by Isabel Lewis, photos by Brett Lindell // Apr. 23, 2011
I encountered the performance work of Florentia Holzinger and Vincent Riebeek at Creature Feature, a monthly performance series held at Basso (Köpenicker Straße 187). Framed as a queer performance series and curated by Jeremy Wade, Creature Feature, more than staking a claim to the ideologies of the artists it presents, points out the utter otherness of performance itself. Queer performance is like salty salt. Performance is queerness inside the logic of the art world. Its the odd thing out, its “liveness” makes it radical.
The Feature presents works in progress, improvisations, videos, lectures, and group actions—all of these things in a single night. It’s packed with people and propositions. When its time for Flo and Vincent to perform Wade, who has previously told the audience to move in to see the work of Ligia Manuela Lewis, a stationary solo which sustains a choreographed state of climax, now tells us to move back. To the grumbling sounds of the public sitting or standing in various contortions, he adds that we will be grateful we did. Once all are resituated in a new if no less uncomfortable positions, enter Flo and Vincent. Vincent is in a bedazzled mask, cock sling, and glow-in-the-dark bracelets and Flo in an early Britney-style get up, pink sports bra and panties, with beaded tassels hanging around her hips. Flo wears a thick blond wig and moves in and around the audience with a burning stick of incense.
This is the set up and I won’t disrespect the piece by trying to describe it. I will say that the work made me happy and not because it was a happy work but because in so much performance that I see (and love and make)—that uber-intellectual stuff, steeped in theory, well-versed in art history, tortured and tragic—I see the fear of doing it wrong, referencing the wrong theorist, enacting the wrong position in relation to ideas of representation, maintaining the wrong degree of distance, etc. Not here. ‘Kein Applaus für Scheisse’ didn’t give a fuck about that. It gave a fuck about other things, about beauty, about obsession, about trash, and about us, the audience, from what I could perceive. After a couple of weeks passed and I was still thinking about their show I managed to obtain their email addresses and caught up with them when they were back in Amsterdam, where they live. I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to ask them. I just wanted to start an interaction and see a little bit of how they work so I asked some questions and they each responded to me individually.
Isabel Lewis: Who is the author of ‘Kein Applaus für Scheisse’? How do you work collaboratively? Did someone initiate the initial idea and how did you move on from there?
Vincent Riebeek: When I think of authorship I interpret that as something similar to ownership, which I’m really not busy with when I’m creating work. I’m really not so alert on where the actual material is coming from, or better to say from whom. That’s because I really feel like the collaboration is not something like a compromise between two individuals. Me and Florentina just made one agreement in making work: that it is very important to stay autonomous within the collaboration. By autonomous I mean that it is not one of our goals to come to a common agreement, and that we should really keep track of our individual desires within the work. The thing that brings us together is that we do ignite desire in each other, so the dreams we have of what we want to do in performance often include one another and the same [material].
I think it is important to say also that there is no initial idea behind the performances. There is just a wish, to do things, to do them with each other, the need to do them in front of people and in that way share them, create an experience. We have a certain trust between us that without pointing out one initial idea there is most certainly logic at work, but not one that can be really revealed [in a single way]. It’s the complexity of our meeting and all of our ideas. It’s being in negotiation with, I guess, basically everything that comes into our path. We really do see everything as potential material. [Regarding] our collaboration I am more or less possessive and I do feel the authorship once a piece is presented. [It feels] very much like a marriage, we share the same last name and then everything is fused and it would be impossible to point out what belongs to whom since we bought everything with the shared bank account.
Florentia Holzinger: A lot of ideas just come by spending time with each other and getting excited, like, “Oh it would be so cool to do this or that.” So those are mostly ideas that already include the other, or us as a duo and are manufactured on exactly us, because they most certainly wouldn’t make sense to us if someone else [did] them. We assume that the relationship we have is a basic ingredient that is naturally there, and then any action on top of it will be nurtured by [this]. It allows us not to worry too much about being creative or having to produce. There is anyways so much friction in a relation between people and we assume that it’s not boring since it’s not boring for us. [This friction] is source for a lot of frustration too which is I believe, quite inspirational. Working with each other means spending a lot of time together, so there is always a shared memory or even experience of certain things/events. Of course certain ideas get proposed or verbalized only by one of us, but as soon as it’s spoken out, there is still the long way to realization that asks [for] commitment from both of us, which puts the initiation into the shadow. [Initiation] simply doesn’t play so much of a role.
