Moments of Transformation
Tathy Yazigi on selling her first work of performance art, connecting with her audience, and creating transformative environments
By Karina Vahitova on November 10th, 2016
I’ve never been in the same room with Tathy Yagizi but she captivated me over Skype when The Void Academy was first delivering our forthcoming courses one-on-one. The images of her performance work are striking — they act as both archival materials of live performances and artworks of their own. Tathy is committed to the ephemeral nature of her work but is also discovering, working through, and fine-tuning possibilities of documentation and online presentation. In this interview, we chat about using the internet as a tool for bringing people into a room together physically, Tathy’s yearning for growth as an artist, her desire to transform her audience, and what it's like to try to earn a living from the kind of art that notoriously refuses commodification.
Karina Vahitova: What do you want people to know about you and your artwork, currently?
Tathy Yazigi: At this moment in my life and career, that's a very deep question. It's kind of mysterious. I think I want people to know that the things I create can move them and open channels for self-transformation.
KV: What kind of art do you make?
TY: I make performances and photography. In my performances, I like to create an environment and share a personal ritual. I believe that by sharing my own moments of transformation, I can lend an audience my energy. Sometimes I do that by creating an image in a place and sometimes I do that through a sequence of actions in a space.
KV: You also document the performances photographically, yes?
TY: Sometimes, yes. My pieces have a strong visual aesthetic. The way that I create is that I conceive of an image and then I think about what I have to do in order to achieve this image.
KV: How do you usually connect with the people who resonate with your work?
TY: I'm not so good on that front. Well, actually, I think I'm kind of good. [Laughs.] I'm starting to get better at it. It requires a lot of work to be on the internet and in the social space. I have a website and I have a newsletter. I use Facebook and Instagram. Currently, I'm posting every day on Instagram about my residency here in Catuçaba, in the countryside of São Paulo. When I have an event coming up, I send out a newsletter. As I have always worked here in São Paulo, I already have an audience here – people who like my work that always come when I do performances, as well as friends of friends. I also feel there's a bigger movement now of people talking about my work when I'm not around. Recently, it happened that a theater character was inspired by my work, which was great.
KV: You mentioned you're starting to use social media more to connect with your community. Is there a reason why you felt you needed to start doing that?
TY: I think if I really want to grow as an artist, I need to reach people and share my work. If they like it, they're going to follow what I'm doing. I used to think that I could be a little evasive but now I'm challenging that theory by making very direct posts. People tend to comment on these kinds of posts a lot. I think I'm going to try to keep using the internet in this way until my next show to see what effect it has.
KV: In talking about wanting to bring transformative experiences to people, it feels like perhaps the internet can't really carry through the power of a performance piece but it can get people interested in seeing a performance in real life.
TY: That's very true. That's why we as performance artists need to create very good documentation of our work, even though documentation is never going to be the performance itself.
KV: Yes. Performance work and the internet really have a special relationship. Both are intangible and ephemeral in some way. In my view, the internet can serve as a platform in between the documentation and the performance.
TY: I like to use both platforms in totally different ways. I don't like documentation, actually, except when I make new artworks from the documentation. My documentation is never going to be just one camera filming the whole action. I don't like that style of documenting — I don't think it's powerful, and I don't think it adds much to the work. It tends to just be too long and tiring to engage with.
KV: So instead you create a secondary artwork for the internet that you feel best represents the live performance work?
KV: In my community building course, I talk about how the social space aspect of an artist's practice is an important part of the artwork itself. Creating documentation that is a new artwork in itself really encapsulates that. It's caring about your audience without compromising the integrity of the work. It's saying, "I'm not going to take a straight video of this performance because this performance is meant to exist in real time, in real space. However, I'm not going to keep you from participating." That's great.
TY: Yeah! It's a lot to do. My to do list is huge. And now I'm in a master's program, and I'm taking another formation in Brazil. It's crazy, but it's been great. I just had the first class of this new program and my classmates are awesome. It's only 10 people in a nomadic low-residency and interdisciplinary MFA in fine arts.
I believe that by sharing my own moments of transformation, I can lend an audience my energy.
