PRINT November 2015


Wojciech Kosma

Dwayne Browne, Wojciech Kosma, Timothy Murray, Llewellyn Reichman, Yunuen Rhi, and Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor, JESSICA LLEWELLYN TIMOTHY DWAYNE WOJCIECH YUNUEN, 2015. Public rehearsal view, June 11, 2015, Chisenhale Gallery. Llewellyn Reichman and Timothy Murray.

TWO WOMEN lie reclining in different positions on a matte-black foam floor. “How are you?” asks one. “I’m better than yesterday,” replies the other. As they continue to chat, they begin to move—pacing and swerving around each other—surrounded by an audience sitting on the floor along the four walls. “How was your Tinder date?” asks one. “It was really good. She was supercute,” replies the other.

This was the tentative beginning to JESSICA LLEWELLYN TIMOTHY DWAYNE WOJCIECH YUNUEN, the latest installment in a project instigated in 2011 by Wojciech Kosma. The premise is simple: The performers (here, Kosma, Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor, Llewellyn Reichman, Timothy Murray, Dwayne Browne, and Yunuen Rhi), whose names make up the work’s title (which shifts according to its participants, each time it is presented), use their own experiences to improvise dialogue and movement that explore the psychological and physical dimensions of human relationships, intimacy, and self-exposure. The performance is never the same but is collaboratively made anew each time by its actors.

Kosma studied computer science and music composition before moving into experimenting with performance via relational improvisation between himself and two other performers. These were private interactions, but he eventually debuted the work publicly in Berlin, with a series of presentations that were a part of The—family. The Chisenhale Gallery version, JESSICA LLEWELLYN TIMOTHY DWAYNE WOJCIECH YUNUEN, consisted of three “public rehearsals”—one of which was followed by a discussion with artist and writer Hannah Black—and a final “performance.” Kosma provided the participants with what he called a “free” space in which they could stretch—and sometimes snap—the limits of what is considered socially acceptable behavior among friends. (Kosma’s collaborators are mostly professional dancers and actors; however, they were not recruited for their skills but met by chance, socially.)

The rehearsals varied in intensity. Performers chewed gum; talked about family, race, and relationships; ran; yoga-posed; and danced around one another, teasing out different modes of friendship, love, and sexuality through their physical and vocal pacing.The frank discussions of personal experiences and the awkwardness (for participants and audience alike) of never knowing what might occur next, along with moments of extreme physical intimacy—one performer stuck her head inside a male performer’s T-shirt and another kissed and licked a fellow performer’s feet—were effectively affective.

In contrast, the “performance” felt strangely banal, akin to unedited footage from a reality-TV show, and was described to me as a “flop” by a friend who attended it. But if the project’s aim was to explore intimacy as an act in which we engage every day, then all four presentations were compelling in comparison: The contrast between rehearsals and performance heightened the piece’s engagement with notions of authenticity, truth, and reality.

In her opening comments, Black described JESSICA LLEWELLYN TIMOTHY DWAYNE WOJCIECH YUNUEN as a manifestation of the performance of sociality undertaken by all of us in our daily lives, particularly in relation to the unabashed voyeurism of the Internet age: We are bodies and minds acting out our selves for others to consume. Black thus cast Kosma’s work as a direct comment on the ways in which the performance of multiple constructed identities has become a routine occurrence, one in which no circumstance is too intimate to be staged and restaged.

Black’s discussion also touched on the work’s relationship to the history of postwar performance art and Conceptualism. Explorations of authenticity, the body as a medium or site, and the use of everyday behavior and movement have their roots in a post-1950s lineage of artists as diverse as Allan Kaprow, Marina Abramović, Yvonne Rainer, and Judson Dance Theater. What, then, does it mean for Kosma to explore these formerly radical ideas today?

The answer, I would argue, hinges on the way the audience understands and reacts to the piece’s improvisational emotion. If we deem the situations created by Kosma and his collaborators more interesting when they are intensely and unexpectedly physical and emotional, this may be because, as an audience, we perceive them as being more “authentic”—despite the fact that the most rehearsed and deadpan “performance,” in its mirroring of the mundane back-and-forth repetition of our everyday conversations and interactions, was probably the most accurate iteration of real-life movement and emotion among the four events. As such, this project creates a situation in which there is no such thing as a hit or a flop, and which serves as a deconstruction of the staging of affect. And if the screen is now the fourth wall of so many of our spontaneous performances, perhaps Kosma’s most radical gesture is to bring us close to a group of people seeking to make and unmake their emotional narratives with one another in real time and real space.

Kathy Noble is a writer and independent curator based in London.