Personally I like to get inspired by other people’s concrete ideas, which most of the time of course mean something completely different for me. I find the biggest freedom in interpretation. I often get more inspiration by having to deal with other people’s proposals and spending time redefining them for myself, than I do having to propose something from scratch, since I don’t trust my own desires so much anyways. Also, I guess I look at potential material in a non-hierarchical way. I enjoy not having to be busy with more or less interesting/smart subjects, things, etc, but to assume everything has the same value and just following my pure intuition when making choices. I think Vincent can sound more dogmatic in what he considers worth doing or not worth doing, but I know he actually isn’t. So I help him with being more easygoing and he allows me to be able to start somewhere (concrete). Yes, we have quite a different approach there. Maybe it’s important to say that a certain trust in each other’s decisions or even desires stems from us assuming strongly that we share similar aesthetics or we just simply like each other’s work, so we don’t have to fight over ideas.
The initial idea for KEIN APPLAUS was to make a fashionable piece. We just really do what we think is fashionable in that show. Coming out of that whole danceWEB Europe thing it seemed quite necessary for us to talk about fashion. Most certainly we forgot [fashion] as our process continued but that was a strong initial idea and came out of the questions of how to be successful or how to get your work programmed, or even how to have people talk about you rather than your work. (This for example is a typical Vincent idea.) For me that starting point was just an alibi. I am not interested in fashion at all, and what does it mean anyways? Fashion or trends in the arts…I mean, thinking about that would never inspire me enough to make work out of it. I usually have to go deep into myself and look for something that really engages me personally, which is often something I cannot even call an idea or a concept. I don’t work in concepts, and I am bad in verbalizing what I’m doing. There is really not any magic there or things that need long explanation, but thank god, it’s easy for me to just do things. That’s not the problem for me and I really don’t need any justification, so that’s good about me, I can just do. To go back to me thinking [fashion] was just an alibi: I like to have alibis that initiate/trigger something, without me having to care about if the alibi material is worthy anything. But of course I know it’s important to have an alibi, because it can be an anchor, there must be something to start off from. So I work in alibis and Vincent is great at supplying me with them.
In the little zine that you passed out at the end of your show the phrase “Don’t waste your talent” appears. Whose voice is that? And to whom is it directed? Is that you guys referring to yourselves? Is that the establishment or your educators referring to you? Is it you referring to us, the audience?
Florentia: Everybody around us seems to deny giving value to talent. They say they don’t want to see the showing-off of talent on stage but if you see the work around us it’s only about that, about skillfulness and all that. And people also judge each other based on talent, and it’s clear that an artist cannot be good if he has no talent. There is still something mystical about that. The artist needs to have some kind of talent that puts him beyond average, and only that is what can produce art. That whole perception is very romantic isn’t it? And at the same time [it’s] the same thing that your parents want from you: that you have talent, that you are special, or better than other people in some sector, which is then the sector you should pursue professionally. That you use your talent in the right way, that it is respected and accepted and as such quite clearly defined. They want to prevent you from getting off of this purposeful path. Anyways, talent and skill are funny things to look at in contemporary dance/performance and failure has a lot to do with that. But personally I’m not interested in failure, but very much in attempt, and I don’t care about the outcome. I think it’s important to take risks otherwise there is just nothing. Don’t waste your talent comes out of us, being in that environment/scene/school where everything you do can be seen as a complete waste of time, waste of talent, waste of resources that could be much more efficient if used somewhere else, or on something proposed [by] society [at large]. So we talk about us being in an art school, spending hours and hours on things that are not understandable or at least [not justifiable for spending time on] by a huge part of society. But in the end I think I drop this sentence a lot trying to describe my father’s view and fear towards what I’m doing.
Vincent: Its certainly our own voice, towards ourselves, towards our environment, and yes, also with the awareness that this is a voice that is deeply implanted in us of course, also influenced by the establishment etc. Don’t waste your talent because I feel it’s a certain waste, a waste of people working in the experimental art scene who are kind of good at a lot of things, but who do not hold mastery of these things as a goal, who work hard for something that could easily be seen as totally useless and redundant. Making this kind of art, I feel really puts you there on the edge of society. Maybe it can be seen as the elite but also as the trash. I think in this environment there is a lot of talk about talent. I mean, yeah, I like this message, “Don’t waste it”, it is something I would like to read on these little messages you get with your tea sometimes. I would really take it to heart if I read it somewhere. It is an uplifting message both for myself and for whoever gets to read it I suppose.
