Գիշեր | gisher is the new video performance of the artist, independent researcher and queer agitator of Armenian descent Giorgia Ohanesian Nardin, on stage on 8 and 9 September at La Pelanda (Rome) on the occasion of Short Theater Festival 2020. Weaving dialogues triggered on multiple visual, semantic and dramaturgic dimensions, Գիշեր | gisher was born from a two-year research period. It refers to the action of feeding, of keeping lit, of burning. An action that Giorgia Ohanesian Nardin embraces, informs, performs and opens to others through their experience and practice, allowing them enter, react, respond to the many inputs.
Giorgia’s creative work exists in the shape of movement, video, text, choreography, sound and gatherings. Trained in dance, for years they have been studying and dealing with narratives that gravitate around hostility, rest, friction, sensuality and healing. Questioning the relationship with their body and its usability from the outside, with being watched as they dance, and with the influence of the forms, the paradigms and the aesthetic sense linked to movement that they assimilated through a traditional Western academic training, Giorgia has chosen not to be physically present in their works, trying to give context to their body through words. In recent years they haven’t done any live performances, with the exception of Գիշեր | gisher which fits into this line of thought. Instead they created and curated Pleasure Body, a space for listening and collective training and sharing of bodies for queer, trans, non-binary, racialized bodies.
In a long and stimulating video conversation, Giorgia opened up with us, delving into the ideas and perspectives that inform Գիշեր | gisher and their artistic work, the importance of words and the violence of language, the fragility of the contemporary cultural system.
GRIOT: The places and spaces often evoked by only a few tiny details have a strong weight in your work, between still and moving images, natural colours and textures, and more saturated, almost fluorescent, scenes. When and how did you film these images? What can you tell me about these places? Why are they important for you and why did you decide to recount them like this?
Giorgia Ohanesian Nardin: We did a wonderful job with F. De Isabella who filmed almost all the footage, except for some scenes of my body that I filmed myself. We used to go around filming with the camera, but we never decided what to film, nor we did any colour correction. F.’s gaze has been very important, as well as discussing how they would shoot the images in this sense. We didn’t want to show places as locations, but trying to attribute complexity to these images, both visually and from a recognisability point of view, by overlapping visual combinations of things. Also, water, air, fire and earth have naturally become recurring elements both in the writing and in the video.
There’s a sort of invisible dialogue which takes place while experiencing Գիշեր | gisher. A real energy transfer between one scene and another, in the relationship between you, your voice, your body, your presence and the viewer; and then between you and the artists involved in the final part. Speaking of the pendulum, an object that you show and use in the performance, you say: “A pendulum instead of a compass. In my attempt to shuffle orientations, oscillations, circular/diagonal/ linear patterns become grammar.”
Tell me about this object? How do you use it? Is it a recurring element in your artistic practice?
The pendulum is an object that I started using about a year ago and that attracted me very much because compared to other forms of divination — for instance I also read tarot cards which have a different interpretation because they are very symbolic, they deal with image associations and have a whole complex narrative which can be controversial — the pendulum for me is the visual manifestation of the energy because it moves in response. When I went to Armenia and I used it there, somehow it became a sort of compass.
Before travelling to Armenia, the beginning of this work was also informed by the book Queer Phenomenology by Sara Ahmed. She talks about the word ‘orientation’ which contains in itself the word ‘Orient,’ therefore ‘a look to the left’. She explains how the colonial Eurocentric indoctrination considers the gaze starting from the Greenwich meridian (so from the center of Europe) as dominant, and therefore true. As a result, everything is placed to the left or to the right of this point, both geographically and in the body. For example, the left side of the body is the one linked to the devil in the Catholic tradition; the entire colonial process linked to the East and to “the left of the world” settles in a paradigm of hypersensualization; orientalism and exoticism are based on this and it is also a basic assumption that arises from an idea of a very horizontal landscape. If one thinks about the East in the European imaginary, the first things that come to mind are heat, palm trees, odalisques, the harem. All these places are linked to dreams, desire, idleness, rest, non-productivity (from a Eurocentric / white / colonial point of view). Consequently, they are seen as places to “correct”, to “align with progress”, and hence to be looted and colonised. For me going to what is now considered Armenia geographically, doesn’t mean going to the places where my family comes from, which are predominantly of Turkish dominion. What interested me about the pendulum was to see the visual manifestation of tensions related to energy. I really like to record my voice or write down words that my body offers me when I use it. It is a tool that was also used in hypnosis that somehow alters the plane of perception and responds to the body in a very precise way. So, many texts in Գիշեր | gisher came from using the pendulum.
So how did you write the texts? Was it an impulsive process — free thoughts collected at different times — or a more methodical one, where you sat down and said: “OK, now I’m going to think about this and write”?
