In a flowing and spontaneous conversation between artist Cibelle Cavalli Bastos and artist duo Wright and Vandame, topics such as community, participation, expression, dance and performance are discussed and ruminated. The artists share similarities in their performance based work which focusses on the values of inclusion and openness. At the time of the conversation, they had concurrent shows in London, with Cavalli Bastos showing at Bosse and Baum gallery and Wright and Vandame showing at the ICA in Autumn 2015.
Alexandra: We’ve been organising this exhibition with Cibelle since the beginning of September, and for those of you who went to Wright and Vandame’s show at Fig. 2, you can see many similarities in how the end result has worked. How all the events and performances have made the exhibition whole. The two exhibitions were experimental in the same way, but they’ve come from two incredibly separate and different places.
Cibelle: The name that was given to this body by my mother is Cibelle, Cavalli Bastos from my family. I’m a post-medium, conceptual, interdisciplinary, multi-practice artist, basically I’m a thinking practice, a contemplative practice. It’s not necessarily because I feel like I’m in a dialogue with art history, I’m closer to philosophy if anything inside and I express this through the medium of art. The post-medium part is where I use whatever’s relevant to what I want to be talking about, whatever can facilitate that method or encounter. If I need to be using paint then I’ll do that and if it’s not that, I’ll make albums, which I’ve done four times. I like working in hybrid lines.
Josh Wright: I’m Josh Wright, I’m mainly a photographer and visual artist. I wouldn’t define myself as post-medium, but certainly I think the site is inextricably linked to all the work that I produce. It’s always very much a dialogue between the environment, the gallery space, the history of the locality and then the work that is inevitably produced.
I met Guillaume two years ago, it became a friendship and a constant dialogue and we would often go to shows and working together developed from there. We both have separate practices, but then the opportunity of fig-2 presented itself and we decided that the themes within our work – both influenced by the body and quite performative – went well together.
Guillaume Vandame: I’m Guillaume, I’m French-American, born in New York and I grew up in New Jersey. I’ve been here for about five years in London. I see myself as a writer, a curator and an artist so each of my practices are interconnected. Primarily I come from a background that is involved in museum education and art history, especially Modern and Contemporary art and so I’ve always been interested in the discourse of art history, revising our understanding of art, questioning what does modernity mean in contrast to traditional, and then how does that relate to cultures outside of European and American culture. For me, art has a lot to do with peace and co-existence. It has a social purpose.
Photographs from Wright and Vandame’s exhibition during Fig. 2 at the ICA, September 2017
Cibelle: And that’s where we meet actually, I talked about the methods that I work with, but not about my concerns with Eastern Asian philosophy. I’m really into researching our interactions through social media – that being of the ‘whole’, being together as people and connectivity.
I do a lot of research on our idea of reality and cognition, the mechanisms that are in place, what keeps us in separation and what keeps on feeding the problems in the world: racism, homophobia, misogyny. I’m always trying to find ways to take that apart and try to show a pathway. I’m not saying I’m able to, but at least I try with my work – it’s still a beginning of self inquiry. I feel that self inquiry will definitely take us to a higher level of consciousness and understanding of where we are, why we are here and how to relate to each other.
Guillaume: Totally, that resonates. I’ve been very interested in the ideas of consciousness and perception. With the exhibition Josh and I did, we looked at how space might effect our understanding of art and life, through creating a gym in an exhibition space. As we developed the exercise classes and the programme of events, we had talks discussions with artists, between ourselves, the curators it was an opportunity for people to become active within the space and to engage. One of the really cool things about exercise, is about going beyond yourself and that’s essential if you can transcend the body, transcend the self. We talked about enlightenment, I think that’s the ultimate aim.
