Theo Pelmus is a performance artist who has received several awards, including an emerging artist grant and integrated arts grant from the Ontario Arts Council (2006; 2009), the Dennis Tourbin Fund for emerging artist in performance art (2007) and an emerging artist grant from the City of Ottawa (2009). He has exhibited nationally and internationally, including shows in Copenhagen and the Bucharest Biennial. Theo has a BFA and MFA from the University of Fine Arts in Bucharest and is currently pursuing a second MFA at the University of Ottawa. He is an active participant in the Ottawa arts community, most notably as a programming member of Available Light Screening Collective. He is represented by La Petite Mort Gallery in Ottawa.
Performing Pinocchio: A Baroque to Rococo Crossover
My process of work can be described as a continuous construction and deconstruction of identity. In my performances I create environments that fuse in unusual ways elements from sculpture, video, theatre, and music. In these environments I speak about fluidity and circulation of liquids, blood and transformation of elements from a solid state into a liquid state. Therefore in my performances I integrate sculptural elements that are made from edible materials such as ice cream, sugar or chocolate.
Driven by the idea of reinventing body anatomy I am interested in using elements that either come from the live spectre (such as butterflies) or elements that imitate life (such as red liquid circulating through tubes imitating blood flow, fluids and fresh meat that smell as caramel or tiramisu syrup). Visceral and glamour are defining a baroque to rococo crossover performative space. The video, sound and sculptural elements that I incorporate in my performances create an environment that is completed in a sensorial way by the public. Smelling and seeing are the two actions that I pull out from the viewer in a visceral way. I try to engage my public by throwing it in unexpected performative circumstances. I use the strategy of non-verbal story telling to frame/construct/deconstruct my identity in front of the public. The environment that I am staging through my performance has the attributes of circus, theatre of the absurd, repetition, operatic failure, DIY aesthetic, basement amateur theatre, and visceral intimacy.
The performative elements and materials that I am using create a heavy and overwhelming architecture in which I use two signature gestures: standing on my head and applying red lipstick over my mouth and face. These two gestures are pylons in the performance. The fist one is inverting the normal point of view of the viewer and the latter one is inviting the viewer to the spectacle of absurdity. I try with these two gestures to organize the abundance of fragmented symbols and gestures: spiting plastic pearls, assemble and dismember a Pinocchio doll, altering a Pieta plastic statute, applying gold and silver leaf onto my face, biting fresh meat, covering my body or the video projection with caramel, tiramisu syrup and inverted sugar, painting my arms with red lipstick, interacting with video projections, sucking red liquids from tubes. I can define my actions as bathing in performative materials in order to make the viewer witness a spectacle of transforming my body into an unstable container of identity.
The performance is embodied as a pendulum between viewer and voyeur, action and reaction, reading and non-reading the message, verbal and non-verbal action, making and erasing gestures.
For this specific performance project I focused on some details that have been occurring in my performance practice since I started the master program. I experimented with the concept of displacement of the subject, absence of the “I “ and the fusion between glamour and abject. Pinocchio is a container of identity; he is there for the viewer to create its own story; Pinocchio is removed from the classical story and becomes an archetype of conscience; he is un-able to understand why it is a doll: “Why am I assembled and disassembled continuously?”
Pinocchio as identity representative mirrors the representation that us as viewers want to receive. It is not that the message is fabricated by the viewer but is read through our temptation of fitting the gesture in a specific type of signature that is constructed by the matrix that we are part of. This is Pinocchio’s struggle in MY Story. He does not understand why he cannot comply with the norm? And trying to conform to the norm it becomes grotesque but beautiful in the same time. He plunges into the abject. Pinocchio is radically performed; deconstructed and constructed
What is clear through the analyses of this type of radical performativity is that we cannot separate the perception of meaning from the construction of meaning:
Who is performing Pinocchio and Why?
When we talk about identity we try to locate the subject; placing the subject.
Through my work I like to research that un-placeable niche; I am neither here nor there; I place my performative body in a metaphorical place where pearls transform the body, red lipstick cuts the mouth, tiramisu syrup sprays as if an animal is defining it’s territory.
Richard Jenkins talks about the distinction between “nominal idenity” and “virtual identity”. The first is the name and the latter one is the experience. I am Romanian as any other Romanians here but we are not the same. There is not fixed experience of the subject. The environment and its power perform the subject.
Through assembling and disassembling Pinocchio doll I try to place the identity in the social context of an invented story; Pinocchio is displaced from its story and appropriated to form a passage to my own personal story. The story develops as I go. I do not know the ending and the meaning. I am the subject and the object in the story. I am the power and the punished in the performative space.
Pinocchio character is chosen because it is an individual easy to identify through the physical appearance. Just one attribute of the face has enough power to identify. His identity forms through labeling. As seen in Jenkins identity is linked with the process of labeling over time; I am Romanian only because I lived more in Romania then in the country that I am in; there will be a moment that I will be more Canadian, labeled as one; and this is a long process that it has an continuous flow. Trying to frame my identity I fail and the failure becomes the order of a new comforting structure.
Through the symbolic use of materials my work coagulate as political. But it is not as the revolutionary art or activist art that is easy identified from the surface; it is from inside feeding the anatomy of the performance; it is like blood that we do not see from outside but is feeding the body making able to act, to action. My work rebels against cleanliness, pure values, bright and perfect icons of power. The use of pearls dirtied with red liquids, disordered gold/ silver leaf, un-named materials that are in-between paint, food, glue transform the body making it dirty and glamorous in the same time; the rococo sexual pleasure is combined with baroque struggle to understand martyrdom and saints.