It depended a lot. These are texts I wrote in about a year, so before and after visiting Armenia. Some were notes I wrote down on my phone, others were born on days when I sat down and said “OK, now I’m going to look at this and write”. With this work there was a very strong risk of entering a documentary dynamic, both in the writing and in the video, which I really wanted to distance myself from. The work is mainly going to be presented in Europe, in our circuit, and it is very immediate for the Western gaze to approach the vision of landscapes and panoramas linked to the East with an attitude of discovery and that isn’t absolutely what I wanted.
Courage is one of the main themes in Գիշեր | gisher, or better the refusal of it, of the awareness or unawareness of one’s fragility, conscious or subconscious. In fact, in the text you say that you are not courageous and you don’t want to be. Are there situations in which you feel you want to be courageous or you just have to be. If so, what are they?
‘Courage’ is a word that is often placed upon me by others and which implies the possibility of supporting or holding others. My problem with this word is that courage and intention are two different things and I don’t do what I do because I am courageous or because I have an innate strength. I do the things I do because I couldn’t do otherwise, because if I didn’t do them, I would disappear in the wide and complex basin of assimilation, which is privilege and trauma at the same time; I would disappear in the readings that are placed upon my body. Sometimes I feel that this word always comes as a positive compliment, but there’s this kind of sense of responsibility linked to it, which is the reason why it’s a very complex word. So I tried to break it down, also because it carries inside itself a hierarchical form — I feel like saying — linked to doing things in a certain way. I don’t want to allow the narrative of “regardless of everything, Giorgia is courageous, and therefore they can” to go through. No, I’m scared, generally. I want to take care of this fear and I want narratives to emerge in which non-conforming bodies — from the gender, ethnicity etc. points of view — don’t have to be exploited. There is also a question linked to the prowess of non-conforming bodies that is very violent, as far as I’m concerned, which is very much placed upon people, even though there is trauma, pain, suffering underneath. The word courage doesn’t mean all this.
The work I am trying to do with words is to find the possibility for language to not be as devastating and incomplete as it is now, this is a fact; or that when we use a language, we miss the point of view, so we often use the same words thinking we mean the same thing, even if that is not the case. So — also because of my personal fetish — I want to look at the complexity of how we use words to speak and look at how language is formed and molded on the basis of who uses it and who dominates it. Whose language are we using and why are we using it this way? And how can it be shaped in order to allow me to be present in the words? Is it possible?
The word ‘gisher’ means ‘night’ in Armenian, but the night never appears, at least not until the end. Why did you choose this title?
This is something that I hadn’t thought about, but Ilenia Caleo made me think that it’s very indicative of the way in which one lives and owns spaces. She is an Italian researcher and artist based in Rome who curated some dramaturgical parts of Գիշեր | gisher and with whom I have discussed this a lot. Going out in a public space at night implies, not only a level of comfort, but also of knowledge of that space which is different from the daytime, especially for some bodies rather than for others. The fact that the whole work is shot in the daytime clearly conveys my relationship with that place, and she pointed out that it’s a strong signature of the work. In fact, with Flo Low, who is an Armenian artist from the London diaspora who curated the design of the zine, we tried to work on a progressive chromatic transition from day to night.
I don’t speak Armenian, I understand it a little and I find it hard to hold on to words. ‘Gisher’ is one of the words that I remember the most, in addition to the basic conversation words. Perhaps I am also very fascinated by thinking about the night in this sense, by seeing it as a dimension of thought that is closer to me in some way.
Another of the themes arising in Գիշեր | gisher is fragility, and through the dialogue that you weave with the artists involved, the discourse is developed even further according to the points of view and the perspectives. The global pandemic that we have experienced and that we are still facing has made us more aware of our fragility and of the weaknesses of the cultural system. What did this lockdown mean to you? How has it affected your work, your thinking and research?
I can’t think about before and after because I’m still very much into what’s going on right now. It’s informing, shaping and forming my work, my practice, my way of being in things. I’ve been slowing down or interrogating systems for a while as far as I am concerned, and this moment has fuelled all of this. I have no answers, but the thing that comes to mind is that there is something fundamental that is happening and that necessarily impacts on and changes the way in which cultural institutions relate to artists, especially to racialized, queer, trans, non-binary ++ artists. I am listening a lot and waiting in order to understand what this gaze means, it frightens me a little, but I want to be positive. And I think it’s time not only to ask questions, but to review postures and positions — it has been time for a while. I’m also a bit afraid of this collective awakening in which multiple plans are intertwined because, as it often happens, I fear the tokenization of this moment.
I made a long digression to tell you that I don’t know the answer, but the work I do now is the work I used to do before, and the questions are still the same. There was no epiphany for me, but now it feels like there’s a real need to look at these questions and postures more than ever, because as a matter of fact the problem has always existed, violence has always been present in the relationship between institutions and artists.
Գիշեր | gisher
Tuesday 8 september | 9:00 pm
Wednesday 9 september | 9:30 pm
La Pelanda – Studio 2
GRIOT is media partner of Short Theatre 2020. Check out the full programme.
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Images | Courtesy of Giorgia Ohanesian Nardin
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