Cibelle: Totally, this is related to the project that I have called Unbinding, which came out of an album. It’s a performance I’m doing on the 17th, thinking about a nightclub. I remember it being two in the morning in the Joiners Arms and everybody was singing together like they don’t care, I had visions of between people at street parties in Brazil, occupying public space, dancing, everybody was coming together. Sound operates within subtle levels of you, you can use certain frequencies, chords and the way you mix the sound to produce a certain feeling. You have everyone in the space with lights and loud music and dancing, you literally forget about the kind of body that is next to you, you finally you let go of the surface.
Just to clarify I’m not talking about the surface of a painting in terms of art, what I’m terming ‘surface’ is anything that is coming across from an object to you – it’s your colour of skin, your expression of gender, your accent, the clothes that you’re wearing. It’s everything that’s coming forwards, as well as your output. We tend to hang onto those things to determine what the person is. It’s incredibly subjective and nobody is going to be exactly what you’re seeing. It’s being hung up on surface and identity that really gets in the way of everybody being fine with each other.
Installation view at Cibelle Cavalli Bastos’ exhibition at Bosse and Baum gallery
Josh: Going back to what you said about that club environment bringing people together, we had quite a similar thing happen in our show, we invited an artist called Adam Faramaway, and he led a ‘post-rave sweat fatigue’ work out – the space pretty much transformed into a club. It was funny how linked the club and the gym culture was. The mirrored wall didn’t look out of place in the club and the floor piece became like a dancefloor. Whether this was clubbing, or this was actually an aerobics class, there was loud music and everyone was very active, but the context changes. People at our show weren’t there for the reasons you would go to an aerobics class, they were doing it just to have fun and to dance – it brought everyone together and had a social effect.
Cibelle: I suppose when you are being active, there is very little room in your mind to be judging someone, or yourself, it’s that good. You like it to that point you’re like, fuck it, I’m sweating, who gives a shit.
Guillaume: Our gym wasn’t a conventional gym, by conflating the art space with the gym space, it became disorientating in the most exciting way possible. Usually people think that disorientating is a bad thing, but this was actually really cool, it made you question things and become critical about your surroundings, and also question why you were here in the first place.
With Adam’s performance what was really interesting – we call them performances ‘slash’ exercise classes because there were kind of undefinable – what happened at the end of his event, was that basically he had a ‘cha-cha-cha’ dance going on, and we had a circle that formed around the ‘Carl- Andre-esque’, Malevich floor-piece. We were a circle of people dancing around this square, we all got into the centre and my immediate reaction afterwards was that it was the physical and spiritual embodiment of Matisse and the dancers. That was so interesting to go from someone like Matisse, who is such a revered modern artist, and to make that contemporary today – I know that wasn’t necessarily what was in the back of Adam’s mind.
“Is this a gym? Is this a performance? Is this a gallery space? Is this not a gallery space?”
Cibelle: I think most of the stuff we are doing is not in the back of our minds, it just wants to come through. That’s why in my practice, I do everything I can to stop the left side of my brain interfering at all. This side of the brain is pure programming, chatter, it’s the one that judges and talks, but I don’t want any of this, and the funny thing is, when you let go what needs to come out, comes out. You weren’t planning on the Matisse, it showed up, and it was perfect.
There’s something you said that triggered something for me: the hybrid – the space not being made for one thing and the performance/gym classes. What I’ve been seeing being happening in discussions in the web, often with gender, is that we are coming out of a binary. Is this a gym? Is this a performance? Is this a gallery space? Is this not a gallery space? Finally things are coming into this multiple and no one wants to collapse it anymore. Also, that reminded me of something I think often which is; confusion strategies for revolution – once you give people an option to go binary, then you can engage rationally and judge – is it this, is it that, do some beard scratching – but when you don’t give that option, the confusion is a blessing – the disorientation is a wonderful tool for change.
Guillaume: I think that’s what happened in our exhibition, from the very opening night when we had this performance where we had a male and female body builder ‘slash’ performer.
Cibelle: Everything is a ‘slash’ right now.
Alexandra: Before, you were talking about Carl Andre, which is interesting and a totally different perspective.
