Wojciech Kosma is a composer who writes for the body, specifically the body of the performer. In his work, the performance is a private act. When I observe his pieces, I feel very close to myself.
I had some questions I wanted to ask about his work, and he was gracious enough to oblige. The following conversation took place over email from March to November of this year.
For more information, wojciechkosma.com.
1. Everyone Has a Heartbeat, a Sexuality, a Thought, Etc., so Everyone Can Perform It
This is That: There is an element of active participation in your work, in that your scores are made accessible and free to anyone who cares to perform them. This is a standard framework for a composer, but not so much for an artist, or performance artist. In a sense, you allow your work to be made through participants, as opposed to experienced by an audience. Can you talk a little about how you came to this method, and what is exciting about this way of exhibiting your work?
Wojciech Kosma: What's the most exciting is that I don't have to do any work. I write a score without thinking about how or if it can be performed. This way the score can be anything.
All my work is easy to perform, it doesn't call for any skills. Everyone has a heartbeat, a sexuality, a thought, etc., so everyone can perform it. I want it to be easy to perform and difficult to observe, so the best way to observe it is to perform. “To perform” doesn't need to mean doing it publicly, a “private” performance—when one performs for oneself—is perfectly valid.
In giving the score to be performed there is also a surprise. My scores are relative and speculative and when unfolded can present outcomes I haven't thought of. The simpler the score the bigger the surprise. Repetition is also important, every new performer makes the score 'fuller' and a new work is created each time from what appears to be a static score. This way the piece never ends.
TisT: Many of your scores involve the body in some way: be it a heartbeat or blink rate, or more performance-based pieces like Sum or Blowjob. Can you talk about this relationship, between the body and a performance piece? I find it interesting that you tie rhythm to a bodily rhythm in some work, or that the actual score is performed through a bodily function (as opposed to an instrument).
WK: The body is (by far!) my favorite instrument, but also the only one I can really write for. Because of the infinity of what the body understands I can notate everything relatively. I can say, e.g. "play in the tempo of your heartbeat"—without knowing what the tempo is I know it's the right tempo for whoever plays it. More complex values or functions can also be used, e.g. "do something painful" or "a sad melody." Even if “imaginary” for me, these values are real and expressible, so I can construct valid statements and perform operations (e.g. "play twice faster than your heartbeat"). I don't need to know what they are for specific people.
I said already how the body can become the performer-observer. The body plays and listens to what it plays, but it can also do it internally, i.e. without a physical act of playing and a physical act of listening, in other words: in thought. All this makes it really easy to write for the body, there isn't anything that can't be scored and performed that way. My new work is very much about that, but I think you can see it developing in the older work, too.
TisT: In most of your pieces, silence plays an integral part. There is a lot of space or slowness or waiting or patience called for by certain scores. Can you talk about what draws you to these kinds of spaces?
WK: I do only what I think is necessary and it turns out that very little is necessary.
TisT: You mention that you want your work to be "easy to perform and difficult to observe." Why are you interested in making your work difficult to observe?
WK: So nobody will bother observing, and performing will become the default position for experiencing my work. I want everyone to become my performer.
TisT: You make an interesting note when you say that, in your work being difficult to observe, it then becomes easiest to observe through performing. I'd like to hear your thoughts about the nature of performance in these terms—and how you see the role of audience and performer. Is there a kind of tension or awkwardness you see as inherent in either, and how does this feed into your work?
WK: As I said, I'd rather not see a difference between the audience and the performer. Ideally I would want to communicate with whoever decides to experience my work directly, without any intermediate instruments or performers (in the traditional sense of the word). That said sometimes a performance is a good way to communicate, so I'm not ceasing to make public performances, where there is a separation between the audience and the performer.
TisT: I love this idea that the body can play and listen to what it plays in thought, internally. I see this connected to your reply that "very little is necessary." This idea removes much of what makes up a typical score: the performance, the sonic, etc. What I find interesting about your pieces is that they are (as we mentioned earlier) invitations to try something out, a starting point that anyone can attempt—much like an idea or a thought. You mention too that the performers do it because they get something more out of it. It's more an experience, a bodily one, then a passive look at a work. This seems to me to be an approach to experiencing art in general, a shift from observation and interaction to a kind of sensorial and conceptual participation. Can you talk about this?
WK: It becomes more significant when produced by your own body. It's more yours or maybe even entirely yours, it's not my work anymore. The more relative the work is to the body the smaller the distance between you and the work. I'm not sure if one can go as far as to define this as "an approach to experiencing art in general."
2. I Read and I Swim
TisT: I'd like to know from where and what you draw your inspiration, particularly all the "non-art" types of things. What books do you like to read, and what movies do you like to watch? Do you like to garden or cook?
WK: I mostly read science because of my PhD [in music composition]. People are also good inspiration. And porn, of course.
TisT: How do you spend the day?
WK: I read and I swim.
TisT: Something tells me you're not being completely serious about the porn.
WK: I am. It's hard to find an art form, the aesthetics of which, is so raw and honest, which is inspiring.
TisT: It's funny, what I meant to say was: "Something tells me you are being completely serious about the porn."* You mention the aesthetics particularly being raw and honest, and I can relate to that. Often I feel that much of art tries to do something by not actually doing it; it prefers to obscure, etc., etc., as opposed to letting the idea or concept be naked, so to speak, or letting the aesthetic be the point. For me, so much of art is too serious, too heavy-handed. The thing about porn, at the very least, is it has a very blatant goal. Not much pretense in what it's trying to accomplish. This makes me think of Lawrence Weiner's new film "Water in Milk Exists," which I think is both great porn and art.
WK: I had a funny experience with "Water in Milk... "—I first watched it on my own and liked it. Then on another occasion I showed it to some friends. I sat next to a person who I knew is very doubtful about contemporary art in general and we often have quite fundamental discussions about it. I know he knows nothing about Weiner, so for him it was just watching sequences of people having sex, reciting poetry, etc. I think that on top of the standard difficulty he has with conceptual art he found it visually abusive and it was too much. I could feel how much he was suffering and I was suffering because I chose to show it and so make him suffer. I couldn't justify it for him. It's not a very populist work.
TisT: Is there an art work, or an artist, that inspires you, in a similar way to the porn aesthetic, because its aesthetic is raw and honest?
WK: Nothing comes to my mind right now. It's kind of rare.
* Oh, email.