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Performing versus Recording with Nabeela Vega

Preparing to attend Rapid Pulse for the very first time, I connected with media artist Nabeela Vega who showed their video “Purge” at Rapid Pulse 2014. Nabeela also contributes to the festival in a significant way through documentation of other artists work both last year and this year. I asked Nabeela to reflect on RP14, their practice, and the nature of live versus recorded performance in a festival environment.

MH: Last year at RP14 you showed your video “Purge” as part of the “Disjointed Realities” screening. Both the split screen and the close framing of the actions fill the viewer with a sense of both gravity and wonder. What strikes me about Purge is the span of textures, and in particular how your skin looks in both shots. Can you describe the gender of the icon we see in the video? Are you embodying a character? Are you observing a gendered reality or performing an element of your own gender/gendered experience?

NV: I had initially approached the idea with the idiom “My body is my temple” in mind. I am playing with an observation of a gendered reality that is biased from my own gendered experience, through a fictitious ritual with references to actual religious tropes. It could be described as Holy Gender-fucking?

(MH: Holy Gender-fucking – Amen.)

MH: Both video and live performance are part of your art practice. Can you share your decision making process: how do you know when an action should be recorded versus enacted live? How do you decide what to do with an action?

NV: I come from a lens-based background and found performance within it. My decision making process is very intuitive. On my flight here, I woke up to the idea of kissing walls on the street with heavily mascara-ed lashes. I thought about this, and I liked the accumulation of kisses on the walls and the ink on the lashes over time. While the image could be interesting, I am more interested in the durational + experiential aspect of this action. I find the performance of it more interesting. Of course, I need to think about this more- or forget about it- but these are my initial considerations.

(MH: I would be happy to be your invigilator and reapply your mascara for this performance! I recognize that both video and performance have their limitations. The practice of creating and consuming videos for the Internet forces you to make them short if you want them to be watched. There is so much of a performance that might have to be cut out in that case – those barely visible moments that shift the course of the action. On the other hand, it gives you so much control over the performance as a composition. Sometimes the privacy of making video work is incredibly potent and sometimes the lack of a present audience would be too great a loss. And speaking of makeup, I’ve discovered that for photo and video work I need to scrutinize my makeup WAY MORE when I’m shooting because those close-up shots catch everything. There’s nothing like laying in a glass case with a boa constrictor filming for 3 hours only to realize you didn’t blend your foundation down your neck.)

MH: What was it like to show a video as a part of a performance art festival? How do video and live performance relate to each other, particularly when they’re happening in the same space or context? How do you think the act of witnessing shifts between video and performance for your audience?

NV: In my practice, “Performance for Video” is a cornerstone in engaging with performance art vernacular. I think Rapid Pulse does a wonderful job pushing back against an assumed hierarchy between performance for video and live performance by presenting them simultaneously. These are both intimate processes that play with the fourth wall but I find comparing the two to be like apples and oranges. They both present incredible opportunities to play with the medium, self and other in dynamic ways. “Purge” for example would be impossible to experience live as it relies heavily on the frame to communicate its intention.

(MH: I enjoy both apples and oranges. I despise hierarchy.)

MH: You documented artists’ performances at RP14 and you are doing it again this year at Rapid Pulse 2015. What are the most important elements of a performance to preserve? What is impossible to capture? What can we hope an online audience can take away from our documentation?

NV: This is an important ongoing conversation. I find attitude towards documentation is colored depending on the variety of backgrounds the artist is coming to performance art from (visual, theater, etc.) and their relationship to the lens. I remember sitting in on a talk at SMFA by Jamie McMurry years ago, discussing ways in which documentation can take away from the intention of the performance. The analogy “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, did it still fall?” comes to mind.

Regardless, one can’t deny the practical need for documentation. It’s important to note the difference between photographing during a photoshoot & photographing in the midst of a performance that the photographer is not a part of. One has to be mindful of the viewing/making experience of others. That process may not yield the best frame possible but I find it to be an authentic way of recognizing my position and producing documentation that an online audience can consume with the least amount of manipulation from the photographers hand. But also, great examples of live work that invites documentation/lenses: Manuel Vason + La Pocha Nostra from RapidPulse 2014.

(MH: I find it interesting the way that audience members so often take on the role of documenters – creating these images that the artist may never even see of their own work. It’s strange to think that so much of live performance now is mediated through these devices. Instagram definitely makes me feel like if I don’t post a picture it didn’t happen or I wasn’t there. As a younger artist I was terrible about documenting my work – out of insecurity, and out of lack of resources, and out of total ignorance of how to capture the energy of live work. So many performances are gone forever. As an audience member I really try to stay present in the live action and savor it and know that something is happening that will never happen again in same way in the space.)

MH: I’m a performance artist who has a writing background – but writing for a public about another artist’s performance is very new to me. There seems to be something special about us writing about each other. What tips do you have for responding to performances? Do’s and don’ts?

NV: There is definitely something special about us writing about each other. I come from a writing background that is more experimental and tend to try and minimize an authoritative voice in the work. For me, it is important to highlight parts of the response that is the most intimate in a way that becomes more collaboration than reflection. I think it is important to remember to trust your response to the work and not make assumptions about the intention of the artist when writing about the performance.

(MH: Thank you.)

MH: What images or sensations have stayed with you from RP14?

NV: Sandrine Schaefer!
Carlos Martiel <3
Jason Lim: his meditative practice & parting advice of “following my gut”
Alastair McClellan: Magic. He also mirrored my sentiment that last night of the festival:
“This place has an energy that inspires. That is hard to find”

MH: Has participating in Rapid Pulse had any impact on your own practice?

NV: It has had an impact to the extent that I have been more active in organizing. I have been intentional in continuing/strengthening connections made during Rapid Pulse and inviting them in contexts beyond Chicago.

(MH: I want to make sure everyone knows about your incredible organizing project with Anum Awan A Future of Radical Queer Possibilities.)

MH: What is unique about Rapid Pulse compared to other festivals or performances you have experienced?

NV: The Kids bring all the passion & leave the pretension at home.

(MH: So far I have enjoyed being surrounded by passionate people in every role – artists, curators, volunteers, and viewers. It’s beyond wonderful to me that folks from across the world and across roles have been so open to talking and eating together.

Since this is my first festival, I have been exposed to artists from places I’ve never been. One thing that has been very humbling for me is meeting international artists, hearing about their practices/processes, and grappling with how much context matters when making work. I’ve been learning so much about how work is read differently depending on where it’s done. Especially when work is so deeply about identity, place and space affect on how we negotiate and make meaning and navigate intention and impact. I’m thinking very hard about “location” in performance – in terms of ownership, in terms of understanding, in terms of history, in terms of geography, and in terms of site.)


photo courtesy of the artist

Madge of Honor is a performance artist based in Boston. Madge often uses femininity, sexuality, spectacle, and endurance to expose and confront social conventions, constructions, and our collective fantasies/pathologies. Madge has performed in a wide range of settings across the US and UK.

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