Practitioner Voices: Silvia Ziranek

Interviewed January 2004 by Becca Gill as part of the Total Theatre Explores research project.






How do you describe your artform practice?

Largely live art, also photographic, sculptural and text. I am an artist.

How do you describe your work?

Live work, what used to be called performance. In essence I walk and I talk. I take any number of subjects: History, Geography, Politics, Feminism, Equality, Noise, Travel, Trying Not To Cope, India, Instinct, Fashion, Architecture, almost every/anything except for kiddie porn.

Then I home in on one particular area, my most recent one being wearable architecture i.e. clothing and associated textiles: I'm involved in a touring exhibition called arttextiles 3, my piece is called DRESS MESSAGES and it is about how we choose our clothes, our textures, our textiled environment; how we are affected by them, how we affect them, how one's clothes, colours, smells and general appearance and attitude might well affect the way that we react to each other; how crucial that is in the way that people react to each other, how people are forced into not just clothes but attitudes and approaches.

As a creative and sensitive person I feel a curious burden for getting involved with something that is potentially superficial, yet the way people look and appear can really affect themselves and others and their exchanges with other people so enormously. Feeling - I deal with feelings. My work is based on experience, emotion. I touch on little of which I have no direct experience. I conduct research, I talk to people, I ponder, I jot.

It was quite a joy to talk to people so openly about clothing; I rarely discuss a project in the making to any such degree.

I always delve - for this, I researched fashion, textiles and clothes through the ages. I sit and I think and I write and the performance is largely based on - stems from - the text, I build the text up. On this occasion, because it is about textiles and clothing, what I wear and how I present it is pivotal. What I wear is always part of the performance and consequently I have a wide wardrobe. For DRESS MESSAGES I knew it would be a very simple visual piece, but at the same time it had to be very lush. I love to dress up. I felt that the piece would involve repetition, and intensify, and be quite a lengthy action.

I used to tend to make a brief performance, and present it only the once. In this way I would be challenged almost as much as the audience, since it would be the first - and only - time for us both. For various reasons, most of them thorough, this has been moderated, I must, for example, have presented 'rISk' over eight times now. By repetition, I find that I can discover (most of) what I meant in the first place.

I have a lot of stuff, I like abundance; some of it I distribute and most I retain. My art is cluttered by life. Pre performance, I set up an environment. Much of this harks back to my childhood. However much I try, I rarely leave the performance in order - it's just things, everywhere.

I replaced church with art decades ago.

Intimacy is a vital force in my work and I find it hard to work up on a stage, or when bright lights exclude any empathetic audience exchange. I never learn my words - they're way too lengthy and complicated for me. It is part of my construct to write and place them particularly, to read and present during. I do not rehearse. I will walk through a piece beforehand, but for me part of the 'performance' essence is the edge of my unknowingness.

Let me describe DRESS MESSAGES:I begin with two mannequins, both constructed of a loose chain-mail of palest blue. One has little white 'S' hooks all over, the other quite bare. I have ten large stripey bright shopping bags, I have a beautiful hat, I have an enormous cape under which I wear what is basically a jump suit - but it is immensely eloquent. I remove the hat, placing it on one of the mannequins, I remove the cape, arrange it on the same mannequin. The ten bags are labelled 'DEAD', 'THE MASSES', 'FEMINISMUS', 'ZIRANEK', 'COLOUR' - the topics concerned.

In each of the large bags there are many, many smaller handbags, some fifty-seven in all. I take out a handbag, hang it on an S hook, undo it and inside on a Chinese good luck long-life symbol paper is one of my dress messages. I then read that and pin it on my cape which is hung up. I then unfurl the ribbons one by one, which says DRESS MESSAGES all pink and shiny. This continues until one mannequin is completely festooned with handbags of a myriad shapes and sizes and colours and my cape is bedecked with ribbons which have many, many messages on them plus my own hand written text.

What are your main areas of inspiration and do they change with each project?

My influences go from Matisse's Snail to Katie Boyle and Come Dancing, Fanny Craddock, Bruce McLean, life, family, India, saucepans and splendour, castles and coalholes - ordinary stuff. Not as much art as I would hope for because although I love art I can't find much I adore. Fonteyn and Nureyev, Myles na Gopaleen, architecture. Atmosphere. Fabric. Food. Cost. I have a list. Emotion. Car boot sales. I go to them with delight and dedication and if I see anything in bulk I ask how many have you because as soon as I see anything in more than a dozen I automatically grow most excited and imagine how I can use this abundance in my work. Economy is marvellous; if it's colourful great, if it's pink even better.

I have a lot of a lot of things and I find that very inspiring. If I had a memory I would certainly expand my influences and sources of inspiration. Perhaps that is paying homage to, or copying?

Does gender matter in performance?

