:: Article

Transcendentally Bad

Interview by Jana Astanov.

[Photo: courtesy of Mitchell Murdock]

I want to split focus. I want to do something badly. I want to do something badly and well at the same time. I want to transcend spectrums of judgement by doing something blissfully awful, transcendentally bad. I want to associate and read the collage of truth in a coffee soaked newspaper.

I made this solo a few years ago called ‘tofuhotdog’… It was a handful of different actions… I did a section called radical expressions of rage for no particular reason in which I became a hysterical-punk-baby-man-clown throwing an irrational temper tantrum inside a storm of ten tracks of music playing on top of each other… I also hung a microphone from my balls and swung it around… Some of these sections became entire pieces…

Alex Romania Alex Romania is a multidisciplinary artist / performance-maker, organizer, and teacher based in NYC who has taught and shown work nationally and internationally. Most recently Alex has shown work at the Center for Performance Research (NYC), Human Resources (LA), Encuentro (Lima), UV Estudios (Buenos Aires), the Pillsbury House (Minneapolis), Movement Research at the Judson Church (NYC), and has taught at el Museo del Arte Contemporáneo (Lima). Alex has performed in works by Luciana Achugar, Catherine Galasso, Andy de Grout, Eddie Peake, Jacob Slominski, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Simone Forti, Steve Paxton, and has collaborated with a handful of performance art collectives, amongst other artists.

3AM: How did you get involved in performance art?

Alex Romania: In some ways I got involved in performance art because I was sick of the limitations of the stage. Performance art has it’s own limitations as well, which I think could be a whole topic of discussion, but, coming from a background of theatre and dance, there is a very different relationship to action in performance art which is very appealing to me. There is an actuality to it, a vitality, a nowness, a criticality. Maybe this comes from a different relationship to repetition or the life-span of a performance, but not always. I feel aligned with much of the thinking I am surrounded by in the performance art scene — and that’s to say that it’s more a mode of curiosity than any one way of thinking, a constant willingness to consider what an artist or piece lays out on it’s own terms. It’s refreshing, to confront the idea of ‘what is performance?’ when seeing a performance…

In some of the NYC work that I have seen there is an immediateness to the way that people are dealing with conceptuality. There’s a whole lot of dance tied to a particular aesthetic… performance art might have that boundness too, but in either case, when I see this unboundedness I am attracted. I started seeing this in the performance art world, the people that I am surrounded by push me to go further and further into these spaces, they really challenge me to do what it is I am doing, as opposed to present it. I am involved in performance art because of these people, because I respect them and their pursuit and I feel aligned with it. I very much have to credit Glasshouse Artlifelab, Panoply Performance Laboratory, and Grace Exhibition Space with fostering spaces where I started to be deeply immersed in these communities. There is a flexibility, a rigour, and a challenge to performance art. I like that I can take it anywhere, that it can be anything, and that it is possible to do it at vital moments with little means… get up and go, that’s what it says to me, and that’s what I find the people do who do it, get up and go.

3AM: What are the themes that you explore?

AR: My practice is always shaping, it is a continuum. I see the work of one piece carried into the next, even if they barely resemble one another. I am interested in systems. What creates performance, movement, voice, sound, light… What is the organizing drive of a piece of performance. More than anything else, I try to collect and organize those. I am interested in messing up gender, I am interested in destabilizing white supremacy and violent patriarchal masculinity. I am plagued by those things, and so are we all. I see it as my job to work against them as a ciss white (more or less) man. When I was a kid I always felt inclined to be around the women in my family… I hated ‘little boy school’… grubby little boys who were always in some pissing contest or another… It was so dull and so boring and so idiotic. A few years ago I made this painting called ‘mystic little boy penis cult’… it was a cultish looking trio of these long yellow figures that looked like two headed-snake-teen-robed-monks squeezing their fists, but also like two headed penis’s with saggy little ball-sacks… sorry for the graphics… but anyways, it was actually a cut-up type process I did to get there, from pictures of my brother when he was a kid… I was interested in the way the original image captured how he was fed gender from an early age. So I spent time cutting, rearranging, and multiplying the original and letting this process tell me what the image I was trying to make was supposed to be or what it meant. Well anyways, I think this is pretty much what masculinity is… this cultish lure that screws you over, a parasitic force that gets inside you and messes with other people but really messes with you too. I see my work as a pursuit to dismantle that, working from the experience of being fed that for my lifetime, within this body.

[Photo: David Gonsier]

3AM:  I recently saw your show KLUTZ. What was the motivation behind the work and how does it inscribe in your art practice?

AR: This piece is informed by autobiography… not in a way that anyone may necessarily know, or that I care about communicating in a direct way, but, there is a lot of myself in there, and the people that I interact with, people who are close to me, who are in some ways vulnerable bodies. I can speak in some regard. I will say that the piece is about the destabilizing effects of sense and nonsense, bad and good, and investigating the manipulative effect of spectrums on these concepts. A state of deep confusion caused this piece to be made. I am a wanderer. In this process, I allow myself to wander. Part of what ends up in the work is a collection of things I may not have noticed before. I allow myself to revalue what I may often miss, I look at the trash of my process. At least, that’s where I am interested in the piece going. I would like to be even more honest about spotting these things and bringing them into the room.

I want to split focus. I want to do something badly. I want to do something badly and well at the same time. I want to transcend spectrums of judgement by doing something blissfully awful, transcendentally bad. I want to associate and read the collage of truth in a coffee soaked newspaper. I don’t want people to like it. I don’t care if they like it. Maybe I do if I want them not to like it. It’s not always about liking. I want to examine that. I am mourning, in some ways I want to mourn. I am taking the shit of my life and organizing it, playing in it. The whole thing is about broken navigation systems… states of testing boundaries, reconsidering interactions, durational discomfort…  A good friend once said to me that my work is ‘sausage-art’… I like that idea, a practice made of the throw-away.

3AM: What are some of your notable past projects?

AR: This piece is actually part of a process explosion… I made this solo a few years ago called ‘tofuhotdog’… It was a handful of different actions … an opening section with, you guessed it, tofu hotdogs. I waved them about to a piece of opera while wearing a brown paper bag with two eyeholes over my head… I called one section ‘radical expressions of rage for no particular reason’, during which I became a hysterical punk man baby clown throwing an irrational temper tantrum inside a punk music performance…. I also hung a microphone from my balls and swung it around… covered myself in a half gallon of milk by spitting it from my mouth sip by sip into the air… then I sipped it up from the ground and drank it… I played an emo song made out of only lyrics from hot dog commercials…. Some of these sections became entire pieces… I thought it was a good idea to continue exploring the most unstable action of the work… the most vulnerable and precarious… well, that was dancing with a microphone tied to my balls… I spent the next three years making that work… it is called JERK … I have performed it in North and South America… many places in NYC and some across the U.S. I think of it very much so as an exorcism of violent patriarchal masculinity…. Anyways, ‘tofuhotdog’ is where much of my recent work has stemmed from… seeds from this, practices evolved and developed and mutated… The ideas and interests are all there.

3AM: What are your future art plans? Where can we see your next piece?

AR: Well, the section of KLUTZ that you witnessed is only a section of a larger work… I think you saw about 25 minutes… There was already another thirty minute section to the work not performed yet, and I am currently working towards a version of the work which will be around an hour to hour and half to show sometime in 2018. Besides this work… or maybe beside this work… I have been simultaneously making a lot of video art. I have been taking intermittent trips to visit family in Massachusetts and shooting candid footage of them in domestic spaces. I shot many hours of footage in February and had a residency at a space called Old Furnace Artist Residency in Harrisonburg Virginia. I shot a bit more footage there but really got down to editing the footage from back home. Now I’m about to head back to Massachusetts for more shooting in May and June… I think the process of gathering footage will take another year or so. It’s a strange and lovely project interested in juxtaposing candid footage to look at the ingrown absurd and extraordinary moments of life… it’s turning out to be apocalyptic, almost like some late night television show made up of warped home video… It’s something I would have watched as a kid in my grandmother’s basement when I wasn’t supposed to be awake, which is fitting because that’s the environment that I’m shooting in… home spaces where I have a lot of feelings about habits and the insanity of the habitual… then there’s this whole other layer that connects these ideas to politics and our nation through the wormhole of the television… it’s present as this voice in the background for some of the footage and it’s also a space of transformation and where reality is totally upside-down or just off in some ways. I’m shooting it mostly on these tiny plastic cameras from the late 90’s early 2000’s which my brother collected.

I’ve been both filming my family go about their everyday lives and collaborating with them to create and film performance actions. The whole project is colliding with my performance work — my father, who I might add is seventy-three and has never performed before, is performing in some of the KLUTZ live performances in May and June, referencing some of the film material I shot in February. In the editing process I’ve framed everything through an 80’s tube television, and I’m actually working with it live now in the piece KLUTZ, sending some of the footage to it which was shot at different locations, looping light from the screen to create these very psychedelic patterns.

The whole idea of KLUTZ is multidisciplinary, I’m researching on multiple planes at once, in different places with different groups, with trained performers and untrained performers and people who wouldn’t consider themselves performers at all… in the version you saw, it already involved video animations and projections that I had made for the project as well as a series of costumes made of repurposed trash items. The work is going deeper into this place of performers appearing in different states, on screen and in person, transformed at each appearance.

I am also working on developing KLUTZ in a few different places around the world… I’m interested in cracking the process open… letting go of content and giving the work away… seeing what happens when different people in different places are let to respond to the structures within the work by creating their own content… I’m hoping to lead this process in Chile, Buenos Aires, Lima and/or possibly Virginia in the next year… that’s a lot… wanting it all to happen in a transnational process like this so as to see how different people engage with them.


Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist, living in New York. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance and new media. In her 20s she she stated experimenting with writing in English, and since then she has written three collections of poetry: Antidivine, Northern Grimoire and Veiled Negatives.

Twitter: @JanaAstanov

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, May 14th, 2017.