• Patrycja Wojciechowska

ANNA PERACH. THE RITE OF CHANGE.





I wanted to discuss with Anna her practice ever since I encountered it for the first time. Multilayered, full of cultural and social references and deeply felt , it is never set, it is always fluid, residing on threshold and notoriously escaping definition.

Performances constructed around active use of fabric sculptures, go right to the centre of gender-driven politics of representation, working simultaneously as manifestation of internal struggles of the protagonist and rituals of re-gaining agency controlled by dominant storytelling. The characters claim it for themselves from within the system originally created for subjectifing them.

Soft texture of sculptures is only an outer limit of a firm core holding it together, but restrictive at the same time. Positioned somewhere between different layers of existence and happening, between being performance props and ‘traditional’ sculptures, between movement=change and stasis=representation; works are ever-elusive, exist in alternative time modes and, in different durations.

The work is an act of ritual of change, a magical gathering of protagonists, artist, performers, audience, representations and myths.

This liminal, transitional identity of the work allows it to inhabit the skin of archetypal image successfully contesting control it imposes, transforming it in the process.


Daphne, 2021 tufted yarn, beading, wooden frame, 70x70x180cm; Gasp, 2021 installation view

Courtesy of ADA, Rome; Photo by Roberto Apa




1.


Discrete Life of Infrathin:

Thank you for agreeing to speak to me.

When I think about your projects, I feel like in many ways they begin with a specific image of a woman. This image is chosen from seemingly endless archetypes conceived in the dominant mode of representation of women and women’s bodies. Mode anchored and encoded in Greco-Roman mythological tradition and Western narrative. In your performances, you contest these images and their codifications.

More than this, you've taken this transformative, external force and turned it into something that gives protagonists power to change the image and subsequently, to change themselves.

In selecting your characters, you moved beyond Western tradition and took something very similar from the Slavic folklore, like for example Rusalka. For me, it is very interesting how you combined these different, maybe not completely separate, but separately evolved traditions and in a way, merged them. I was wondering how you make your choices, how do you balance different cultural origins in this context?



Working Frame, 2022
, Axminster yarn, pine frame (fron), 104x184x 10c; Sodora, 2022, Axminster yarn & artificial hair, pine frame and metal, 140 x 120 x 85 cm; Spidora, 2022, installation view; Courtesy of Edel Assanti, London, Photo: Andy Keates



ANNA PERACH:

The characters are constantly in a state of transformation, in different forms and shapes.

I think the layering of the West and East traditions comes very much from my own private history. I was born in Ukraine when it was the Soviet Union. Then, as a child, I moved to Israel and later, as an adult, I moved to the UK. So in a way I was impacted by all those traditions. What happens in situations like that, the best way to act is to try to make sense of them all. And what holds it all together is the meaning extracted from it. So this exposure to different cultures and traditions enabled me to build on these connections and create combinations that aspire to reach the common unconscious. That's how it's all linked. By just being processes of the same brain.


When it comes to releasing the protagonist from the male gaze, there is a conflict within the work. The wearable sculptures are very restrictive to the performer. So there is this addition to what the audience sees as characters. The other thing that is experienced, but not necessarily seen, is the struggle of the performer, of the person within the sculpture inhabiting the character.



2.



Seven Wives, 2021 , performance documentation, tufted yarn & synthetic hair, beading, hemp rope and S-hooks, various sizes; Matt Ashford photography


Your sculptures are sort of soft and hard at the same time. Use of fabric indicates softness, but the form makes the form very hard and restrictive, making movement constrained and difficult to control. This ambivalence is really beautiful. As if everything is in between. Always.

So, characters are struggling to move, to gain control, to free themselves and work unfolds as a manifestation of this process. Through different times and identities, sculptures and performances create reality where these different layers of ways how the protagonist and your work change and bind with modes of representation of the feminine in the society. And the fact that it is temporal, that it exists only momentarily, can be perhaps read as a protest against the lasting quality of imagery attached to women and their bodies and how it is intended to never change, to forever remain repressive.

AP:

I never thought of it the way you propose. Your reading suggests that perhaps the layer of conflict within the notion of the gaze we spoke of, is represented by being locked in, the restriction of what is being seen externally.

When I started working with masks, the idea was to see the gap between how you portray your identity externally and how you experience it personally, between the “in” and the “out”. This idea can be transferred to the gender restriction as you offered it. As the gaze that's upon something, that is actually quite restrictive and is not allowing the person inside to move the way they want to move.

Further, can you specify this protest you mentioned?















Seven Wives, 2021 , performance documentation, tufted yarn & synthetic hair, beading, hemp rope and S-hooks, various sizes; Matt Ashford photography


DLoI:

I always thought that strategies of the image in the Western narrative, especially those created around the Enlightenment Project, are meant to last in perpetuity, that they are created as something absolute that is to go on forever. So if you introduce something that it's organic-based or a body or performance that has its momentary existence, period of activation, that happens only in the one moment of time or it happens within a certain period of time, but it's not going to last, you kind of clash with this idea that something is going to be forever and it is never to be changed.


