An Alertness in Space In-Between the Atoms

Interview with Jess Holly Bates

Vicky Kapo (Te AtiAwa, Ngāti Raukawa) is a multifaceted artist, self-proclaimed bone-keeper and South Australian forest dweller. She leans into intimacy and connection to cultivate performance experiences that are political and mesmerising. Her work false prophets/true gods = ShaWoman will be performed on opening night of PAWA on Wednesday 8th November.  She speaks to us here about embodied goldmines, a much-needed return to archetypes and what free-fall and performance art have in common. 

What is a smell that will wake you up?

 Pheromones. Hmm – I’m a  total sucker for GOOD perfume or scent, and have been known to follow strangers for a minute or two if their scent captures my attention. I will stop that lucky person to ask ‘what is it you’re wearing?’ I’ve not made friends with people because of their smell, and I’ve accepted people immediately because of their scent. (Last friend made this way was three months ago). Dance school was particularly great for this because of all the women I trained alongside. At one point the dancers got into wearing essences, or delicate moist scented deodorants. So Great! Like dancing in a meadow. Flora/fauna/feminine musky scents have been known to derail me completely. They seem to directly speak to my soft-bodied animal self, releasing and inducing something deeply instinctive within. Even as a child, it has been the smell of nature that has woken and wakes me up the most vibrantly. The smell of the earth, of the sun, of forest, of trees, water,  and in combination, like air in the forest in the morning, is so calming, so connecting.

Tell me about the portal you feel is opening in feminine work at the moment?

Feminine is the future, it always has been.

Artists are like signal receivers or satellites, they are always on the lookout for the wave of inspiration to provide personal and public motivation. I think as artists we intuit shifts, and then make the work. It can be a little like in the way a wave of new technology or a philosophical movement suddenly becomes accessible.  At the moment it is the rise of the feminine, which is going to take us to fresh places. Specifically the power and wisdom of feminine held by women of colour and the indigenous folk. This aspect of the feminine energy carries an embodied ancestral knowledge and therefore inherent power. Our embodiment of this knowledge makes our bodies goldmines – that can’t be corporatised … yet.

There is support for women performers and language now, a new confidence in female performers and layered narratives. Both performers and audience seek openings to new realms, this is the heart, and without that there is no entry into the multiverse.


Do you like the words ‘performance artist’?

It fits. Genres and boundaries can be crossed and reinvented or forgotten. This practice is forgiving.

Lets see. Are there any other choices?

Choreographer/Dancer were words that didn’t really incorporate all of my aesthetics- methodologies. Before training in dance at UNITEC, I had been working as an art tutor at Vincents in Wellington. I painted, screened printed, did clay, took photographs, and built things (or dreamt about building them) all to try figure out what primary medium to stick with: what to call home.

Dance won out in the end, because of its short lifespan – dancers are professional (artistic) athletes. It was a now or never decision, I told myself at the time; I would always be able to pick up the camera again, paintbrush, but the body is different. But actually it can be bloody hard to maintain a good practise in other artistic forms – it doesn’t leave a lot of time for relationships, and you have to find a way to eat.


Where do you call home, why is it meaningful for you?

Australia, North Victoria, South Mandurang  is/has been home for the last three years and its been by far one of the best places I’ve ever lived in. I live with my landlord, in a house he built himself on a 22-hectare block. It’s shyly hidden down a dirt road behind a national park. Its an earth rammed mansion with five bedrooms,  four bathrooms, three garages, with the best kitchen ever – seriously – it has a six element cook range! The house itself is divinely designed, all the windows/ living areas are situated so as to overlook the massive dam, this allows for catching the breeze off the water during summer, and the heat up this way can get, well – brutal. Thoughtful simple smart design . 

However, the true value of this mansion is where its positioned… the fucking national forest! It’s been a healing godsend. It has helped keep my mind and body sane and centred whilst my soul integrated the karmic shifts created in the watery mourning process I found myself drowning in during my parents illnesses, their eventual deaths and the aftermath and fragile break down of the word family that had to occur between self and siblings. The forest, has become my sanctuary and I spend as time as I possibly can in it. I’ve learnt so much about the size and breath of my heart here during this time. It is coming to an end though so it must be time for me to rejoin the world. I’m on the lookout for a monastery, hah!

Its true that this house has become home but it is the forest that is my hearth. If I could I would never leave it, but I don’t have the right fur or teeth. (This time around). In the meanwhile, by proxy, I recognise that I have indeed become the mystic, the bone keeper, the forbidden fortune teller – a fringe, forest dweller. A somewhat much-needed archetype that the world with Trump in it needs.


Tell me how you got mixed up in PAWA?

Alexa Wilson. Need I say more?


