Antrianna Moutoula: nonstop languaging as autotheory in art and academia
In 2012, Antrianna Moutoula moved from Greece to the Netherlands. After obtaining a Bachelor's degree in Fine Art at Gerrit Rietveld Academie, she entered the Master Performance Practices at ArtEZ. She graduates with a performance of nonstop languaging: for 45 minutes, she talks and writes continiously.
“I had been doing performance already, but I wanted to be in a place where everyone had the same common ground. Although many different disciplines come together in the Master's – like dance, opera, theatre and fine arts – it provided a place where I could look at my work very specifically from the side of performance. It was important for me to be in an environment where performance was the starting point. And the course proved to be very rewarding, in that sense, but also in terms of work, theory and mentors.”
The combination of all these different disciplines, getting to know all these different perspectives, was something that really inspired me.
“The Performance Practices programme was intense, but really amazing. I notice a difference in the way I am making performances. Before, I would develop an idea in my mind or on paper, and then I would work towards the moment of performance, just doing it. Entering the Master's, I started sticking to one thing – the nonstop talking and writing – and I stayed with it for two years. I realised that I developed a practice for myself. This commitment really helped me to delve deeper into it.”
Nonstop languaging: going into the unknown
Antrianna's graduation work is an autotheoretical performance lecture: for the entire duration of her performance, 45 minutes, she is simultaneously writing and talking nonstop. How did she get this idea? “Before, I would hardly ever perform solo. But in the first year of the course, we got all kinds of assignments, like ‘do something in ten minutes – go go go!’ Especially in the first year, this is characteristic: there is not much time to think. You just do something, and then you talk about it afterwards. I really had to develop my ability to do this. In the first year, I did a performance in which I was talking continuously. It wasn't yet nonstop, but I felt there was something there for me. Later, I did a performance running and talking, trying to add more things. But after practising it, I understood there was enough to it, just going nonstop either writing or talking. For my graduation, I wanted to be challenged again – because practising writing and talking separately for a year, I was getting kind of comfortable in it.
She started looking for the challenge, trying many different versions of her performance. “I did it online: for four hours, for five minutes – while running, while cleaning my house, having an audience listening to me. Through practicing it and returning to it in different formats, I got more interested in what was already there in a very minimal format. A table, a laptop, me just typing there, my screen projected on the wall. The technicians were confused: So you are not having any sound? No. So you are not having any visuals? No.” She laughs. “It is a bit low-tech, but these are usually the works that really get me by surprise, that I really enjoy seeing. Not that there is nothing to the rest: spectacular things are also amazing. But I feel there is something there for me.”
But what is it that is there? What exactly happens when she is on stage? “I am always performing in context of the presence – or potential presence – of another person. In that way, I am entering a situation wherein something is unknown, or at risk. It is like going into the unknown: moving towards something that wouldn't be there without encountering an audience member, which I therefore call a ‘necessary other'. Something happens that I cannot do by myself. When I am performing, there is always something to discover for me – because every time is different. I always set a task, or I make a specific decision. This is not always visible to the audience, but I make sure that I expose myself to a small situation of discomfort, of not knowing.”
Making the personal critical: surprised by your own thoughts
“What is important for me is that I enter a situation in which I am not the one that knows everything, presenting to an audience that does not know. Instead, we are simultaneously witnessing my thoughts unfold. This is something very personal: my own thoughts on that very moment.” Of course, there are stages: at the beginning of Antrianna's performance, things are more controlled. But throughout the 45 minutes, she is saying things she did not think of beforehand. “I am exposing the personal – or trying to make the personal critical. This is a step for me. To work with the personal in order to create theory, or (re)moving the slash between personal and theory.”
Isn't that scary sometimes? “It is! There are moments before a performance when I am thinking: why am I doing this? This is so stressful! But when it starts, I know why I am. Is it the encounter with an audience – this kind of freefalls in seconds, in moments, in positions of encountering and raising discomfort – that is rewarding for me. I want to remove scripts and plans, and to be open to the encounter. For a long time, my audience was classmates, colleagues, and tutors. We have been organising moments for sharing work and giving each other feedback. And of course, there is an ethical part there – I cannot say everything. My thoughts are there as they are, and I am very often surprised by them. I want to unfilter, but I think I still have an ethical limit there. How much does it offend someone that is in the room? How will it affect life afterwards?”
