BY Saim Demircan in Features | 02 JUN 16
Featured in
Issue 24

In Focus: New Noveta

Risk Assessment

BY Saim Demircan in Features | 02 JUN 16

New Noveta, Zene Zemlje 3, 2016, Courtesy: the artists and Sandy Brown, Berlin

The visceral performances of New Noveta are responses to what the duo, Keira Fox and Ellen Freed, see as a pervasive atmosphere of conformity and control within society today. At the core of their kinetic, discomfiting live actions is often a physical task, the objective of which is not obvious. The two proceed to attempt the task before audiences, most recently in an exhibition or gallery setting. Their Sisyphean performances – which take everyday ‘task-fulfilling’ as a stock principle – magnify the dual poles of labour and estrangement within the now-mandatory management and regulation of the self. 

Without a pronounced beginning or end, or the climactic arc often promised by other performance art, their energetic works provoke an acute sense of self-awareness in the viewer. In NO NAHADOU (2016), produced for Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s exhibition ‘No Right Way 2 Cum’ at Transmission, Glasgow in 2016, the two frantically moved around the space together, attempting to suspend lengths of bamboo to the gallery walls with string. The performers often broke out amongst the audience, who through proximity to their struggle were inadvertently herded around the exhibition space. A sensorium of fear and confusion, even derangement, was produced by this unpredictable and vehement routine of bodily interaction.

Their performances might be described, positively, as exercises in futility: taking on a task while self-obstructing its realization. Their performance for the close of their exhibition ‘Zene Zemlje’ at Sandy Brown this past May, which also featured digital prints on vinyl as well as a sound piece, took place in a more confined setting than the one in Glasgow. The space itself was dominated by a large makeshift pool of black-coloured water in the corner of the gallery – more impediment than prop. Costumed elegantly with utilitarian dresses designed and made together with Louis Backhouse and Dean Wellings, Fox and Freed created an ‘all-encompassing woman’– characterizing the social gendering of a depersonalized, abstracted persona. The collaborative scopes of the peformances can also be seen in their specially recorded sound works involving others – in Glasgow, by DJ Aridtrax; in Berlin, a soundtrack by Vindicatrix made from their own, manipulated, vocals: inaudible, fragmented, cut up and modulated.

New Noveta, Zene Zemlje 2, 2016. Courtesy: the artists and Sandy Brown, Berlin

Emotionally intense as they are, the sense of invasiveness to New Noveta’s works in fact heightens the schism between performer and audience. But to consider the group confrontational would be to mischaracterize a project intent on reproaching attitudes that otherwise pathologize ‘difference as illness’. For Fox and Freed, these procedures of normalization and diagnosis are endemic within high-pressure society, and New Noveta seeks to confront how public displays of anxiety, both symptom and vessel of control, are often perceived negatively. Eschewing catharsis, the performances nonetheless stage a universally applicable feeling of despair that today’s control society attempts to hide or suppress. The performances make a viewer conscious of feeling ‘in the way’ or superfluous. In doing so, New Noveta unveil what have become ingrained distinctions between performer, what’s performed and the onlooker in a way that refuses to be pigeonholed purely within categories of spectatorship or spectacle.

In the Berlin performance, the two shouted and screamed at one another – in a kind of three-legged race of collaboration toward a shared goal – but their exact speech was either unintelligible or obscured by a propulsive soundtrack. As such the temperament of the performances is often closer to experiencing the ‘liveness’ of music – more akin to the mutual antagonism of a moshpit than to the traditions of performance art. The white cube, however, increases that effect: whereas before they might have performed by strobe light in a squat party, the brightness of fluorescent lights in a washed-out gallery space intensifies the fervour of these ongoing pieces. 

These contexts inevitably foreground the disciplinary structures, more generally, of societal institutions – including the white cube. The project flaunts the bureaucratic tendencies within much of today’s scripted and rehearsed performance-related work. In a deeper sense, New Noveta pay lip service to a denial of feelings and desires dichotomized within a human condition diffused by capitalism. Perhaps the ‘non-sense’ that connects Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972/1980) describes an absurdist streak within their performance. An internalization of the onslaught of capital is physically exerted to the point of slapstick – the nonsensical, here, becomes a positive attribute in response to a system that rationalizes its own irrationality. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that New Noveta manifested in London – a city which is itself a battleground. Yet the need to push against an oppressive presence within the speed and immediacy of capitalism is an expression of urgency, not anger. One discerns, in their fraught assumption and undermining of tasks, a mutual care. Fox and Freed’s shouting at one another is more an encouragement for help. What they task themselves with for each performance is less about what they are making or constructing, but instead more about overstimulating preconditions of alienation within social behaviour – assimilating the daily grind of everyday life. 

Saim Demircan is a curator and writer. He lives in Turin, Italy. He recently curated ‘Exhibition as Image’ at 80WSE, New York, USA.