When it comes to asking the big questions, Lisette Ros goes that extra step further to get the answers she is looking for. Through her work as a conceptual artist, Ros uses her body as a medium through which to explore identity and other aspects elemental to our existence. Acting herself as both artist and artwork, she produces projects consisting of both still images and live performances of herself in order to carry out a variety of experimentations, using her physicality to do so.
From amplifying the sounds of her internal organs to exploring the ritual of getting dressed each day, Ros uncovers the extraordinary in the mundane, the expected. In this interview, she provides a fascinating insight into the fluidity of her identity, the importance of connecting with performance spaces, and why our bodies are, at the end of the day, the great loves of our lives.
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My Self, the First Breath (2021) - Photo: Marieke Gras
Could you start by introducing yourself and your work to our readers?
Sure! My name is Lisette Ros and I am from Amsterdam (Netherlands). I launched my first official performance work in 2013, titled Reframing Conventions.
I, in the midst of it all? I currently identify as a humanimal, a hybrid form of existence, morphing between the fragmented categories of species. And I can currently identify myself as a Dutch womxn with Indonesian roots that is queer and fluid. For me those are important pillars in my deconstruction of identification, the so-called different ‘I’s’, because they bring me closer to defining feelings, emotions and why I express myself the way I do.
My performances always carry recognisable elements; I analyse routines, banal actions and question conventions, daily rhythms, and self-evidence. I illustrate the consequences of the socio-cultural praxis that affect us, through performance, knowing that this cannot exist apart from me. My body is the medium and, therefore, the pivotal place of action, the battlefield where these types of questions are asked. My performances are marked by reiterations of gestures and acts, increasing the feelings of discomfort in myself while unmasking societal mechanisms. My body is simultaneously a symbol, tool, arena, and flesh in a crusade toward society. However, I find it important to mention that I am not there for the entertainment of an audience, it’s not about showing an act or playing a character.
For example, my works My Self, the (First) Breath (2021), …Elk rondje is anders during Quarantine (2015 relaunch 2020) and I Bruise Like A Peach (2022/2023) were developed in dialogue with a broad tradition of critique of aesthetic and physical autonomy. These works are also a part of my ongoing research about the self, the (de)construction of identity, being a herd animal as well as an individual, and various forms of humanism.
I read that confrontations with yourself and constant self-reflexivity are always the starting points for your creative concepts. Do you ever find yourself changed by the piece that comes out of your constant self-evaluation?
That’s right, originally my art stems from my (daily) research into my own feelings, discomfort, and vulnerabilities. I’ve always had to mute and shut this down for certain reasons in the past. A very therapeutic catalyst, so to speak, that still forms a red thread. For this and because of this, having confrontations and a constant reflection have become an important core from which I always try to work.
I believe that I am always a changed person, either it be in the smallest manner, in ground-breaking experiences or transformation; negative or positive... Opening-up for self- change, adjustment or transitional phases is a necessity for this, be it not the easiest way.
In my practice, every time I do a live performance the performance is different. Every moment, my energy, my (inner) body, emotions, feelings, vulnerabilities, and the space are diverse and fluid. The bodily actions that come out of my concept and research thus far are translated into different utterances of performance art, because the message and the concept are leading.
Following on from this, in much of your art, you yourself are a crucial part of the performance. Could you talk a bit about what it’s like to be both artist and muse?
(Laughs). That is way too flattering! Let’s say the starting point usually comes from within, but this is fed by things I observe, sense and analyse around me: what is happening now. Therefore, my figurative ‘studio’ is mostly situated on the streets, following-up on that source of inspiration that comes from within. Wherever I am, connecting dots can only occur once I physically step into the field, the outside world, as it is of great importance that my research is also about (reflecting to) urgencies of this moment, and envisioning a future. Hence, timing is extremely important.
That is why it is almost impossible for me to separate these ‘I’s’ and the processes that are connected. I’m basically just trying to ‘be’ in as many facets as possible, practicing in never losing the curious child in me; living life, asking questions, wondering, and wandering around. Philosophizing, socializing, experimenting…also being part of the society.
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IBLAP (2022/2023) in collab with Sam Janssen (Light installation) - Still photo: Davids Danoss
You have said that “becoming aware of one’s body and existence is a fundamental pillar” of your work. I am particularly interested in your wonderful ongoing series My Self through which you explore the fact that our sense of ourselves is created by the perspectives of other people. Do you think knowing and having control over oneself so completely is ever possible?
No. It is about the perspectives of other people, how we come to know how we are perceived. Actually, it’s not just about being so completely in control of yourself. I believe it’s about the relief and the leeway it can provide to understand exactly – but especially to feel exactly – where things are coming from today, how I have been and am conditioned and identified. Liberation lies therein.
You describe your own identity as fluid. How does this fluidity affect how you perceive and understand your own identity, as it is ever changing?
How I see it now, is that in process of time there will exist certain pillars that are more fixed, not static, but which are developed throughout the years of growing up. Some of them are partly based on facts, like when I am born on planet Earth, where I am born on planet Earth, the body I come out of, who my sister is etcetera. But, for example, my blood, where it comes from, where it has been, how it runs and what it all contains of, is (still) unclear to me.
Everything around those pillars for me is fluid and in constant motion; the one blob moves and changes shape quicker than the other, but there is always motion, being part of nature.
I could try to keep up with these fluidities with my ways of expressing, arts, and appearance as parts of my outer world in order to visualise my thoughts, feelings and understandings. However, I experience that there are more limitations to this. That is also a reason why I tend to focus on the inner world more.
