply attracted to Croatia, and I certainly hope to present some other future work there. In the meanwhile, I am pleased to share this latest study/short, titled VERNAE θ, which features an original score by Kezz and pann+onn, the two Serbian musicians who became central to our project.

Anđela Vidović

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