KV: That's fantastic. Getting back to how you connect with your audience, what do you think is working best about how you use the internet? We ask this because I believe each artist has to do it their own way and learn what works for them.
TY: I think the posts on Facebook are working well for me. I'm not always posting about my work, I'm also posting my inspirations. People have really been commenting and engaging and wanting to meet up and inviting me to speak places. That's great for me because being called in for meetings and asked to do talks is part of my work.
KV: Why do you think people are interested in seeing what your inspirations are?
TY: I think my inspirations are really interesting! [Laughs.] I mean, they're interesting for me and what I'm seeing is that they are for other people, too.
KV: Yes. When there are artists whose work I like, I'm very interested in where they're pulling their research from. I wonder what they're looking at that makes them see their world the way they do. Sharing that with others demystifies beauty. It says, "This is what I look at to make something beautiful of my own." Artists aren't magicians — they're people who tend to be really skilled at seeing and listening to the world. I think you can teach other people to see the world more deeply by showing them what you're looking at.
TY: Yes, exactly.
KV: So, for you, you feel social media is supporting your artistic practice the most right now. What about your website — how is that working for you?
TY: I need to feed it. [Laughs.] It's kind of there. It's beautiful but I need to move it around a little bit. It's tough. I'm so into other things now that I don't have time to do that.
KV: I'm looking at your website right now; it is beautiful. But you know what you're missing? A mailing list sign up! I want to be updated when you're doing things!
TY: Yes, it's true. I have a way that people can email me but I'm going to try to get a mailing list started too.
KV: Another question: you are a performance artist, which is generally thought to be an especially difficult art form to make a living from because you are not producing a sellable art object. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
TY: Do you want to see me cry? [Laughs.] It's so hard, especially here in Brazil now that everything is so messed up politically. We are in the middle of a political coup and they're cutting all the funding for arts, culture, education. They are cutting every channel that we could previously apply to in order get money from the government.
KV: Usually, that government money comes in the form of grants, right?
TY: Yes. Artists apply directly to the government or organizations with a selection of your work and they select a few people per year to fund. The rest of the artists who don't get that funding have to work on other things. However, in better news, this year was the first year I sold a performance piece to a private institution. I also sold the rights of photographs for my work Degeneradas2, and I'm doing work as a coach to people in the creative business.
I used to be lazy about communicating with my audience but I understand now how important it is. I've learned that I can be non-invasive in my communication, which is something I used to worry about.
KV: What types of things do you focus on in your coaching?
TY: The head of the class I assist with educates about radical transparency, connectivity, and openness. We have to try to experience these things through the body. There's a series of actions that I conjure with a group of people to get to this embodied experience. It's based around the idea of knowing yourself, giving up your certainties, and being there to be seen and really see another.
KV: That's great. You make a part of your living from this work?
TY: Yes. I'm also really lucky because I have a house and I'm renting it so I'm making money that way too. I'm not paying rent myself because I'm a nomad right now — I'm going from place to place. This month here, next month is São Paulo, another month in Chicago, then in Minneapolis, then back here, than Oakland. Next June, I'll be in New York again.
KV: I'm interested in this coaching that you're doing because it's taking the skills you have as an artist and applying them elsewhere to create value and self-growth for other people and income for yourself. One of the benefits of art is that it really does help people's souls, it transforms them, changes them. You doing this coaching is a way of living that. When someone sees a painting in a museum, they may or not be transformed by it, but when someone signs up to learn specific lessons from an artist who works with the body, who works in performance, it's a whole other level of engagement.
TY: Yes, it's very interesting. The participants change readily. They start in one way and finish completely different. The sessions are short but precise. I'm sharing a tool. Each time I'm there, I'm talking to the participants and I'm also teaching the exercise.
KV: Back to your sale of the performance piece earlier this year, how did that work? Did you sell the documentation of the piece?
TY: No, I sold the action.
KV: How did that work?
TY: I had done the action before, a few times, around the city. SESC Santana wanted me to do the action indoors and they had space. I sold two hours of the action. It's a walking action so I was there walking for two hours in a red dress.
