ON VARIOUS ASPECTS OF BEING A LIVING WORK OF ART
This text is the fruit of conversations with EVA & ADELE, conducted by Delfina Piekarska from October to December 2011
The beginnings of EVA & ADELE
EVA & ADELE: We are coming out of the Future
ADELE: Eva and I met one evening in Italy in 1989. We danced together for six hours. Since 1 January 1990, when we moved into a renovated atelier, we have lived together in Berlin.
EVA: Our art project dates back to 1989. That was when we filmed the Hellas video (a seven-track video installation, each part running 33 minutes), which was meant to express our search for the different, and to interpret our meeting. This was the moment when we both entered our life’s roles, fueling us on toward art, which was what we needed to do something new.
Ever since childhood I had dreamed of making a film like Hellas. When I met Adele I saw the chance. This is why during the process I kept thinking of the film as a directorial work, and of Adele as the star, playing the leading role. Over the course of the work we had a few serious tiffs, because it turned out that Adele wanted the same as me. I convinced her, however, that together we could make an entirely new project. This new project was to make the life we shared into a work of art.
I realized what a difficult challenge we were taking up. Living with another person requires enormous devotion. A person changes over the years, has new visions and plans, which make it difficult to work together on a project. Adele and I decided to make the leap and to begin our joint “performative work.”
People’s response to EVA & ADELE
E: Up till 1995 we did not comment on our art project we looked around, smiled, stared people in the eye, but we did not speak with them. We attended all the most important arts events, like documenta or the Venice Biennale.
Only in 1995 did we start to comment on our activities. It then became a serious declaration to create a work of art, a GESAMTKUNSTWERK,being in a lifelong project, since 1991.
A: Not commenting on our activities was a very risky move, because it allowed all sorts of interpretations to evolve around us. We wanted to see how long an artist could put forward her concept in utter silence. After all, the general conviction is that every work of contemporary art requires commentary. In the first phase of our art project we simply wanted to show ourselves as EVA & ADELE and leave space for free interpretation. It sometimes happened, however, that we were terrified by what people thought of us.
E: The attacks came out mainly at the beginning. We do still experience comical and even frightening situations, however. In 1999 in Weimar, a stone’s throw from the former concentration camp in Buchenwald, we were approached by an old German who, judging by his age, must have witnessed the war. We were sitting in a café. He spotted us from outside and came in. He gave us a murderous stare and gestured toward us like he was slipping a noose around a neck.
A: Our experience of aggressive reactions has taught us how to behave in certain situations. We have created our own guidelines to ensure safety. We never take public transit in the big metropolises at night, we are always on guard, observing what is happening all around. If we are afraid or in doubt, we avoid confrontation, for example by crossing to the other side of the street.
E: Through art we are able to gain more for tolerance than through confronting people on the street. This is how we struggle for freedom. Apart from gender, this is one of the most important concepts in our art project. In both cases it means just a small departure from the accepted “norms,” but that makes it no less difficult to persuade others.
The sanctity of art and the new avant-garde
A: The art is always more intelligent than the person who makes it.
E: For me art will always be sacred, the most important thing in life. There is no joking with art.
A: For us Art is as important as God is for others. Our family is an “art family,” everyone we work with. The people who transmit knowledge about art, the artists and the people who work for art and fight for it.
E: I have always believed in God, and that the artist is an extension of the hand of God. I have believed that the artist completes the work of God.
E: We felt like the avant-garde, and so in spite of the failures, mockery, and insults we received, especially at the beginning, we decided to take up its challenges. We were in no hurry with our project. Considering the political changes in 1989, and being conscious of the numerous trends and movements in 20th-century art, we prepared our concept for the new millenium. The sense of being the avant-garde for the 21st century gave us the strength to work. We were consistent in our activities and proud of them, much as the other avant-garde artists before us.
EVA & ADELE as a civil partnership
A: We have yet to bring up the legal aspect which eventually became part of our work. We have preferred art to be the main point of reference. This does show, however, how life and art create a very coherent whole in our activities.
In 1999 we formed a civil contract (Gesellschaftervertrag). In the eyes of the German law we then became a two-person civil partnership (Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts ). The reason behind this was quite prosaic we wanted to register our camper as EVA & ADELE, as this was the vehicle we used to travel all through Europe in the first years of our art project.
We included a clause in our contract which said that if one of us decides to back out of the EVA & ADELE duo, then all the works and goods will become the other’s property. This radical clause was added because both of us have put in enormous effort and devoted all of our lives to this project.
E: Because our work is radical, we though it should have an equally radical legal form, with no emergency exits left open.
