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The Jester of Performance: A Conversation with Caz Egelie

Caz Egelie is featured in Open Space’s exhibition Forum: Bread and Games at the Ugly Duck in Bermondsey. The Dutch artist transcends the boundaries between viewer and space through his performance, video, sculpture, and animation. I had a conversation with the artist on his upcoming performance this Saturday, February 29th from 5-6pm. This will be the artist’s first performance in London.

Progress photo from Call Me Hank Herron (2017)

SOPHIA BOOSALIS: Tell me about your visual practice and some background about you?

CAZ EGELIE: I first went to college for art education and afterwards, I did a second bachelor’s in fine art at HKU University of the Arts in Utrecht. I specialised in sculpture and performance, but I did a lot of video and two-dimensional work.

SOPHIA: Your artistic practice of performance often incorporates media like animation and sculpture. Can you tell me about your process of creating a work?

CAZ: My work is often a reflection on gallery and museum spaces, as well as art history in general. I often consider the way things are exhibited in a gallery, and the notion of the ‘authentic’ artwork. How do we value an artwork in relation to a copy made by someone else? In Call Me Hank Herron (2017), I replicated the artist Hank Herron from Cheryl Bernstein’s The Fake as More. He copied the repertoire of Frank Stella’s black and white painting; however, it was later realised that the artist and the art historian were not real. By legitimising the fictional character as a real artist, Herron faces the consequence of copying Frank Stella’s paintings.

Caz Egelie, Call Me Hank Herron (2017)

CAZ: A lot of my inspiration comes from reading about art history and looking at the art in museums. How do we design exhibitions so that there is enough space for the artwork and the visitor for creating a contemplative experience of the museum? Contrasting the tradition of the museum space, I attempt to highlight the opportunities that we are missing out on. My performances add another layer to the exhibition through contributing a new interpretation of the space. My performances engage with the notion of interfering or interrupting the experience of the viewer. For example, my work often interrupts and combines the visitor’s prior experience of being alone with an artwork of another artist and my performance. The viewer has to decide whether the performance is the main subject or part of a larger experience. The visitor becomes less anonymous in their choice and more embodied in the space.

SOPHIA: Do you think the utilisation of space in museums is part of a larger pre-existing problem that pertains to the entire art institution?

CAZ: It’s difficult to describe it as a ‘problem,’ but rather as a disposition. The curation of galleries continues to uphold the traditional sense of every artwork as an autonomous subject that requires a contemplative, quiet environment. I think it extends from the modernist concept of the white cube: the sacred space of the gallery wall removes the aesthetic and historical context of the artwork. For example, the physical visitor interrupts the experience of an artwork. I think it would be great to incorporate the presence of the spectator and external factors that are often denied or unrecognised as part of the gallery experience.

My practice engages with the notion of gesamtkunstwerk — an ‘all-encompassing art form’ — through integrating other artists into my work. I approach my collaborations with dancers, actors, and musicians as a co-creation; different individuals are able to shed a light or add a new way of looking at something. This relates to my idea of art as whole. For example, Sculptures, Visiting (2019) is a sculpture and performance work made in collaboration with a musician who composed the score. The attitude/behaviour and movement of each character was determined by the specialty of each performer. The authenticity of character to the actor caused the performer to question whether they were playing a character or themselves in a costume.

Sculpture, Visiting (2019), at Welcome to the Village festival in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, Photograph by Bo Bannink and Willem de Haan

CAZ: My approach to collaborations relates to my idea of art as whole. I decide to copy and replicate other artists as a starting point for creating a new work. Why must I do everything myself and by myself? The full spectrum of art history can be a tool for attaining knowledge and a foundation for innovation.

SOPHIA: What attracts you to the aesthetics of Commedia dell’arte and modern Bauhaus? How do you synthesise 16th-18th century Italian performance practice with the 20th-century German school?

CAZ: In Commedia dell’arte, there are set roles for each actor who wears the same costume, mask, and posture that reoccur in different stories. These archetypes are vehicles for reflecting on the art world in which has parallel archetypes. Theory from associates of the Bauhaus school plays a foundational role for my art. For example, Oskar Schlemmer’s idea of the gesamtkunstwerk dissolves the differentiation between theatre, dance, performing arts, and music. This possibility of everything coming together in an artwork is very prevalent in my practice.

SOPHIA: What is the driving force behind your current work? Tell me about your interest in the role of the court jester from the Middle Ages.

CAZ: In the final year of my fine arts bachelor, I noticed that I liked the idea of institution critique; however, ‘critique’ was not the right word. I wanted a kinda playful attitude in my critique of the institution. I felt the court jester is a historical figure who infiltrated the institutions; he was invited and welcomed to reflect critically on the institution in a playful manner. The role of the jester relates to what Grayson Perry said, ‘Nice rebellion! Welcome in!’ The older members of the art world encourage younger artists to challenge and rebel against the establishment. You must revolutionise and innovate the establishment in order to be ‘welcomed in.’ The role of the jester is to critique and sometimes shock the audience. There is this tension between the surface and the deeper meaning behind the critique of the jester.

SOPHIA: Do you feel that you have been ‘welcomed in’?

CAZ: For the most part, yes.

Caz Egelie, The Galleriest (2018) at This Art Fair, Omstand Arnhem, Palais de Tokyo and Centraal Museum Utrecht (Photos by Bart Lunenburg, Chaïm Dijkstra and Ayka Lux)

SOPHIA: Why Open Space and why partake in this upcoming show?

CAZ: The curator of the show, Natalija Paunic, discussed challenging the neutrality of the exhibition that is restricted by a set of parameters controlling the space. Each of the six artists contributes an additional layer of meaning which shifts the view of the exhibition. This disruption of the viewer’s experience of the show parallels my idea of breaking the illusion of the neutral or sacred space in the gallery by revealing the chaotic and intervening elements. I think Natalija is making this visible in the show and it appealed to me.

SOPHIA: What can viewers look forward to seeing in your performance at the exhibition Forum: Bread and Games at Open Space? Should viewers have a preconception of your performance or unexpected?

CAZ: I will be showing a new performance Something is Coming (2020), alongside The Gallerist (2018) and The High Visitresse (2019). There is a tension in my work between the ordinary and the performance. For example, The Gallerist (2018) often blends into the crowd as an unexpected moment of distinguishing whether the actors are audience members dressing up for the show or acting. My performances will often loop. I prefer my audience to stumble across a performance rather than adhere to the traditional model of storytelling with a clear beginning, middle, and end. In Sculptures, Visiting (2019), the audience responded to the calm pace of the performance from the surrounding energetic environment of the festival in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. The children followed the development of the performance and physically embodied the dance as unconscious participants. I want my audience to physical respond as well as intellectually and emotionally react to my work.

Find out more information on Forum: Bread and Games through Open Space and about Caz's work through his website.


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