KV: Often when performance art is sold, it's the instructions or the documentation of the work that is sold. But you sold your time. Do you prefer that?
TY: Yes. I will never sell the instructions to a piece because I need to be the person to do the performance. Maybe in the future, if I'm really powerful, I can sell the work just through the instructions but right now, I feel that I need to be present for the work. Although it does depend on the action and the piece. If you recall, I had an idea for a park: the pieces function as rides and they are in nature and totally interactive. Those pieces work with instructions because they were made for the public “to use” in a certain way. I actually presented that idea in a methodology class for my masters. The assignment was to present a dream project as though it had happened in a real place. So I created these rides. There was a slide in the mountain, following the natural curves of the mountain. This would be an example of a piece that I'm not there for, but I'm still there. [Laughs.] You know?
KV: Yes! Is there anything you've learned about the business of art that you wish you knew earlier on?
TY: Basically, everything. [Laughs.] Well first, I wish I'd known the importance of needing to share and keep my audience posted. I used to be lazy about communicating with my audience but I understand now how important it is. I've learned that I can be non-invasive in my communication, which is something I used to worry about. I don't want to be the kind of person that always posts about themselves and annoys everyone. I feel like I'm baby-stepping, but at least I've started with social media and my mailing list. I've also opened my mind a little bit to the idea of creating a campaign to raising funds for my work. Earlier, I wouldn't have felt comfortable. But now I'm thinking of using crowdfunding to help me to manifest my ideas in the way that I want.
KV: Do you think using social media and seeing a positive response has made you more comfortable with this idea?
TY: Yes, definitely.
KV: What do you hope for yourself in the future with respect to your financial goals and your art?
TY: Actually, I'm trying not to think about that because I always control and plan my life and I started feeling like it wasn't taking me anywhere. When I started experiencing real movement in real time, big things started to happen, at least inside of me. Now I'm trying to slow down and stay in the moment. I don't know what I hope for the future.
KV: It sounds like where you're at is more about staying present and working hard and being genuine and letting the future come as it may.
TY: Yes. And if I need to change my ways a little bit in the future, that will be okay too.
KV: I think often times, the best thing you can do to ensure a good future for yourself is to stay present and work hard. Part of working hard is knowing that you deserve to be making a living from your art.
TY: That's why I'm doing this because I need to feel like I'm deserving of that. I'm not there yet.
KV: Let me ask you: is there any one thing that you wish you knew how to do right now in the realm of the business of art?
TY: Man, I think I'd actually want someone to work with me on organization. I have a really hard time taking care of my list of things that I need to do and the texts that I need to read for the masters and the texts I need to write and the other works I want to read.
KV: Yesterday, we interviewed an artist who said the exact same thing. That's certainly one thing about being an artist — it's not a 9-5 job where you have a series of rote tasks that you accomplish. There's always something new happening and it's often more than one thing at once. I hope that we can come up with the course for that because it's in high demand.
TY: Sounds great. I would take it.
KV One last question: what do you currently feel most proud of about your artistic practice?
I'm proud of the life I’m living right now. It feeds my artistic practice. Being here and having no home and getting rid of things and being centered with less objects in my life really makes me proud.
KV: That's a wonderful. Thank you, Tathy.
Related article: Just Keep Pushing: An interview with Leah Vernon, body-positive activist, fashion blogger, plus model, and fiction writer.
Tathy Yazigi graduated with honors in performance from the School of Dramatic Art of the University of São Paulo, with specialization in dance in New York. She has attended festivals and exhibitions in the US, Europe, Latin America, and Central America, among them: Terra Comunal | Marina Abramovic + MAI, São Paulo, 2015, Perfochoroní, Festival Internacional de Performance, Venezuela, 2015, International Documentary FilmFestival Amsterdam, 2014, and The Story of the Creative, See.me Gallery, New York, 2013. She recently had her first individual sow, My Rooms, in the Estúdio Lâmina Gallery, São Paulo. Her research is focused on the creation of transformative environments, actions and records that promote the interaction in between artist, audience, and space. From intervention with the body in everyday scenes, she awakens strangeness in the public and intends to enable mutual transformation. Find more of her work at tathyyazigi.com