Maja Renn: "How to draw a path which evaporates as it is being treaded on?"

| tag: Arnhem

Excerpt from Maja's 20 minute presentation for Speaking Without Thumbs - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, July 2016

It's about getting lost.


Chairs were arranged around the entire space to border the periphery, snaking around walls and corners, so that anyone sitting in any of the chairs would be able to see anyone else in the room. A few small islands of chairs formed around the structural pillars. While the audience members were finding their places, they were told that they could freely change positions in the room. Without saying anything, starting at the back wall, the artist began to walk around the room, following the line of the chairs until she reached the door (where there was a gap in the line of chairs), and walked outside. Meanwhile a few people from the audience got up and moved to the other side of the room. Now and then, over the course of 20 minutes, a few others stood up and changed places, but the artist did not return to the room. Throughout the lecture performance (during most of which the artist was glaringly not present), the line of distinction between the audience and the artist/performer was not entirely clear. Audience members first watched each other and after some time returned to whatever they had been doing before the lecture performance started (chatting, reading, thinking, writing, etc.).

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung responded by saying that while Maja’s action was nothing new, he appreciated the use of space. “We are waiting for something to happen and something does happen. We can still think about the absence of the artist in this time when we all want to be present.” For Bonaventure, this action brought Bas Jan Ader’s work to mind. “You have the impression that something is happening but you are not sure if that is part of the performance. This is what other artists who have worked with silence before have dealt with – the loudness of silence. The necessity to wait for the crescendo – for something to happen and it doesn’t and I like that.” He further commented, “thinking from a perspective of blackness reminded me of David Hammon’s exhibition and Sandy Brown’s exhibition ‘How do you like this’ which is about emptiness. How do you feel that space?” He admitted that he wishes this kind of disappearance for himself, and asks, “How do you create that invisibility?”

Ekaterina Degot said that she had been anticipating a performance like this since yesterday because she knows “young students love to make this kind of work.” Though it is predictable and everyone soon understands what was going on, this work shows an “appreciation of absence and nothingness.” Also, Degot remarked, “from the beginning we were told we could move around but we did not know what was part of the performance and what was not.” This gave her a pleasant feeling that recalled the 1976 film “Chewing Gum Girl” by John Smith. The film featured a street in London and was edited with particular timing where the narration arrived slightly before the image. Degot asked a central question: why we like this in art? Does it have to do with resistance to production, fetishization, and leisure time?

For Rachel O’Reilly Maja’s performance lecture brought Pipilotti Rist to mind, particularly the idea of expanded staging. In so far as people became part of the work quite organically – by waiting – the performance of everyday life happened inside of it in a way that didn’t involve obvious outsourcing. O’Reilly appreciated the spacing out that happened as a result, how this created a “commons of low or attenuated expectations”. She remarked that she couldn’t resist splitting the room into gendered groupings of people who left the room to ‘help’ and those who stayed inside.

Bassam el Baroni was in disagreement with most of the previous responses. For him, the performanace was the “epitome of humanist tradition” and a bad idea. It created a Beckett moment, the kind that “Waiting for Godot” is known for. El Baroni pointed out many problematic ideas in the performance linked to humanism and a very traditional artist persona. “By leaving there was no nothingness,” he said, “rather we are focused on Maja and the artist becomes a romantic figure. We should resist this tradition of extreme romantic humanism.” He said “it is no longer valid as a point of agency and is actually gimmicky now. We need to put this in context and ask whether this really means anything today. Does it have any relevance to anything at all?” Though it brings into question the notion of exit, he doubts there are any real consequences and points out that here, the absence actually causes the presence. “I actually don’t think these things are important. I don’t think it makes sense anymore and it really functions as a joke outside of the field.”

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