Lab Project

Conakry Play Urban

On Spirit and Performance
Eric Androa Mindre Kolo, Frida Robles

FR: Where to start? The first thing is very simple, but fundamental: why did you choose performance? Or did performance choose you?

AMK: I was the one who chose performance.

FR: And why?

AMK: Before, I was not doing performance, I was doing interior design. And because there were market problems, how to find a job in interior design, I had to quit the interior design. And that was when Jean-Christophe Laquetin came to Kinshasa. He had the opportunity to set up a partnership between the school of Strasbourg and the Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa, and it was thanks to the moment when he gave a workshop, he had presented to us, shown us the work of contemporary artists who were doing performance, Western artists from elsewhere, and also African artists. In this loop of images, the work that really inspired me was that of Steven Cohen. The moment when I saw his work, I said to myself: "I have to do performance, I think my work is performance". And so I divorced myself from academic art and interior design to start my performance career in 2005 in Kinshasa. And the very first performance that I did was during this workshop.

During the workshop, Jean-Christophe asked us to find objects to work with. He told us we must find “sacred, everyday objects". I found a fire. And then I went to collect, I had already built a huge installation in the shape of a circle. I put water, I put fire, I crawled through the mud and they called me a wizard. And from that day, from that year on, I've lived from performance up till today.

FR: I'm highly interested in your work as it seems to be on the quest for magic, isn't it? You said you were a wizard.

AMK: People have told me that I was born with certain spirits. The director of the theatre in in Strasbourg, after a performance, told me: "The ancestors are with you",

I find that art is spirit, because the thoughts, the inspirations, are all imaginary. The spirits are invisible too, the soul of my artistic work is also spirituality. I have to say that I was never initiated into witchcraft, but I use the codes of the spirits, the way one can concentrate in order to pray or to worship something. I use codes of symbols that can put one in communication directly with the spirits, it is my way of invoking them. When I do performances, I go into a trance too. I think through this trance is where the spirits join me to do a performance. A performance is also sometimes dangerous, it can be difficult, but if you are accompanied by that spirit, it can work. Spirit is also control, it's safety, it's success, it's power. I often say that performance is a very powerful art. It's not like theater. Performance brings forward many emotions, sometimes sadness, sometimes joy. And when I'm in the performance, in a trance, I don't feel, I forget, I'm no longer there and it's my body that acts in my place.

FR: That's beautiful.

AMK: It is my body that acts in my place. I think I have something to do with the spirits because I often use things that can be mystical, transform them and bring them into the mystical world. Performance is like being in the house of a fetishist, a shaman. It's very interesting that there are people in the city [Kinshasa] who have considered me to be a diviner, a sorcerer. Some people came to me and said "Pray for me". There's a performance I did in Latvia in 2007. It was a network performance because there were three countries involved. We were doing a performance between three countries – Democratic Republic of Congo, France and Latvia – and we held video conferences, so we were making movements, a first act. I was expected to do something but it took me a long time to figure out what I needed to do to be the leader of that performance. I looked for inspiration, but it didn't happen. But one night when I was sleeping, there was a library, there was a book. A spirit said to me: "Take this book and look". I took the book and I saw that Latvia was celebrating spring fertility with crowns worn on the head. I said, this is my costume! This is what I want to do, spring fertility. I sewed crowns, I had a little panty, I set fire to it and I started associating it with spirits. As I was in the middle of the action, there was a lady who went into a trance. So, I started to perform with her, I started to observe her, I started to concentrate on her. She was with her sister, who said, "Come on, we're leaving”. Her sister, because she spoke Latvian and I didn't speak Latvian, I looked her in the eyes and she said, "Let go of my sister". And at some point, I got up against the wall and I took the crown I had and put it on her head.

When I started the performance that I did on Sunday here in Conakry, since I was getting dressed in the street, everybody was looking at me. Since it was next to the mosques, people chased me away and they told me I was a magician and my assistant said, "This is art, it's not witchcraft, it's not magic". That is to say, I have something to do with the mystic, but it is not the mystic who will destroy people, it is not a mystic that does evil. No, it's just my work.

