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'It felt a bit like the first time sex: way too direct, rushed, overactive and largely based on insecurity': Ivo Dimchev in battle with Franz West's wearable art

'What the fuck should I do with this?" was the first thought of choreographer and performance artist  Ivo Dimchev (1976) to the artworks of Austrian artist Franz West. After Dimchev's solo performance Some Faves (2010) in Vienna, West, an acclaimed maker of bizarre sculptures and objects, sought contact with the choreographer. He asked him to make an improvised video based on his 'adaptives': a kind of portable touch artworks.


In his disruptive solo performance I-on Bulgarian choreographer and performer Ivo Dimchev engages in an absurdist battle with Franz West's wearable artworks. Dimchev became fascinated:

"I was strongly attracted to the absurdity of West's art objects: they are totally useless, at the same time the intention is for you as a spectator to touch and pick them up. They challenge you to do something with them. But what? I had no idea, but I like to make decisions based on my own resistance and contrariness. So I decided to participate."

Dimchev - lauded as a choreographer, performer and visual artist, living and working in Belgium - locked himself in with West's portable sculptures and filmed his own improvisations. West was enthusiastic about this and used the video footage in his exhibition, Dimchev himself was less enthusiastic about it.

"It was still too much of a loose improvisation, searching for the right form of physical contact with the objects. Too unfocused. It felt a bit like the first time sex: far too direct, rushed, overactive and largely based on insecurity."

He got the chance to retaliate. A few months later, the two met again. This time in Rome, when Dimchev completed his solo Lili Handel played. At West's request, Dimchev hosted the opening of his exhibition in Gagosian Gallery with a more serious, more elaborate performance: a tight 15-minute choreography based on two of West's adaptives. Dimchev later elaborated on that idea on a larger scale in his solo performance I-on, now featured on Springdance. Three years since Paris (2009), his first choreography at the festival.

I-on is an absurdist collage of physical interactions between the concrete, human body and a number of amorphous art objects. Alternately edgy, alienating, comical, disturbing and frighteningly calm. But always intense.

"This is how I have been working for years. Twelve years ago I showed my video art in a gallery in Sofia, and the curator almost came to apologise. He thought I thought work by the other young artists was just a boring lot, because my performance art was much more extreme in comparison, wasn't it? That was really a surprise. They thought I was both extreme and a performance artist. Whereas I see myself more as a choreographer and dancer, who only seeks extremes when the composition demands it. Maybe sometimes I seem like a hysterical lunatic who needs medical help, but that intensity is a very conscious choice."

West's artworks need a stage, Dimchev argues. That is where they really come into their own. In a gallery, the relationship between the audience and the objects is too one-dimensional and limiting. Placing the artworks on a stage and interacting with them as performers, in front of an audience, creates countless opportunities for interaction, interpretation and context.

West advised Dimchev that the objects in I-on approach as abstractly as possible. A good tip, but easier said than done, Dimchev explains:

"The adaptives are purely abstract, but the human body is not. As soon as the two merge, there is always the risk that the objects suddenly take on too much of a clear function. That's not what I'm about. I-on is precisely about longing for the inexpressible - that which cannot be named. With my body, the objects, the soundscape and the dynamics and intensity of the movements, I am constantly trying to balance on the border between sense and nonsense."

I-On can be seen at Stadsschouwburg Utrecht on 19 and 20 April. 

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Daniel Bertina

/// Freelance cultural journalist, critic, writer and dramatist. Omnivore with a love of art, culture & media in all unfathomable gradations between obscure underground and wildly commercial mainstream. Also works for Het Parool and VPRO. And trains Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.View Author posts

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