Kara Feely: I'm interested in the relationship between this kind of developed specialized virtuosity and your acting training in Italy.
Francesco Gagliardi: "Specialized virtuosity" I like that.
KF: It is uncommon for someone of your training to switch gears like that, yes?
FG: I suppose so... I don't know - I never really wanted to be an actor - I trained as an actor because I was interested in directing and I wanted to know how things "felt" from the "inside"... if you see what you mean - it was always instrumental to creating pieces with performers in them. I enjoy performing immensely - but it never had that thing of "I want to be an aktoor". I guess I was always very attracted to virtuosity in acting and in singing - opera, that was a big influence believe it or not (which is something we should also talk about in relation to your work, at some stage).
KF: Was that motivation related to you getting involved with film? It's interesting that your work as taken so many forms, and that translation has been a major theme throughout, translating ideas from one medium or practice to another. It makes me think of a lecture I heard from Rosalind Krauss about 70's artists and the idea of a 'technical support' running through their work rather than medium specificity.
FG: Oh yes, Krauss - she has things to say about medium specificity… I’m not sure I fully understand it though.
KF: Me neither. Except that it has to do with Ed Ruscha and cars.
FG: I must re-read that book about Broodthaers.
But anyway yes, translation - that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I suppose I first began to use video to do something I wanted to do and couldn't do otherwise: the Short Sentences project. I just wanted to realize that play, and there was no other way.
KF: I've always felt that Stein was writing for the digital age...
FG: Then, after a rather long time, I began to think about video again in relation to performance documentation - and those video performances came about. And really there I was working very consciously for the first time with the idea of translating - translating performance into video, rather than representing the performance through a video. I think that to conceptualize the relation between performance and documentation in terms of "translation" rather than "representation" really changes things entirely. In "representation" you have an ontological hierarchy: original - copy. In "translation" the two terms (two languages, two mediums, etc...) are equal. It's a completely different situation. Also translation goes back and forward: you can't really translate a performance into video without re-thinking what performance is. So if you think about it as translation, documentation turns out to be a process, to be open-ended, and to have an impact on your way of thinking about the live piece itself...
This really makes me want to go back to making videos.
KF: Did the translation films begin as performances, and become translated, so to speak? I'm thinking of the one with the German translator and the Chinese dinner...
FG: They were actually performed in front of the camera. That's partly why I wanted the videos to have that real-time structure: no edits. It's one single slice of time. I should send you the whole pieces - did I ever give them to you? The dinner is 48 min long, the German translation 35 or so.
KF: No, please do.
FG: I hesitate to call them "performances for camera" as that seems to conjure up a very specific type of work. All those highly produced "performance films" and "dance films". I generally really dislike that stuff.
KF: They're more about representation as you say, rather than translation- which is active, progressive, productive.
FG: They just use the conventions of narrative film and apply them to dance or performance: close ups, shot/ reverse shot, little tricks. They try to make it “interesting” - it always feels like they don’t trust the work. “This is kinda boring, but we’re going to make it exciting!”. I’m trying to re-think the structure of the film in relation to the timing and structure of live performance.
KF: You made some films of invisible mental tasks- I'm thinking about the logician at the chalkboard. The movement of her hand really becomes the focus, the Barthesian "punctum" maybe.
FG: With those performances of mental tasks there is again the same idea of translating performance into video - live into digital. But also the joke of "showing" these mental, private performances. It all began with a video of myself doing one of my reading pieces: I read the first chapter of Moby Dick skipping every second word, and of course it's just this long shot of me sitting and reading silently. I was interested in the idea of authority- the artist's authority. You have to believe that that's what i'm doing (silently reading Moby Dick according to these pointless rules) because I say so. It’s like: You have to believe that this is art because I say so.
I was very satisfied with the title. It was called: Call Ishmael.
Sorry my cat is going bonkers here.
FG: Is it still freezing in NYC?
