An artistic performance is something unique. Each artist has a vision, their own style, some eccentricities and perhaps some emotional baggage that translate into their art. After all, the stereotype of the egoistical artist must have its roots somewhere. Asking two artists to work together with almost no prior knowledge of each other may be pushing the limits, but that is exactly what TransDance’s Prints of Presence aimed to do.
The artists, Anke Koschinski and Moataza Abdel Sabour, had met only once before their performance. They had no set dynamic, no familiarity with each other’s work and no idea what to expect. The piece was simple: Koschinski would paint, while Abdel Sabour would recite poetry – her own – and act it out. Meanwhile, a normally timid audience would be asked to participate and “jump in” according to Koschinski, whenever they felt like it.
The painting was done on large sheets of paper on the floor and the poetry was written out on sheets that were hung up on the wall. “She would recite her poetry and perform it and I would try to find images to go along with it. I would try to find inspiration in Moataza’s poetry and I did,” Koschinski said.
Koschinski is originally a sculptor and she says she had no idea how this performance would turn out. “We had two sessions, the first had almost no participation from the audience and we thought the piece was not a success. But after we had our break and we talked, the second part was a big success and was very messy, indicating a dynamic performance with lots of participation.”
Koschinski said one thing she found unique about this piece is its elusive and finite nature. “When the audience would participate, someone would write something only to have another member of the audience erase it and write something else, and the former writing, that piece of expression that had captured the moment perfectly was lost forever.” In a beautiful analogy, Koschinski likened it to “waking up after a vivid dream you cannot quite recall even though it was right in front of you a second ago, but whose effect you can still feel.”
Abdel Sabour also echoed Koschinski when she said the second part of the performance went better than the first and cemented their determination to see where the performance was going in the future, “We are discussing future collaboration beyond TransDance. We might bring in a third party or just experiment with the existing dynamic.”
Abdel Sabour said her poetry had never been recited in public before and this presented a challenge for her, but that she was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to it. “People tell me my texts are rich and I am happy that they are able to inspire others. For me, every word has a story behind it so it is no surprise for me to be in tune as a performer to my own poetry, the surprise was Anke and the audience.”
Prints of Presence may go on to have a second life beyond the festival but it will retain its focus on spontaneity and leaving room for audience participation, or as Abdel Sabour eloquently put it, “leaving space for other presences than our own.”