Two main milestones in the progress –or moving forward– of humankind have circle shapes: the wheel and gathering. Getting together around a fire has often been idealized as the primal gesture of socialization. Et pour cause: a circular distribution of a group of human bodies is not a matter of chance; it grants each one the optimal view of everyone else.
In one of my first performances, Hapah!, I went through a process of mourning by having my head shaven, a friend playing with his feet in a childish manner, and pretending to make love to a mannequin –something I soon realized was unnecessarily representative and coarsely poetic. Afterwards, I stepped to the middle of my witnesses, who happened to be sitting on soft matrasses, and I started jumping from one matrass to another while saying Hapah! – hapah was the after-mourning salute and a way to tell them: mourning is over until someone else dies.
That action now seems rather naïve to me: I find it particularly imperfect, not because of a lack of expertise, which I do not believe to be the case for most of performance art, but because closing the semantic circle of the action I wanted to perform was not symbolized by the circle of witnesses in a consistent way: only by the end of the action –which lasted about forty minutes– did I join the witnesses, thus inaugurating the circle too late, just as someone who has arrived too late to a meeting she is supposed to be hosting.
This exploration of the circle became more conscious after The Age of Aquarius –which, for other reasons, became a milestone in my career–, namely in Kristallnacht, where I repeatedly acted the failure of standing still and keeping balance. For this dystopian projection of a futuristic Barcelona from the standpoint of a non-tragic Kristallnacht, I asked explicitly that the witnesses stood up in a circle. This allowed me to stare at them, dance to them, and get extremely close to them, even to the point of embarrassment.
I therefore decided to provoke the formation of the circle. I did this in Killing Lluís Companys, where the witnesses were prompted to shoot me with mustard and ketchup. They immediately started to form a circle. However, as soon as they realized they were shooting each other too and getting dirty –something that stood for a shared sense of guilt–, they aligned for fusillading: breaking the circle also meant breaking the complicity in killing.
The circle shape eventually started to evolve to non-literal formations. One such formation was narrative circularity in Push, the performance I did at The New School for Social Research along with fellow scholars. By the end of the substantial seminars we had just had with Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak and Jay Bernstein, I wanted to “act out” something that had remained unsaid about the death drive. It had to do with our inner hatred, our disavowed capacity to consciously do harm. It was a tricky question especially on the aftermath of the Orlando shooting (in fact, the grieving crowd at Union Square was the reason I abandoned Aliyah, the performance I had initially in mind). Still, I decided to prompt the witnesses to do any action upon my body, as they pleased, except those actions that could cause permanent harm or death. It did not get excessively violent, I must say, although some underlying hatred did become manifest, to which I eventually responded in non-violent ways that were meant to deactivate the death drive in them. This was probably my first non-literally circular action.
In The Independence of Spain, circularity was marked by the installation I had set prior to the one-minute action of declaring the ambiguous “independència d’Espanya” (of Spain/from Spain). Since I had been sitting down for a couple of hours, writing politically charged messages in a hundred post-its, the material circularity of the yellow sticky papers also indicated a sense of surveillance over the man-sitting-on-a-chair or the bureaucrat I could be mistakenly identified with.
One of the performances I have been reflecting a lot on shall question the speculation over the value of surfaces in art. Is it so important to use a human body instead of a canvas, if you wish to do so? Or to use human bodies as brushes, something Yves Klein is known for? In this performance, tentatively named after Heideggers’s essay Vom Wesen des Grundes, I want to investigate what negative circularity may feel like, that is to say, what degree of materiality can a human body perceive when it becomes not the center of the circle but the object that circulates and surrounds the witness instead. This points to the phantasm as a way for the performance artist to be present, but also as a way for anyone acting subversively to become invisible and therefore effective.