 And I have noticed that I have something to do with the spirit and I use it in my work. If you see someone praying, for example, like the Muslims, they sit on a carpet. No, first they start by washing their feet. That for me is performance. Even if we call out to the person praying, he doesn't come. He remains concentrated in that attitude, in his positions. He does his prayer and at the moment when he’s doing his prayer, if you have a clear eye, if you see better, you will see that he is speaking with ... his word is going, he is in prayer. It's moments like that that I like in the performance, where it becomes quiet and intimate concentration.

FR: Is there a language of the spirits?

AMK: It's different, spirits can speak many languages, but they can also speak the languages you speak, but you have to know it's the spirits that are speaking them. 

FR: It struck me that you use flowers, hair, and many different symbols in your work.

AMK: Symbols, yes. Sacred objects, symbolic objects, and also objects that have no value. And flowers, I love flowers because flowers are everywhere. I find that objects that have a history, their value in performance is strong. If you offer someone flowers, they say, "Ah, a pink flower, thank you!”  For death, you always put a flower on a grave to think about that person. We also find flowers in houses, in the street, to embellish, decorate. It is an object which is very sacred to me, flowers.

In my work, I also talk about death because I became an orphan at the age of three. When my father died I never mourned his death, I was not conscious of it. Later, when I started growing up, I realized that my father was no longer there. And as a result, my work also grieves for that, that he was not there through me. I took it even further by mourning other people, dealing with the subject of death, of life. Because my work also rests in a place where there are difficulties, problems – I react to these problems artistically.

FR: Masks are a recurring theme in your work: to put on paint, to change the appearance the face…

AMK: Yes, as they say, the mask is the spirit. When you put on a mask, it means that you become another person. You change your identity. And I think that in the performance I like to transform myself a lot so that people don't recognize that it is Androa. This transformation allows me to be in harmony with the subject and also the spirit of the performance. As the face is something that represents us, to know the person, you have to know their face. Putting on masks allows me at the same time to change my identity and enter another world.

FR: What do you think about the fact that images are crafted? As an artist, what is the importance of putting in place an image that wasn't there before?

AMK: Making an image is also a creation. An image is composed of something, it is made of many things. Every image composed of something conveys a story, tells us something. The picture is a record of thought. It's the traces of thought, the traces of something that can remind you of something. Especially in the photo, the photo is something that reminds you of a time, of memory, of memories. And it is also something you can trust. It's evidence, it's proof. And the image is very strong because it is something you can keep and are able to present. Without an image, I think there would be a void in life.

FR: When you start thinking about a new project, does it come intuitively? I'm curious. What's happens when you start working?

AMK: It depends on the time, the project, the organization. My work is a transmitter/receiver of conflicts, of problems that confront the world and myself. In the world, a lot of things happen, in a country, a lot of things happen, in a neighborhood, in a house. I am inspired by that and I am also inspired by everyone, by the people around me. I have a receiver, like an antenna that gathers inspirations, projects that I have to do. It can be a story, a word that seems interesting to me, I can adopt it, I can see something in the street that is interesting. I take it and the project starts from that object. The project develops, I do research. And I end up having a project. But it's really a lot of research, inspiration, observation and listening.

FR: In connection to this festival, what does it mean for you as a performer to work contextually, to work in a specific context? Like the performance you did in Nongo Pont?

AMK: It's very important to work within a context when you are doing a job. It's about research, investigation, observation, too, about knowing the history of this place, what happened in this place. But I'm lucky because sometimes I arrive in a place, I start to investigate and then, suddenly, I'm already in it. I fall naked into this context. This spirit of inspiration, of observation. And this inspiration is sometimes unconscious. People say to me, "Ah, you know, what you did, there was that and that. Did you know?" I say, "No, I didn't know”. So the work meets the context without me being conscious of it…

FR: And one of those stories happened to you when performing at the Nongo bridge?

AMK: Yes, indeed. I was told there used to be a tall man, a gentleman who walked and had very, very long legs. What I did reminded them of a person who used to perform when they were kids. But it’s over now, nobody performs this anymore. So, I reminded them of these characters back then…