AP:

I think it relates to what we discussed in the previous question and to the notion of fluidity of everything. I think as a civilisation we're at the point of transformation too. Ideas of Enlightenment and the claim that there is one clear point from “A to B”, all these ideas are collapsing one by one. In that sense, I'm interested in the world, which is at the point of metamorphosing.

That was the idea behind the “Moon Prophecy”. The idea in the project was to imagine a future world where the leading force is transformation and nothing remains in the state of stagnation and is constantly morphing. That's definitely something I'm thinking about a lot. I am interested in the world as I show it in “Moon Prophecy”.

Going back to gender context, the work reflects on the female cycle and its relation to the fabric of nature. In this sense, it has a rhythm that is affected by the environment and the Moon.




Seven Wives 2021,
 installation view; Photo: Matt Ashford


DLoI:

I completely agree with you. I think this line of thinking started with multiple voices in philosophy and cultural studies and now there is this tendency of acceptance that you can be undefined and the things can be undefined and nothing is really only dualistic. And that tyranny of absolute language and things being complete and always with very sharp edges doesn't work anymore. In your work it means that every single performance or every single time you show the sculpture, its potential for change will cause it to be different. It will become something new.


AP:

Yeah, but in the way that's true for any new performance. I think those mediums like performance, they kind of develop in or through time and change is a natural consequence.


DLoI:

I think I see it as more prominent in your case, because your work has this unset identity, the in-betweenness; lasting as a sculpture and durational as a performance piece. So, the identity of work is always fluid.



Seven Wives, 2021, tufted yarn & synthetic hair, beading, hemp rope and S-hooks, various sizes; Matt Ashford photography



3.


“Seven Wives", a performance inspired by an old fable of the Bluebeard, is constructed around an act of struggle, of almost bacchantian movement leading to physical exhaustion. Masks and meat hooks indicate control, mutilation and power giving the stage ritualistic quality. There is a content of violence, whatever real or metaphorical, physical or emotional, legal or cultural embedded within this imagery, movement and music. And when I think about it, most of your characters share a narrative of underlying danger, violence and pain.

Do you see compartmentalisation of the image of the feminene as such and do you think your performances are not only a response to that, but they are also a form of remedy, healing and magic?


AP:

For sure. In “Seven Wives” that was the idea. For me, the story recalls the separation of mind and body. Bluebeard’s decapitation of the female body is an attempt to dispose of the uncontrolled elements, defined by fluidity, that can not be solidified.


With all my work, the intention is to touch on something very, very primal. That is, before language. Besides my art practice, I worked in mental health with people struggling with severe mental health states. My experience is that when people are in very difficult places, language is not always available for them. That was a precious lesson for me. I discovered that I respond to people regardless of language, on an intuitive level. There are moments where I felt a connection with someone, and it could be just very temporary, but it made me realise that things can occur somewhere else, which is difficult to verbalise. That's the place I want to reach within my practice, the experience that is prior to cognitive understanding.


I think that this ties with the ideas of Western philosophical tradition and how we were taught to explain the word and understand it. We don't have enough alternative systems of knowledge.



Seven Wives, 2021 , performance documentation, tufted yarn & synthetic hair, beading, hemp rope and S-hooks, various sizes; Matt Ashford photography



DLoI:

This reminds me of how years ago, I was for the first time in Crete. We were just sitting in the harbour in the evening. There were some guys playing traditional music, which sounds pretty abstract and primal. It's almost equally an instrument and a voice.

There is land in it, and the animals. Life and decay in sound.

Your work shares a similar quality that goes straight to the body. And that is where it generates. You don't analyse it with your head. You feel it through flesh. I think that's the ritualistic quality in what you do, by going to that realm of somewhere else.

The Moon Prophecy, 2021 installation view; Photo: Lena Gamon



4.


This question is related to the life in the Soviet state you experienced as a child. Women had a dual status in Soviet ideology. On one hand they were still predominantly expected to follow the traditional, domestic, subjectified role of the stay-at-home wife, subordinate to the man. On the other hand they were part of, also problematic, socialist myth of equal social standing, by being considered workers, equal in contribution to labour and production necessary for the success of Communist state.

I was wondering if you could speak a little bit of these dualisms; labour, domestic chores, repair, mutilated body and fight for new, alternative representation aimed as an instrument of agency, and how do you approach them in your work method?


AP:

My experience of the Soviet Union was until the age of seven, which is a lot, because it's a very formative year. It's where you get your perception of what women and men are. I don't consciously remember that as much, but I do know my mum. So the image of women and Soviet women is something that came for me through her. To me, there'd be something very strong about the appearance of Soviet or ex Soviet women. My mum told me stories of how women used to get cosmetics and share it between them to feel beautiful and worthy.

