Performance as activism from tbilisi to berlin

Andro Dadiani, untitled, photograph by avadrist, 2021 tbilisi, georgia.

This article was originally published in JANE Magazine, Australia, Issue 11, October 2022. PDF of the full article available on request.

Andro Dadiani and Monika Dorniak are two contemporary performance artists living parallel lives in Georgia and Germany respectively. What unites them is their struggle against the patriarchy and the repressive norms they perceive as being outdated and detrimental to their ability to define themselves as they are. Both describe themselves as interdisciplinary art- ists breaking down barriers between body movement, text, research, and visuality. Andro’s struggle as a queer person within a conservative country shows the authentic yet conflicting and dangerous, isolating path they are taking to make their voice heard. The artist needs to wear a mask during their performances to preserve their safety. Monika provides a good insight into how community engagement can precipitate societal change and how art can continue to be activism while remaining an aesthetic experience. The bodies of these two performers act as instruments for their spirits, for their independent and critical thinking, and for their reasoning.

NINA MDIVANI: Andro, what was your path to performance? And why do you always wear a mask when you perform?
ANDRO DADIANI: My path includes jealousy, mistrust, and dissatisfac- tion. It seems that disturbing calmness, as one would disturb beauty, is my metabolism, and this undercurrent finds its course through performance, poetry, or visual art objects. Poetry led me to performance. A catalyst for my poetry was the events that took place on May 17, 2013, in the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. On the main avenue of the city, 30,000 religious fanatics ran after 30 homosexuals and an equal number of human rights defend- ers. In most countries, the government would have resigned [after this] or would have been replaced by its constituents, yet we still have the same government, and to this day it rules the country with utmost violence. This wild environment forced me to commit to find an aesthetic and moral form for my inner urge of self-expression that is now titled Andro Dadiani. Da- diani is a creature with a changed face, with erased features and a modified voice. With these changes, I define myself against cruel, ruthless family members and from everyday surroundings.

Monika, within your artistic practice you have incorporated methods of visual art expression and performance art. When did the latter start being important to you and why?
MONIKA DORNIAK: Growing up in a working-class family in a small German village, I was surrounded by the repetitive processes of intensive manual labour. People had no time for arts and culture, and yet my Polish father regularly invited Polish folklore dance groups to Germany, advocat- ing for an intercultural exchange between peoples. After my father’s sudden death in my early childhood in the ’90s, the Polish culture that he tried to implant into the German scenery quickly faded. Throughout my adoles- cence, the homogeneous societies that surrounded me provoked feelings of alienation. This fuelled my critical thinking and urged me to seek new worlds.

Reading Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt as a teenager, I got in- spired to write scores and poems that I transformed into my first perfor- mative video works and photographs. Being part of the first generation in my family who entered academia and managed to break free from abusive patriarchal patterns, my first performance works symbolised liberation and resistance, and sought to unmute the silenced and oppressed voices of my ancestors. At that time, I was guided by the avant-garde ghosts of past histo- ries. This hauntological basis also led me to move to Berlin in 2008, where I quickly became part of international queer and feminist communities, in which fluid identities were explored through avant-garde and spontaneous performances in clubs, on the streets, and in the parks.

Around 2011, when I saw the French choreographer and performer Boris Charmatz run naked through the ZKM museum, next to Marina Abramov- ić’s early works, I realised that not all of my idols were dead. In the years that followed, I came across the groundbreaking works of Ana Mendie- ta, Carolee Schneemann, and Rebecca Horn, who helped me to break free from the internalised shame that my Catholic upbringing and the trauma of century-long censorship through the patriarchy had planted in my body. The bodies of my female ancestry were turned into “commodities” by pa- triarchal systems, which were dictated by Christianity to accelerate capi- talistic practices, as Silvia Federici taught me in recent years. Unlearning the internalised patriarchal patterns became an integral part of my early performance works. In The Human Anatomy is Adorning Itself (2009– 2011), I “unshelled” myself from the oppressive memories of previous gen- erations through a year-long process of living like a nomad and the parallel creation of a wearable sculpture series consisting of materials that mim- icked the human debris.

Until now, I have been devoting myself to performance art where I seek for ways to destabilise the rigidity of identity, language, and knowledge. In recent works, such as Walking in Two Directions (at the Same Time) (2022), I combine wearable sculpture, spoken word, and repetitive movements to translate the multilayered facets of intergenerational trauma. Sculpture is mostly a rigid medium but it can be vitalised and softened in combination with performance. The process towards the production of a performance is always an important part of my work, and is turned into a phenomenolog- ical layer, which may, or may not, be perceived by the audience members in the final results….

Full text available via a request PDF or in print-only magazine.

Monika Dorniak, emological symphony by monika dorniak photograph by arne schmitt, 2013
berlin, germany