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27th of February 2006
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Report: ÅMX.06 performance evening at Rum46

As part of the exchange program ÅMX.06, Rum46 hosted an evening of three performances. Besides sharing a conceptual point of departure, these performances made frequent use of the interactive qualities of the genre throughout the evening. Ditte Maria Bangsund-Pedersen was there and reports in the following article.

Text: Ditte Maria Bangsund-Pedersen
Photo: Jan Falk Borup

The ÅMX.06 performance evening took place at the exhibition space rum46 Thursday the 23.rd of February 2006

This article is part of the theme series Århus - Malmø exchange program 2006

Christian Schult, one of the initiators of ÅMX.06, introduces the performance night at rum46
ÅMX.06 performanceaften på Rum46

If you were not at Rum46 on Thursday night 23rd of February you missed out on three different performances by Mathias Kristersson, Lise Skou, and Johanna Gustafsson. First, in front of a small intimate audience, a man spoke with water coming out of his mouth. Then information was exchanged and recorded live on video. And finally, the audience sat back in silence – pricking up their ears in order to absorb as much as possible from a video, showing a female artist’s Swedish edition of another woman’s speech from 1974.

The first performance is made and performed by Swedish Mathias Kristersson, who takes the stage dressed in black and white – his only requisites being a jug filled with water, a glass, and a small clock on a table in front of him. The title of the performance is Every time I open my mouth water comes out. It makes it difficult for me to speak, 2004. And this is exactly what happens. The artist explains with water coming out of his mouth that he is there to answer any questions the audience might have, and in his answers the difficulty of speaking becomes clear. Within few seconds, the audience fire away. Following are some of the questions in random order that caused the wetness of the artist’s shirt:

What is this? It is about speaking.

It is a metaphor for speaking in general? Yes.

Could you explain that? Language is important. What we say. This is a metaphor because sometimes it is difficult to express what you want to say.

What would you do if Bush made a speech with water in his mouth? Then I would laugh – and not from anger for once.

Would you like Malmö to be connected with Aarhus? It depends on how. Not with the government.

Why not? I have a funny feeling about it.

Which question would you ask yourself? Why the hell am I doing this?

Mathias Kristersson prepares himself for his performance.   Every time he speaks, water comes out of his mouth

As you are reading these questions, you must imagine the picture of a nicely dressed man in a spotlight with a sharply contoured silhouette of his own shadow behind him. A vision that bears the stamp of seriousness, beauty, and comedy. In addition, there is the sound of water hitting the floor, the sound of faceless voices, and the silence in between questions with thoughts concentrating on potential questions. The combination is a successful performance, which leaves room for contemplation afterwards. As for the water, the artist says it himself in one of his answers: speaking with water in his mouth symbolizes the difficulty of expressing oneself. It is easy to ask questions. But it is more difficult to come up with all the answers. In this case, it is impossible to express any answers with variation – all of them become subject to the same degree of difficulty. Regarding the genre, the form of this performance is one of the most interactive kinds, which again increases the level of authenticity in the name of “here-and-now”. As with theatre, you have to be there. Still, this is far from theatre. Perhaps you could call it a free art dialogue? When the water is up or when no one poses a question for 15 minutes the act is over. At one point the artist is asked if he is spilling the water. He answers yes. But is it a waste of water if you spend it on answers?

Lise Skou, the translator and Jee-Eun Kim   Lise Skou explains how the audience should interact

Each person receives a slip of paper with questions   Set up for the performance by Lise Skou

Afterwards there is a break where the artist Lise Skou deals out numbered questions for everyone. The Korean artist, Jee-Eun Kim, one of the originators of ÅMX.06, then performs Skous performance. The title of the performance is Women in Transition, 2006, and is a “relay” piece. Thus the performance is recorded live this Thursday evening and afterwards sent to Vienna, where it is to be presented on video. The out-come is made up of two completely different products: a live performance and a video production.
On the small slips of paper are printed two common questions – “how old are you”, and “where are you from?” Followed by a personal and varying question for each person such as “do you feel like you are part of a particular group?” or “what does nationality mean to you?” And so on. All answers are immediately translated from Danish into English by a man, after which the woman in front of the camera repeats them in English. Already at this point you might come to think of the children’s game where someone whispers something into someone else’s ear and so on, and in the end the question is whether or not the last person in the row has received the correct message. In spite of the strict orders and introduction before the beginning of the performance, a similar slip takes place in passing on information during Women in Transition. This slip, however, becomes part of the work, because no matter what information is passed on, that particular information will sound completely different coming out of the Korean woman’s mouth. Her person becomes the anonymous carrier of other people’s subjectivity; it is as though she is robbed from her own right to answer these questions. Instead of having her own identity she remains in “transition”.

Ditte Lyngkær Pedersen introduces Johanna Gustafsson   Johanna Gustafsson acts out her videoperformance

The last performance, Art, Feminism, and My Mother Mona, 2004, is a video based performance by the artist Johanna Gustafsson. In the video she makes her speech in front of the camera as though she were standing on a platform talking about her own life as a woman. As a part of the video performance Ditte Lyngkær Pedersen, another originator of ÅMX.06, steps forward and reads aloud an introduction, in which Gustafsson explains that she is speaking to the audience through another woman. With the words,”This is not what my mother had planned for me. Please play the video”, the video begins and the speech is taken over by Gustafsson herself. With a few exceptions, the speech is a complete Swedish translation of the speech, Feminism, Art, and My Mother Sylvia, made by feminist Andrea Dworkin at Smith University, Massachusetts, in 1974. The original speech in short is a woman’s account of how she grows up under the wings of an intellectual father and an uninspiring mother. Throughout her life as an adult she comes to realize that this image of women in general is repeatedly being reconstructed and upheld by society. In the speech there are many catching accounts of terrible stories that, through Gustafsson’s performance, are placed into our present time, making the audience believe that the speech is her own contemporary account. At the beginning, one might be annoyed by this video because it does not contain anything new about women in general. However, it is exactly because a speech from 1974 can appear as contemporary that one’s thoughts are forced to reconsider how difficult it really is to affect and change those mechanisms of society that have been shaping the conditions of women for the last thirty years. Thus, by bringing parts of the same words through three different women, Gustafsson illustrates how the complicated history of the words is impossible to contain, and how the meaning of the words can easily penetrate and exceed the media and body of origin from 1974.

Read the original speech here: www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/OurBloodI.html

Find related articles from the theme series here: Århus - Malmø udvekslingsprogram 2006
Webdesign: Jan Falk Borup