EVA as a woman
E: People know very little about transsexualism, regardless of whether they are Germans, Poles, or Austrians. This is why we have done so much over the past twenty years to regulate legally the situation of transsexuals.
A: At the beginning we thought that we didn’t have to aim for such a huge social change. Because, after all, spiritually, and also visually, we had already accomplished it In Art/Life. Then it turned out to be necessary, if only for trips abroad. We keep coming up against the same problems of categorization, as a man or a woman, such as when we have to show our passports.
E: This became particularly troublesome after 11 September 2001, when the borders and airports increased their security measures. During our trips to the United States, for example, the border guards gathered around us to discuss if we could enter the country or not.
A: I participated in the transsexual process with Eva in 2009. The legal procedure was very complex. To be recognized as a woman, Eva had to acquire two expert opinions, and then a judge’s decision to crown the process. A transsexual CV had to be written out, taking into account various periods in her life, beginning with early childhood. Eva also had to speak of this in great detail. The experts psychotherapists and psychologists by profession turned out to be very good people, who asked her about her life in a delicate and considerate way and in a friendly atmosphere.
E: From the outset we also treated this process as a work of art. The artistic dimension made the conversations with the experts extremely difficult for me. I didn’t know what their decision would be until the last minute. The case was unprecedented, after all. If we had received a negative decision, however, we did not intend to abandon our artistic concept.
A: This laborious, but very important process happily ended a success from the change in citizenship, to Eva’s recognition as a woman and the name change, which also happened in 2009, crowning all our efforts.
Unlike the Austrians, whom the Human Rights Commission in Brussels is pressuring to change their laws on transsexuals, the Germans are very progressive. Two regulations on transsexual rights have been introduced in our country. The first is Eva’s case, the “minor solution” there is no need to have a sex-change operation to be regarded as a member of the opposite sex. This is done on the basis of two expert opinions, and then a judge’s decision. A breakthrough was in the introduction of a second clause in 2011 stating that the gender inscription in the birth registry could also be changed without a sex-change operation.
E: Then another gate opened wide for us. We had always wanted a homosexual marriage. A new civil regulation and the earlier court decision allowed us to make this dream come true.
A: After the wedding I changed my surname to Eva’s. I wanted us to share the same name,because this name is already an invention.
E: “Len” is in fact our artist’s surname. It came from combining the first letters of my two previous first and last names.
Crossing the gender boundaries
A: Our work characteristically involves opposing the typical transsexual behavior of attempting to copy the gender one desires to adopt, chiefly through external appearance. Society imposes this behavior. This goes as well for Poland, where as in the majority of countries a change in gender is recognized on the basis of a surgical operation and hormone treatment.
From the beginning we knew that we were not interested in copying typical, ordinary women. I do not believe, for example, that a transsexual man can make himself one-hundred-percent resemble a woman.
We decided to consciously give our creation an utterly new form, creating a never-before-seen image of gender. This would seem, at present, to be transsexuals’ greatest challenge.
E: To our mind, gender is principally a matter of how you feel inside. We feel that the basic right of every person should be the opportunity to define his/her gender, if s/he doesn’t feel right in the “social” one given to him/her by nature and nurture.
Making and refining our own definition is a kind of justification of our work. We decided to adhere to neither the male nor female social image. We are someone new this means two shaved heads, an ultra-feminine style, high heels, and women’s handbags.
A: At the beginning of our work, we left the question of gender open. To this day there are many people who do not consider this issue in the context of our work. They look at us as they would at a picture with two smiling faces. We very consciously decided not to reduce our art project to this one aspect. We don’t want to say, for example, that this is a transsexual work of art, and create a special category for it. We want the concept to serve as aesthetic subversion, so that others treat us naturally, as part of the human community. This is what happens when parents hand us their children to hold. It is vital to us that the subject of gender transgression find its place in discussions, in public life, and the media that it cease to cause a stir.
E: There have, after all, been other artists who have used transsexual motifs. One was a woman living in Paris in the 1920s Claude Cahun, a French writer who was recently rediscovered through our work. She photographed the phenomenon of transsexuality, using herself as the main figure in the pictures. Sometimes she presented herself as a boyish-looking woman, other times as a vamp.
The creator of the concept of transsexuality and the person who first gave the subject academic attention was Magnus Hirschfeld, a doctor residing in Berlin’s Tiergarten district before the war. Ten years earlier, he had run a sanatorium and center where transsexuality had been treated until the Nazis came to power, when he was forced to go abroad. Not long thereafter he died in Southern France. The Nazis destroyed all of his scientific research. Some of his writings were, however, spared. They stand as proof that in Berlin in the golden1920s gender could be a Play. Many transvestites lived there at the time, and this did not even change when the Nazis took over Berlin. Then at one point the “deviants” were carted off to the concentration camps, where they were murdered.
