It’s not often that we get to spy on each other’s private relationships. Reading a Facebook wall is no substitute for watching a couple alone in bed. Is it even possible for intimacy to be glimpsed from the outside – or does it become something else just by virtue of being watched? If we could witness the inner workings of others’ relationships, how would it change the way we think about our own? Over the past two years, the artist Wojciech Kosma has established a framework for performance art that maximizes the act of self-exposure, asking whether it is precisely through the act of public performance that the most ‘authentic’ relationships can develop.
Kosma is a Polish artist based in Berlin. His artistic history is varied – he has a background in computer science and music composition – but since around 2011, he’s become devoted to an increasingly unified pursuit, dubbed The—family, in which he creates performances using live actors. To the naked eye, each performance looks like a pair of close friends or lovers have landed in a room without instructions and been left to their own devices. Kosma’s influence is remote, his role distilled to the creator of conditions within which action can develop – a kind of John Cassavetes without a camera.
The most recent iteration of The—family series of performances, Pieta, occurred in January 2013 at LEAP overlooking Alexanderplatz in Berlin. For two consecutive nights, viewers were given a window into the relationship between Brian Doose, a 24-year-old American and Ingrid Sattes, a 51-year-old German. Sattes and Doose circled each other on a mat in the middle of the room: joking, fighting, fondling, singing, arguing and kissing.
Seemingly without self-censorship, Sattes gave a tearful account of a recent meeting with her ex-Nazi father, confessed age anxiety and body issues and sought reassurance and comfort from her partner – who at varying moments either gave or withheld affection. As power dynamics emerge between various actors in Kosma’s pieces, they become archetypes for relationship typologies we’ve all experienced in some form or another. Perhaps one falls into preconditioned patterns when on stage. Or perhaps we are all performing received notions of intimacy even when alone together.
Kosma orchestrates The—family relationships within a prescribed space. The people he selects rehearse regularly and rigorously in a defined area where he is always present but which is generally open to visitors. During this process the performers’ relationships begin to leak out into non-performance time; they meet the rest of the group and go out together – re-situating their relationships into the ‘regular’ arena of social performance. The difference is that those of us who have seen them perform have seen them at their most vulnerable moments – we know them, obliquely, in the way we are only used to knowing a best friend or a lover.
Far beyond the range of ‘performance as performance’, Kosma’s work elucidates the permeable membranes of artistic production and social space. Over time he is establishing a form of community between both realms. The—family is not a direct product of the art world but an outlet from its sphere within the scope of its influence.