I am a performance artist from Berlin who moved to Bern in 2014 to study at the Bern University of Arts in a quite unique transdisciplinary framework, a Master in Performance Art. It happens that my Professor Valerian Maly is the artistic director of the BONE Festival for Live & Performance Art in Bern. I needed money, so I quite fast got involved in the BONE 17 as an assistant in my first year of studies.
In my studies and in my artistic research I deal with questions of appropriation and gender issues. One project last year was the reinterpretation and appropriation of Annie Sprinkle’s legendary bosom ballet (https://vimeo.com/103546981). Annie is a sex worker and performance artist from California and is quite active concerning sex workers rights in the USA and in Europe. Luckily she gave me her kind permission to re-enact her bosom ballet and for the performance festival ACT I collaborated with a sex workers union called XENIA in Bern. After this effort and successful shows in Basel, Bern and Genève I was asked by Maly to participate in the BONE 18 Festival, which had the theme of “Schools of … connectivity, relatedness, networks of Performance Art”. I was given the task to contextualize my appropriation of the bosom ballet in its original contexts and through the reinterpretation of new contexts within the frame of a workshop. The original context of the bosom ballet from Annie Sprinkle is surely a sex worker related one. She uses the bosom ballet for example in her autobiographical performance Post Porn Modernist where she talks about her life as a sex worker. The new contexts given by my reinterpretation are simply said those of a man with boobs. I have heard often from people that they are confused what sex I am and what sex I want to be. So I figure it is the difference between the body and the sex, which makes the new context.
I performed Study VII (with kind permission of Annie Sprinkle) (https://vimeo.com/153824428) at BONE 18 and also held a workshop Study VII expanded in which I presented mainly a paper titled “Discussion paper on sex work: facts, positions and visions from a feminist perspective”. In the workshop we elaborated and discussed how feminism and sex work are contrary expressions and where they could touch each other.
Besides the artistic contribution to the festival I was working again as an assistant to help organizing the festival. So I had the unique chance to be present on stage and behind the scenes as well. It was overwhelming in every way, six full days of performances and workshops. Nevertheless there was one performance that especially stayed in my mind. It was the performance You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows in Schlachthaus Theatre in Bern’s old city by Jörn J. Burmester and Florian Feigl, both from Berlin and involved in the Performer Stammtisch. This performance was a card game with 52 cards drawn from a pack, each linked to a different action. It was a game of coincidence. Every time a new card was taken, action followed immediately. For a long time I kept asking myself how the game was played and how the actions were connected to each other, until I finally stopped and just enjoyed the actions themselves and the honesty of the performers. The duo operated with objects, for example bunny masks that reminded me of the film Donnie Darko. Sometimes they let down their pants wearing these huge masks. Almost schizophrenic moments, not as if they made any sense anyway, but there was humour involved that’s for sure. Sometimes the actions complemented each other or disturbed each other, there were little disruptions in the game that made it especially interesting. I was quite fascinated. One could directly feel that the performers had quite some experience on stage and during the week I had a good chance to get to know Feigl more, because he also was teaching in Bucky’s classroom, another format of the BONE festival that covers the academic part, connected with Bern University of the Arts, and was in my case a obligatory course for students at the BUA like me. I got to know Feigl as a serious thinker who confronted us (the students) with texts of Gertrude Stein and I remember how we went through this specific text about audience and day by day we went line for line through it trying to understand it on different levels. Stein’s main message is that there always is a kind of an audience already present in oneself. That there are fluid transitions between being an author and being the audience at the same time.
Like in his teaching I noticed the same accuracy in Feigl on stage. Very carefully and accurately he performed his tasks given by the cards. I was impressed by this sheer responsibility that he and Burmester showed while carrying out their simple but exceptionally real tasks in their implementation of this performative work. The most memorable action was one implemented by Feigl. He boiled water in a water cooker on stage and made himself tea. He had a really old, beautiful tea cup and a saucer decorated with blossoms. They reminded me of the ones my grandmother had. After adding sugar to the cup with a tea bag he stirred the hot content with a silver tea spoon several times. Then he went to the backdoor of the theatre and said something like “goodbye” and opened the door throwing the hot tea and with the whole cup, saucer and spoon out to the street. There it flew, maybe in some passer-by’s face. I guess this was the most memorable moment of the whole performance festival for me. Probably, because of the absurdity of the gesture and the realness of the action itself. I think this is one the differences between performance and theatre. Performance deals with reality, with a real action, while the theatre pretends to be real, but it’s not.
The festival week was full of performances but also full of encounters with other artists and the public. This made BONE 18 such a rich experience. It is always hard to write about learning Performance Art but since the festival emphasized this theme, I would like to mention a few words about it.
I am in a quite ambivalent position because I chose the academic way of learning Performance Art. I am involved in one of the few curriculums of Performance Art in Europe. Anyhow, what helps me is that this academic approach is implemented through a transdisciplinary approach. In practice this means that there are four different disciplines (Music and Media Art, Performance Art, Fine Arts and Literature) next to each other and I can take courses from every discipline as I need them. It is also about the contextualization of your discipline next to other disciplines, so the subject of your home discipline becomes fluid and one has to ask oneself over and over again: What is my discipline? This transdisciplinary frame helps a lot and gives a fruitful environment to think about Performance Art as, for instance, close to the Fine Arts or to Music and Media Arts. But nevertheless I am convinced that I learn the most about Performance Art through a practical approach in the encounters with other people, other artists and the spectators. “Schools of … connectivity and relatedness”, the theme of BONE 18 showed me what Performance Art is all about: Connectedness, Relatedness and Networking.
The question remains: Are Performance Art and its tradition meant to be taught in an institutional, academic frame? I do not think so, because if we think about the history of Performance Art, it was linked with a huge critique against institution and the capitalist structures of the art market. The ontology of Performance Art constitutes itself through a withdrawal. Because of its ephemeral character we still struggle and do not know how to write, feel, pay and categorize Performance Art. I think this is very important. In an academic frame Performance Art will be categorized and unfortunately dealt with as a product like any other art discipline. That is why BONE 18 made sense with its approach towards connectivity and relatedness. Maybe a festival is much better place for Performance Art than the academy. Besides, performance belongs to everybody and not to a selected art public in my eyes. That is why site specific performative works are so important at the moment. Reclaim the streets through performance, be political through performance, be close to life through performance!
The importance of the connection between different approaches and different artists of Performance Art are important, because through them we experience performance, through them, I believe, we learn about performance. There is no technique for this wonderful art discipline, there is nothing to teach about it. There is only one approach to Performance Art, which is the action itself, simply doing Performance Art.
Therefore I appreciated the artists and the performances I saw at the BONE 18. I am thankful, not only to the experts of the field, but especially to the people who never had anything to do with performance before coming together to discuss about what moves them in Performance Art. The two years at BONE taught me more than the two years of lessons in my art school.
Juergen Bogle is currently graduating from the MA in Contemporary Arts Practice with the cluster Performance Art at the Bern University of the Arts. In his BA he studied theatre studies at the Free University Berlin and before that he was a dancer and choreographer. In 2007 he established his one man fake company “fake is fabulous inc.” with which he has performed in Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Finland.