KF: We are in an ice age, apparently.
KF: I'm trying to figure out a way to characterize the different experiences of watching these mental tasks on video and live in performance, and failing at the moment... But somehow it seems that my focus goes to different things- more focused in the videos on the particular actions relating to the tasks, and in person to the aura of the experience, the feeling present in the room, and the objects themselves...
FG: Mmmm... It's a good point. I guess I’ll have to send you the pieces in their entirety.
I don't know either. I think it's hard for me to think about it in terms of experience... I’m rather thinking about it in terms of what kinds of different objects they are - in ontological, rather then phenomenological terms, in other words. Also in the videos I guess all sorts of random background stuff comes to the foreground: noises form outside, a fly on the wall, etc. In performance, no matter how boring, the focus tends to remain tighter, no?
KF: Hmm, that 's interesting. There's a flatness in the video that places all the other distractions on an even plane. While live performance is so much about emphasis. Emphasis that is willed into existence.
FG: I like that, yes. What Gertrude Stein would have called "insistence" I suppose.
FG: Which is what brings life and energy into repetition, and what makes repetition not actually repetitive. Yes: that is very very central in live performance.
KF: I think quite a bit about the different experiences of time that can be witnessed in performance- rapt attention, boredom, distraction... I think they are all valid and interesting.
KF: Convincing actors of this is difficult sometimes though.
FG: Yes yes yes. Vanity.
KF: Because if they feel like they are losing the audience they get very upset.
FG: One always feels the need to be in control. There is this need to "control" the audience. I struggle with that too. It's tricky - because the audience sometimes looks like it WANTS to be controlled.
KF: I think that's mostly true. But we can't just give them what they want, right? That's too easy for everyone!
FG: It's comfortable to relinquish oneself to someone else for a while and get carried along. All the while being "interested".
KF: So when you frustrate those expectations then you get called am amateur.
FG: Yes - but don't you think that's very specific to THEATER performance? I mean, in ART performance it's a given that it's going to be a mess. In theater, even in experimental theater, there is always the expectation that the director (or performer) will control the audience’s reactions - it's a totally different game.
KF: Yes, but do art world audiences really want to watch things? Do they enjoy the experience of performance, or just the idea. I wonder about that sometimes.
FG: You mean in visual art performance - the kind of performance that gets written about on Artforum? Performa performance?
KF: Yes, I guess I'm referring to that. Because sitting through a performance and its ups and downs, transitions- being interested in THAT is a very particular thing.
FG: Well, I think here we're getting at something that is very crucial for both of us, and it's the way in which our practices are positioned in this kind of no man's land: it's not experimental theater, but it's definitely rooted in theater, and it's not quite visual art performance... in a lot of "performance art" the whole point of the experience seems often to be purely social: re-enforcing a sense of belonging to a group of connoisseurs. People react to what happens in the piece in order to signal to one another that they "get it", that they are insiders.... I see this a lot at Performa - a lot in this now very popular genre of lecture-performance.
KF: And not about the experience of the performance, which will be entirely different for different people, which uses temp and pace as variables, highly studied variables.
temp temp tempo
Problem with my o key.
FG: This is a huge topic, and crucial. It also has to do with amateurism and professionalism - in art performance being too "professional" often seems to be a liability - in theater it's the other way around. This is very badly put, but don't you agree? In art circles, an amazing performer like Fulya Peker would be considered kind of uncool - whereas they love Ann Liv Young. Well, she’s not the best example, perhaps, but I was just reading about her. It’s is something about control and technique, and about "not giving a shit"
KF: Yes, and Fulya is a great example. She's a gem with a highly developed, individualistic practice, and it's a joy to watch her work, to prepare, even, for a performance. It is integrated into her life in a very holistic way. I feel that way about several performers I've worked with (present company included.)
FG: Fulya is amazing. I remember noticing her in Foreman's shows well before I knew who she was - the performer of one’s dreams. Like Elena Russo Arman, whom you met in Italy last summer.