Guillaume: Josh and I have this informal expression which is ‘ordered chaos’. Josh is very grounded, pragmatic and I’m a little bit more spontaneous, risky or experimental and so working together, we have this yin and yang, not to create a binary –
Cibelle: Yin and Yang is not binary.
Guillaume: We were involved in an ‘exquisite corpse’. For those of you’ve who’ve never played it, it is a surrealist game, you have one person draw the head, then the other person might draw the torso, then another person does the legs and feet and each person cant see what the other person is doing. As a part of Fig. 2, we invited everyone to take part in this. Josh did this chequer board pattern inspired by Carl Andre and I did this very abstract messy thing and then it was together – to answer your question, it has to do with that balance.
Josh: We’ve both been very influenced by minimalism and minimalism’s relationship with architecture and the viewer. Donald Judd for example says his work isn’t really activated unless the viewer is present and a lot of minimalist sculpture is body proportional, so it’s directly responding to the viewer. Knowing that, we wanted exercise classes to occupy the space, which then seems appropriate to then link it to minimalism and then to the gym, because the environment is so clinical, as Marc Augé would call it, a ‘non-place’, devoid of any cultural association. It’s a heterotopia; you can go to the gym anywhere in the world and it would be the same, with these tiled mirrored walls – we were interested in the grid structure as a way of fragmenting and distorting the self.
Guillaume: The yoga balls are circular, whereas the floor piece is square so you have this really interesting balance of shape. Even though the gym floor piece is actually made from gym floor tiles, it’s made to look as if it was a sculptural piece by Carl Andre. It was the same thing with the yoga balls, which were cast out of concrete, the yoga balls were supposed to be sculptures of yoga balls. They weren’t exactly the same thing as their original source. When people talk about transformation or forming something completely new, that’s an appropriation. I love the cast courts at the V&A, one of my favourite places to go in London, it’s just so incredible to see all these sculptures in one place. Casting for me is almost like Pop art in the 19th century. Being American, that kind of background has a creative influence on my practice.
Wright and Vandame in conversation at the ICA
Cibelle: I hear you are saying that where you are born influences you, but I see it like this: that name was given to this body by my mother, but I’m not this body, this eye even, because my notion of identity and self is a construct. That’s the stuff that I work with, getting rid of the fact that I grew up in in Brazil until I was 23. However I’m reacting something, I’m asking, where does this come from? Do I actually agree with this? The art I work with becomes a device to talk about these things, working with decolonising and letting go with this obsession with identity.
Guillaume: For me it’s not an obsession with identity. It’s the awareness of where I was born that allows me to construct it, I think it’s about being able to construct your own identity.
Cibelle: Awareness is one thing, but it”s different when you get attached to it. I find that the attachment is the problem. I’m from there and you’re not from there, all this is division. The world is a round ball floating in the cosmos fast as fuck and here we are like drawing lines. It’s interesting to have awareness, but not to ground yourself in that. Particularly in America, I find it interesting to find people four generations down identifying as Italian, but maybe that’s because I was born in Brazil, and if you’re born in Brazil, forget about it.
What I’m saying here is that we are obsessed with identity and surface, which is part of identifiable surface which is wider than that. It’s like, am I a man? Am I a woman? Am I a trans-woman? Am I a trans-man? Does it matter, should it matter? Am I gay, am I straight? I’m saying, get rid of ‘he’ and get rid of ‘her’. I think the world would be very different if in language we just had a neutral noun. I think it would massively change the way we interact.
Guillaume: I think part of it is about levelling those constructs, especially from a feminist, queer discourse. Artists like Cindy Sherman deconstruct those identities; what it means to be a woman. We can talk about how useful those identities are, but I think identity is so important is because it grounds us in some way and that’s why we go through those different paths and journeys in our life. Obsession is when we try to control those journeys. We should recognise the difference between something that happens between chance or fate, your personal beliefs, vs. just doing something because its a cultural norm, it’s about trying to pioneer your own path.
