by Amy Bell
[photo by Amy Bell]
Known for tackling gender head on as a performer and dance maker based in Holland, Finnish participant Cecilia Moisio took some time to discuss her thoughts on beginning a new work for the Performing Gender project in Zagreb.
Amy Bell: I wanted to start by asking you about Ivan Kožarić’s Artelier which you’ve been inspired by here [at Zagreb’s Museum of Contemporary Art]. He’s relocated a portion of his sculptor’s studio directly into the gallery space which reveals the creative process in a really intimate way that demystifies the finished art object, or somehow makes the creative process the art object itself. I was thinking about that with you; I wondered whether you’re interested in demystifying ‘the female’, in revealing the creative process of becoming what we recognise as female or showing femininity as sculpted by society.
Cecilia Moisio: Yes I do want to show that. I thought, what if you see all that happening?… A woman from scratch, you know, making herself beautiful. I think showing it also humanises it because women are expected to always show up perfect or women put this on themselves, you know, that you have to… you can’t show other people how you dress or make up.
AB: So a woman is expected to be this glossy, finished thing?
CM: Yeah, so it’s true I really do want to show the process. And then also to show […] the conflict. I want to comment on ‘the system’, but then I do go along with it. It’s this constant fight within yourself. Like, I do want to look beautiful, I do want to paint my nails but at the same time I am always wondering, questioning myself, I am just a fucking slave to the media and everything I’ve seen since I was a kid? It’s very confusing sometimes. There are so many different types [of women] and as a person I feel so physically different at different moments. I totally feel like a man sometimes and a totally chi-chi female sometimes, but mostly growing up I felt like I was more masculine. I don’t know, people will probably say, ‘Oh, you don’t look masculine’, but I feel more masculine than other women around me and I feel even more powerful than some men around me. So for me it’s interesting to search into that, into the physicality also. What does that mean? Can you be masculine and feminine at the same time? Why can’t you just be yourself? Of course, people are put into boxes so easily and of course with gender it’s a huge box.
AB: You’re working on a solo for yourself but could you imagine, just as a theoretical question, say, a male version of the work?
CM: Yeah, I could. But I would have to have a man for that of course…
AB: Well you’ve been male in [Ann Van den Broek’s] We Solo Men without being a man of course.
CM: Well that’s my female dream of a man in way. It’s not… a real man.
AB: Yes of course it’s fundamentally different! But I mean, do you see these processes of creating images of femininity as different to the way that images of masculinity are created?
CM: Well, some human things are going to be similar, all the struggles that you’re having with yourself. Men also have to fit into a system, which is also very hard… It is a lot about power with men and status and achievements. Of course you can’t generalise but a lot of men have confidence issues with this. And with men of course it’s less visible because it’s more about inner processes and with women of course you see [it] because it’s a lot about the exterior somehow. So in a way it’s easier to mould that female thing…
[photo by Cecilia Moisio]
AB: Your work is quite easily identified as concerned with gender. How is it for you to be invited into a project called Performing Gender, where the focus of the work is out there explicitly from the start? This week we’ve been talking a lot about whether an agenda is just there implicitly or whether it’s an explicit stance.
CM: I mean I try to approach it from the human condition anyway, it’s not like I really start from gender. With Juxtapose for example I didn’t start out with gender, it was more about prejudice in general, so it could be male or female. I took it to the female side in the end. But of course because I now started [to get] into the female then it does feel kind of nice to be able to say, ‘Ok now it’s really about gender and now I can really go for it’.
AB: So in some ways this project is quite liberating because you can just say, ‘Yep, that’s what I’m doing’?
CM: Yes. But I also don’t want it to be just a protest, like ‘Barricades for the women!’
AB: Why not?
CM: Well, like what we were talking about earlier in the week, I don’t think that comes through. People will be like, ‘Oh yeah, whatever’.
AB: It’s too easy to dismiss if it’s too two dimensional?
CM: Yeah. I usually use humour a lot to get away with it somehow. It’s often quite ironic.
AB: It seems you’re interested in the innate humour of trying to make any strong statement against the body. It resists labels. Like you often physically hold up written signs in your work to undermine or disrupt them with the body.
CM: I use them a lot because you have the [written] message and the body at the same time and then you can play a lot with that, what the body is actually doing, if it’s the opposite… To look at the balance of that.
AB: And do you see yourself as an activist?
CM: I do!
AB: How does that work for you? Why is it important?
CM: I think it’s really important for me because I’m really self analytical and I’m really kind of hard on myself and I’m always trying to understand; why am I like this? And then, why are other people like this? So it’s coming from a very simple inter-relational point of view or struggle with myself let’s say. I always start from the psychology of things and then try to see why people are acting [as they do] around me and put that into a form. So in that way I am commenting on the here and now and what we’re living in and what kind of phenomena are happening in society. So it’s quite current always, what I’m talking about.
AB: In order to affect some sort of change?
CM: Well I don’t know about change, I think more awareness that people would just think about why do they act like this or why do they think about other people like this. Yeah, in a way that’s what I want, just to [make] a little change of thought maybe. I’m not there to change the system. I’m not going there from [above, but] through a small change in people.
AB: No, but this idea of awareness, even on a physical level, this is important isn’t it? Like in somatics awareness is already a physical change and I think that’s true perhaps politically or socially as well.
AB: So in terms of questioning and really reflecting what’s going on around you or trying to understand, make sense of the forces at work on the body, how is it to be in this specific environment, here in Zagreb in this particular museum?
CM: So it’s another reality than what I’m living in Holland or in Finland. It’s really another reality. This whole [gay] human rights issue is kind of young […] here. You feel that it’s really young and that we take a lot for granted [in Western Europe]. Things are already so far with us, you know we have subcultures even within the gay culture. You know it’s like many steps further and that’s really interesting to feel, the freshness of the issues that are being dealt with here. I don’t know yet what this means to me. I’ve also done museum work before, but yeah you feel it’s different here. It’s like, what we’re going to do is going to leave maybe another impact. I mean if I were to do this performance in Holland it wouldn’t be such a shocking thing. I have no idea how they‘re going to react here in a way. So that’s quite exciting.
AB: I guess it depends on how far you’re going to go.
CM: (Laughs) That’s a theme in my career for sure.
AB: And, politics aside, that also takes on a new dimension in this project doesn’t it, in terms of duration and endurance? [Performances of works made in Performing Gender may go on as long as the museum is open.]
CM: Yes, but I mean I had [been working on endurance] of course with Marina [Abramović], and Kristina [de Châtel], and Ann’s [Van den Broek] work is also the same. And my work is also about exhaustion. But I also found that [longer duration] really interesting because of course always when I make a piece it’s quite set, it’s very set let’s say, so I really construct the build up.
AB: The dramaturgy and the detail?
CM: Yep. So I find that really a challenge for me cos I’m so used to short spurts and climax, but how can you keep that going in this 8 hours? Also when I make a piece I always want to say a lot so it’s nice that you can have time that you can have really long stretches of nothingness also. I see it that I’m also just there as a sculpture in the space and I’m not necessarily doing anything.
AB: So in some ways it frees you up from the dramaturgical arc that is expected in a theatre possibly?
CM: Yes and also the pressure of time cos I always do so much research on the subject and I have so many things I want to put in the piece that it gets to like… the craziness of everything! And the female issue is of course never-ending, you can take so many angles.
AB: Yeah, it’s overflowing…
Performing Gender, Zagreb, June 2013