In a recent performance at Sub Rosa Space, Athens-born, Trieste-based live artist Nina Alexopoulou presented The Candy Piece, a participatory performance where the audience is asked to consume large quantities of candy placed on the performer's naked body as she's staring at them voiceless and motionless. On the occasion of the work's first presentation in Greece, we asked her a few questions about The Candy Piece and the evolution of her practice over the past few years. The documentation of the evening is by Alexandra Masmanidi.
Tell us a few things about The Candy Piece. When was it first performed and what is the idea behind it?
The Candy Piece was born during my Master's studies at Trinity Laban back in 2011. The course was called MA in Dance Theatre: the Body in Performance and it mainly focused on contemporary live art practices. I was fascinated by the fresh British live-art scene and I couldn't wait to experiment with it myself for the first time, as I was coming from a dance-performance background.
From the beginning, I focused my research on the notions of gender and female identity. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition between feminine and monstrous, human and animal, consumer and consumed, and the female body as simultaneously sacred and abject. To play with these contrasts, I started experimenting with food and especially sweets. I was attracted by their cute shapes, bright colours and mostly their smell and taste that could stress the limits between visual pleasure, overwhelming sweetness and disgust. So I bathed with ice cream, I set up a cupcake murder scene, I made a short “food porn” film and then I performed The Candy Piece, first to get feedback from my classmates and then for the general public.
For the performance, I lay naked on a table with sweets and candies decorating my body, while one red velvet cupcake is placed in my mouth and one on the pubic area between my legs. When the participants enter the room, an assistant instructs them that they may eat the sweets but they are not allowed to use their hands, and that the performance will not end until all the sweets are eaten.
Through this work I try to challenge the participants’s relationship with the female body, while I essentially create a circumstance in which they have to act together as a team to finish the performance. I am interested to see how their perception of the female body constantly shifts and transforms during the performance, from a naked woman to a soulless object, from an altar with its offerings to a potentially erotic object.
Is it important for you that the work is shown at different locations? How do people's reactions change every time?
Absolutely. Performing The Candy Piece in different locations and engaging diverse audiences is an essential part of this work. So far, I have always gotten different reactions from the participants, according to their age, background and even sexual orientation, and of course depending on where the piece was performed.
As I keep my eyes and ears open, I see and hear almost everything, I observe the participants as closely as they observe me and I make sure I am always ‘present’ during the performance. I also always make sure there is a photographer and video maker to document it thoroughly and I also ask for audience feedback both written and verbal after the performance. This is essential for both my research and as an integral part of this performance.
What kind of relationship are you trying to establish with the audience through this piece?
Any kind of relationship! As I create a situation in which people might react differently, I expect that everything can happen and that all sorts of relationships may spring up during the performance. Some people feel there is a certain sacrality as being close to an altar with offerings or that there is a feeder-feeding relationship that develops between us, like the one between mother and child. Others perceive it as a challenge, a more intense relationship, were they need to finish the task as thoroughly and as fast as possible. Many people have told me they felt as if they needed to protect me the more my body got exposed, and some try to avoid my stare when approaching me as they feel shy. Some others have felt a more erotic impulse and have even bitten me while eating the candies off my body.
The Candy Piece relates to other works you've done that deal with the female body as something consumable. To which extent is this part of your current artistic practice?
My artistic practice has changed a lot since I first performed The Candy Piece. And although I still use food in most of my works, I have started working with it as more of a symbolic object to convey certain ideas, concepts or images. In one of my latest collaborations with Slovenian photographer Nika Furlani, we have used live episcope projections of fish, crustaceans and octopuses to explore hybrid mythical sea creatures that interplay between human and animal, male and female, monstrous and saintly; and offer an alternative narration to gender identity that is no longer static but rather fluid and under constant transformation.
In recent work, your relationship with the audience is a big part of your performances (tarot readings, guided walk-performances). Can you tell us a few things about your interaction with the audience in your work?
Indeed! Close interaction with the audience plays a major part in my works, both recent and older ones. I think that performance for me is all about communicating with the audience members and I feel that I can better achieve that by creating a closer proximity between them and myself. That’s why I usually perform for a limited number of people and I prefer small gallery spaces rather than big theatre stages to show my work. I mostly enjoy creating interactive performance pieces, such as The Candy Piece and I I have recently started experimenting with one-to-one performance, like Arcane Exchanges. For me, the most exciting part about working in close proximity with the audience is the unpredictability of what might happen. By challenging the audience to actively participate in the performance you create infinite possibilities, relations and exchanges that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.