Cibelle: This is why I do yoga. If we keep on looking outside of ourselves to ground ourselves, that is never going to work, because its not permanent, its shifting, it moves more than ever now, all day the ground is moving.
Alexandra: So this is what we are thinking about with yoga – there are very specific trail poses that you have to follow and work in, but at the same time it’s very centric and inwards looking. People do their postures and poses in different ways, dependent on yourself, but it is nice to be grounded in some way by having a specific path to follow – is there a balance between the two? Can you still be flexible within the constructs? It’s nice to feel belonging, to feel grounded, can you can follow the grid and navigate it in your own way?
Cibelle: To bring back the yin and yang, it is not black or white. The yin and yang has a dot of each colour inside each one, so already that is not a binary. The yin and yang is also meant to be spinning, so that it’s in balance.
Alexandra: It’s like breathing; inhale, exhale.
Cibelle: Exactly, its the inhale, exhale, the ying and the yang. Play with your identity, but always remember that the ying and yang is spinning, and that things shouldn’t determine who you are, and be aware of it.
Guillaume: I think that’s one of the reasons why people do do yoga or meditate, because it’s important to ground yourself, even though that ground shaking as you say.
Cibelle: It’s not about whether or not you do yoga, or what group you belong to, we are already a group, it’s called humanity.
Guillaume: That’s the core, but I think within that, belonging is so important, I believe fundamentally that as humans we are all equal, but I think because we are different, those differences create diversity, it’s important to understand where you stand in relation to other people, I think there are different levels of respect.
Cibelle: That’s a paradox there, go on..
Guillaume: The whole thing is contradictory.
Cibelle: It’s beautifully contradictory.
Cavalli Bastos’ exhibition at Bosse and Baum gallery, London
Guillaume: On a basic level it’s about validation and the highest form of validation is celebration and ultimately what we want, the celebration of humanity. Clearly that’s not where we are and I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, it’s a utopian aspiration. Keith Haring was really into that celebration of humanity. That’s one of the reasons why his figures are always faceless, because he didn’t want to associate with a particular identity, but then I think he does bring up a good point with his own art which was that these tribes, the sense of longing its beautiful, but it is also quite intimate – when I went to a yoga class, usually there aren’t more than 10-15 people, you need something small, they say think local, act local, you need that kind of small scale to create a substantial change.
Cibelle: Yeah like grass roots,
Guillaume: Yeah and I think what you’re talking about is a very big idea, you’re talking humanity which is huge.
Cibelle: I don’t feel like it’s that big. It’s exactly because we are so different, that we are all the same.
Cibelle: It’s like we are all intricate, unique pieces.
Guillaume: Like snowflakes
Cibelle: But your version is just snow. You’re saying humanity is a big thing, but I don’t think so, it’s very basic, it’s like, you breathe, you feel pain, you love, you go through things. You breathe, you love, you go through things, you feel pain and you also get diarrhoea, so do I.
I just have to go back to what that guy called Jesus said, love each other like you love yourself, but the problem is we haven’t be told how to love ourselves, we’ve just been constantly made to not love ourselves because of consumerism. There is a lot of work to be done on love, but first we have to understand what actually love is. We talk about love all the time but most people don’t know what it is.
Guillame: Maybe it’s more intuitive than that.
At this point in the conversation the artists initiate a game which involves the audience describing the meaning of love in a one word answer. The game is started off by the artists and then followed by audience members joining in.
Cibelle: Love is compassion
Josh: Love is acceptance
Guillaume: I had two words, but can I…
Cibelle: Is it hyphenated?
Guiallume: For me, Love is a Bird
Cibelle: Interesting. I’m going to mediate with that metaphor.
“Love is what you want”
“The only thing you can’t buy”
“Being to together as one”
Cibelle: Love is like, hey we are in this all together and it sucks and its great and hey.