An Interview With PS122 Season Opener Michel Groisman
This week, Brazilian artist Michel Groisman opens up PS 122’s first “homeless” season as the First Avenue space is renovated. Occupying the Invisible Dog Art Center in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, as well as some nearby locales, Groisman will present what amounts to a retrospective covering his career. Among his best known works, Transference (pictured above) will be presented Thurs. and Fri. and Door of Hands on Weds. and Fri. (tickets $20/$15). Additionally, Groisman will be presenting three other works which are not only free (with reservation) but, in two cases, family-friendly: Octopus (Sat. 5 & 8) and Serve Yourself (Weds., Thurs. & Sun.). Additionally, on Saturday afternoon Groisman will be staging Lois Weaver’s Long Table “experimental public forum” at the fantastic bar 61 Local.
Groisman is currently on tour across the US, and while performing at Portland’s TBA Festival (where Claudia La Rocco reviewed Transference, duly impressed), he took the time to answer a few questions for CBOT.
Your work is often referred to as “Action Art” and you’ve often been presented at art museums and galleries. I’m wondering, do you see yourself coming at this work more as a visual artist or as a performer? Or is it a false distinction?
Difficult to answer your question because I have a very eclectic training: I studied painting and music for many years, and also for some time now I have been dedicated to research and meditation with the body. I have developed both individual performances and collective proposals for experiments open to the public (which, somehow, has left me quite close to an educational approach). So what actually happens is that depending on the context where I am, I consider myself in a different way. For example: when I’m with dancers, I usually consider myself as a visual artist, but when I am among visual artists, sometimes consider myself a musician, and so on…
As you prepare your work for different spaces and presentations, how does that affect it? The greater intimacy of a smaller space, or being the sole focus of the audience’s attention as opposed to being one work in a gallery space?
The work Porta das Mãos [Door of Hands] is essentially a game of touch two fingers of one hand and two fingers of the other, and discover different ways to make possible movements with your hands without disconnecting these fingers. I started this search so casual, and was moving forward, curious where it would arrive. This research has captivated me for several years, holding my hands for many family lunches. Over time, I tried different ways to share work with people: to show a one person at a time with my hands, showing the pictures of my hands in the format of an exhibition of photography, projecting my hands in large architectural spaces and in small spaces.
However, experimenting with different ways of showing the work, I realized that more infuence my relationship with the public was not so much the external space, but my interior disposition during the presentation. I realized that, depending on my interior disposition, it could happen I feel distant from people despite being in a small space, or to feel close to the public even in a large space …
One of the things I see happening in your work in various ways is this idea of “transference.” In the piece of that name, you use flows of movement to light candles strapped all over your body, transferring the flame from place to place. In Serve Yourself, the audience is included in the process, and this time it’s transferring water from strapped on cups. What does this mean for you, or how does it play a role in your work? Are you interested in the concept itself, or is it a technique used to reveal something about the body as it moves this stuff around?
Somehow, I think the “transference” is a consequence of the connection. In the performance Transference the fire moves from one candle to the other from the connection between a body part and another. In Sirva-se [Serve Yourself], the water passes from one person to another from the connection between one person and another. Another possible word would be: “Communication,” which can happen in different ways, verbal and nonverbal. And there’s also the question of “flow” that occurs through the connection between people. I am interested in investigating this question of the connection/communication, both at the individual level (to communicate and connect with myself, as in a performance), and the collective level within the interactive proposals. And if this research is fun (putting glasses in the body, for example) then it is even better!
Another thing, related to the previous, is this idea of intimacy. Not only is Transference revealing in terms of you showing us your body, but in Serve Yourself and Octopus and A Long Table on Proximity, the audience is actually part of the exploration. What interests you about breaking down that barrier between performer and audience, and what do you hope to accomplish doing so?
Yes, it is very important to question the barriers, especially if this is possible in a gentle and sensitive way, promoting a natural process, without forcing anything. In my experience, I realized that the exercise of thinking about things, sometimes distance myself from the things themselves. I noticed that some knowledge is only possible through experience. For this reason I created works that were like an invitation for people to come out of a conceptual relationship to enter into a relationship sensory, experiential and dynamic. On the other hand, I also realized that this direct contact with the audience helped me a lot to overcome some personal obstacles.