Who is an artist or group of artists that are vibrating for you right now?

I’m following a woman Yoshiko Chuma a Japanese artist/ choreographer who is based in NYC, doing a lot of work internationally using a fine eye and scores. she is an absolutely fine performer in her sixties, who mixes with some extraordinary people and artists. I am hoping to work with her in the near future. She had a company in New York in the 70’s called the “School of Hard Knocks.”

A couple I met in Germany, Kovacs/O Doherty. They’ve come up with some really unusual performative sound concepts, that are just so outside of the box. One piece called signal tide came from following the signal of a lone satellite and amplifying the sound as it passed over L.A. It brought the reality of outer space into your daily life via sound.

I’m also following an Israeli installation performance artist Yoav Admoni. Someone I have loved to work alongside. He mentored me during an installation piece I’d created out of sticks and helped me to see the spatial lines that connected these random sculptures I’d formed. Because of his accent he tends to say things very directly without it brushing up against ego which has real value.  

There are local artists of course such as Val Smith,  Alexa Wilson, Tru Paraha and recently Jahra Rager who have broken the rules. I’ve been very blessed though to have worked alongside some intense next level talent, in the most casual of forms, recently I’ve been working with Kilda Northcott, Claire O Neil, Tallulah Holly Massey, Leah Carrell, and Alice Robinson aka The House of Daughters.


How do you feel about your upcoming work in PAWA?

I’m nervous as fuck. PAWA is an artistic blind date.

I have no idea who anyone is and or how their live work presents. Which makes for an extremely curious event to be involved in. The artists all sound extraordinary and talented, with a great line up of skills and concepts. But truly I have no idea what performance art in Aotearoa looks like, so  I really don’t know where and how to position my/the solo work.  Also until this year, I hadn’t really thought about creating a body of solo work. But hell, solo work is cheaper and less cumbersome and easy to manoeuvre. Its hard to maintain a collective without money, an or foremostly shared vision, cos without the shared vision – there can be no work, I’ve just learnt this, I’ve always been just interested in working with peoples energy and producing from there. But its quite rare to meet other performers who are willing to work from this starting point.


Why is it important to you?

I don’t know. I’ve tried to not make performing important, and perhaps if I’d stayed in the visual art world I wouldn’t have had to answer this. At times around my parents illnesses – it definitely wasn’t. But eventually, I lost sense of why I was alive. It’s not like what I produce is blockbusting entertainment, nor would I really want that. I didn’t come from a supportive artistic family so there’s no lineage or heritage involved – Mum was a cleaner, a factory worker, so was Dad. It wasn’t a thing anyone around the state housing area did either, you would’ve probably got bashed up for showing off, but because back then I was the fighter no one came near me. But strangely at an early age, I would find myself participating in school talent shows with absolutely nothing prepared – I would just suddenly find myself in front of the class doing the most absurdist stuff- back then when my classmates laughed I knew I was on to something.

Now when I get out in to a space with often still nothing prepared its the silence I listen for..  there is an alertness in space in-between the atoms. So many stories/narratives .. threads/leads that kind of take me over .. that I let take me over .. the entry in has been primarily through the physical and text works but now because of portable loop machines sound is there – and oh installation formulations keep creeping in. I don’t think I’ve done my best work or even come close to it – I think Im still in process of understanding what I’m doing and am still learning how to channel.. without falling apart.. as well as hold the narratives. There are so many myths about performing and what a performance is.

Today my current investigations are centred around intimacy, rituals, and collective mythologies. I think I should have been a clown! There is always the same question at the end and beginning of every performance: How do I bring everybody along for a journey, when I don’t even know where it’s going? 

Why performance? I think its the same rush a mountain biker gets .. or a free faller gets. The work is essential, of course, but unless it’s carried out with clear articulation – it’s not fruitful, so it needs to fruitfully engage, to leave us all a little more available to the imagination, because the imagination is always searching for the ‘yes’; for the solutions. I’m struggling with this question I don’t think I’ve really ever been asked it or been ever ready to answer it.


And, the future – what does it hold?

I’ve started to want to make choreography again, as movement/music/patterns is a strong love of mine but it is also my biggest fear: timing, counts strength, articulation floor patterns. I’ve had two small lead-ups via residencies in Auckland this year,  that  got me back up on (albeit wobbly) feet, but next year is where I’ve promised myself to really step up and bring it. The piece is called Motherland, and needs a Dramaturgist and some serious money. Universe could you hook us up with that please?
In Conversation with Jess Holly Bates


Vicky Kapo’s performance work “false prophets/true gods = ShaWoman” will be performed on opening night of PAWA on Wednesday 8th November at play_station gallery. 

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