Julie Tolentino

“Honey” from Cry of Love by Julie Tolentino
Berlin: House of World Cultures, 2009. Photo by Gökhan Gültepe

1. When did you begin to identify as a performance artist?

I have never (quite) used this term – though double-dipped as (and quickly outgrew) my formal descriptor as professional post-modern dancer. Straddling NY and Europe in the 90’s and focused on the body, duration and one-to-one formats, I tended to align with “Live Art” – but that’s just apples and oranges – and country-sides, camaraderie and affinities at play.

2. What was the first instance of performance art you ever saw?

Several concurrent influences seem key: Poised for the Ailey school, I turned a corner in early days by the San Francisco Radical Faeries and leathermen, the Wallflower Order of the Dance Brigade and Fluxus exhibits and that led me to key exposure to Ana Mendieta– particularly her gallery performance of Body Tracks and the apt setting for Untitled (Rape Scene) piece. Once in NY, I trained with many including Amagatsu Ushio and Sankai Juku in the 80’s, just after their Seattle tragedy. Their tempo and focus changed my sense of time, space, process and instigated a re-shaping of my study of movement. In the same period, my world was torn open by work by influential NY friends/family: Dancenoise, Antony and Johanna + Black Lips at the Pyramid, actions of The Mary’s, Art Positive (ACT UP), Lawrence Steger; Nan Goldin, Cookie Mueller, Sharon Niesp, Ray Navarro, Lola Flash, Gran Fury, Felix Gonzales Torres’ candy piece and David Wojnarowicz’ live readings at St Marks Church and the seminal performances by Diamanda Galas – Plague Mass and Schrei X, performed in complete darkness at PS122 (or was it The Kitchen?) Others: Jarman, Beuys and Joan Jonas’s films, David Zambrano, Meg Stuart and Ishmael Houston Jones’ dancing; Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit, the Marina/Ulay period (only), Adrian Piper, the ABC No Rio days, then the awe inspiring body of work by Franko B as well as the very early days of Fura Del Baus, and other movement based performance groups shifted the thinking and reading of the body where I was able to make connections to work that expressed my (then considered) radical views around visibility and sexuality, El Salvadoran/Filipina mestiza heritage caught up in a deep class conflama. An Otherness began to take root and become part of my making/doing/etching process. I went on to produce, manage and perform with another generation of artists focussed on body, fluids, race, sex, auto-history, text (i.e. Ron Athey & David Rousseve), run the (infamous) Clit Club hosting a roster of queer performance weekly for twelve years, as well as work across performance borders as an artist, activist, dancer, director, collaborator and/or merely body (ha!) with numerous artists (including a few high-profile pop stars who, when it became popular apparently, likened themselves to “performance artists.” I got paid and paid these appearances no mind.) I didn’t begin to make solo performance til 1998. I’m slow.

3. Do you make a distinction between performance art and other performance forms (dance, theater, music)? Are these distinctions useful or burdensome for you?

We are all very into innovation (to save ourselves, I imagine) – and unfortunately very indebted to the words that go along with it. As it goes, the forms constantly merge and edges blur, conform, expand and conflate. I am excited when I experience growth of form and then see how it all hits walls or blows minds. With these convergences, I prefer a ‘lack of terminology’ to breathe life to new work – before it is captured into (what only works out to be marketing/self-promoting) terms (written all too well, too often). For me, it is either live or it is non-live. Everything else is the great unplugged, lo- or hi-fi, filmic, relational, pristinely 4th wall, or just the old-school multiplex of media, politics and performance scrambled to deliver it to its space in front of its audience. If it crosses borders, then it is (most likely) performatively doing its own thing. If it is hurting someone’s feelings or turning someone out, it is definitely performing a role. Another thought: I do appreciate to learn of where people ‘come’ from – and what evolutionary, influenced, collaborative or self-imposed risk taking paths they have taken to bring work to the table.

4. When do you consider your own performance work successful?

I’m constantly tweaking my descriptors, methods: a filmic poem, a scratchy labyrinth or a live collage event – so perhaps it is “working” when it is etching out mutated concepts on various levels like a collage might – for a live audience. I think it is working when its tempo can be oriented with a glance and can fall apart as quickly as it can be recovered. I reject certain formulas (i.e. aiming for a spectacle-kind-of-beautiful-ness, or wishful enlightened mystery and ewwww: repairative endings) and yet fall in and out of theatrical (un-)doings. You never know what might turn me (or anyone else for that matter) on. Success could be described as “when it feels on the edge, for both sides – yet solid in the center where the technical crew is.” In a recent performance, I made the choice to “not plan” the beginning of the piece. To “wing it” – or more accurately, use improvisation, the anxiety of a performance’s start and my unsure voice to orient and start a physically difficult performance of images and conditions around the making of a 50 min meditation on love. To be ok with not to knowing what to do, and start with a small tear (- a break in the fabric/skin, singed and toned by a small droplet of salty eyewater. Now that is love, alright.) Other criteria tends to have a positively masochistic flair: usually duration is involved, fear: unknown results, potential mishaps, back up plans with high hopes of not going there – but it always starts with something a little sharp. And most of the work offers to take on an edge of difficulty that I am not certain I can attain. A kind of vulnerability. (I may I outgrow that someday.) Or I admit that I want someone to trust me to lead us for our short time together. Or at least start that way. Or my work is successful when I am falling apart a little bit in front of you.

