Queerness // Performance: Ivan Lupi, Louie Neale

Curated by Sasha Francis

This is the first of two series of interviews held with artists in the lead up to Performance Art Week Aotearoa 2018. Reflecting on their performance art and experiences of everyday life, Ivan Lupi and Louie Neale’s words below capture the weaving, cris-crossing intersections of queerness, performance and the fluidity of gender and identity. 

Ivan Lupi is an internationally renowned artist and will be performing X for 12 hours with no breaks, from 10am on Thursday 15th at Play_station Gallery.  In this work, Ivan’s invites audience members to participate, to mark the back of his hands, to tattoo an X into his skin with a tattoo machine. Inspired by the 125th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in Aotearoa New Zealand, the mark of the X is reminder of the power contained in the casting of a vote.

Louie Neale is a queer artist whose work has been shown through Aotearoa New Zealand and Europe; in Jellyfish do return, Louie toys with costume and the absurd to cut space for dressing beyond clothing.  Jellyfish do return is a playfully breaking out and beyond the binaries of the existing world: catch this performance on opening night, Wednesday at 6pm at Play_station Gallery, as well as Friday 2pm, Saturday 10:30am and 2pm at Thistle Hall.

Ivan Lupi

What does queerness mean to you?

I find my very personal meaning of queerness when I look closely to others: I see a kaleidoscopic uniqueness that never ceases to surprise me. From that look I inevitably develop a positive sense of displacement: I am myself and at the same time I see myself in others. An ‘otherself’ which I care for. Nothing more than that really. I am not interested in venturing further in academic discourses firstly because I prefer to leave that task to expert writers, second because I think they don’t really speak to a broad audience.

I am to a point in which I am much more interested in sharing other people’s ideas about queerness than my own one: like for example now I am sitting at a cafe’ and I forwarded your question to a 21 years old person who defines themselves as a centennial queer ‘pro’, a person who was born in the internet age, and lives their live fully in being as faithful as they can to themselves supporting others members of the ‘queer’ community instead of judging. That says everything to me.

How do gender, queerness and performance emerge and intersect in your work?

I often concern myself with gender, its essence and fluidity. It is a crucial part of self-definition, the truest truth of our identity. A truth no-one should have the right to argue against, especially by law. And since my actions are founded on an honest and true core, the topic of gender easily emerges and intersects in them. It’s a biological need. It’s impossible to suppress.

You describe a movement that begins by gaining a sense of the ‘kaleidoscopic uniqueness’ of the world and others and then moves to a ‘positive sense of displacement,’ and you note that this movement is related to a sense of care.   How does this movement and care connect for you to the essence, fluidity and self-definition of gender?  How does this connect to your term ‘otherself’? 

‘OTHERSELF’ is in fact a made-up word that I created when I was struggling to write my essays. It does not have a dash, it’s one word. It’s like a brushstroke in letters that allows me to acknowledge multiple selves at the same time: someone else’s self, our own self and our own in the other. That is the sense of positive displacement I am talking about. A simultaneous multiple perception/awareness that enriches me giving shape to a sense of care for the ‘OTHERSELF’. Not empathy, not tolerance. Proper care.

This is why I personally translate queer into a kaleidoscopic uniqueness to care for. And since we all are unique on the fluid scale of gender and sexual orientation and more, on the vast asset of our ethical, religious and biological background, then we all are queer and no one is. We fail in still talking about a ‘norm’ where a norm does not exist really.

Ivan performs X for 12 hours, from 10am on Thursday 15th of November, at Play_Station Gallery.

Louie Neale

What does queerness mean to you?

My understanding of queerness changes every time I think about it, and that’s the nature of it. From the outside it might look like it’s about challenging the gendered conventions of life, but looking into it myself, the prompt is something inside me. Sure I am living and acting in a queer way, but it’s more than that, I am queer. It’s something that’s fluid and for some reason only built in to some of us.

How do gender, queerness and performance emerge and intersect in your work?

Costume has been a major interest for me lately, which is really a performance of clothing, and is inherently gendered in the social contexts we live in. For queers like myself, dressing ourselves is a balancing act of layering or exposing our bodies to create something that looks and feels right, while inevitably altering this expression so that the outside world (that is not built for us) will hopefully treat us in the way that feels okay. This power of self determination is one of the most important parts of my queerness, though because it’s often socially punished, it’s a challenge to truly feel comfortable. My performances exaggerate this situation and make it an elevated spectacle where binaries are trangressed and exposed as absurd.

In your work, how does costume and the absurd offer an empowering means to explore the difficulties, and the joys, of presenting ourselves in the world, particularly in ways that look at feel and right?

As I see it, all works of art are hypothetical versions of reality that the artist manipulates (to whichever degree) to freely explore a situation. Unlike some other art forms however, performances and clothing or costume designs are physically embodied and therefore very much real. As much as this presents it to the audience, it’s also largely a chance for the performer to play with and delve in to other ways of being that are not confined by social limitations.

Absurdity is a frame that let’s us understand these limitations as arbitrary, and then build our worlds and our futures beyond the limits. Queerness does the same: by transgressing boundaries, we can grasp the infinite potential of crafting our own realities.

You describe queerness as fluid and ever-changing, though you note too that there is something fixed about this fluid experience from its origins in the body. Does this fluid yet fixed sense enter into and influence your everyday experience of the world? If so, how?

These aspects of queerness are absolutely a part of my everyday experience, intertwined with everything I do. I’m always aware of my body’s relations to the world around me and how my actions feed in and out of it. The act of dressing myself is a good example. When I see people around me whose clothing style disrupts conventions, there is a feedback loop of being visible to each other and therefore becoming more and more trusting that we can freely express ourselves through clothing in this society.

Louie performs ‘Jellyfish do return’ with Aliyah Winter, Maddi Walker and Polly Wiseman on Wednesday at 6:00pm at Play_Station Gallery, and Friday 2:00pm, Saturday 10:30am and Saturday 2:00pm at Thistle Hall. 

Curated by Sasha Francis

Recent Posts

A poetic response to Anna Berndtson’s workshop “Art needs time and we need art.”
Sasha Francis and Tom Danby on Mark Harvey: My own resistance / An Afternoon in the Sun
Jazmine Phillips/Him on Zahra: When the soft yells.
Saoirse Chapman on Caitlyn Cook: Visual response
Cris Cucerzan and Sasha Francis on Binge Culture Collective: Two responses in poetry and prose