After the success of the third edition of the Venice International Performance Art Week, entitled “Fragile Body / Material Body”, I’ ve had the chance to meet and interview Andrea Pagnes, – artist, initiator and main independent curatorial force behind the live art exhibition project together with his partner Verena Stenke.
Andrea Pagnes is an eclectic person living art, and in particular performance art. Sitting on a black sofa in Palazzo Mora during the dismantling of the exhibition, he told me briefly about his life, which includes the three cities in which he has spent most of it: the island of Lido and Venice, where he was born and started his artistic path; Florence, where he started focussing his attention on theatre; and Germany and Berlin, where he met his partner and wife Verena Stenke, and started to collaborate together with her as the performance art duo VestAndPage in 2006.
Giulia Capaccioli: Could you tell us how the project of the “Venice International Performance Art Week ” has started?
Andrea Pagnes: It begun in 2011, when a friend of mine introduced me to Rene Rietmeyer of the Global Art Affairs Foundation, which provides Venetian Palazzos as exhibition spaces during the Biennale and set the collateral cycle of exhibitions “Personal Structures” at each Biennale edition, as well as hosting countries which haven’t their national pavilion at the Giardini. Rene asked me if I would like to organise a project focused on performance art in one of his spaces as outside of the Biennale period as these premises are left empty. Hence for 2012 he offered us to host the project at Palazzo Bembo to present live performances and works on exhibit on two conditions: he wouldn’t give us any money but would provide for free the space and the logistic team, and we would have to leave the building in the same condition as we found it.
Verena and I spent about a year on the preparation of the first edition of the project, entitled “Hybrid Body – Poetic Body”. Being independent artists, the process of working with colleagues from all over the world included working closely together with the lack of financial and public funding for guaranteeing their travels to Venice and productions of their works in Venice. Right from the start we were generously supported locally by enterprises such as ConCAVe Venice, Riviera, Daily Press among others, and this was existential for making it possible to welcome so many international artists to produce and present their live work in Venice, despite the lack of financial funding and public funding. An increasingly dedicated team allowed our visions to turn into reality: for this last edition we were assisted by over 40 young efficient volunteers from Ca’ Foscari University at internship at We Exhibit, the School of Curatorial Studies Venice and the Live Arts Cultures Association. These three entities, together with Venice Open Gates, are our main cultural and logistic partners: without them the project could not exist. This is truly a project by the people for the people.
GC: Was the project conceived as a trilogy from the beginning?
AP: Yes, we work mainly in cycles (be it for our live performances, movies or projects) where each step is the result of a previous one. For example, each solar year in our live performances we focus on a specific theme to then turn it inside out gradually performance by performance. The concept of our work always refers to “the bodies”, may it be private, social, collective or environmental ones. Through the body we understand.
The first edition of the Venice International Performance Art Week “Hybrid Body – Poetic Body” was dedicated to the question of how the hybridisation of bodies can be turned into poetry; the second edition “Ritual Body – Political Body” to the body as a ritualised site of statement and transformation; and the concluding third edition “Fragile Body – Material Body” to a reflection on the transience and impermanence of the body – with a feeble hope that the spirit would lasts forever. As a starting point for this inquiry I chose a phrase by Matthew the Evangelist, which says: “The spirit is ready, but the flesh is weak.- and again: – My flesh is strong, but the spirit has not learnt yet.”
GC: Andrea, we understand that, for you, working with young people is one of the most important things…isn’t it?
AP: Of course. It is one of the main points of our work. The reason why I have built a philological exhibition on the history of the performance (even though partial) is because we wish to show the younger generation what has been done in the past, which paths have been paved and by whom, the importance of looking back to determinant masters and pioneers, inextinguishable sources of inspiration, in order to find a trait d’union between contemporary performances and those of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Youth is the salt of life and art is also legacy: transmitted knowledge and experiences, freely and openly to everyone.
GC: And how about the future? What’s the next step?
AP: One of the most relevant points for us is to create a common ground for encounter, exchange and production, giving artists the chance to produce and perform, and also to invite the audience to understand better what performance art is and can be. One of our interest is to continue organising intensive workshops and residencies, in which young artists can collaborate closely and learn from established artists. Presenting the final results of these processes publicly, the audience is not only confronted with completed performances, but also with the creative process which is integral and relevant part of contemporary performance art. For artists, to be in touch with the site of performance is a way through which the space becomes the first producer of the performance itself, and not just a hypertrophied platform. Artists must have the chance and time to smell the walls, touch the floors, breathe the air in the room, being contained by a site to inhabit it – especially in a historic site such as Venice.
GC: Would you like to do something similare here in Venice?
AP: I profoundly love my hometown, come back and set involving initiatives to be shared within the community. We will continue to create occasions for performance artists to be inspired by this place, here, where the walls vibrate, and to inhabit and embody these buildings and sites where magic always happens. Honestly speaking, we can’t look into the future, but what we feel now is that the project has matured enough to be decentralised in its concept and sites. Things will fall into place and we trust in change. I am a Sagittarius, so I am a bit superstitious but always optimistic.
- Casey Jenkins. “sMother”. Image from the performance. Photo by Marco Sitran. III Venice Performance Art Week, 2016
- Franko B. “I’m Thinking of You”, image from the performance, photo credits Marco Sitran, III Venice International Performance Art Week, 2016 Source and courtesy MyArtGuide, in the photo by Marco Sitran, Franko B on his swing pushed by ORLAN
- VestAndPage (Verena Stenke & Andrea Pagnes) Photo by Alexander Harbaugh © 2016