With fictional characters and wearable musical instruments, Astrit Ismaili comments on the world they’re surrounded by to overcome environmental and political barriers.
Born in what is now Kosovo, Astrit Ismaili moved to Amsterdam at the age of 24 for their studies at DasArts - Master of Theater, Amsterdam. As a processing of their personal experience of war and the exploration of their identity as a queer person in the context of societal norms, they create alter egos like »Miss Kosovo«, who will have an appearance at this year’s ImPulsTanz. Their performances, which often feature self-created musical body extensions, fight for a complex reality and use queerness as a strategy to explore the transformational potential that sits just in front of us.
For the performance »MISS« you created three characters: Miss Kosovo, The First Flower and a figure inspired by Cicciolina. Who are they?
»The First Flower« was the initial inspiration for making »Miss«. Basically, millions of years ago, plants had a very hard time reproducing because flowering plants did not exist yet. Their only reproduction agent was the wind, which made this process very slow and insufficient. The limited mobility of plants makes them dependent on external factors. Plants had to come up with a creative solution to overcome their limitations, so they evolved into flowers to interact with other creatures and achieve much more successful pollination processes. This had a strong impact on the entire ecosystem, if we acknowledge that much of life on earth depends on flowering plants.
On the other hand, Cicciolina is also a first flower of some sort. She emigrated from Hungary to Italy, started her career in porn and then joined politics to become an Italian parliamentarian in the 80s, continuously pushing the boundaries of body politics in the public sphere by breaking taboos and expectations.
»Miss Kosovo« is a fictional figure inspired by the division of unions like, for example, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of Yugoslavia. But »Miss Kosovo’s« struggle exceeds these geopolitical issues, bringing queerness to the forefront. In the piece, »Miss Kosovo« also recontextualizes the two other figures by introducing them to subjects like global warming and current war zones, issues that we are dealing with in the present.
How are these figures connected to you?
What connects these figures is a certain »creativity when limited«, which has been the main focus of my research over the past few years. I see these figures as metaphors for many other realities in which one has to be creative to overcome environmental and political barriers and restrictions. Experiencing the Kosovo War, but also growing up as a queer person in a post-war environment without any role models, I have had to be very creative, not only when it comes to my artistic path but also in daily life. Even today, Kosovo is one of the most isolated countries in Europe, experiencing an unfair visa regime. One can’t even imagine the struggle artists, athletes, models etc. have to go through to have an international career. But, I guess, this harsh environment made us ‘bloom into flowers’, so that the world can hear our voices and see our colors.
In your ongoing research, you’re working with body extensions/wearable instruments. Why are you so interested in these objects?
I am interested in adding new qualities to the human body, often by designing wearable musical instruments that produce electronic sound. The use of these instruments introduces notions of cyborg politics and biopolitics into the performance work, questioning distinctions such as those between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed. The extensions create bodily proposals outside conventional norms, commenting on the mechanisms that manage human life processes and authorities of knowledge, power, and subjectification.
Is the approach to creating new instruments similar to developing new identities?
Since I am interested in »world making«, the main subjects of these realities are these figures/alter egos, like, for example, »The Pregnant Boy«, »The Nymph«, »The New Body« and all the others mentioned earlier. These bodies consist of imaginary and material realities, with the intention to embody different possibilities of becoming. Through performance one can really explore the transformational potential of bodies and spaces much more than in daily life. Performance offers a rich landscape and tools for research, experiments and experiences that can guide us to new ways of relating to our bodies, to spaces, social structures and institutions. The wearable musical instruments and these figures are created with the intention to undo different bodily and psychological patterns, hoping to learn new things about myself and the world around me, and to inspire others.
You talked about possibilities of becoming – do you have a personal vision?
My vision is not so individualistic, it gravitates more towards communities, kinships and spaces where we could spend time together. I imagine realities in which we are liberated from current »societal performance expectations«, where education not only serves the roles we are meant to fulfill in the neo liberal theater. I imagine bodies are free to take any form or shape without disruption, judgement or violence, where categories are more a game rather than a factor that determines one’s fate. What queerness is doing is basically fighting for the complexity of reality by resisting and disrupting the violent patriarchal and heteronormative oppression. What I am doing with my work is using queerness as a strategy to create situations, spaces and bodies that feel safe to explore the transformational potential that sits just in front of us.
Don’t miss their performance »MISS« at IMUPLSTANZ on July 23 & 25 at Kasino am Schwarzenbergplatz.