Q/A Ei Arakawa

Why do you use paintings in your performances?
 Photo: eSeL.at

Paintings have a gaze that looks back at us. When I carry paintings, the position of the performer (me) retreats. Suddenly the audience realizes that they are the ones being looked at. Repositioning their position. That is one effect I like about carrying a painting. At a moment when performance art is being institutionalized and hyped, working with other people’s works – especially paintings – provides me with new possible relationships between performance, objects, and images. I am someone who always has to perform. Performing with paintings forces me to relate to objecthood. It is also a way to expand the performance into the place where painting dwells = a vertical wall in the gallery or museum. Performance art is immediate in its production and effects. Painting’s effect can also be immediate, but its production often incorporates slowness. It also requires solitude in the studio. I admire this psychological depth in the studio when I encounter paintings, which is clearly different from the way I conduct performance.

When I was an MFA student at Bard, I often snuck into the painting department where Amy Sillman, Stephen Westfall, Jutta Koether, Blake Rayne, and Cheyney Thompson taught. They were discussing everything about painting and beyond, and were the most talkative teachers in this interdisciplinary environment. Nevertheless, the discourse of painting stays foreign and mysterious to me. It is positive in a way – this experience makes me go on to figure out why. Describing a painting is a very difficult task for me in general, and I am still learning how to deal with this challenge. That is one thing that drives me to work with paintings. Even though I don’t make paintings myself, maybe I can relate to the history and culture of paintings from an off-center position. Wearing paintings was Amy Sillman’s idea at an event I organized for the Gutai exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York. She used every page of the thick catalogue to produce simple cut-out clothes. Using black ink, she added various gestural signs on top of reproductions of works. It was a collective experience that made the participants’ bodies into paintings walking through the Guggenheim’s rotunda. Amy loves Hélio Oiticica, and this reminded us of a similar light-heartedness within the heavy institutional setting. 

Ei Arakawa (*1977) is known for his performance works that take up aspects of historical precedents such as Fluxus or the Japanese avant-garde groups Gutai and Jikken Kobo. His choreographed performances, which leave open the status of performers, viewers, and objects, often seem heavily improvised and are made in close collaboration with artists and friends. Arakawa lives in New York. His work has recently been on view at the 2014 Whitney Biennial, the 2013 Carnegie International, and the Georgian Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale.