:: Article

Wild Torus

Interview by Jana Astanov.

[Wild Torus performing Rite Drugz Wrong Time in Denilism (June 2017) at Rockwall Studios. Photo by Jana Astanov.]

Wild Torus formed in 2012, during Superstorm Sandy in New York City. Mike Berlant a.k.a. Vlady Voz Tokk was co-curating an art exhibition at the Broome Street Gallery in Soho. The exhibition was titled Bak’tun 13 after the Mayan apocalypse. Amy Mathis a.k.a. Mág Ne Tá was included in the exhibition. The day after the opening, Sandy cut out power to the exhibition and all of lower Manhattan. When the electricity came back on after one week, it was already the last day of the exhibition. Berlant and Mathis gathered their artist friends from Brooklyn and went to the gallery to throw a celebration. It was then they realized that live performance that interacted with other artists as well as audience members was crucial to their practice. Since then, Wild Torus has performed and curated throughout North America, in addition to Europe, South America, and China. Berlant received his MFA from Syracuse University, his BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art, and studied abroad at the Elam School of Art in New Zealand. Mathis received her MFA from Pratt Institute, her BA from University of Richmond, and studied abroad at St. Louis University in Madrid, Spain. Berlant was born in Moscow, USSR, then moved to Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 12. He started practicing art at a young age, then went into theater. Mathis was born in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. where she discovered art and dance as a child.

3:AM: What made you a performance artist?

Wild Torus: It wasn’t a conscious choice. We never refer to ourselves in that way, identifying with a certain genre. But having been artists the majority of our lives, we developed to the point of realization that performance, or live art, was the best tool to help us explore our true nature. It became clear that it was the most direct and viable method of artistically relating to people and the world. Throughout our lives we made 2-D work and sculptural installations. Finally we discovered physical human performance as a way to activate these objects. It allowed us to explore and simulate human culture and society within a distilled and transmuted experience. In no small way, this was facilitated by the two of us merging our personal lives and art practices 5 years ago.

However we do feel affinity and regard for the history of the performance art genre. We love its openness and its refusal to be categorized. Today, popular culture emulates and perverts the legacy and aesthetics of Fluxus, and other pioneers of performance art, but we look upon that as a model of leaving a lasting cultural legacy, while working primarily from the underground.

The intensity of live performance has scarred us mentally and physically—in the most positive sense! It is healing for us, without it we felt like we were missing something in our lives.

[Wild Torus performing in OuT iN tHE zONe: anarchist arts festival #11 (May 2017) at Judson Memorial Church, NYC. Photo by Walter Wlodarczyk.]

3:AM: How did you make the decision of merging your individual performance and visual practices into one creation?

WT: Upon meeting each other, we soon fell in love and started doing everything together. Slowly but surely, we began synchronizing our lives.

We met at a DIY art show in a church in Williamsburg, which undoubtedly set the tone for our style. Documentation of the scene is available online HERE. The video takes the viewer through a piece that was conceived by Mág Ne Tá and installed by Vlady Voz Tokk. The piece, titled Bomb, was meant to depict the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb as innocent and dream-like. Ironically, Bomb almost caught on fire as one of the lights started burning its gel during the opening!
The striking similarities between our ideas and methods led us to organically create a symbiotic artist, Wild Torus. New York City has so many artists but too often it seems like we are all competing for money and recognition. Having united ourselves, and erasing our individual egos, we wanted to see what would happen if we could unite people through performative interaction and cooperation. The idea that individual personal expression inhibits true enlightenment, led us to work to as an open collaborative entity. Beyond the actual performance, our main mode of artwork is creating connections between people.

3:AM: What is behind the name of Wild Torus?

WT: The torus is the shape of a sphere with a tunnel going through its center, like a donut, or a life saver ring. In esoteric quantum theory, it is the shape of the universe, and perceivable reality is holographically projected on the interior surface of it. The flow of auric energy around a human being is also a toroidal field. The torus is a stable figure, but we wanted to counterbalance it with a chaotic element. Thus the word “wild” was added. In geometry, a wild torus, is smaller and smaller tori, infinitely embedded within each other. Calling ourselves Wild Torus was a way to subdue our individual demons and think of the world as a circular never-ending flow of consciousness. Wild Torus is God, it is what guides us. Medicine people who ingest psychedelic sacraments have described having visions of the torus, as well as other manifestations of sacred geometry when traveling to spiritual realms, or other dimensions.

