Benjamin Sebastian discusses ]performance s p a c e [

Alex Klineberg August 15, 2021

Benjamin Sebastian is a bold performance artist and curator. Celebrate 10 years of ]performance s p a c e [ (no typos, that’s how it’s spelt!) as their PSX culminates with a 10-hour, durational performance event featuring new commissions by 9 influential performance artists. We caught up with Benjamin to find out more about their work.

1. What inspired you to create ]performance s p a c e [?

B.S: ]ps[ was prefigured in a way by a monthly performance art event called ArtEvict (initiated by the artist Kiki Taira), which took place once a month in squatted buildings across London. ArtEvict came about through the energy of the Occupy Movement. We were a bunch of young people who felt we didn’t have space or the resources we required to do want were interested in (performance art) – and we were certainly not being invited into arts organisations or establishments of the time – so we got together and created our own networks and spaces, supporting each other in the process.

I collaborated on ArtEvict with Kiki and had heard of an artist named Bean who had moved through the platform. At that same moment in time, I had answered a called for a studio share in Bow, East London. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was Bean who had placed the advert. We ended up sharing a studio and after a very brief moment in Bow (upon Bean’s initiative) we began looking for a warehouse space where we could set up our own studio for ourselves and other artists engaged in similar (time-based/performance art) processes of making. We ended up in a large warehouse in pre-Olympic Hackney Wick.

So I would say that Kiki Taira, ArtEvict, Bean and our extended network of makers/thinkers/feelers inspired the creation of ]performance s p a c e[, not me.

]performance s p a c e [?
Poppy Jackson with Benjamin Sebastian by Marco Beradi performing Penetrating Gender
2. It’s the UK’s only studio and exhibition space dedicated to performance art. Do you think performance art is shunned by the art world?

B.S: We are the UK’s only studio and exhibition space dedicated solely to performance art, but I don’t feel this equates to the medium being shunned, not at all. ]performance s p a c e [ is regularly funded by Arts Council England for example. I do think performance art is the enfant terrible of the art ‘world’ but I think the medium often occupies a position of scene darling within that world also.

Most reputable performance artists have some trace or documentation of their work housed in major and/or minor permanent art collections the world over. I think it is important to look closely – critically – at what is being consumed and archived by the elite art establishment, what isn’t and why. Performance art can, if so desired by the maker, resist many capitalist market forces by refusing to supply readily consumable products for said market, instead often opting for meandering processes and experiments as the artistic form. Even the traces and documentation of performance art works that end up held in collections and become fodder for market exchange, are only ephemera. They are not the live event, they are not the actual artwork. They only allude to it. I feel such distinctions make performance art a much more tricky subject (more so than a painting, sculpture or print for example), for the art world (read market) to capture and commodify.

]performance s p a c e [?
Nicholas Tee by Manuel Vason
3. What can we expect from the upcoming 10-hour durational performance?

B.S: OMG everything – Womxn, POC and Enby to the front. Rubiane Maia repetitively casting their feet, responding to diasporas of black and brown peoples throughout history – Martin O’Brien crawling with a coffin on their back, considering their position as a queer person living with cystic fibrosis in the context of a global pandemic – as well as ritual acts of mythopoesis from Joseph Morgan Schofield (]performance s p a c e [ assistant director), exploring the here, now and otherly potentials of queer futurity.

The 10 hour event will see masters of performance art share space with/perform alongside other artists just setting out on their artistic journeys. 9 artists making work together in shared space, continuously, across a 10-hour duration. It’s going to be remarkable, come along!

4. Your artwork encompasses “chaos magic, eroticism, tattoo, ritual and gender fuckery.” Is it safe to say you operate outside the mainstream?

B.S: No not at all! I think it would be untruthful for any of us to pretend that there is not a proliferation of body adornment, sex, esoteric & ritual practice as well as multifarious displays of gender diversity within our day to day lives. I mean, the majority of us know multiple people with tattoos, right? The reality of genders other than male or female (non-binary) are represented within pop culture, right? And I mean, sex is just everywhere. I would suggest all the elements of my work are very much mainstream now but perhaps, sometimes still penalised under lingering, conservative, power structures such as State, Church, Family and other institutionalised habits like misogyny and slut shaming.

]performance s p a c e [?

5. How did lockdown affect your approach to art?

B.S: I paused. I had no desire to push myself and my work online. I did one online performance during all of our lockdowns here in the UK and it was the most alienating and dissatisfying experience of my entire career. However, that one online performance gave me more clarity regarding my live practice than any other performance art work I have made, because it enabled me to experience – in such an explicit context – how important the relationship of a live audience (in the same physical space) is to me and my work. The reciprocal exchange of energy that is enacted in those moments is just so powerful and potentially transformative. For that I am very thankful.

Lockdown and the (small) pause that I was personally afforded (many where not) also enabled me to recoup creatively. I found more time to read, to look, to listen. Think and feel. This is still affecting me now, as things re-open and we are all back to making. Back to work. I am trying to hold onto that experience of pause, reminding myself to slow down and do more looking, listening, thinking and feeling – because that’s where all the good stuff comes from.

6. Tell us about your latest photographic exhibition in London.

B.S: It’s going to be great! I am so proud of this exhibition. It is a synthesis of my solo art practice, my directorship at ]performance s p a c e [ and my new project (with Joseph Morgan Schofield); VSSL Studio. I will be exhibiting a single piece of photographic documentation (by Marco Beradi) from a performance art work (Phoenix) I created in 2013 at ]performance s p a c e [‘s original building in Hackney Wick, East London.

That piece will be exhibited alongside 9 other pieces of photographic documentation (spanning the last 10 years ]ps[) from an illustrious line up of artists including Ron Athey, Poppy Jackson, Nina Arsenault, Bean (co-founder of ]performance s p a c e [), hancock & kelly, Jade Montserrat, Nickolas Tee, Keijaun Thomas, Elizabeth Short (performing as Nick Kilby) & Kris Canavan. The exhibition will take place at VSSL Studio in Deptford, which I co-founded with Joseph Morgan Schofield this time last year. The PV is on Thursday the 12th of August, with live performances from Kelvin Atmadibrata and Adriana Disman – the exhibition runs through until the 19th. The images are all truly gorgeous, please come and take a look.

Runs from 12-21 August at Ugly Duck, 49 Tanner St, Bermondsey, London SE1 3PL.  11am – 9pm. Find out more here.