I met the artist Sriwhana Spong in 2011 when I lived in Auckland, New Zealand, which is also her hometown. Today, she lives in London, and that’s where she spent the lockdown period. When we spoke from our respective lockdowns on a video call, Sriwhana was sporting an amazing high ponytail à la Ariana Grande and big headphones, as if she was a musician in her own recording studio. Sriwhana had sent me some links to her films to watch before the call and I formulated the questions below.
We spoke of many things: how to stay open during a pandemic, the feeling of being “far” from home no matter where you are, her peculiar personal history split between New Zealand and Bali, and how that created the conditions for the choreographic making of her filmic, sculptural and performative work. The following transcription alights on Sriwhana’s interests in animal bestiaries, performance as conduit to other dimensions, and the language of the ancient Christian mystics. Couched in the same refrains and legacy, hers is a language that could possibly re-enchant the post-pandemic world.
When it comes to art-making, what determines who is deemed professional?
Among the many acts and ways of making art, the idea of the ‘professional’ artist seems to be that of an individual who is able to create value acknowledged both culturally and economically, whose actions and works are validated by institutions within society. In this context, the amateur is an individual fuelled by passion and interest but unable to create cultural or economic value on a societally significant scale. The divide between the two is neither clear nor permanent; it can go and has gone through endless variations and modulations with time: they are two extremes between which individuals who partake in cultural production find themselves.
Francesca Grilli, Gold, site specific performance. Library of the American Academy, Rome, 2015
“[…] As the drama of female consciousness in the world; as an attempt to interrupt the dream that man has of woman in order to dream himself; as the possibility of relationships now freed, even if traumatized, from the realm of silence.” (1)
In this precise historical moment, to reflect on what it means to be a woman seems to harbor connotations whose implications are, to say the least, problematic. It does so, in part, because we are still prisoners of a stage in which the male gaze is the one that judges and the only one adopted by the mass media. In a 1973 essay, film theorist Laura Mulvey indicated the tendency of Hollywood movies to reduce the woman to a sexual function or otherwise to a virginal figure of salvation, ever passive with respect to her instrumentalization in male narrative. (2)
Ex-cinema Lietuva, Vilnius, Lituania. Foto di Caterina Riva, 2016
Ultimo giorno a Vilnius. Cammino tra le strade acciottolate della città vecchia fino al ponte sul fiume che mi porta alla zona moderna: grandi supermercati Maxima, grattacieli con l’insegna gigante di una banca svedese… Ho in mente la direzione, l’ho controllata sul portatile prima di lasciare l’albergo ma ora non sono così sicura delle distanze e mi perdo un po’. Invece di costeggiare il fiume salgo verso una strada più in alto e mi ritrovo davanti a un edificio immenso, di era sovietica, che pare un’arena sportiva. Avvicinandomi, noto che lo spazio intorno è vuoto e pieno di erbacce, alcuni vetri sono rotti, altri ricoperti da graffiti; è decisamente abbandonato.
Les Urbaines turned 20 this year, it is a remarkable platform to see exciting live works and new international productions on the threshold of theatre, dance, art and music. I arrived in Lausanne with a beautiful train journey through the mountains from Milano, which was not enough to wake me up from the realisation of how expensive everything is in this steep lakeside Swiss town.