In a way, although it was primarily a way to attract men, on a deeper level, it was a way of looking at yourself. A ritual that enabled one to process and face the world. I watched my mom getting ready most of my childhood, every day. Putting her makeup, choosing her jewellery, and her clothing. It was a ritual of transformation from the domestic, undone state to a collected one that allowed her to enter the world. She would never go out without performing this ritual.

That's sort of my mom's legacy. In order to show yourself to the world, you have to be in a certain appearance and my work reflects that as well. You put this garment on, a mask on to be able to face the world.


DLoI:

Like armour. I kind of remember this from my mum too. There is an ambivalence to the whole ritual of getting ready, to look attractive or presentable. One aspect, yes, it is dictated by men and it is dictated by the fantasies of men, but the other one, is actually considered together with your own empowerment. Why on Earth you're not allowed to feel pretty or have pretty things or put your makeup on and feel good about it? It is about control and confidence aimed at the self. And women claim it, they take control.


AP:

It's a form of escape as well. My grandma used to work during the war in one of the factories. She gave her body to the efforts of the war as they all did at that time. But I remember her telling me how she used to dream of dresses. I think that when the adornment of the body is done in connection with the needs of the self it becomes something uniting. It's a gathering, a pleasurable thing. In Soviet culture, cosmetics and the beauty industry were in such a deficit that it became a form of secret gathering.

It's women looking at women, women signalling to other women in different ways. The male gaze is there, but it's almost not forgotten. It's an internal conversation of women enjoying themselves.


* Sack of Body Parts, 2022
; Tufted Axminster yarn & artificial hair, cotton fabric, metal chain, 170x84x 84cm;

Photo: Lena Gamon


DLoI:

It's almost like a form of care.


AP:

I wasn't part of it physically, but what I gathered from it was that it can work differently. My mum worked in cosmetics in Israel. So there was a sense of community and continuity there between these two moments in time. You can give it the kind of Western read of that and they're all kind of victims. And maybe they are from that point of reading, but a lot of them were women from the Soviet Union. It was a place familiar to them. It was their identity, and to me, there is something much more. I get the reading of it as being this kind of place that punishes women, but I didn't experience that at all.



Seven Wives 2021,
 Lover, Performance documentation; Matt Ashford photography




5.


This is the question I intend to ask all interviewees in the project. I wanted to ask how do you see practice as such?

When you speak to the artist, it's always assumed that we're talking about the creative practice, how you make your art. But, there is practice of everyday, you practice being yourself, you practice your life. There is a rhythm to being a part of society. Going into the gallery and experiencing art is also a form of practice. I was wondering because ,you go to this place of women gatherings and exchange of care, how do you see yourself in this? Especially because you've mentioned working with people with mental issues. You talk about practising on a social level as a collaborative relationship?


AP:

I think the answer to that is through how the practice grew. So it started off at a private place. It was just me in the studio making sketches and then transforming them into wearable sculptures. But as performance practice developed, I began collaborating with a movement director and a music producer.

Finally, there are the performers, so it gradually becomes a small kind of working community.

I think the link is between the fact that I used to work with quite a lot of people in terms of running groups or working with people. And that filtered through the practice.


The practice as it is now, is very much about working with people. The people I engage with are often from the art world so that's kind of the content that I’m exposed to. I go to exhibition openings. I go to the studio, and when I look for a family activity for the weekend, I usually choose visiting an art space or a museum.

How I understand the question is how the interaction between the practice and the daily experiences of life happen. My experience is that I’m the same person in all spaces, using slightly different tools that are best appropriate. For me, it's all kinds of similar things, I'm interested in visual forms and people’s stories. It's all the same research for me in a way.

The Moon Prophecy, 2021 installation view; Photo: Lena Gamon


DLoI:

Thank you so much for that. It was very interesting.


AP:

Thank you for your time.


 

Anna Perach (1985, USSR) is a Ukrainian born Israeli artist living and working in London, UK. She holds an MFA in fine art (distinction) from Goldsmiths, University of London (2020). In 2022 Anna presented a solo show with Edel Assanti in London and took part in Miart with ADA gallery. She has exhibited internationally at galleries including: White Cube gallery (London, UK), Vitrine gallery (Basel, Switzerland) and Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art (Herzliya, Israel). In 2021 Anna took part in Arco Madrid 2021 with The Ryder gallery and received the Ingram prize award. in 2020 she received a studio award with Sarabande, The Lee Alexander McQueen foundation as well as the Gilbert Bayes award. Recent publications include Artfotum and Art Maze Mag.


https://www.annaperach.com









DISCRETE LIFE OF INFRATHIN


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