Daria Demekhina is a performance researcher and curator. Katya Ganyushina is an editor at roomfor.ru, lecturer, artist. Together in 2018, they created the lecture-performance “10 gestures” on the history of performance. I met them in December, 2019 at VFTM in Moscow. At this lecture you choose the role: an observer or a participant. Being a participant, you have the opportunity to get into the body of an artist or performer, and being an observer, you take the position of a spectator of what is happening. Daria, Katya and I talked about the process of creating a lecture-performance, the selection of works, the willingness of people to get involved in what is happening and the future of this format of lectures.
Anastasia: How and when did you start working together?
Daria: We met in 2015. In the process of communication, we gradually realized that we have common interests and experience that require joint discussion. And then I found out that we gave lectures in the same block at the NCCA: Katya gave lectures on modern dance and I — on performance. Someone invited us to TSEKH dance center for a performance, where we tried to show the difference between dance and performance. After that, we gradually came to the need to expand the lecture format, requiring a new way to tell people about performative practices. So in the summer of 2018, we came up with “10 gestures” project.
Katya: Then I thought: cool idea! The question was what performances to choose? We started with the fact that Dasha selected a certain number of works according to the indexability of images in Google.
Anastasia: It turns out that you selected performances for the lecture exclusively on statistics without personal preferences?
Daria: I can say about one important personal preference — it was necessary to choose a performance by a Russian contemporary artist. There are no problems with Oleg Kulik, he is quite well known in the West. And about several generations after him — Olya Kroytor, Andrey Kuzkin and others — there is not much information in the West, and in the Russian Internet performance is not the most popular genre. That’s why Olya Kroytor was included in our selection as a significant figure for the local context, but unfortunately it was quite difficult to include her on the principle of indexability of images — Russian performance is not as popular as, for example, Californian performance.
Roselee Goldberg released a book about the first 18 years of performance of the XXI century, which mentions Pussy Riot [note: the Russian edition differs from the original one], but we didn’t want to include them — this is actionism, and, frankly, another story. The book, by the way, also mentioned Elena Kovylina with her work “Would you like a Cup of coffee?’, or Burn the world of the bourgeoisie’, which she showed in Zurich. In fact, even the Eastern European curators who deal with Eastern Europe know very little: Petr Pavlensky, Oleg Kulik, Hermann Vinogradov, the ESCAPE group, and Sergei Africa, who for some reason got into this list. It was important for us to show that the Russian scene exists and is very active, even if it is not well known internationally.
Anastasia: How did you organise the process when creating the lecture-performance?
Daria: The idea was born from our long conversations with Katya. I don’t know about Katya — I’ll speak for myself. Somewhere in 2018, there was a very large vacuum in the community, and I had no one to discuss professional issues with. We talked a lot about these issues. I think it was a general dissatisfaction with the format and the fact that people who come to lectures on performance and modern dance have very little or no bodily experience. The story of these practices was empty for them. I had an opportunity to show something. When I proposed the project to Katya, I still had no concrete idea how to implement the idea.
Katya: I agree that at some point we had a lot of reflection, including on the experience of conducting lectures. In 2016, I read the first series of lectures — it was hard for me. When I tried to present my picture of the world in this lecture series, I realized that just conducting lectures is not interesting.
We had to select such performances that we could hold with the people who came and that at the same time would be representative from the point of view of the performance history. Thus, their number was immediately reduced to 20-30. Next, we thought about their order, so that participants could conveniently move from one gesture to another and that some changes changes were manifested spatially. As if in dance.
Daria: Indeed, the principle of building “10 gestures” does not come from performance, but from dance. Although we have a joint process, we have divided the areas of responsibility: I am responsible for the text, and Katya is responsible for body movements. Then we combined our work and “finished it” in the process of performing it. We didn’t change much, though.
Katya: We edited the instructions, paying great attention to what people hear and how much it forms the informational image of a particular performance. In other words, we worked more with the auditory attention of people so that they were comfortable enough to listen to these words. But we still have situations when, for example, on Oleg Kulik, people simply do not hear the text — so in this gesture, we periodically stop so that people couls stop and hear something.
Anastasia: People get very involved in the process and forget about the text and surroundings.
