In anticipation of the M:ST 9 Biennial, an abridged version of this interview was published in freq. magazine and is accessible here.
Adriana Disman is a performance art maker, thinker, and organizer from Toronto and Montreal, currently living in London, UK. She will be in Calgary for the M:ST Performance Art Biennial from October 2-7, performing at Theatre Junction Grand, Saturday October 6. She will also be teaching a workshop titled SEARCH ENGINES with Didier Morelli at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge from September 28-30. To sign-up e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who have not yet encountered your work, what does it typically look like and what are its ambitions and concerns?
My current work is usually minimal, repetitive, and slow. Small gestures, stretched. As when I balance on an edge for as long as I’m able, or repeatedly heat a kettle with my palm against it. Gestures that use banal objects from my daily life and try to create sensitive relationships with them.
The most ambitious ambition of my work is to create moments of livability. I understand the world-at-hand (“world” being a description of all matters affecting each other) as one that attempts to eradicate most ways of being that I care about. Survival right now is linked to things like producing, owning, individualism/scarcity thinking, and competition. I do not want to survive through these modes. But dreaming otherwise is challenging since everything I’ve been taught runs so bone deep. Performance is a place in which I think it can be possible to follow other logics than those provided. Simple but fucking radical. I don’t think we can be “free” but I think we can be “free-er.”
You once wrote that ‘the love of my life is performance art,’ could you tell us more about why performance art is your medium?
Because it holds what I need held.
It’s the only place I’ve found where the limits I want to explore are willingly held by others. By organizers and curators and colleagues and witnesses. In a profound generosity. Sometimes I’m able to articulate almost nothing about what I’ll do before I do it and yet people commit to supporting my work or show up to see it. This is a step beyond generous and includes faith. Sometimes it’s a faith built on my previous body of work (and joined with a wild recklessness), but that’s still faith. I am in awe of these optimistic performance art organizers and witnesses who still keep showing up. It’s something particular about a field where (especially here in Canada) there isn’t really the possibility of “making it big.” This faith-based, generosity of engagement that’s seeded in the work, this immanent engagement with each other’s practices, this is what I value in performance art.
I also deeply value that performance art audiences are (often) willing to witness difficult work. I am not very interested in making entertaining work and this field is one in which that can be received.
Your performances often comment upon ‘quotidian violence’ by portraying a rupture or a breaking point, often through moments of potential or actualized self-wounding. What is the relationship between this type of violence and these performative actions?
So much of the ways in which larger systems of power violently organize our bodies happens on a daily basis. These daily violences are ways in which we are kept in line. Their very regularity often makes them unseen, invisible. They create a kind of unspectacular banal suffering. Some people will experience more of these violences than others. They can build up. They can take their toll. Common coercions.
These systems of common coercion become visible at moments of rupture.
Under some logics these ruptures do not hold sense, for example logics offered by unequal systems of power often attempt to maintain the invisibility of those violences. Thus creating moments of rupture as “crazy.” It’s not crazy to break under the weight. It might seem crazy to watch another break if you yourself are in a position where you do not feel the weight. It might seem crazy to break if you are told that the weight you bear is not weight, there’s no weight there, there’s nothing there. This is to say that those who bear intersecting oppressions, often rooted in white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, meaning those at whose cost others are able to benefit through larger systems of power, often experience first an invisiblizing of their suffering through a making-common and then, should they rupture, through a making-crazy.
My performance practice is a dedication to making visible these daily, unspectacular sufferings. A making sense of the rupture. Sometimes I do this by physically inhabiting the wounds—marking my skin, drawing my blood—as a way to refuse to allow these moments to go unnoticed. I have been told over and over again that a racist comment was “just a joke” or that a sexist action was “just how things are.”
You cannot look at this wound and tell me it is not a wound. And you cannot stop me from doing this with my body because it is mine and I have the will to access all of it, from the flesh through the blood right down to the bone.
I hope that one day I will feel that I possess my body wholly and that it is not continually monopolized by different powers. For now it is an aspiration.
A performance artist rarely works inside a studio, can you tell us a bit about your artistic process? How do you make new work?
In different periods, I make new work in different ways. Sometimes it is an articulation of a question that cannot be asked in words. My studio practice is very funny: I sit and stare. Ideally out a window but if that’s not possible, an empty-ish wall or corner will do (high ceilings help me think better). In the winter I take baths and let my mind wander. Sleeping is an integral part of my practice—when my mind starts to whirl around a problem, I take a nap and just before I fall asleep I usually find an answer. Much of it is relaxing the body so that the mind can make links it doesn’t otherwise allow itself to. Tostay flexible but in my integrity is the goal.
How would you describe the relationship between performer and audience member during your performances? How could a spectator prepare themselves for witnessing performance art?
I don’t think it’s possible to describe in a general way those relationships since they are so deeply specific to the time/space of a particular performance. I can say, though, that I always attempt to relate to witnesses of my work with respect, generosity, and thoughtfulness. I imagine those who witness my work as incredibly smart and sensitive. I try to make work that is like a hand, palm up, gently opening. Offering the witness to move towards the work and meet it as closely as they wish. Or just as easily to turn away if they like.
To prepare to see my work, I would wish for those witnessing to remember that I choose to do these acts, and that when it comes to self-wounding, my choice changes these gestures drastically. I would wish for curiosity, heartfulness, and generosity along with criticality, holding me to account, and (oh! the ideals!) interesting exchange about the work after it has settled.
But we all have bad days and we all perform and witness from where we are, how we can. And this is fine. Humans are very human.
What thinkers and writers are you invested in?
Presently, I’ve been doing thinking about some specific works by my performance art colleagues, including pieces by Rachel Echenberg, Shannon Cochrane, and John Boyle-Singfield. I’m also very influenced by the excellent thinking-making and doing-living of Panoply Performance Lab in NYC, Grüntaler9 in Berlin, and the collective of Marion Lessard.
I return to Sara Ahmed’s Willful Subjects and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonautswhen it comes to theoretical style and the slipperiness of attending to logical identity (which, though never actually stable, we have to deal with because identity is how systems of power so often organize us). In terms of rigour and engagement in the work, I think of Anne Michael’s novel Fugitive Pieces and Glenn Gould’s 1981 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. My practice is very influenced by film and, since childhood, I watch and re-watch the work of Michael Haneke and the films of Joan Crawford.