Cx72 Interview: Viszk
November 30, 2016
Eli Viszk & Alene Marie perform as Millefleux, May 2015. Photo by Jane Chardiet.
When did you originally start making music ("")? Did it begin musically, or as a more performance-based project?
This is a weirdly difficult question to answer. I don't think of myself as a musician. I started doing sound and body-based performance as Viszk in 2009. It's always been centered around performance, but over time I've let go of the safety of the more musical elements (song, melody) and focused more purely on the sounds of my body.
Who are some artists (performance, visual or other) who have influenced your practice, and how?
Every time I try to answer this question I get frustrated and stop, whatever I answer feels inadequate and wrong. Last night Luci and I got drunk and went to Kinko's. She was making transparencies to screenprint Housefire t-shirts, I didn't have anything in mind to make, while going out the door I grabbed a couple of my favorite books, Les Guérillères, Our Lady of the Flowers, some medieval art books, a book about 90s British performance artists with a photo of Franko B wearing leg braces and covered in blood that I loved. My partner of 11 years and I recently split and I've been living in a completely bare room for months, resetting, and I've now entered the stage of adornment, surrounding myself with velvet, silk, lace, want to cover the walls with images that inspire me.
In Kinko's I told Luci about my difficulty with this question, how I could only think of artists I found as a teenager, how maybe I've stopped paying attention to artists since then, how impossible it is for me to name how one person's art has influenced my practice, and does this mean I'm a bad artist because I can't do this or something what's wrong with me. Luci said yes exactly it's just those artists you find when you're young that matter, that make you fearless and bold, that open a door to help you find where your art comes from, a place you can return to, a confidence you carry for life. It doesn't really matter who they are, just that you find them. I ended up making a t-shirt screenprinted with the entire first page of Les Guérillères that night.
I got into all those 70s endurance performance artists as a teen, people who helped me understand that I can use my body to make art, that time can be art, breath, tension, space, stillness, pain, the smallest subtlest acts, the way you live your entire life. I really loved Vito Acconci, his notebooks full of transcriptions of his invisible daily performances, things no one knew about but him, today I walked down the street only looking to the right for an hour, that kind of thing. The idea that you could take anything in your life, walking down the street, the direction of your head, and give it such intensity and beauty. He also disgusted me. I wish I was exposed to more women and trans performance artists then, it took me a lot longer to find them.
For some reason I was recently invited to this intimate dinner with Bhanu Khapil before her reading here in North Carolina, just her, the opening poet, the organizer and me, I still don't understand why I was there, I thought maybe it was because I'm a non-academic unpublished motorcycle riding lesbian maniac noise pervert poet and I was expected to perform that and I was very nervous to have dinner with these Poets, but Bhanu immediately out-weirded me by pulling a knot of doll hair out of her pocket and handing it to me, and we talked about performance documentation and how I prohibit recordings and she told me to write about my performances after some time has passed and I've reflected on them. That's what I'm working on now. I was so impressed with her conscientiousness and generosity, I watched her all evening meeting strangers, looking into their eyes, asking the perfect question to provoke some gorgeous future project, dormant and unknown until she asked that question. And the aching fury of her performance. I want to be able to be a person who gives like that one day. How do you regenerate enough to be that giving, to sustain that fury and brilliance?
I know that reading Our Lady of the Flowers convinced me to start performing but I can't remember exactly why, I think the idea of spitting upon yourself as protection and elevation, masochistic holiness, the romance of your lover's mucus, but mainly in the way that you can be so moved by the beauty of someone else's art that you can't help but spill out of yourself and into the world.
Like Luci said, it doesn't matter who they were, just that we found them.
Millefleux, May 2015. Photo by Jane Chardiet.
Do you identify as a 'feminist artist' or find this title superfluous? (Is that something people have called you before?)
My art is feminist. I still think the feminist label is a useful concept, though I yearn for the day when we set flame to metaphor and no one remembers what this word meant or why it was required. I don't know if people call me a feminist artist, I don't really know what people call me or if they call me anything.
I've been operating generally as a rather hateful being but lately I'm exploring benevolence in performance. I've been doing a performance called Ostraka where I tell people a story one at a time while cradling their head in my lap, for hours telling the same story to a stream of people, the story is about an imagined feminist communal practice of ostracism, one possible utopia I may or may not believe in. Patterns emerge with my visitors. The men are generally relaxed at first, maybe aroused, I'm massaging their scalps, whispering a story into their ears, there are candles and curtains. The story deepens, perhaps they realize I'm conjuring a society that might like to banish them. When I finish, 95% of the men mumble thankyou and rush out the door without looking me in the eye. or else sit up and immediately critique the story and compare it to their own art. It's insane! Most of the women look at me afterward, we cry, embrace, kiss, laugh, speak to each other. One woman cried for half an hour and I held her without speaking. My favorite visitors were three teenage girls, they each told me how relaxed and renewed they felt, “like a spa” one said, I swear they floated out of the room. On some level everything I make is for teenage girls. It's an incredible process to have these similar experiences over and over again and to try to enter each interaction anew and open, I am trying to slip something to the men while they are relaxed and in my lap, this other possible historyfuture, and to the women, courage.
What do you think about the usage of bodily fluids and material in art, magic, and protest?
I love this question and all of its elements. I am always moved by the use of bodily fluids in each of these realms, especially when they overlap. I am moved by love when bodily fluids & materials are used as weapons by those who have nothing left but what their bodies can produce. I am inspired by prisoners who use as weapons against guards their spit, urine, shit, blood.
I've seen so many shows where a performer bleeds, intentionally or not, and it still moves me, every time. I want to say that I hate it when heterosexual white men cut on stage or something, and maybe I hate why they do it sometimes, but every time, I'm moved with empathy and tenderness and connection with anyone who chooses to bleed in public.
I pierce myself in performance, scratch my skin, sometimes there is blood, I drool, amplify my heartbeat, drum on my amplified bones, restrict my throat – it's an ever-changing search to join presence with transcendence. To bring others inside me, to dispose of speech and reason. There are elements of magic and protest my performances, often I'm trying to move some energy, to protect someone, to release someone, to realize a changed world. It's intuitive to use a bodily fluid to do these things, a signal of intention, your own stake. Art, magic, protest, all these things are meaningless if you don't have a stake in what you're doing.
If you could learn to play any instrument, what would it be?
In my fantasy answer to this question learning to play the instrument includes receiving the instrument for free, so - giant pipe organ taller than my house. I just got turned on to this beautiful Catholic Compline service, Gregorian chants by candlelight, very romantic, when the choir is done the ancient choir director hobbles over to this massive organ and plays the most insane gothic psychedelic sacred music, it sounds like he's just jamming, so insane. Pipe organ.
Interviewed spring 2016 by M. Elizabeth Scott.