Whether performer dressed in Minion-outfits, cheap prints of old masters or urine – these materials and references are to be found in the performative works of Nils Amadeus Lange.
After studying theater, Zurich-based artist Nils Amadeus Lange decided to focus more on dance and performance. Thereby he lets easily accessible material collide to create a different approach of »experiences«. In an interview with Luca Büchler, he talks about the search for beauty in tabooed body parts, ways of shaping togetherness and the deconstruction of conventions. The images were taken by the artist duo Rico&Michael.
What’s striking about your work are the references you bring together from different streams like the old masters and pop culture. How and why do you put these elements together?
I look for references and materials that in their combination cause an explosive reaction. Their essence and charisma, at first glance do not fit together, but become inseparable through that explosion. My work is strongly influenced by a camp aesthetic, which is, as Susan Sontag puts it, » one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon«. I, of course, glorify mundanities, easily obtainable materials, filth, cheapness, gaudiness an all those things.
Characteristic for my work is the clashing of different materials, which due to their nature and origin, raise questions of queerness, authenticity and humor. Through the humorous narrative, (natural) defence mechanisms are bypassed and viewers can be brought to a far more serious and profound state that confronts them with their own reality. Easily accessible materials and a simple visual identity offer the potential of yet another turning point in my work.
Like the gogo dance in front of the Caravaggio painting.
You refer to the work I did at the Istituto Svizzero in Rome. Since I couldn’t arrive until the day of the performance, I had to create a show that didn’t require rehearsal. So, I booked performers online, had them enter the room at the simultaneously and let them act in front of cheap way too shiny prints of old masters. An Elvis impersonator in front of Dürer’s self-portrait, a gogo dancer in front of Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes and so on.
For me, the work deals with general question of who is allowed to perform, about the question of different crafts and why one is marvelled at while the other is laughed at. A self-portrait steps on an impersonator. It was a very touching work for me. Now, every time I think of Dürer I hear a voice singing »I can’t help falling in love«.
I had a similar approach at Kunsthalle Basel, where two Minions hung two works by Bruce Nauman and Candida Höfer that dealt with death. A clash of realities. For the audience it was almost impossible to grasp that the works were originals. They are proofs of love. I love Dürer, I love Caravaggio. But probably, just as in real life, I cannot articulate my love without also expressing pain and doubt.
As you mention clash of different realties, you most recently performed the childrens fairy tale Gretel and Hansel. How did that come about?
I had been distancing myself from the theater for some time. The power structures in theaters go against all my values and against everything that is important to me as a human being. I’m not interested in reproducing a situation and want to create unique situations that constitute a new reality, that are real. All that is no longer possible in traditional theater structures.
When Neumarkt Theater asked Annina Machaz and me to stage the children’s fairy tale, I was quite shocked. Why were they asking me? Who has supposedly been disturbing people with his work. The request was really thrilling for me as I had been looking for a new challenge for a long time.
We did an adaptation of Grimm’s »Hansel and Gretel«, mainly focusing on classism. It was supposed to be a »Lehrstück«, as Brecht says. A didactic play. We decided against the role of the witch. The evil person was a rich gallerist, who cuts down the whole forest to build a new museum, and rents the land at a high price, and who is also the employer of the siblings’ parents. The audience, people from five years old upwards, got a small introduction to Silvia Federicis »Caliban and the witch«, to make them understand the negative connotation of the witch, and our decision to not cast one. It was an anti-capitalist play in the truest sense, raising questions about the redistribution of money, classism, gentrification, and how capitalism destroys the environment.
Has anything changed in the process as it specifically addresses children?
I initially thought that would happen but it came very close to the storytelling of my other works. By approaching issues through humor and by designing the costumes and set ourselves, it came very close to my other aesthetics. No, it was a very similar approach, less sexy perhaps than usual.
You did a residency in Poland last year. What kind of experiences did you have there as an artist and queer person?
I arrived as the queer riots were taking place in Warsaw. It was shocking to see history repeating itself once again. I had visited Auschwitz before, and this time, it was especially hard, with uprisings against new fascism happening. Simultaneously I was introduced to an insanely sensitive, intelligent, progressive and well-organized community of queer artists and people by whom I have been very moved and who have left a lasting impression on me. It was a conscious decision to not make the uprisings the subject of my work. Instead, the YouTube and radio hit Despacito was performed by a harpist in front of the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in complete darkness. The only source of light came from the headlights of a large motorcycle, whose engine a woman kept starting along to a choreography performed by a young dancer.
Unfortunately, proto-fascists had previously found a picture of a performance of me urinating on someone’s head during a show at school in Vienna and posted it with my full name and the exact time and location of my performance in Warsaw. Initially, this scared me immensely, but then it also radicalized me in a certain way. In a good way. So, Poland was an ambivalent experience, and it definitely made me realize how important it is to keep going, to be loud, to get organized as a group, to be there for each other and to strengthen collectivity.
Urine is also an important component that you use in your performances.
Bodily fluids play a big role in my work as I have been investigating the motif of urination for a long time. I’m interested in how body fluids can be understood as an extension of the body, therefore, becoming part of a choreographic decision. Over the years I have become a true expert in urination. I can change the jets, pee to a rhythm, etc. For me, there are many unexplored areas in choreography besides bodily fluids like tears, sweat or urine, such as internal places of the body like the anus, the ear, the oral cavity etc. In my opinion, there is a lot of potential in these areas and they should be removed from their forbidden zones, as there is not only beauty in them, but also explosiveness and politics.
As a response to the proto-fascists, I recently developed a second work for BWC Wroclaw, a video work in which a group of people form in public space, and in a Tableau Vivant, urinate. For a long time I have been dealing with the aesthetics of baroque fountains, with the representation of naked bodies and symbols like the scallop shell. An image that doesn’t bother us as a sculpture or fountain, but does as a real formation. This way of occupying public space, of queering it, really interests me. Seeking for beauty in the human.
Your audience can always expect to be directly addressed in your pieces. For example, during the performance at school in Vienna, you tattooed an image chosen by the viewers and let them read one of your texts out loud. Why is this direct involvement of an audience important to you?
I see a problem in the systematic order of the classical stage situation, in which the architecture gives power to the performers, elevates them, puts them in the light, amplifies their voices and so on. As Hans Thies Lehmann would describe as »MITgeteilte Erfahrung«. On the other hand, Hans Thies Lehmann uses the “geteilte Erfahrung«, as in the shared experience. It’s about the audience and performer, together, forming a new reality. It’s about presence and not about representation.
My work always tries to democratize the space. That is why the idea of »communitas« is so important to me. An unstructured community in which everyone is equal. Victor Turner speaks of the interplay of social »structure« and »anti-structure«, a liminal phase in which we can get rid of our social roles, in which we are all receptive to create a new real, a different state of mind. The idea of changing reality can only happen as a group. I am seeking for togetherness, always.
The current situation is a great challenge for many artists. Museums are closed, performances are not taking place in their usual form. How has your practice changed?
Besides all difficulties, there is something very useful about the situation. Basically, every crisis forces us to act, reflect and position ourselves. This institutional time-out helps us to reframe our value system, to recapitulate certain processes and to draw conclusions. For a long time we relied on institutional structures that would have collapsed sooner or later anyway. The madness of flying from one place to another to grant visibility and assert oneself as an artist will hopefully come to an end even for the last ones still doing exactly that. The financial dependence of having to produce one work after another, at the expense of the environment. The crisis is eye-opening for some, demonstrating that we can structure ourselves autonomously in the cities and regions. That art should not be dependent on institutions. That we must be mindful of resources.