You have also talked before about the way you use your body as a tool in order to do research. How would you best describe your relation to your body? Do you see it as a unique and crucial part of who you are or, perhaps, something more external to your Self?
I think I already said some things concerning my body and how I see it at this moment. I also think that we don’t know shit about our body, here in the West. With some exceptions aside of course. I do see it as a unique and crucial part of who I am, but also still have the feeling we haven’t met ‘each other’ entirely yet. My body is and knows ‘me’ way better than I know ‘me.’ It is a relationship where I’m putting more love, care, effort, respect, and responsibility in. Logically, as I see it as the love of my life.
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IBLAP (2022/2023) in collab with Sam Janssen (Light installation) - Still photo: Davids Danoss
Your durational performances are very physical in terms of what they demand from your body and the lengths of the performances which can range from tens of minutes to several hours. How do you prepare for these performances and what goes through your mind when they are taking place?
True, although I feel I’m only just at the beginning. Simply put, the performative aspect of my work is that I always do research by using my body as a tool and source. At a certain point I expose my insights and the associated bodily actions and make them public. For example, on commission, during an exhibition and guerrilla, in the form of live performances, video works, audio pieces, photos, sculptural objects and other media.
The space where I will do a live performance is very important. I need to get a sense of the energy there, the materials used, the inter-architecture, and find a connection between the location and, most importantly, the concept itself. Therefore, I always need to bond with a place, location, or space in advance, although I never rehearse or choreograph a performance piece.
I devise a system of conditions for the work and the live performance. I must adhere to these conditions as an artist at all times.
Physically and in terms of nutrition I have certain rituals that I follow, clock- and psychological time based according to the work I will perform, as a very fundamental part of my preparation.
What goes through my mind when the performance is taking place? That depends on the piece of course, and I now literally have no idea, which I’m quite happy about, (laughs).
I also loved your recent project I Bruise Like A Peach! It consists of a live performance, in which you take part in a cupping session on your own body, an interactive light installation in collaboration with Sam Janssen, and a photo gallery of the subsequent 10-day healing process. What was the process of this longer project like compared to the processes of pieces that take less than a day to perform?
Thank you, we are also very happy to start the year of 2023 with the official launch of I Bruise Like A Peach, in its full form! This collaborative piece started somewhere in late 2020 and is based on a concept I was already working on since 2019.
It often happens that I need to park a concept because the momentum isn’t there yet; the timing isn’t right, I don’t feel it entirely from my guts, and therefore it is sometimes best to let a concept smolder for a while, hoping it will find its own way one day.
I can happily say that I Bruise Like A Peach found its path: soggy with pits and unexpected obstacles, (laughs). I noticed Sam Janssen his light installation work in 2020 and I was sensing something interesting could happen for the concept and its visualisation. We both figured we’d like another challenge (especially in those Covid years), and that’s when the collaboration started. Now, well over two years later, Covid is under control, the work is completely handmade, launched, open for business, and ready to shine globally! Please do not hesitate on approaching us.
As an important side note, live performance is a part of the specific artwork. And every work takes time to get ready for exposure. My work My Self, the (First) Breath (2021) also took well over two years to create. The research process started in smoggy Beijing in 2019, continued in the Covid infected Netherlands in 2020 and reached its final fulfillment in crisp, remote Iceland in 2021. An example just to point out that the research process for each work has its own timing and pathway. Also a good reason why I’m always working on several pieces at the same time.
In terms of collaborative projects, how does the creative process differ from projects which you conceptualize more singularly?
It differs quite a lot. Also depending on the type of collaboration of course. I am always critical and in terms of my own art I am very strict as well.
Generally, I do have the lead in the conceptualization, or I approach someone when I already developed the fundament of the concept. I mean, obviously it takes a lot of different energy, attention, and communication, but to try to structure this and sometimes to let go of control and planning can help make the process more organic. I must admit that it is sometimes also a connection that occurred in the heat of the moment, such as the beautiful analogues taken by Laura in the mountains accompanying this interview.
Also, many collaborations happen to be a one-time-thing, or to be put aside entirely. However, it fits with my experimental way of working, and the love I have for making new connections and planting seeds. No harm, no foul!
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My Self, the First Breath (2021) - Photo: Marieke Gras
You also teach as a performative lecturer and run creative workshops and programs for both adults and young people. What made you want to teach as well as producing your own art?
Indeed, in these eight years I am working in the field of education, it definitely grew on me and became one of my passions. It makes a difference that I develop my own creative programs and for me it has become a way to translate certain aspects of my vision and mission in a better understood, applied format. Through this, I am actually in the position to influence the future, albeit a tiny bit, what has become very precious to me and comes from the same core as my art.
Besides, I discovered that my position as a guest educator is just as important for my own research – into routine behavior, conventions, prejudices and banal actions – as I am for them; for the students, tutors and the educational body. During my classes, I also use my body and appearance as a tool to do research. What better place to do this than with a group of students?
What are the most valuable lessons that you think you would want to make sure anyone reading took away from your teaching?
I would like to keep this open for interpretation.
Finally, what else are you working on for us to look forward to?
Enough, but never too much, (laughs)! I can’t tell you all about it just yet, but one of my upcoming highlights is residing in Mexico for a few months to start researching and working on a new piece, titled Regenerative Body. Another highlight I am in the middle of preparing now and will be working on later this year is the sixth part of the My Self series, in Indonesia, titled My Self, the (Unfamiliar) Roots. More information about the open studio moments and the exhibitions will follow. In between I will exhibit some of my existing live performances, in the Netherlands, Madrid and Barcelona but dates aren’t definitive yet.
If you want to stay notified on updates, live performances, and other news, please fill in your contact details on my website to receive this by email.
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