What question do you wish you would be asked about this work that often isn’t asked?
Vincent: I always find it hard when people ask questions, or I feel I didn’t do a good job when people feel they have to ask me things. After my mom saw one of our shows where we hang from what we call ‘the human swing’, its like a human fountain, she asked me why we had to do that, and my dad was standing next to her and he said, “Because it was beautiful.” And I was so happy he understood. I love when people don’t ask me questions after the show, because there isn’t an answer most of the time, or not [just] one. I like it when people ask me practical questions though like, “What did you drink to get the puke that color?” not because I like answering them, its quite boring, but just because there is a clear answer, “It’s beetroot juice.”
Florentia: I don’t know…I don’t get so horny on questions. Answers shouldn’t be needed. I think what Vincent said is good–I like practical questions. They are the only questions I can really answer and write on paper. I don’t like questions like, “Does this and this hurt?” OR “Is this song a song you wrote yourself or a cover?” These things really don’t matter to us, I mean who cares, really?
People probably use the word “provocative” to describe you work, right?
Vincent: Yes they do. ☺
Florentia: Yes it’s true, a lot and it’s meant to be a mean thing to say, so I try to not take it personally. But me being upset about that is quite relative. Most of the work of other people that I really approve of gets labeled as provocative, and in my experience of their work what they do is really not provocative, so who cares? It’s ok then to get that label yourself. I know to not take it seriously. I get provoked by other things.
I get the sense that the word “provocative” becomes a way of shutting down deeper contemplation of the work. People tend to have a lot of resistance to work that they deem to be “trying to be provocative”. Along with this diagnosis of the work comes the all too easy response that nothing is provocative anymore since everything has been done. BUT people would never say this if they weren’t provoked in some way! I am highly suspicious of this “too cool” response. I think it stops people from seeing the potentially formal aspects of the way the artwork functions conceptually or aesthetically. While I found a certain aspect of your show physically difficult to watch (i.e. Vincent gagging himself and puking what looked like blood was making my stomach turn), I found the imagery in that moment quite beautiful actually. Can you speak to your relationship to ideas of beauty? And what is your response to the question of provocation in relation to the work you make?
Vincent: I’m really happy that you put the provocation right there before the beauty because in many ways I think they are so related. I wouldn’t puke if I didn’t think I could pass the point where it is only provocative and there would be a potential of beauty inside of it. Not that I set myself the goal to open people up or like expand there horizon when it comes to what is beautiful or anything. But to me puking is beautiful, so I really try to only capture that which is beautiful about it to me, and rule out whatever isn’t. I would find it disgusting if it would smell bad or if it was like nasty Chinese [takeout] food or something. That would be so unnecessary and maybe that would seem like trying to provocative. Beautiful is anything that I could imagine someone would like to watch, which of course is somehow everything, but in order to put in a performance it should also be something I would like to do, and there is this element of seeing [that] it has been cared for…mmm, that it is loved somehow, that it is something I would like to do, probably could imagine I would like to see, and would like to be seen doing, and that I prepared with care and love. That doesn’t mean that these things are precious to me. I love destroying anything the moment I feel it is trying to be too beautiful. That would be such a dead end to go and try to achieve pure ‘beauty’. (Maybe [therein lies] this perverseness that then could be read as an attempt [at] provocation.)
Florentia: If you get provoked by pink I get provoked by purple, so this judgment is really not universal and somebody who uses that terminology when labeling what someone “does” [has] really poor judgment and a boring way of looking at something, sorry. But I don’t wanna be too harsh since it’s interesting to play with the common notion of provocation and it’s probably nice to be aware of that. And yes, it’s true that that means that something triggers something in someone if perceived as provocative and I think that’s very important about doing work, that it triggers something, so it can be an experience.
Beauty can be captivating. It’s good if a performance is captivating. I assume that my perception of beauty is non-universal anyways, but I want to be honest about the effect that beauty has on me. It’s fantastic when beauty appears in an unexpected way, in a form that’s not commonly regarded as beautiful, for example as something that seems disgusting. Everybody knows that.
Isabel Lewis is a Brooklyn and Berlin-based performance maker, curator, and writer.