[Wild Torus post-cattle-name-branding-ritual in Wenzhou, China.]

3:AM: Your performances can be described as apocalyptic sensory overload. What are the elements of your esthetic and themes that you explore?

WT: That is a common way of describing it. It is true that those are some of our trademark methods, but to us that is merely the surface of it. It is another tool to disarm the audience psychologically, and put them in a state of confusion. This is a prelude to becoming open to the action, and letting go of inhibitions brought on by being a part of an audience/artist relationship. The true message hides beyond that, and begins to emerge fuller as the performance goes on, and the participants acclimate to the intensity of the sounds and visuals.

If it feels at times like a delirious party, that’s because we take rave culture very seriously. Someone once described our rituals as a real-life version of the film Liquid Sky. We use the psychedelic aesthetic to commemorate traumatic and mystical events that occur in our daily lives. Bigger is better, more not less!

This method seems only fitting to us, because culture is imbued with a sense of apocalyptic doom and nihilism. We mirror and invert its methods and trappings and take them to their extreme conclusion. We are products of our environment, so consumer technology and mass media influence the materials we use, the actions we make. The majority of our costumes and props are recycled objects, or cheap, ubiquitous items from 99 cent stores. We make noise music and glitchy video projections using raw material appropriated from the Internet to create sublime environments. Finally, we take those elements into the realm of live performance to ultimately challenge contemporary audiences—whom most of their lives have been hypnotized by electronic screens.

3:AM: As a character in art history, what impact do you think you’ve had? How have you changed the ways in which people look at art?

WT: Every Wild Torus ritual weaves the combined energies of all the participants into a new being, something greater than each taken individually. Thus it permanently alters the fabric of space-time in a concerted and directed manner. We view ourselves as modern-day spiritual leaders: shamans and tricksters who play an active role in the shaping of the global consciousness. In regard to art, we aim to expand its traditional format and place in society by combining sound, video, actions, spectacle and group spiritual pursuit. Our main medium is people, we ourselves, are not the main focus of our art. Through touring and putting our content on the web, we grow and gain more followers. Rather than achieve fame, we want to disrupt people’s perceptions and create a meaningful impact on a large scale.

3:AM: How important is the collaborative process in your practice?

We are fascinated with cults, tribes, and secret societies in which people join together for spiritual fulfillment. Why are there different cultures and ideologies, and what are the common narratives that pervade them? We also consider group dynamics from a psychological prospective, as in reality TV shows like The Real World. Yes, this can get dark! How and why do people manipulate each other? Is there a way to avoid that, or make it work for good? We collaborate with others in order to further our understanding of what it means to be human. For us, making art as a collective collaborative process has been infinitely more rewarding then being individual artists.

3:AM: How do you avoid conflict, which is quite common amongst other art couples. To mention an example, Abramovic and Ulay?

WT: Yes, Abramovic and Ulay supposedly separated long ago. Now they are suing each other. Is this not a performance? Maybe their art is more profound than we assume. Nevertheless, the fact that Abramovic and Ulay kept their original, individual names indicates that they never saw themselves as a single entity. We do not mean to belittle their collaboration, and many creative duos split despite sharing a name (i.e. Eurythmics), but we wholeheartedly believe that Wild Torus is a combination of our souls. Not saying we never fight, but we work to make our conflicts productive and continually change to evolve the scope of Wild Torus.

3:AM: You created two curatorial series, Torus_porta, a legendary venue in Bushwick on Stockholm Street, and WILD EmbeddingS that you describe as a mobile performance platform. How do these play into your own work?

WT: Curating has always been part of our modus operandi as it goes hand in hand with collaboration. Curating, in itself, is an art form, with the medium being other artists. When a show comes together, the sum is greater then its parts, and the energy that is created by the coming together of so many people is more exciting to us than any art object.