5. Who is your audience/public?

Anyone who wants to make their own mind up about what they are seeing. Enthusiasts and their nay-sayer friends. I admit that I do love my friends to be in my audience. And like Felix (G-T), I secretly tend to make my work for the one(s) I love.  On a similar audience vein, I naively wonder what it would be to come on-stage and perform a (final) simple, singular bow with rockstar lighting at somewhere like Dodger Stadium at night….. Now that is one spectacular way to finish one’s career – a naked wrinkled-up, time-beaten body bowing in front of a stadium full of people who have likely never seen your work.

6. What do you need to be able to make your work?

Time, more time. So follows patience. (And, of course, dinero.) Other: Feedback/dialogue relationships with other artists. Travelling (anywhere). Fabricators. Conservators i.e. plastic surgeons and on-call hardcore bodywork.

A True Story About Two People by Julie Tolentino
Berlin: House of World Cultures, 2007.  Photo: Debra Levine

7. Did you have mentors?

A. What can I say? I am guided by the dead, the Lost.  B. My secret mentor is LaRibot. During a London residency, she gave me a piece of studio advice that has forever changed me – involving a paper bag, an apple, a knife and a bottle of whiskey. C. I admire the talent and energy of Wu Tsang. Also have Karen O and Kyp Malone envy. All: voice, body, politics fully charged.

8. Who/what inspires your most recent body of work?

Pigpen (aka Stosh Fila), Felix G-T (always), Yoshitomo Nara, portraiture, desert life (and its dry, opportunistic environs), aquatic bodywork, science magazines, drum lines in the Brooklyn/Bronx marching band, a hidden wound, longing, aging, wigs, a fucking great newish band from AZ whose short songs are now potentially the soundtrack to my entire new body of work, Derek Jarman and shiny things-jeepneys, mirrors, broken glass. Also: honey.

9. How does the body (of the viewer, performer, or you) figure into your work?

Here I am sensing a shift. I am diving into the powerful on-stage dynamic with Pigpen. Secondly, I have a great desire to make a simple movement piece for a group and perform on a regular little stage with lights and some kind of costume. You know, old school recital. Maybe even provide sweet popcorn. I have a lot to learn to make this happen. But I want to try. Perhaps this can sever dually as an audition post?

10. Have you been encouraged by recent developments in public discourse around performance?

In general, I prefer more action, less talk. I hate to feel held hostage in a talk. But I do want to choose to sit in audiences where we hear what each other sees. I like to meet artists who like to talk about their work post-show. I don’t want artists to host these talks unless they really want to. I don’t care for over-intellectualized pre-performance talks. I love juicy anecdotal opera talks that help me see work, an artist or a process/context. i don’t like to be handheld. I appreciate it when I am the only one who doesn’t know what is going on – and can say so in public and be brought inside. I love to sit close up. I am drawn to very opinionated audience members, curators, programmers. I dream of live weekly Skype’d video chat programming of thematic artist studies led by everyone in Forced Entertainment, slightly drunken, on Sunday afternoons. (Maybe Big Art Group or My Barbarian would lead one too?)

11. What does your family think about your work?

When I was very young, I was in a musical performance in which, I was shot with a handgun and killed on stage. My (extremely special) sister bolted up instantly and screamed a wretched pitch from the audience, shrieking til someone could calm her. this, I think, is exactly how my family feels about my work. Perhaps they don’t exactly know where I am coming from (context) but sense something ‘real’ in the action. In the meantime, speaking of realness, my Filipino grandmother only notices how I “and the gays are always showing (our) bodies and ‘business’ in public.” I just received an Arts Matters grant to travel for the first time to the Philippines – so I will likely be able to expand on this answer …

12. How does the written word (poetry, mystical writings) inform your concept of performance?

It’s a quiet personal necessity/crutch/gift and over time, I find that the texts continually extend the borders of meaning and shoot holes in my creative limitations; cues me to multiplicitious-ness and the true ability to communicate beyond common sentence structure; examines a meta-narrative; allows for color in my or a receiver’s potentially black and white texture palate. It is dimensional, extends beyond the body, becomes another body. Reading, absorption (and the lack of), wards against art/culture-comb-overs. Kicking with/for/against words create revolutions. From Hilton Als, to Cixous, Whitman, live Eileen Myles, song lyrics and even Calle’s particular use of image and written repetition in Exquisite Pain, I am forever renewed and sloughed off at once. I, like everyone, am changed by congregations of words, and change history with each reading. Hiding words within costume, sets, inscribing texts in ink into skin, using Chinese Medicine point texts as terrain – all same – like a street-wise, personalized, globe-trotting graffiti’d repertoire. Like dropping ashes of loved ones in voids that are meaningful – as tribute to being the alive, messy, memory laden sexy beasts that we are…Words are spice and lend themselves to complex tones, surprises, and deep-throated lingering after-thoughts. (Demanding – the way I like it.)

“The Duet” from Cry of Love by Julie Tolentino with Pigpen
Berlin: House of World Cultures 2009.
Photo: Fransiska Pierwoss

Julie Tolentino’s website.

This entry was posted in Blood, Body Art, Collaboration, Durational, Endurance, Feminist, Live Art, New York, Queer, Violence. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Julie Tolentino

  1. Julie Tolentino says:

    THX P.A.W. xoj

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