Tyranny and Culture Wars
Pawel Kasnweiski [Poland] and Non Grata [Estonia and beyond]
PAWEL KASNIEWSKI [POLAND]
Polski artysta współczesny, producent telewizyjny i filmowy. Ukończył studia na Wydziale Filozofii Akademii Teologii Katolickiej (obecnie Uniwersytet Kardynała Stefana Wyszyńskiego) w Warszawie. Debiutował w 1984. Twórca ponad 300 spektakli performance pokazywanych w galeriach, centrach sztuki i muzeach w ponad 60 państwach świata. W swoich spektaklach łączy ironiczne podejście do świata z brutalnym traktowaniem siebie i swojego ciała. Od lat prowadzi akcję wyprzedaży centymetrów kwadratowych swojego ciała, które wycina ze swojego przedramienia. Wykładowca na uczelniach artystycznych w Polsce, Finlandii, Irlandii, Islandii, Białorusi. Od 1994 pracował jako dziennikarz śledczy w Dziale Reportażu Gazety Wyborczej. Prowadził nocne audycje radiowe w Radiu Dla Ciebie oraz w Trójce. Autor felietonów w CKM, She, Cosmopolitan, Dziecko. Autor książki “Tańcząca z butami”. Autor ponad 100 teledysków w tym prawie 50 dla niezależnych zespołów muzycznych Białorusi.
NON GRATA GROUP [ESTONIA & BEYOND]
Written by David LaGaccia:
With smoke and fire, blowtorches and red-hot cattle brands, Non Grata has emerged from Estonia as one of the most audacious and evolving performance art groups to regularly come to and perform in the United States. From last month through the end of this one, the group has been guest curating a series of events at Grace Exhibition Space, showing off many talented American performance artists while also giving spectators a view of some of the raw and audacious performance work that Eastern Europe has to offer.
Led by Al Paldrok, whose pseudonym in the group is Anonymous Boh, Non Grata began in 1998, just four years after Estonia gained its independence from the Soviet Union. Taking its name from the phrase persona non grata, meaning “an unwelcome person,” the group first started as an alternative art academy called Academia Non Grata. Now they travel the world practicing performance art with a revolving set of members that has, over the years, totaled up to five hundred different individuals.
“Academia Non Grata was created for one purpose, [to be] a counterbalance to the bend-over attitude of the art world, which was dominated by the Yankee-style capitalism in our society,” said Paldrok. “Artists have become either the ones who satisfy society’s certain aesthetic needs, small-scale entrepreneurs producing pretty things, or society’s fools, officially labelled as the opponent.”
Often the value of art is in offering nontraditional strategies that one can put to use in everyday life. An artist attempts to improve the world. The aim of the Academia Non Grata was and still is to create an atmosphere in which people feel free to ask themselves and others, “What is it that I really think? What is it that I really want?”
Non Grata performing at Diverseworks in Houston, Texas (click to enlarge)
Since its beginning, Non Grata has become notorious for using what I would consider violent imagery of fire and large, fabricated brains, and for its disconcerting actions and props such as smoke, abrasive noise music, and bullhorns — all meant to create a sense of confusion. It’s almost like planned chaos. Paldrok usually carries and speaks into a bullhorn during performances, making him nearly incomprehensible in speech; but his intentions are always clear through his body language. And despite the confusing atmosphere, there are no subtle actions in a Non Grata performance: everything is explicit. Even if the images don’t make sense, the feeling of the performance is well defined.
There’s always a sense of disquiet in the crowd, but an anticipation built on fear keeps everyone watching. I think this discomfort makes us more aware of our own vulnerabilities, and these performances are meant to see how far we’ll go in such a state. After all, our hesitations, our non-actions, reveal as much about us as our actions do.
“Lots of people in the performance scene say that what Non Grata does is not art at all. I take it as a compliment, of course,” said Pardrok. “There are many of those who love us and those who hate us. Some German theater specialists show up specifically to see us, saying that Non Grata is an extremely interesting alternative theatre. The global performance art is sinking in its own blood, and every now and then, Non Grata is asked to come and rescue it. Recently, in France, I heard someone use an expression, ‘Natural LSD,’ when describing our performance. ‘High without artificial drugs.’”
Branding willing people
Branding willing people is a common aspect of a Non Grata performance.
The group stresses anonymity for various reasons, not least because some of their performances teeter on the edge of what typical American performance artists may call extreme: in one video, they topple over, smash, and set fire to a car; in another, they have an audience member pull a number out of a hat and then help them hold a person’s arms as they brand the willing participant with that number. Another reason for anonymity is so that the group can be seen as a collective, rather than individuals adding to the creative process of their performances.
“When you build up this unity in the group, it’s much better when you’re anonymous because then it’s much more a melting pot and everybody throws their ideas in,” Paldrok explained. “Also, it’s more creative, because when they’re [performers] connected to their name, they’re really careful about what people are going to think about me and do these sort of political correct things.”
Anonymity “helps express the wildest parts of yourself because they can’t see your face,” said Amber Lee, a newer member to Non Grata.
No matter how they’re perceived, Non Grata is responsible for producing wonderful and beautiful performances. In the current curatorial series at Grace Exhibition Space, they’ve presented some greatly imaginative artists. On October 5, for example, Saskia Edens performed “Merge,” a piece in which she came out of a closet to ambient music, dressed in mirrors while holding a translucent but reflective material that looked like Plexiglas. When you peered into the material, you could see Saskia’s face while also seeing your own reflection, a beautiful effect that reminded me of a scene in Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona.
ABOUT GRACE EXHIBITION SPACE
Opened in 2006, Grace Exhibition Space is devoted exclusively to Performance Art. We offer an opportunity to experience visceral and challenging works by the current generation of international performance artists whether emerging, mid career or established. Being a Brooklyn loft, our events are presented on the floor, not on a stage, dissolving the boundary between artist and viewer. This is how performance art is meant to be experienced and our mission is the glorification of performance art.
Grace Exhibition Space presents over 30 curated live performance art exhibitions each year, showcasing new work by more than 400 performance artists from across the United States and the world since 2006. Grace Space received fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas in 2007.