KF: But I think it comes back to virtuosity somehow, and time, and the willingness of audiences to give up time, and to enjoy, seek out, radical experiences of time. And that's partly why I think I always wind up working in theater.
FG: Absolutely. But don't you think that that kind of command of one's practice would be considered somehow "uncool" in performance art? Interestingly enough that is not so in painting, for instance. In other media attitudes keep changing and shifting: one day technique is conservative and a bad thing, but then it’s “in” again, and so on. In performance art, on the other hand, this sort of deskilling seems to be a defining feature: if the person looks like she knows what she’s doing, it’s not performance art. Unless we’re talking of that quasi-mystical “thing” that people like Abramović always go on and on about. I’m exaggerating of course, but you see what I mean.
KF: Well, I think that's what's so mystifying about this whole Performa/performance art situation, to performance people like you and me.
FG: It's really a different set of rules. And that's what makes your practice "difficult" I think: that it refuses to fully play by either... and what makes it really compelling too.
KF: So the question becomes what is the best apparatus to funnel myself through, or what is best for the work itself...
FG: It is a hard thing to negotiate.
KF: To be continually disappointing people and their expectations! Or happily overturning them.
FG: It's harder and harder to break the rules as more and more rule-breaking rules (rules about how to break rules) get codified and sanctioned. "Breaking rules is good" (but only if you do it in ways we can recognize: i.e. if you break them according to the rules). So in theater you're an amateur, in performance art you're too theatrical.
KF: Yes, yes. that's me.
FG: Go stand in the corner!
KF: I think that balance and fluctuation is incredibly interesting, that's a central idea in most of my pieces, or perhaps a central methodology. Putting Doug next to Fulya for example. Then things start to get interesting. I heard comments like... "who was that guy that invaded the stage?"
FG: Ah that's a great comment! Also "control and release" - or wouldn't you put it like that?
KF: I would say different modes of performance- or methods. Task-based, actions, alongside theatricalized activity.
FG: Yes, I like that.
KF: Side by side, in an inconsistent universe.
FG: Inconsistency is also a big thing for you, it seems to me. You're much bolder than I am, on this account. I feel the attraction, but often step back.
KF: Ah, well, perhaps that is a good impulse.
FG: Ahahah, I don’t know.
I think it has to do again with the difference between personal, solo work, and ensemble work. But it's very interesting to occupy those inconsistent spaces, as a performer. It is difficult for a lot of people, I suspect - like we were saying earlier. Perhaps it's another aspect of that issue of keeping the audience interested at all times, being in control.
KF: You can occupy them as a performer, but not really embody them, yes? And that is how a diverse ensemble creates the possibility for those kinds of ruptures. And the individual performers provide the life raft, so to speak. They give you something to hang onto- several, individualistic life rafts.
FG: I’m thinking about the rafts...
I think the joke is that there has been no shipwreck. That's what makes the multiplicity of life rafts so utterly puzzling and exciting. I like this!
KF: This is perhaps the greatest metaphor for my work that I can conjure. Well done!
Where's the shipwreck!?!
FG: Aftermaths of a shipwreck that never happened. Or even Rehearsals for a shipwreck.
KF: So what will you be performing next week?
FG: I’ll finalize the program over the next few days and will let you know. "I want o to use masonite boards" How's that as a title for the program?
FG: (without the random "o') (or maybe I should leave it)
KF: And sometime I can perform "I want to use chalk line reels."
FG: Ah, yes! I want to see that one! Anyway, we should talk more about performance! And shipwrecks, and inconsistency. This was very productive for me.
KF: And for me. Signing off now- thanks Francesco, and see you soon!
(ninja) (ninja) (ninja)
FG: Thank you!
(dance) (dance) (dance)
conducted over internet chat January 30, 2011, Brooklyn, NY and Toronto, Canada