Katya: Yes, and this is an interesting task for us: how to maintain involvement at the level of body knowledge, and at the same time make it possible to perceive information on a verbal level.
Anastasia: Yes, after all, you have a lecture-performance that is not only about body knowledge, but also verbal knowledge.
Daria: It seems to me that in fact the focus of the lecture-performance is on the performative, bodily expansion. In standard classroom lectures, we realized that you can explain the context and mental state of the artist by reading diaries or including documentary pieces of evidence, but usually this does not give much knowledge, just facts are difficult to remember. Now we are working with body knowledge. The lecture-performance is based on the research of neuroscience and the understanding that our body is smart, it has its own way of transmitting information, not discursive. In our works, the text most often acts as a trigger. If you noticed on VFTM, we give very little amount of text — a kind of prompting people to get a smartphone, Google the name or write it down. The text is a kind of crutch that makes it habitual to enter the work for observers. This is a way, but not the path itself.
Katya: We don’t tell you about some performances at all. You see a photo and can only guess something, somehow connect it with words, but until you open Google, you will not understand what the performance was. So yes, the motivation is important here.
We have a division into observers and participants. It is very important that we respect these positions equally. There is a certain experience happening there, it is different, but it is happening. When you are inside, you are very much connected to some action, so you do not pay much attention to how strange it is to lie on the floor, bite someone or jump on a chair. For observers, the verbal layer is not just a crutch, but a very cool opportunity to organize and justify the actions of participants they observe.
Anastasia: What do you associate with people’s desire to be an observer or participant?
Daria: Katya and I only sat people in their seats once — it was at the NCCA. As it is, we ask someone else to do it, so we do not directly control the selection process. It seems to me that the same story is happening here as in ordinary lectures: people sit at the back of the class.
In many ways, we work with the development of a culture of trips to non-standard places. Where we just did not perform: for example, in Kazakhstan at the research Institute “Almatygenplan” or in December at the VFTM in PHOTOPLAY space. It is also related to the development of the culture of attending such events in general: we periodically catch people in conversation that they might not like something very much in the “10 gestures”. In Kaluga, a woman was very hurt by Oleg Kulik’s performance, but for some reason she did not leave the lecture.
We don’t have a culture of saying “no” or refusing, and we don’t leave performances either. Everything comes from school and school trips to the same theater. We are told: here you can eat, here you can leave things, but you can dress up or come in normal clothes, do not take food, but chocolate is ok. Since contemporary art is not part of school or even student programs, people simply don’t know what to do. They don’t know. For the duration of our lectures have only one person left. In my opinion, this is very significant. We give people the opportunity to say, “God, what a piece of shit that was,” get up and leave. This is everyone’s right that we respect. We always leave it to the person to understand that they don’t need “10 gestures” and better spend time on something else.
Katya: We offer certain actions in a public space that absolutely violate the rules of this space: lie under a table or wrap a rope around your neck. I think this behavior is very unusual for many people. When you do this — you express some kind of protest, you realize that you can do something that does not coincide with the rules of public space. I think it’s an interesting experience and feeling. Especially for a Russian person.
Anastasia: In what way do you plan to develop the project or this format of lectures further?
Daria: Now we are working with corporate culture. Katya, in addition to “10 gestures” works at the intersection of theater and economy, and I plan to work with the culture of parties. We want to take those spaces that are familiar to people in many ways, and play with the existing structure. For example, with the structure of teamwork in large corporations. Many things are now sufficiently influenced by the new spiritualism, in fact, by the religious movement. The New York stock exchange was opening for several years with a meditation on raising stock prices. In this regard, our “10 gestures” and what we do are much closer to this meditation on stock quotes than to the standard blackboxing theater.
Katya: We underestimate how much corporate culture determines our life: starting from what Dasha said, and ending with the fact that all the ideology that we consume is created by corporations. It seems to me that it is interesting to study, dig, find cracks and make something else out of it. Art can do completely impossible things at a level you can’t imagine.
Photography: Sergey Efremov.
Author’s podcast by Daria Demekhina on Storytel “Life as a performance”, in which experts talk about eternal topics that remain pressing to this day.