Yes, enormously. I don't think I have ever worried about being a largely heterosexual woman or found it a problem - or indeed revelled in it. Most likely taken it far too much for granted. Gender is so fundamental to my existence - and I probably barely pay heed to it. Then there's the knotty question of 'feminismus': can one assume/contradict one without the other? I find wearing a skirt, like wearing chain-mail or mascara is largely inhibiting. Certainly, taking the girlie role is one I've shown little aptitude for.

There are so many differences between the obvious male and obvious female body but also people can develop the way that they approach their own individual genderisation in such interesting ways and it is something I have explored in performance. I'll ride a motorbike, I wear trousers but I also have pink hair and lots and lots of gawdy jewels, though lots of blokes do that too. I find gender riddled with information and interest.

I never realised until quite recently just how different in so many emotional, personal, behavioural ways the sexes are. Certain persons do not like to hear of anyone remarking on the demarcation between the sexes. The more I live the more I see the differences.

Does your body determine the work you make or the way in which you make it?

I suppose. I've never taken my clothes off for a live work. I did a sculpture installation and a performance which was concerned with environment (ICI VILLA MOI) and for the catalogue and main photograph, my bare back was on view and in one hand I would have a dolls house and in the other some other form of the domestic. My coiffure was tweaked to perfection in the bleached and set mode I was prone to at the time.

When I'm performing, my movements are improvised, my hands and my face are different to what I have done before. I dress my body in different ways; the outfit I make for my body will be part of the performance and the way that I move. If I want something restrictive then that will be because of working in tandem with what I'm saying, how I'm saying it and why I'm saying it. I am lucky to be lithe, and am aware of my agility when conjuring my actions.

But will I, can I, produce a work without my body? That is, without actions, without physicality - without my materials? There's a thought...

Would you consider your artistic priorities to be different to those of men?

In as much as I have never seen men do what I do, think what I think, talk as I talk, live as I live. My artistic priorities; the moment I had a child my life priorities changed (my last piece was finished on the beach in France - surrounded by the kids). The piece before that was finished on the sofa with the kids running around. In the past, I never worked like that, or had to.

If there is a question of priority, of a mother's maternal responsibility, that has always taken precedence over artistic work for me. I think a man would do that, but would more likely leave everything in a different state. Also, a man will talk louder and longer about what he thinks or what he (thinks he) knows and have an easier concentration on work. Women can carry a lighter weight for a longer time and a man can carry a heavier weight for a shorter distance. Physically. Mentally, I seem to be doing the heavier for the longer at the moment. But here I talk as a mother, which is not entirely the same as a woman; either way my approaches are different, I'll be bound.

How would you define feminism?

I wouldn't. I would say that I am a feminist but I have heard so many different definitions.

If anybody saw me they would probably think I was a feminist, but I am far too involved in domestic resources management. In a way, it is similar to being a vegetarian: about twenty years ago, I remember some drunken ogre leaning over me with red wine all over him saying to me, 'why are you an effing vegetarian, what's wrong with meat?'. 'How can you wear lipstick and talk about equality?' Well, why not. I like to challenge - which artist would say they didn't - but it is a challenge how long the challenge remains.

Do you think that theatre can effect social change?

I'd like to think so. It would be lovely to think that it did. There certainly is art and film and theatre that have a social conscience.

At the same time, I think there is far too much health and safety consideration and positive discrimination. Governmental risk evasion is all too prevalent - and still the wars and bloodshed and domestic violence continue.

How would you define the effect of the funding system on women's performance work?

I know an enormous amount of administrators who are women; women are nurses, men are doctors. So you get a lot of highly qualified, competent, female administrators. Also a lot of well-funded artists who do some atrocious work - but there is a lovely buddy system. The well-funded artists are not necessarily men - but there is an enormous amount of stuff in live art at the moment which I can't get on with. I don't like blood. I find Stelarc's work quite horrifying: I don't like surgical equipment. I don't care for the amount of penises we are artistically offered.

If you are not friendly with certain curators or administrators, that does not help your career, they like the people, so they like the work; they like the work, so they like the people. And these people do tend to get more funding or more work. I work in an isolated fashion, I work, and I read and I think and I listen and I talk and I move and I'm not part of any network. Sometimes I feel the lack of that.

Women are always under-funded compared to men. I tend to want to work in places, situations and areas which have not yet been exposed to live art. I find myself most often in 'art situations' rather than 'live art'.

What from your perspective is the future for women within performance?

I could write a piece about that! I probably have (ALOHA CLERKENWELL AND A COUPLE OF CARDIS, I believe). Loudness of voice does not prove excellence of quality; being able to discuss and explain one's work does not of necessity heighten its importance. Humour and colour should be accepted as integral to life and, therefore, art - and art should be recognised in daily existence. More money, more funding, more opportunities, an artist's pay is ludicrous - especially if that artist is a mother who is expected to pay (often more than she herself receives) for childcare.

Recognising the importance of creativity and in the creative.
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