Artist spotlight: Gavin Krastin

ANY BODY ZINE writer, Kopano Maroga, sat down with performance artist Gavin Krastin for some chats about all the things.

GAVIN: I think [my work] has a lot to do with ideas of presentation and representation; I’m not very interested in performance art or live art as a means of escapism or as a means of transcending or mythologizing politics, but to rather sit in those politics and to expose them, to unveil them, to subvert them, to challenge them. I’m not really interested in escapism or this notion of uh… I don’t know, you see a lot of this… as a means for national identity or some sort of national cathartic experience or something. You see a lot of stories about healing, of reconciliation, of cleansing taking place. We see a lot of stories about trying to transcend or mythologize these politics and these traumas. I’m far more interested in being quite real about it (well… at least I try anyway) and really try sit in these sort of body politics from the inside: subvert them, counter them, challenge them and – I suppose – accept them? And not try to go on this transcendental experience. 

So I think it’s very much about acknowledging the politics of the bodies. How the skin, the gender, the genitals, the geographical/class positioning really does affect your place. [It’s about] being quite real to that. If one had to speak to Chris Davis’ notion of a revolt (and revolt in terms of its original meaning) to unveil something, to expose something, to bring it to light as opposed to hiding it with sweetness and stuff like that. I think that’s what I’m interested in. 

I’m very interested in the nude and other-bodied. Not for shock tactics or anything like that, because I don’t think a nude body is shocking at all. I think it’s quite normal and natural. I don’t think a hyper-sexualized body is shocking either. I think that’s quite normal. It is partly who we are as evolving animals, this idea of sex and attraction and whatever. I find it quite normal. But it’s… ja… I’m battling to speak about my work as of late because I don’t know where it’s going or what it’s doing. [I’m] just trying to be real, I suppose, about that; just trying to show a body in its natural, primordial, pre-capitalist state of cloth-less or animal-like or othered.

KOPANO: So do you feel like your work is using the body not to reimagine the body but taking content from the lived world and reifying it on the body?

G: Yeah, yeah, yeah… 

K: I definitely see that in a lot of the work that I’ve seen of yours. 

G: Yeah, that’s a nice way to put it.

K: I’m thinking particularly of On Seeing Red [1] and the kind of… placed-ness of the content… Hey! *Gets distracted by Julia turning up in the middle of the interview.*              

*Julia sits down and joins the conversation.*

G: I’m talking very badly about my work and what’s going on…

K: But it’s hard to talk about the things that you make, right? Because you’re so close to it. Especially with “body” stuff, it’s interrogation…

G: Yeah. It all starts with a complete question, which is very difficult to talk back to. I don’t think we are privileged with hindsight in this industry because you keep on having to keep on and there’s no time to actually pause, look back, take cognizance. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to have a sense of monitoring or reflection or evaluation in my work because there’s no… 

JULIA: …time for that.

K: Because you’re on to the next application for funding.

J: Yeah, you need money.

G: Exactly. You throw these narrative reports together but that’s not really anything deep or interesting or indicative of your work, that’s just paperwork. So I’m finding it quite difficult.

K: With the broader context of art in the world as this ‘commodity’ and [you] being in the performance art realm and taking into account that a lot of your work is specific to the South African, socio-political context (and also temporally specific to global politics) – do you feel that what you want your work to do [is] be conversational?

G: Ja, most definitely. Hopefully [it is] catalyzing debates, perhaps shifting some paradigms through these strategies of unveiling and revolt and subversion. Often [it’s] taking something quite simple or known or familiar and just casting it in a completely different light, spacing it differently or in a different time or interface. At the core of it, I think a lot of my work actually looks at quite simple, familiar things that are then…

J: … Abstracted

G: … Abstracted. Through a series of largely theatrical and performative strategies, obstacles and effects are made into something else.

K: Do you feel like that is what art does as a societal tool? Works as a kind of conduit for abstraction and reification…

J: Or subversion?

G: Ja. I think it’s all kind of a chain of publishing but it’s also like a chain of alchemy, if that makes any sense? As artists we take thoughts, we form them into something, new-shaped / new-formed / new content. I know we’re always in search of this newness, which I think is maybe a bit of a tired debate

K: The original?

G: Ja, the original. I think it’s a bit tiresome. I think we work in shapes of infinities and circles and spirals so we’re often returning to the past but with the knowledge or cognizance of the present. Which I think then reveals something potentially new about the past, but itself, is not new.

K: Yeah, like you never really reinvent the wheel. 

G: Ja.