Does this mean she is also monitoring people's reactions to her words? “I noticed that when I was really paying attention to people's reactions, I started trying to amuse them. Because of course, there is a humoristic element in what comes out. When I hear laughing as a performer, I want to make it continue – but then the focus would shift on how to entertain. I realised that I did not want that. So, towards my final performance, I tried to develop a way of listening that did not have to do with me looking at them, because looking was making the performance snag on a superficial level instead of moving further.”
I am not only voicing my thoughts: I am languaging my thoughts in the presence of another person. Many concern things I would not think by myself – and that is the whole point of it.
Being surprised by your own thoughts – is that also a way to get to know yourself better? “I am documenting my life in a way that would not happen if I were to sit behind a desk and write it down in retrospect. It is also a way to document things I did not know mattered. I am always learning something, discovering things I did not know I was thinking. Or, sometimes things I was not thinking. Because in my performance I am not only voicing my thoughts: I am languaging them in the presence of another person. Much of it concerns thoughts I would not think by myself, and that's the whole point of it. My thoughts in the encounter.”
Different disciplines and perspectives
While everyone was focused on their own individual research, it was interesting to see the others develop, says Antrianna. “We built a community, which I feel very happy about. It is really useful to get out of your own bubble and see what someone else is interested in: that is very informative. We all come from different cultures. That is shaking your perspective; it made me aware of the fact that my own is specific to a place and a time, to a culture, a privilege or a class. I started to become aware of what is outside my own perspective and understanding of the world, art, research, language and writing.”
The youngest participant of the Master's programme differed 20 years from the eldest. “It was interesting to see how everyone in different stages of their lives had different expectations of the programme, and what they consider as being an artist and making. There were so many different disciplines, so many nationalities present: this richness of perspectives is what makes the Master's an interesting environment to be in. The combination of all these influences was something that really inspired me. It brought surprises as well: I discovered that I can connect really well with people who have a background in dance – in the sense of how they understand performance, and in the way they write. Last year, I collaborated with one of my classmates, Ella Tighe, who has a background in dance: we did the nonstop talking together. I felt it then, and it kept happening: with students, mentors and supervisors. I never thought I would have an affinity with dance, but I feel so at home with dancers' understanding of performance.”
Being an artist: being in the world
The intention of the Master’s is to help its participants develop into independent thinkers. Antrianna tells she has developed a way of thinking with theory and practice, combining those two instead of seeing them as separate. They have merged into one, which she finds really exciting. And that is not the only skill she developed. “Because of all the different assignments, you really learn how to sharply communicate your work. That is a good skill – as is being able to give and receive feedback, something we practice throughout the whole course. Besides, the Master's gave me an understanding of research. Research is at the core of the course: performing as research, and the other way around. I got to understand what research is, and the ways in which it can be done – disseminating and challenging that. This has been insightful, a different way of looking at art.”
Nonstop languaging is a way of both experiencing my life and reflecting on it; living it and commenting on it at the same time. It is a way of processing the world, the reality of everydayness.
What does being an artist mean to her? “Being an art student and being an artist are slightly different positions, I think. I have spent more years being an art student, so I still have to figure out what is means to be an artist in years to come. What I find important is that my work informs my life – the two are interrelated. Nonstop languaging is a way of both experiencing my life and reflecting on it; living it and commenting on it at the same time. It is a way of processing the world, the reality of everydayness. Negotiating things that are important in art, but also outside of it: how language is used, for example. Something like that goes beyond my art work. Being an artist is a way of being in the world and a mode of thinking.”
On the question of whether Antrianna plans to continue her practice after graduating, the answer is positive. “I would like to bring nonstop languaging to new audiences, apply it to various places. I would also like to perform it in different ways. For me, a big part of graduating is combining the theoretical production of knowledge with the autobiographical. I want to see how that lands outside, and whether it will still be so important to me – to see what happens when I encounter audiences that are differently informed. What will I be talking about when the audience is more anonymous to me?”
“I really feel like staying committed my work – I feel like it is my practice, which is the biggest surprise for me. Saying this, when two years ago I had a very different understanding of what practice is or of what I am doing.” She laughs. “I want to experience what it is to be an autonomous artist. I always had a part-time job in a restaurant – a very interesting space to learn about human interaction, by the way. In the future, I want to give it a try: leave that safety behind and survive as an artist. To take that risk in life, and see what it does for me and my work.”
Classmate and collaborator: Ella Tighe
Supervisor: Dr João da Silva
External mentors: Emma Cocker, Jeanine Durning