In fact it was Abramovic and Ulay who declared “no rehearsal, no predicted end, no repetition” as a way to fuse art and life. We, too, realized that it was pointless for us to rehearse alone and over-repeat our actions. In order to perform as much as we needed to, we started organizing our own events. Between 2014 and 2016 we founded and directed our own space, Torus__porta. There we held intimate WT performance-happenings, in addition to hosting hundreds of local, national, and international artists. ToPo hugged you with its walls and transported you to another planet. The mission there, and always for us, was to incite collaborations from artists diverse in their expressions, united in their desire to experiment. ToPo ran its course and we outgrew the space, so we closed it and created WILD Embeddings, a mobile curatorial platform. Since October of last year, we have organized a series of monthly shows in different locations, each with mostly differing artists, in collaboration with other curators. Wild Embeddings is another term we borrowed from geometry that refers to figures interpenetrating each other in random ways. To us, it symbolizes the power of collaboration while embedded in the current war zone for freedom of consciousness.

[Wild Torus on the cover of a national newspaper in Aland.]

3:AM: You have been touring around the US and other parts of the world for quite some time now, what is the top place you have performed at so far?

WT: It is hard to pick favorites because each place offers something special. However, last spring we travelled to an autonomous archipelago near Finland called Åland. We almost did not make it because we crossed a time zone and overslept on the 2-day ferry, disembarking in the nick of time before it continued to Helsinki! We got off the ship and went straight to an interview with radio and newspaper journalists who were waiting for us at the art hub. They were very excited to have artists visiting from New York City. Later we performed for an intimate audience in an abandoned boat house by the sea. Wearing pig masks and flinging sawdust we tied the unsuspecting audience with red ribbon. As the noise level intensified, we coalesced into a human-shopping-cart-trash-can-tape-sculpture and became still, denying them of an easy way out of a clear endpoint. The next day our photo took up the entire front page of the newspaper with the headline “Digital Shamans Raid Åland!” (see image). We had not anticipated such a great outcome but that is just an example of how the small places can really surprise you. We’ve also performed in big cities, for large amounts of people, in museums and out on the street. We have toured a lot with Diverse Universe Nomadic Performance Festival, led by Non Grata, and also traveled on our own, with other artists. Touring is a critical piece of the puzzle because we have to keep earning new disciples and partners all over the world.

[Wild Torus performance in Itinerant (May 2017) at Socrates Sculpture Park, NYC. Photo by Mara Catalan.]

3:AM: I am enchanted and excited to be invited to your wedding ceremony on July 8th that will culminate in another WILD EmbeddingS curatorial series! Is it love or performance art?

WT: Is life real or is it a simulation? Do we know and does it matter? All we know is that our lives and our art are one and the same. And we are quite thrilled to have you as a part of this newest WT performance! We are so in love with each other that we want to share it with everyone at our free(!) event entitled, ©øn • Join† • € • Men† : W/LD+TORvS SaKreD UNioN. Last Frontier NYC in Brooklyn is hosting this installment of the WILD EmbeddingS series, which will feature Pulsar, BloodFlames, Aleha Solano, Trish Nixon, Geb Berry and a very special Wild + Torus confluence ritual. More details are on our web site, IT WILL BE EPIC!

3:AM: What are other art groups that you find interesting?

WT: We are constantly inspired by artists and art groups whom we meet and work with in New York City and beyond. There’s always so much to be learned from the examples of others. It is not possible to name everyone, but to mention a few impressive collectives there is Non Grata, BloodFlames, Thickly Painted Ceiling and EUU, AnarkoArtLabs, La Pocha Nostra, and Fish with Braids. We feel a lot of kinship with other collaborating couples like Pulsar, Antibody Corporation, Pataphaxitas Squared, and He the Moon She the Sun. Plus, we admire many spaces, festivals and publications that make up the worldwide performance art network, i.e. Rosekill, Itinerant, and Performance Is Alive. Finally, there’s an art group called Red Temple that is very poetic and feminist (or so we hear🙃).

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist, poetess and Priestess of Impermanence at Red Temple. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance and new media. She published three collections of poetry: Antidivine, Grimoire and Sublunar. She can be found here: website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, July 4th, 2017.