K: You just look at it from a new perspective.

G: Ja and you accessorize it differently and you use it differently – but it’s still the wheel at the end of the day.

K: Yeah. I’ve been thinking … since this is the sex issue, there’s something very similar about the dynamic of sex between two people and the dynamic between audience and performer. Sex serves different functions in different relationships but on a structural/observable level, it’s the same everywhere. No one is really reinventing sex but it operates in a very similar framework each time it’s performed in its different spaces. Do you feel in terms of the audience / performer dynamic there’re those same stages of sex: the enticement, the expectation…

G: Ja, I think [there is] always in a kind of conversation, a seduction, a courtly flirtation with the audience. As much as Yvonne Rainer [2]  would shout her NO Manifesto [3] : no to seduction, no to spectacle… a lot of this is out of [the] control of the artist. You can’t preconceive or prescribe audiences’ reactions. As soon as something comes into the visual plane or your sensorial plane, being evolved animals, we immediately respond/judge/assess and either go towards it or retreat from it.There’s something very sexual and flirtatious between an audience and a performer, specifically if it’s done in a space that’s multidirectional or a space that is quite intimate and equal in terms of a flat stage and raked seating, it kind of does something about the power lines. A proscenium arch, a certain framing does something [to] the spaces of power. When you’re in an enclosed, intimate environment (which a lot of performance art uses) those lines of connection between you and individuals becomes closer, a lot more visceral and tactile. So I do think there is a sexual tension. Also just from the basic understanding that there’s something in your visual field and you’ve got your gaze upon it and you are judging this body’s threat or its appeal. There’s something there but it’s difficult…

*Julia leaves because she needs to stay steady on her hustle*

K: Ja. It makes me think of [the video of] Altered Daily [4], which uses some of the Trio A [5]  vocabulary. It’s interesting that you mention Yvonne Rainer and the NO Manifesto. That performance is non-performative but it is still read as performance. 

G: Yeah, completely.

K: Because of the context.

G: It’s framed.

K: It was so interesting to observe that in different spaces it reads differently but it always reads as a performance. It never reads as a non-performative… there’s something inherently performative about a body in specific motion, even when that performative energy isn’t projected in a way that says “look here” and “look in a particular way”.

G: I think as much as artists want to talk and critique about the gaze and whatnot at some point, as an artist, there has to be some form of [the] ego / narcissism / exhibitionism. There is something like, “I want you to look at me.” I would argue that there’s an inherent sense of objectification, of projection, of something happening there [in] the connection between the audience and the artist.

K: And would you say that you use a lot of that reification of the object-ness of performance?

G: Ja.

K: Because in your work there is a lot of feminized iconography, in terms of the clothing: the corsets, the high heels, socially codified monikers that represent the feminine. It’s almost like a reification or emphasizing the idea of [the gaze].

G: Hopefully with the performance or the actions that happen, there’s something there to undercut that and to subvert that; to kind of pull the rug from underneath the feet of what we understand as feminine codes or sexual codes or masculine codes. We live in an exceptionally conservative society. There is a constant play between external oppression and internal repressions of how to behave. I think for a lot of artists (myself included) these spaces and these ways of performing are a means to live quite a real life or to live in a way, even for just that half an hour on stage, that we would probably conduct ourselves in everyday life if we were able to. Chris Daver talks about that beautiful word called the ausvek – qlike the overflow. Where does all that political, emotional, traumatic, historical silt and dirt (which cannot go into the normal societal symbolic order we live in) actually go? I think that the performance space is a good kind of dam for this out-flow; to create space that is both real but also suspends a sense of disbelief at the same time.


[1] On Seeing Red premiered at the Grahamstown Arts Festival 2015 in collaboration with Alan Parker.

[2] Yvonne Rainer is an American dancer, choreographer and film-maker. She formed part of the post-modern dance movement of the mid-late 60s and is often cited as one of the key contributors to the post-modern dance movement.

[3] The NO Manifesto is a document drafted by Yvonne Rainer in 1965 as a reaction against the heightened performativity, theatricality and virtuosity offered by modern dance and ballet.

[4] Altered Daily is performance artwork by Gavin Krastin (if you’re interested, you could probably find an extract of it on YouTube.)

[5] Trio A is a performance artwork by Yvonne Rainer (if you’re interested, you could probably find an extract of it on YouTube.)


This conversation does not end here! Keep an eye for the rest of the interview in Issue 5 of Any Body Zine. In the meantime, Google Gavin Krastin and find out more about his work and his dopeness.