The Bulgarian artist debuts in Lili Handel.
Tue Feb 22 2011
Photograph: Darko Vaupotic
The Perforations Festival—an annual event in Croatia masterminded by curator Zvonimir Dobrovic—will make its way to New York beginning March 11. Focusing on artists working in performance art, theater and dance, the festival highlights 12 productions by artists from the Balkan region. While the whole thing promises to be fascinating, opening night especially offers quite a treat in the form of Bulgarian artist Ivo Dimchev, who presents the U.S. premiere of Lili Handel. In the acclaimed piece, Dimchev—who embodies a character that's part man, part woman—explores the idea of looking at the body as consumption. In the end, he auctions his blood to the highest bidder. In other words, he's not messing around.
Could you talk about your ideas for the work?
I was interested in the subject of consuming the performative body. I also wanted to make visible the relation between an aesthetic consumption and a sexual consumption—when we perceive something aesthetically, how much do we perceive it sexually at the same time? I found that I feel good objectifying myself, transforming myself into something totally surreal, something that does not belong to everyday life: a creature, which can hold the glory and the tragedy of the human body at the same time. Before Lili Handel, I did not sing in my works, so I wanted also to give a green light to my other passion, music, and have enough space in the piece for improvisation, because I have always loved to improvise vocally. I wanted to create a show that I really enjoy doing, so the element of singing was very necessary.
What informed this work?
The physical language has been inspired partly from Butoh, Chinese opera, drag queens, rhythmic gymnastics and acting, but mostly from the excitement of just being onstage. The texts are a few short poems I have written. The music is improvised.
The subtitle is "blood, poetry and music from the white whore's boudoir." What does that indicate?
I just think that this title informs totally what the show is. It's something between performance art, theater and a concert, and all that is represented by the performative body, which is, anyway, a whore. Because its duty is to attract attention; it's a body you can watch, use or buy.
Did you purposely play with that constant unknown of being unsure if Lili Handel is a man or a woman?
For me, it was crucially important to keep the balance between the male and the female presence, because it was all about the body—not about men, women or gays.
How difficult is it to perform this work, physically and emotionally?
It depends how difficult I want it to be. I have the tendency to make it look really hard; the truth is that I really enjoy making it hard. I find it lots of fun to make simple things look or feel really complicated. Actually, it's all about compression. I just take an element and I compress it physically and emotionally until it takes me on a journey to a higher level or just another level of sensuality and existence. It's a bit like putting myself on drugs without any drugs.
What was the process of transforming yourself into this creature? Not simply the way you look, but the way you move?
The process is simple to me. At the moment I put my makeup on and I get on the high heels and my little costume, I say to myself, Everything I'm doing—even the smallest move—is extremely and deadly important. It's already enough information for the body to change its mode.
Are you trying to escape your skin? What are you trying to embody as you perform?
I'm not trying to perform something specific; it's more the opposite: I'm trying to escape from everything specific. I'm just compressing my sensations to a maximum level, so in one moment everything I feel is extremely exaggerated and this special state defines, by itself, the changes in the form.
Who is Lili Handel?
Lili Handel is a piece of art. I created "her/it" because it was very necessary in a particular moment of my life to put together all my passions, fears and skills in one show and share them with people.
You sell your blood to the highest bidder in this piece. Why?
I just drain a bit of blood out of my veins and I sell it to the audience. I wanted to give people a chance to have a part of this body; not to just watch what the body can do, but to buy a real part of it. A little bit of blood was the only possible way for me. In fact, I'm not losing anything, but one person really goes home with a part of my body—not only with the memory. I though that this is a really special opportunity. On the other hand, because I thought about Lili Handel as a piece of art, usually pieces of art are auctioned: That's why I sell it in an auction. Also, the blood is, in a way, a symbol of life for me, so selling it is showing the absurd price of life in general. There is no pain in the blood scene; actually, it's a very happy scene, and I'm singing a German song when I'm taking the blood out.
You have produced so much work, and so many different kinds of it: How does this piece represent you? I'm never planning a work. The only thing I have to plan is to start—once you start you will always end up with a piece. Better or worse doesn't matter. For a long time I was making works with the idea that I'm actually exercising something, but why and what exactly I'm exercising, I still have no clear idea.
Does improvisation fit into many of your performance pieces?
I do allow myself to improvise, but also I love set material and precision. Many times I improvise just because someone in the audience irritates me.
What is your biggest fear onstage?
I have a fear of getting bored of myself onstage. That's a really terrible feeling. Because, anyway, I'm bored of myself many times in real life. The stage is one of the rare places I can still have fun with myself, mostly observing how I put myself into trouble and tragically look for solutions.
When did you start performing and why?
You cannot start performing; we perform all the time. The thing is that in one moment you can became conscious about it and chose a medium. When it happened to me, I chose the stage. I think it was when I was about 12 years old and my artistic behavior in school became unbearable. I urgently needed to find a proper direction to channel my extravagant needs of expression.
Do you now live and work in Brussels?
I moved to Brussels a year and half ago and I opened my own performance space, Volksroom, where I work and sometimes present stuff. This month, I started to present young artists that I find interesting, or they are just my friends and I think they need more visibility. Last night was the first guest evening in which I presented two young American artists: Ben Evens and Michael Helland. I'm glad it raised a lot of interest; many people came, curious to see the works. In Brussels, there are many theaters and almost no underground performance places to see rough work. I'm happy that I can contribute for filling this hole in an otherwise very cultural city.
Is it true that you'll return to New York in the spring for the Performance Mix Festival? What will you perform?
I will show Som Faves. It's my last solo. It's based on many different and random topics. It was an "exercise" on dramaturgy for me.
What are you working on now? In what direction is your work going?
I just finished a group piece about the relation between nature and culture, very weird piece, a bit autistic, but I really needed it after the "audience-friendly" Som Faves. At the moment, I'm working on a group piece based on exploration of the adaptive sculptures of Franz West. On February 24, I will present a preview solo version of the project. I'm curious and exited about this process, because these sculptures are really weird and very difficult to get close to. But I feel that I'm getting there, and I don't care where.