7 Jul 2020

Venice International Performance Art Week: Pierce Starre's Reflections

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Photo: Pierce Starre performing as part of Dissenting Bodies, photo by Lorenza Cini

Back in January DaDaFest supported live artist, Pierce Starre to attend Venice International Performance Art Week as part of Co-Creation Live Factory. We caught up with them to hear about their experience.

‘We’re not here to stay the same’ was a line uttered by the residency-facilitators, VestAndPage, which stuck with Pierce Starre from their time at Venice International Performance Art Week - and as Starre took us through the two weeks they spent there, it certainly sounded like a transformative experience.

For an artist primarily known for intimate and personal solo performances, engaging in a collaborative residency was a departure from their usual practice and methodologies. 60 artists from 28 different countries had been selected to take part, and as Starre described it:

“You discover new things, not just about yourself but about humanity. All these different people bring different experiences from all over the world; different cultural and political experiences of oppression, marginalisation and the impacts of hierarchies of power. - it's a profound awakening.”

Week 1:

The initial stages of Co-Creation Live Factory  involved a series of movement and awareness exercises, as participants familiarised themselves with the space and each other. One of the tasks here was to learn to communicate using the subtlest of gestures, which presented an interesting challenge for Starre. As the Child of Deaf Adults, they realised how much their performance style is influenced by having British Sign Language as a first language. Their instinct is to use their whole body and face to express themselves, placing them at odds with the more common trend in live art for the face to remain motionless.

In a group with other artists they honed in on communicating through just the eyes, through touch or using breath alone. They noticed here how small movements have the capacity to be profoundly expressive. Simply watching someone breathe they were able to pick up emotions so strong that it was like “seeing a lid crashing up and down on a bubbling pot”.

Another moment of realisation for Starre came when, in a session with La Pocha Nostra, they were asked to stage their own funeral. The spirit of trust, consent and collaboration the group had developed came into play here, as Starre found themselves revisiting deeply personal memories with their fellow artists. Starre happened to have with them the eulogy they’d read at their grandfather’s funeral, 12 years ago, at a time when they struggled to reconcile conflicted feelings surrounding performance and began to pursue roles behind the camera instead. By incorporating it now, Starre felt a powerful sense of closure:

“My grandfather was a really important person in my life. He was a tremendous source of support and inspiration. He really wanted me to pursue acting, the theatre and performance, and was quite saddened that I decided to embark on another path. When reading a eulogy at his funeral I felt an enormous sadness to not be doing what my grandfather had wanted for me. But 12 years on, here I was in Venice reading his eulogy again but as a Performance Artist. It felt like I’d come full circle”.

The death of the former self and the rebirth of a new self was a theme that recurred across the participating artists’ ‘funerals’ and as a whole these sessions brought home how sharing and improvising with others could help Starre better understand themselves and their practice.

Week 2: Group and solo sharings

(content note: the following section includes imagery of hypodermic needles in use and descriptions of ableism)

Co-Creation Live Factory culminated in a collaborative public sharing. In the main space of the historic Palazzo Mora, beneath its beautiful chandeliers, the artists entered at different times, and whether through voice, movement or both, enacted a collective response to personal experiences of dissent. Having little control or knowledge about how the happening would unfold, Starre was initially out of their comfort zone, and yet came away from the experience wanting to challenge that vulnerability further.

As well as taking part in the collaborative performance, Starre had the opportunity to share their solo-piece entitled ‘Chaos’. Here, they blended personal, political and environmental concerns through a durational piece that draws parallels between Venice and Merseyside’s Crosby Beach; Starre sees both as spaces that are susceptible to irreparable change due to global warming, whilst also being vulnerable to political decision making processes.

Over the course of a five-hour performance action up and down the stairwell of Palazzo Mora, Starre ground down two bricks they had brought with them from Crosby Beach. Originally deposited in Crosby to protect the eroding coastline, the rubble from which Starre selected the bricks is said to have come from the bombing of Liverpool in WWII – and this tension between vulnerability and protection also had personal significance for Starre as an intermediary between Deaf parents and a society built for hearing people. Where the coastline separates land from sea, Starre has similarly functioned as a liminal space between the two worlds, witnessing the chaos faced by Deaf loved ones when the two collide. Throughout the piece Starre kept their lips sealed with hypodermic needles as a nod to the latest example of such discrimination - their mother had recently been hospitalised and given no interpreter, which led to her being misdiagnosed, neglected and unable to convey her distress to medical staff.

Starre’s use of needles specifically had been prompted by a conversation with Renzo de Pablo, another participating performance artist who had previously incorporated them in their practice. “Needles help us sit with pain which we might otherwise brush off” was Renzo de Pablo’s view, which resonated with Starre’s ideas for their piece. The artist then went on to gift Starre with the needles they ultimately used in ‘Chaos’ – a very fitting illustration of Co-Creation Live Factory’s collaborative principles in action.

Image: Pierce Starre performing 'Chaos', photo by Lorenza Cini

Coming away from the experience, Starre felt they had learned a lot about themselves as an artist, as well as new techniques to employ going forward. While, as with many artists at the moment, Starre has had to put plans for performances on hold, they aren’t ruling out the potential for restaging and reperforming ‘Chaos’ in the UK – maybe even on Crosby beach itself!

Find out more about Pierce Starre on their website and previous blog for DaDaFest. Starre would like to thank DaDaFest for all our support (and we’d like to thank them back for sharing their fascinating Venice experience with us!). You can also become a DaDaFest-supported artist yourself by applying to our current Artist Call Out, offering commissions of up to £2,500 to artists creating work around the idea of 'Translations': https://www.dadafest.co.uk/artist-call-out/ 


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