“THE WHEEL OF SELF IS LIKE A WALK.
Following this tradition of walking and asking questions. They transform thoughts. In dream state borrowing from actual events.”
Dudu Quintanilha: So, hi Atiena. To put in context this conversation: it happens in our studio in Frankfurt. We´ve been sharing this space for some time now. Looking around, some works in process displayed, some tests and an always full table. You are a very active researcher, I see you writing stuff and leaving notes here and there, that then you use in your works like the one you are currently showing in Naples, The Cycle of Three Tails. In our daily conversations we talk a lot about our current mind states, recent dreams, readings. It seems to me that there are different types of writing in your practice as well as different sources from where they come from: diagrams / psychological landscapes / dream maps I saw you doing. Are you also interested in performative actions that written becomes instructions?
Atiena Riollet: Yes – It’s based on the idea of the prophetic, right?
DQ: Do you allow your dreams in your current work to become actual maps or documents? By translating dreams, you relocate the dream. Do you then consider them as traces?
AR: Traces. That’s what I’d like the subconscious dream part of the work to be. In the sense that is it’s in motion and works “in relation” to life, it’s not settling like a fixed map. Eventually it becomes documentation when the work gets shown in a certain state.
DQ: I wonder this because of the possibility of these documents or drawings to also be seen as a script. We had once a conversation related to the three steps within wheels of selves like the Hero’s Journey: departure, Ego Death and future. When you talk about release in relation to the wheel of self, it makes me think in a motion between document and script that is released from inside the work. Whatever is happening inside the dream state can now talk back.
AR: I think I often situate the work as part of a wider narrative which can be seen as a script that borrows from the “heroic” for whoever that’s accessible to… Being juxtaposed onto life and the failures that come with it. I think my dreams and drawings talk back in friction, within the paradox of things being arbitrary vs being predicted. What does it do to your feeling of agency? To the belief in meritocracy?
DQ: The written dream becomes a tool and material. And I think that every tool in the wheel you made, each of them contains its own map. Its own inside. Its own negative. Is all your material coming from life, so that we can say from study, struggle, memory? Within the idea that every object contains its own departure, Ego Death and future state, do they enact this motion in thenarrative?
AR: I’m unsure about giving them such a set narrative structure – they should remain unsettled, transform through motion each time to create a “structure within” that demands repetition as well as new exit strategies.
DQ: I’m thinking of the idea of narrative script that would never be finished, an open ended film. A script that changes that then becomes a path, a walk. Between the dreams, it makes me think that it’s a script that would only end when you die. And within the script, some deaths and rebirths. Thinking about death and performance, I am interested in the non-visible performances that shape your works, and the possibilities to perform imagination on them. By non-visible performance, I mean that the work is constantly ongoing, in motion (through you living). I also see that when you make me enter the stage of Ego Death, other performances are enabled. Other bodies are created through this moment of death. I think of this looking at the images that you have in your studio, of a black explorer for example. These other bodies are here in this… Let’s call it, environment? Creating a phantasmagoric presence. Becoming a way to enter your works. These invisible performers, do they act like hosts?
AR: I think of this black explorer as an archetype which I use to develop the work. In that sense, the spectral, both of events that happened or fictional ones, plays a big role in my work. An invisible layer is acting out like a substrate of sort which I used to work through in audio. I’m increasingly interested in the audio layer or traces being recorded through videos.
DQ: Your host creates environment, do you think? Meaning, the environment it creates is real and also not the real, there is something that is denied, in a very careful way. I’m trying to understand the sensorial that seems to be something that remains in between real and not real, negative and doubling. How does it feel to be in this environment of in between, real and not real, in negative understanding?
AR: The act of double negation, both theoretical and in practice, things being in the state of “not not” like “not not real”, “not not retinal” gives a chance for elements to both do and undo themselves. For me, this is a way to evade a constraining search for essence where things can at best exist “as if”. In the process of double negation existence begins to appear which might be what you relate to as sensorial which to me is also spectral in dealing with memory and history.
DQ: Does the word influence make sense to you? I mean influence as a feeling that you get like when you get out of the cinema. Influenced by the experience of seeing and listening and relating, mentally but also physically. That again makes me think of this spectral that you mention as a cinematic experience. Going back to negativity and self determination, it doesn’t matter that outside isreality…
AR: It doesn’t, because so far all these “consequences of fiction” get caught by what I see as the not realanyways.
