A post-covid interview
with Caz Egelie
Reflecting on COVID-19, artistic practices, and new initiatives
by Sophia Boosalis
31st July 2020
I caught up with the Dutch artist Caz Egelie on the development of his artistic practice since our last conversation in February. The artist was featured in Open Space’s exhibition Forum: Bread and Games at the Ugly Duck in Bermondsey. He is known for breaking the boundaries between the spectator and space through his sculptures, performances, and animations. I had a conversation with the artist about the effects COVID-19 has had on his artistic practice and his new initiative FOULPLAYSTALEBREAD which supports contemporary artists in Utrecht, Netherlands.
SOPHIA BOOSALIS: What kind of a response did you receive from your debut performance at the Open Space exhibition Forum: Bread and Games in London?
CAZ EGELIE: I met some curators who are interested in the possibility of doing a digital show. I am currently talking to two people about starting projects or participating in digital projects. It was inspiring for me to see my two performances activate the gallery in different ways compared to other performances. Over several days, the gallery space was activated and altered by each artist participating in the exhibition. Most of the time, I am the only performance artist in an exhibition space. It was exciting for me to experiment and see the shift in the performance space through my work. Also, members of the audience recognised the change in the space over the period of the exhibition. I felt that the audience was eager to participate and follow the performance. I didn’t feel the need to persuade or convince the spectator.
SOPHIA: The global eruption of COVID-19 has dramatically affected the traditional mode of consuming art in physical spaces; galleries and museums closed their doors to the public in response to strict public health regulations. How has the Netherland’s approach in tackling COVID-19 affected your approach in your artistic practice? Tell me about your new work being shown at Achtung! Spielplatz! at De Vishal in Harlem, Netherlands.
CAZ: Several of my shows have been cancelled or postponed since the start of COVID. It has been nice to not produce work for a show because it has given me space to reflect on my practice. Since graduating two years ago, I felt a need to produce the types of works that curators and institutions demanded from me under a time constraint; this often consisted of visually colourful works and performances that engaged with the audience. Over the last couple of months, nobody has been asking me for anything. I have been able to reflect on the concerns of my practice instead of defining it through the demands of others. I want to return to my more conceptual roots of institutional critique. I want to respond to the art world in a more direct way through copying, critiquing, and playing with the works of others.
I recently showed two sculptures and a performance piece as part of a new exhibition Achtung! Spielplatz! at De Vishal in Harlem. Constant In - Maiastra (after Brancusi) is a 3D printed sculpture of a work by Brancusi. My installation functions as critique of the original object by transforming the monumental piece into a functional object. The Brancusi sculpture is displayed amongst the other sculptures by the artist at MOMA while my sculpture is an object to leave clothes from the performance piece. The Critic - More Than You Wanted to Know About Caz Egelie is a bookcase with rows of books consisting of volumes 1-220 and separate additions that confirm gossip, love life, and essays by other people about the books. The piece is based off John Baldessari’s two volume book More Than You Wanted to Know About John Baldessari. My work plays with idea of how we shape history and how we create a mystery around ourselves as artists.
Caz Egelie, Constant In - Maiastra (after Brancusi), PLA 3D print, acrylic resin, wood and pigment, 2020 (Instagram: @cazegelie)
SOPHIA: How has your artistic practice been affected by the need for more digital art?
CAZ: I am currently working on digitising a work as part of a cancelled music festival that is continuing online. The recording consists of a performance of myself and an artist singing with sound written by a composer. We are filming the work in the actual performance space. It will be online next week.
I have been thinking about the digital and physical components to my art. There is always a physical component to showcasing my digital work whether it’s a 3-D animation or video in a gallery space. I have concerns surrounding the digital as the only accessible form for viewing art during COVID. There are several artists like Ed Atkins who are able to create successful works by playing on our desire for the digital world. However, my work is centred around the physical experience of a space and a moment which can be lost in only having a digital form.
SOPHIA: Your work often physically interferes or interrupts the experience of the viewer within the gallery space. How have you constructed your new performance piece to abide by the COVID-19 social distancing regulations, keeping 1.5 metres of space between the audience and the performer(s)?
CAZ: In the recent performance with the Brancusi sculpture at Achtung! Spielplatz! at De Vishal in Harlem, the three dancers had to maintain social distance with the audience. The interaction between the performers and the spectators was weird. Normally, the dancers would walk through the audience in order to provoke them to engage and interact with the performances. Since people can no longer come close to each other, it is difficult to initiate interactions unless you give explicit instructions. I haven’t found a good solution for the problem yet.
The physicality of working with performers has changed as a result of social distance measures. I would normally instruct performers on how to move or stand through moving their limbs and body. The performers have more autonomy because the rehearsal process can no longer be as precise. However, it offers new possibilities for the performers to interpret a piece.
SOPHIA: Do you think you will engage as a performer more often in order to create more precision?
CAZ: Yes, that could very much be the case.
Caz Egelie, The Critic - More Than You Wanted to Know About Caz Egelie, books and wood, 2017-2020 (Instagram: @cazegelie)
SOPHIA: Tell me about your new initiative FOULPLAYSTALEBREAD.
CAZ: I started a project space with Jesse Strikwerda over the last couple of months. The initiative FOULPLAYSTALEBREAD is an exhibition space that will showcase contemporary artists. There are few platforms in Utrecht that support contemporary artists to experiment with their practice in gallery spaces. The initiative is a product of recognising the need for more structures to promote artists.
SOPHIA: How did you select the artists for the first show? What kind of relationship do you have with the artists?
CAZ: The first show Well, first of all will open on August 8. The five artists participating in the exhibition include Annabelle Binnerts, Kasper Bosmans, Hadassah Emmerich, Zwaantje Kurpershoek and Mickey Yang. They are all currently at different stages in their careers and work in various mediums. Two of the artists recently completed bachelor's and master’s degrees in fine arts, while three of the artists have been shown internationally for a couple of years.
We are looking for individuals who showcase enthusiasm for contemporary art. They must be willing to experiment with organisational structures and art collaborations. We give artists the creative freedom to respond to our requests; we are not looking to be a commercial art gallery.
SOPHIA: Your artistic practice of performance often incorporates institutional critique. How have you structured your organisation in comparison to museums and galleries?
CAZ: The structure of the organisation is not fixed. We will be inviting other people to collaborate with us in shows, publications, and performance events. There is a fluidity within the organisation which is especially pertinent to current conversation regarding the need for a diverse range of voices in different roles within an institution.
SOPHIA: What kind of relationship do you have with your co-partner Jesse Strikwerda?
CAZ: There is a lot of trust involved in our partnerships. I have known Jesse about two and a half years. He was introduced to me by a friend as I was looking for a performer for my graduate piece. He has performed in several of my pieces since our introduction. We have a collaborative relationship together as artists and curators of FOULPLAYSTALEBREAD. There are several projects that we want to carry out individually within FPSB in the future, but we both support each other.
If you want to read Sophia's interview with Caz in February, check it out here.
Sophia is a second-year BA student. She was born and raised in San Francisco. She trained at the San Francisco Ballet, as well as completed additional programs at the American Ballet Theatre, the Boston Ballet, and the School of American Ballet. She retired at preprofessional level in order to focus on visual arts and art history at the San Francisco Art Institute during high school. She writes with an American perspective that transgresses the international border of space and culture in order to critique visual and performing arts. She aims to rethink and redefine the boundaries of artistic notions in this "globalised” era and to produce discussions taking place in the periphery.