Performance in the Public public space
A: The Metropolis exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in 1991 was, in our opinion, the biggest artistic event following Germany’s reunification, which is why our first performance took place there. It is also a symbolic date when we, as two people with different artistic education, different views on art, and different ways of being, decided to officially declare ourselves a single artist in two bodies.
A: What differentiates our performance from others is the fact that we do it all the time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is crucial that it goes non-stop, with no clearly defined beginning or end. When we walk down the street, most often no one recognizes us or knows what we do, where we’ve had exhibitions, and how many. In public we are at point zero.
In recent years we have traveled less than we once did, when we took no part in exhibitions, and we only did performance. Art events were the stage where we did our performance subversively so, because we weren’t invited. We simply wanted to show our work. We got noticed by the most important world media, including The New York Times, for Example,who used our photograph for their main article on the Venice Biennale 2011, even though we were not officially taking part.
E: The media spreads our images. They create our work alongside us, without even realizing it. The media preserves our performance much as works of art are preserved in museums. The moment we become recognizable it is easier for people who know us to accept our presence in the public space.
A: One remarkable performance was also a manifesto of sorts: Wedding Metropolis. We appeared as brides, to have a real wedding twenty years on. A further manifesto was WINGS-Performance. The first WINGS I took place during documenta 9 in 1992 and at the Venice Biennale in 1993. WINGS II happened during the following Venice Biennale in 1995. WINGS III, in turn, was for documenta 10 and the Venice Biennale in 1997. The wings the main element of the costumes, were a clear symbol of freedom, and consequently, ofart and transcending its borders.
E: The performance we do every day, regardless of where we are going, is the most important thing for us, however. Daily life is the space where art can achieve the most in our times.
E: We have consciously entrusted the documentation of our presence in public to viewers. This is one reason why we describe the photos and films they make as CUM (Latin for ‘with’).
We see the photographer as someone who takes his/her own self-portrait as s/he takes our picture. Photographs also reveal a person’s world view and approach to us.
A: Many photograph us in a way that reflects their own way of thinking and being. They often project their own problems or complexes onto us and “photograph their mirror images.” It happens, for instance, that they wait for a moment when we are deep in thought or behaving in a certain way and then snap a picture. If they don’t accept our transsexuality, and only the heterosexual man/woman model, then this is generally visible in their photograph. Eva is in the shadows, and I am standing in the light. Or Eva is standing there self-confident, and I have half-closed, drowsy eyes, as if full of humility and trust,
in the Way of classical,conservative heterosexual Portraits.
EVA & ADELE
A: We are always conceived as “a single person.” Calling or writing e-mails, we present ourselves as EVA & ADELE, and the same concerns our correspondence. People find it incredible. When I speak with someone, I use “we” not “I.”
E: We always take each other into account. Nonetheless, we differ in many respects, both in terms of art and character.
A: In spite of our having the same hairstyles and costumes, you can easily perceive two separate personalities in your first conversation with us. When I communicate with people, for example, I cope with my shyness better than Eva. When she has already met someone, however, she becomes more open and talkative. That is why I always initiate the discussions. When the conversation is already established, Eva joins in. She treats communication very seriously.
Once a Friend said:” It is hard to get Eva to speak,but it is much harder to stop Eva.
We also emphasize our individuality and unity through our external appearance. Before appearing in public we devote three hours to dressing and getting made up. Each of us has invented a visage that match her character, which matches how each of us perceives herself and how she feels. This is an individual business for each of us. We do use the same lipstick and nail polish, but only because we share the same favorite color: real red.
E: Since 1995 we have also appeared in the same costumes, which we have specially designed and sewn. The color pink plays a major role in our clothing, as it symbolizes difference. It also alludes to the pink triangle homosexuals were forced to wear at concentration camps.
The media often describes our costumes as kitschy, but it seems that they only want to stress the fact that our clothes are far removed from everyday garb. It also coincides with their perception of transsexuality as odd, exaggerated, or garish. These are the shopworn formulae they use to define what makes us different.
FUTURING in the TIME MACHINE
E: We are coming out of the Future and traveled with a TIME MACHINE (ZEITMASCHINE), which is why our bios never include information about our art education. By eliminating and protecting this data, we consciously put ourselves to the test, making it difficult to pigeon-hole our work. This approach is a consequence of our radical activities. It is equally important to exist in the art world and on the street.
We are reluctant to explain what FUTURING means. We prefer everyone to interpret our neologism for him/herself. Primarily it means being active creating the future.
A: We believe that our performance in public space allows us to stare into the future, and affects the future through redefining gender. What we are doing today will one day be fully understood and accepted.