DQ: Fiction enables real. Reality can be not real. When I say environment and influence it’s because through your work characters arise, and through them voices. History, stories interact. Also the work (the voice) can reject listeners. Or the viewer allows to recognize this spectral feeling, or it will remain out. What would mean that you (the viewer) are too “out there” (ignoring) in the world. I relate this access-non access of the spectral around us (in your work and out in the world) with the second step of the wheel, Ego Death. The name psychic death you said you came to you through Carl Jung and Ego Death came through your research. You also say that Ego Death can mean more things. What things?
AR: Ego Death is a really pervasive term, like a passage, or a stage that is found in a lot of different world and self making mythologies, religions and so on: Muslim Sufis call it Fana, Jewish Kabbalists “the kiss of death”, Ego Death comes from Buddhism, Psychic Death is Jungian etc… I’m interested in what this stage means on an ontological level. The idea of creating a double ontology that can act within a cosmogony whilst creating another one (See: Technic and Magic – Federico Campagna).
DQ: We mentioned dreams but you also mention therapy.
AR: I developed the work a lot through exercises that I would do in therapy, which becomes the writings, diagrams and psychological landscapes, the “instructions” you saw. I would divide and project different archetypes that you would come through association, memories which I could start to speak through. From this my therapist and I started creating a stage deciding what’s on stage, what is backstage, who is looking in, where was “I”? Those characters both real and not real would increasingly become semi-autonomous. This practice was borrowed from my interest in Carl Jung’s Red Book as a tale reflecting on a western cult of the self divided into stages which were later reinterpreted by Joseph Campel in “The Hero with 1000 faces” which is said to be the template to many mainstream Hollywood movies – this idea of a life cycle seemed to me to address a certain type of existence which I have mixed feelings towards but regardless it was interesting for me to question the desire of “overcoming” through annihilation which is found in the stage of Ego Death.
(here she looks at a drawing she did with her therapist)
DQ: There are moments, looking at some of your objects, when the viewer will try to relate them to the artist, to you. How much you leave this as a surface and how much do you think it is open to someone feeling they are performing with it? Until when is it a surface that I can perform with?
AR: At this stage, the work is displayed in a very austere dialectical way. I think as structures the works are currently open for your subjective re-interpretation. Maybe the video work will change that, I’m not sure to what degree yet but the archetypes or hosts behind them are becoming more apparent which might reduce the ability for a viewer to create their own journey within the work, make it less relatable somehow but let’s see.
DQ: I wonder, if you could find a performer for this, how can these objects and costumes you’re working on be seen on a body? Which body would that be? If there could be an imagination of that body… I can still feel that the environment accesses the body through this negative understanding of life.
AR: I’m currently working on those as videos, rather than live performances, using myself and people that I know. At this stage I don’t like the idea of casting performers, it has to do with people I have really encountered, who really played specific roles in the creation of the work which again relates to the script coming from life. Although this becomes fictionalised through costumes, the spectral style of the video, how that is displayed in a way that the performers are there but also not there.
DQ: And relating to blackness, in the European context, you being Black and European. How do you think of access throughhere
AR: I think I have a similar relation to what you say you have with the term Queerness. What was your question?
DQ: I’m thinking about the question of access. Through blackness, study, the personal… Not only for the viewer but for yourself. When you enter the exhibition…
AR: I think what my work points to that comes from black studies and questions access, is that moment of double negation: the “not not” I mentioned earlier. Access often demands that you declare yourself as “quintessentially x y or z” not-not is a stand still that demands another form of interpretation.
DQ: And maybe this means to put to failure the theoretical levels. This work is also about self construction and deconstruction. In that sense I can detach from the author completing the performative wheel movement, making a walk myself. And by doing it, I allow myself to imagine different bodies that I can connect maybe in an esoteric level. People who existed in different ages, different historical moments. A transhistorical experience of a body. This environment (installation) is the negative of a body (container). I think of this because of the black explorer. There is something theatrical and transhistorical about this. That’s why I’m thinking that the only way we can stand in this fucking world is trying to exist in motion in between the idea of transhistorical bodies and fictional bodies as real, and create different access from there. Do you know thepassword?
AR: Just Enter / Not not
(and she goes on speaking about peppers ghosts).
Atiena Riollet is an artist who lives and works in Frankfurt. Her show The Cycle of Three Tales opened 21st of July at Zaza Napoli in Naples.
Dudu Quintanilha lives and works in Frankfurt am Main. His latest performance work will be part of Elbow Room, Physical Education II in the context of the Maskulinitäten exhibition at Kunstverein Düsseldorf the 31st of October.