Art as a feeling, de-performed through loving and fighting.
What comes out when anything goes? You might wonder after seeing a performance (usually at Berlin’s LEAP Gallery) by the Polish artist Wojciech Kosma. One Saturday evening not so long ago, he and the Londoner Dwayne Browne spent a couple of hours pseudo-fighting, hugging, willy -waving and narrating anecdotes, opinions and arguments to each other in a performance entitled “An Example” (its e-flyer showed a picture of two fighting cocks). What was it, this intangible thing of seemingly unrehearsed, often homoerotic interpersonal play fighting that flips between brutality and sentimentality, the intimate and the aggressive, between sex, violence and friendship, like a brawl outside a pub?
Kosma’s method produces no narrative, or certainly one without a concrete conclusion, but instead instills a deep affect. His material is people (“My biggest asset is my friends,” he says) and his content is the way we relate today, or fail to relate as perhaps we once did, or could relate when façades are dropped and the hidden personality steps forth. “I construct a situation so primitive that it’s almost irrelevant to the context,” he says. “The only reason to do it is: don’t give [the audience] an interpretation, any patronising feelings. We embark on a discovery, this seeking mode. Be as honest to our impulses, producing all this emotion. What they make out of this emotion is up to them.”
And what do they make of it? One response is galvanised fascination at the raw human effluvia that surges out, another is blank confusion; other possibilities could be horror, or indifference. Yet as with the theatre (Kosma paraphrases Anne Carson’s dictum on the actor’s purpose: they go down to the pits of yourself so you don’t have to), the lie of performance permits the truth of being. “We are using this trick to be true to be ourselves,” he says. “The more I get fucked up, the better the performance is.”
Seeming unrehearsed is another trick: Kosma says he and his dramatis personae – both men and women – may make up to 10 rehearsals and though the thing is unscripted, it remains cued; there are physical turns and exchanges that make it into the final event. “I think of it as nodes of personality or nodes of relationship. Of course, if we like doing a particular movement, it will come up. In my naive way of looking at it, there is a stream of general unconsciousness, if we tap into that and don’t filter any of the experience, then a great performance is a side effect.”
The nuance in the work is that while it affects to tell nothing, it reveals an unedited something. “People expend a great deal of energy trying to hide. The only way we can produce a real emotion is for people to be surprised. So, we enter a fraudulent situation.”
So too are they performances which in one sense deny the notion of performativity. He says that, yes, he has been accused of manipulating his co-performers, and as on the psychotherapist’s couch or in the cinema banquettes, extreme reactions can occur. “Upon entering the space you make a decision, okay, something will come up – people cry sometimes. I don’t ever want it to be therapy, people are pretty sorted. But they can feel uncomfortable about it.”
Meanwhile, these deep hacks into the human animal may be speculative but they are also far from unplanned. Kosma was previously a computer scientist and, versed in the language of algorithms, he explains how he saw a possibility to simplify the artistic process, from, in his words, “idea to object to production to reception: that’s not successful, there are too many steps, beauty is simple. But, intimacy to affect to reaction: Bang.” If in the end the “art” of this intangible, object-less interaction is a feeling, one wonders how long he has strived to create those artworks? “All my life,” he concludes.
Text by Kevin Braddock