Verena Stenke and Andrea Pagnes have been working together since 2006 as VestAndPage in contemporary performance and video art. Their art practice explores the limits of communication as well as the boarders of private and social spheres, fragility, transformation, impermanence and memory activation.VestAndPage are present in galleries, museums, biennials, theatres and festivals in Europe, Asia, the United States and South America. They give lectures on their research and practical workshops on performance art. They are initiators and curators of the current ‘FRAGILE – global performance chain journey’, a global art initiative with over 750 artists from 62 countries working together to make travel one fragile object one time around the globe.
1. Can you tell us a little about your work, your history and your performative concerns.
We, Verena Stenke and Andrea Pagnes, are working together since 2006 as VestAndPage. Within Performance Art, we found the perfect common ground to investigate topics we concern, such as memory activation, impermanence, inner transformation, fragility, and translative poetry. Through our performances we try to offer gateways to exorcise alienation by means of physical contact and programmatic lack of mediation. Real communication cannot be replaced by mechanical, mediated actions, which have no relevance because they do not convey anything, and the need to exist as individual willing to open up and exorcise all fears is more acute than ever in the twenty-first century.
Verena’s artistic background is in theatre, contemporary and Butoh dance, Sufi dances and chants, video, sound and make up artistry. Andrea comes from visual art, curatorship, social theatre and creative writings. The backbone of our theory on Performance art focuses on the fact that the artistic representation on a support is outdated: now the image comes to life and leaves for the world, as it is directly inscribed on the bodies of who watch over the living flesh. Performance art is related to the context, based on authenticity, the search for true expression, producing meanings, as well as provoking an exchange about human’s contemporary conflictive situations. Performance art for us is not about “virtuosity”, but about entering and exploring the field, which lies beyond questions of right-doing and wrong-doing, and consequently to give hope.
In our performance work, as well as in our research and workshop series, we endeavour to remain honest and natural in all our expressions and reactions to circumstances and surrounding. Two issues, which are intimately entwined in the fabric of our performances, are the importance of the ritualistic aspects involved to facilitate interconnection with an audience, as well as our personal version of bypassing fears, a rarely acknowledged and not exorcized problem of our contemporary society- all this due to a latent need for unity, humanity and beauty. Our attempts to understand how these aspects function at a theoretical level mark a different angle of approaching the art phenomena: the result is always enrichment for the praxis of Performance art itself. A constant practice is fundamental, though we believe that it can’t do without investigation on the theoretical aspects of communication, by decoding the hidden fabric of art and of artistic activity.
More of our work can be seen on our website: http://www.vest-and-page.de.
2. What are you working on now?
Currently we’re in the final production phase of “sin ∞ fin – Performances at the Holy Centre”, the second episode of our “sin ∞ fin” movie series on Performance art. The DVD is to be released in New Delhi at Sarai CSDS Centre for the Studies of Contemporary Societies, who are also co-producers of this project realized in North India and Kashmir.
“sin ∞ fin” is our current work in progress since fall 2010, and it will continue to be still for a long time – as the title says: “sin fin”, Spanish for “without an end”. The overall topic is the investigation of spheres: private spheres, social spheres, universal spheres, their unions, collisions, creations and destructions. In this movie project we develop live art performances in situ, at different outstanding sites around the world, which then are sequenced together in each single episode. “sin ∞ fin” is a movie series on Performance art, not a description of what our eyes have seen in specific places, but what those places made us think about; a movie out of any filmic genre, an experiment of combining Performance art with filmmaking. We will produce 2 or 3 more stages, and publish the entire movie series in a DVD box. (http://www.sinfin-themovie.de)
Currently also our global art initiative “FRAGILE global performance chain journey” is on, in which over 750 artists from 62 countries work together to make one fragile object travel one time safely around the globe – a visionary people-project, which became possible thanks to the support of many international artists and cultural institutions. We invite everyone interested to follow the journey on its website http://www.fragile-global-performance.net.
Of course, we are continuously concentrating in producing also single performances to be presented at festivals around the world, and in Europe during this summer. Our performance series “Balada Corporal”, which currently consists of four parts investigating the different bodies, physical body, mental body and spiritual body, is going to be developed further in the upcoming months. We’re also currently curating the Performance art section “Making Up-Tearing Down”, which in October 2011 will be presented as part of TINA B, Prague Contemporary Art Festival.
3. What are your biggest performative obstacles for yourself in this new works?
Time and fundraising, although they’re not proper ‘performative’ obstacles. But they influence however, and they effect the work. It’s a condition sine qua non we must always face, as it is for many, and be responsible towards, without compromising the quality and the inner nature of our work, and more, of our ideals and belief.
While performing and shooting the first part of “sin ∞ fin” in Chilean Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, practical obstacles were the really extreme weather conditions. Many performances had to be shoot outdoors, and we had to adapt our bodies and our performances to the unpredictable mood of the gelid, strong-blowing subantarctic winds, the cold waters of the Magellan Strait, the abrupt light changing. This created unusual and unexpected circumstances for our work and had really been an extraordinary performative experience.
India, where we are currently working, presents other obstacles, less meteorological and more social. It’s overcrowded, and the majority of the people are not accustomed to Performance art, and Contemporary art in general, busy as they are to survive the day or simply to live within the strict observation of what is rooted in their traditions. While performing on the dusty, crowded streets of Chawri Bazaar in Old Delhi, nearby the biggest mosque of India, we had to be careful not to offend anyone with our presence and performance, also if the action was, in our eyes, decent and subtle. Of course one firstly has to demonstrate a high respect for where one is, for the people of the place, their habits and their culture, if you wish them to share their stories with you and collaborate in your project. But – as our studio is the world, and our supports are our bodies – our experiences are, and will always be, our material.
4. What was the last piece that you saw that you would recommend to the Network and why?
“Pes(o)soa de carne e osso”, a performative installation held during the festival MOLA in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, 2010, by Argentine Performance artist Santiago Cao. In this piece, Santiago set himself naked inside a fishing net, which was hanging from a huge balance-construction. On one side of the balance there was he, and on the other side, as counterweight, were hanging 60 kg of bones and beef meat. The action lasted 8 hours under the hot Brazilian sun, in the middle of a busy avenue. Although we are usually quite sceptic about the utility of declared urban interventions, we must say that Santiago Cao, with his concept and action, made an outstanding performance. In his motivation, he stated: “How much does flesh weigh? And how much is the weight of the person behind the flesh in a society that denies and eradicates people? In prostitution, women and men are mere objects of consumption. In business there are no people, only Human Resources. In colonial times, slaves were treated as mere commodities, not as humans.” The piece raises contemporary questions about the value of a human, the value of the matter, the soul beyond the matter, and moreover also about the role of the contemporary artist within the context of nowadays art-world. We consider his piece deeply disturbing, capable to provoke reflection, conflictive, and also very beautiful at the same time, therefore highly contemporary. Why? Because Santiago was able to bring down the artist’s ego to a ground zero, taking a responsible risk upon himself as a person, and the others through the discomfort and effect of a durational action. Here the performer has transformed into an instrument to speak about modern society and the role of the artist within it. This is an action that could take place anywhere, in Latin America, Europe, the States, Asia, and it would always have the same shattering and revealing impact.
We invite you to see more about Santiago Cao on his website: http://www.artistanoartista.com.ar
Finally, we wish to heartily thank our friends and estimators, for their continuous and precious support, ending this interview with these words of Henry James that we feel appropriate to portray our work: “We work in the dark – we do what we can – we give what we have – and the rest is the madness of Art.”