ALESSIO ASCARI Vanessa, when I started conceiving this survey on SUPERIMAGES, I immediately thought of your work. Performance is usually perceived as a spatially immersive, inherently time-based experience. In the performance works you’ve done since the early ‘90s, though, the action seems to collapse into a two-dimensional plane. So I always think of you less as a performance artist than an image-maker—one with an eye for the iconic. What is the relationship between performance and image in your work?
VANESSA BEECROFT My performances were born as a consequence of live drawing. I began using them as a means of extending the life the model had to the work itself, although the action would tend to be psychological rather than physical. The performance was studied like a drawing or a painted portrait—the position in space, the single point of view, the palette, the choice of the subjects. Each performance was born from a flat and frontal image. The image could come from the immediate repertoire of painting, cinema or photography, but it was often biographical. The purpose of the performance was to visualize the image three-dimensionally.
The performative aspect always gave me anxiety—the fact that the “event” was current, ephemeral, realistic, naturalistic and contemporary stressed me and made me feel as if I’d failed as a painter. I never rehearse, so everything would happen empirically the day of the performance, directed by a very clear vision: an image like an oil painting, not still, slightly moved as if out of focus. These performances were like drawings, architectures and monuments to me.
AA Exactly. Existing at the threshold between two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality, your performances have a picture-ready frontality to them, while at the same time being carefully orchestrated actions happening in real time. This recalls the tradition of the tableau vivant on one hand, and the imagery of the catwalk show on the other. How do you feel about this kind of comparisons? Do you see your work as somehow part of a journey from one point to the other?
VB I don’t know anything about catwalks. I have been to Helmut Lang in 1997 and Margiela in 2000. The performances are set not as an event, but as a picture. The women are disposed on the floor, on an architectural drawing plan, and they are told certain rules. The fact that they follow the rules determines the aesthetics. Even when the women fall or melt down on the ground, they are not choreographed. They are models, like the live drawing model assuming another pose during a long session.
I never explicitly related to the fashion world because I consider it too mundane. I aspire to a sacrality that only art, real life and religion have. My work created a way of visually organizing subjects, mostly women, in a formation with a certain color uniformity, and fashion picked up on it and assimilated it. The fashion world imitated the art world and vice-versa.