Norwegian Wood - part III (PAiN)

Wednesday, I went to my first ever performance. Which is weird, considering I have always been interested in art. However, I tend to avoid big events; it is my personal preference to watch art alone, in silence - I find that the impact is greater that way. And this proved to be true this time as well. I had asked a friend I thought might be interested to accompany me, but she was prevented from going. And perhaps performance art isn´t what most Swedish artists do. It decidedly isn´t up here where we live, anyway. Which I suppose PAiN wants to change.

I had never been to Galleri Syster, either. I had expected there to be an art exhibition on the walls, kind of like they don´t clear the walls of the gallery at the Culture House when there are music performances there, but I guess this is different. The gallery isn´t large, more like a small boutique; the furniture (wardrobe, fika stall, seats) is all moveable and flexible. Chairs were stacked by the entrance and the visitors, if they needed one (and they did) got their own and sat down wherever felt good. There was a hostess, a girl in a white princess dress, and baby (non-alcoholic) cider, which is inescapable at any Swedish vernissage.

The program said Performance Art i Norr (PAiN) was presenting "Hembesök" (= homecoming or house call), a three act performance by three formerly local artists. It started at seven, ended at half past eight, with a break for fika.

The first performance, by artist Ingentinget (= the No Thing), or Heidi Edström as her real name is, was already in progress and continued the entire evening. Her piece is called "Cumbersome dough" and is part of a series where she is exploring the idea of lumps, which she defines as anything sticking out and breaking the norm, things continually being edited, cleaned away, pushed aside, things that don´t fit into our fantasy about the ordered existence with it´s straight lines. She makes me think about the fashion for stylistically pure spaces; stilren is one of the favourite words of those interested in interior design that keeps making me cringe.

At first, I just thought what a novel, strange idea, to try to hold a gigant dough in one´s arms for almost two hours. Then I thought, that´s just what I´m doing - kind of. Trying to control what can´t be controlled, trying to contain something that will not let itself be contained. The husband is constantly making jokes about me struggling with the forces of entropy (which is, in our household, upheld by him, haha). And struggling with dough - it seems like such a female struggle. A particularly female lumpy thing. I almost teared up, I felt it so keenly. And I wondered if she had put yeast in her dough; I wouldn´t be surprised if she had. She was entirely serious the whole time, the dough was clinging to her dress and as she struggled with it she reminded me of a greek statue. I was seeing this in my mind´s eye, but I was thinking Prometeus.

After twenty minutes, Natalie Avigdor´s performance "Ashes" started. The program says the piece is about revival, about the Phoenix rising from the ashes. She has shown this performance before, but it fits really great into the framwork of "Norwegian Wood", I think. This makes me think, as I sit there, if perhaps the entire story (the suggested breakup, the suddenly empty calendar, what to do?) is fictional, something that started while she was still in Israel. Many artist have, lately, toyed with the concept of what´s real, what´s art, what´s biographical, and what´s fiction. She has said herself that there is a blurry line between performance art and life. Does it matter? The diary gives an impression of something authentic, but as a piece of art, would it change if it wasn´t? I don´t know. (Did Tracy Emin really sleep in that bed? I kinda hope not.)

I had seen this performance before, there is a film on Avigdor´s website, so I knew what to expect. Still, that is not the same thing as being there. Performance art, I now realize, has that in common with worship that you have to be there to participate - it´s not just a show. As the Labelle Sisters used to sing: the revolution will not be televised. Or it will, but television turns it into news or history. It doesn´t transform you unless you are there. That´s what I felt anyway.

I read a storybook about the Phoenix when I was little, and I remember the climax, the re-birth, as an explosion of colour and feather against a starry night sky (wish I still had the illustrations from that book!). Avigdor, however, just continues to lie there after she has been freed from the tape that held her down. She looks more like Gregor Samsa than a beautiful bird. Finally, she carefully gets up (there is much fiddling with the vest, no nipples in sight), and goes back to sitting in the corner. Scarred, charred, but essentially the same. A bit prim. Good point. So anti-Hollywood. So no-drama.

By now it was fika-time, but I had had enough. Too much going on in my head already. Ingentinget was still struggling with her cumbersome dough, her legs quivering under the strain, sometimes resting it on her back. It must have been really, really heavy. It occured to me that there is a baking scene in my novel that I have completely forgotten about. So I left, and didn´t see Eva Törmä´s performance "Forgive me". I wasn´t in the mood for forgiveness anyway, but I´m sure it was good. And this is one of the good things about not bringing company: you can leave when you feel like it.

It was a beautiful evening, the moon almost full as I walked home along the southern harbour. I´m really glad I came, and all thanks to Natalie Avigdor, who has really widened my horizon.

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