Bojana Radulovic's entire body is covered in latex, save her mouth, lips smudged the most vibrant shade of red-orange, and her sex. She is up on a table with a backdrop of plastic curtains and air pumps, and the audience is invited to interact with her in any way they like. This is Air Doll, a 40-minute performance by Radulovic featured in the 2013 Queer New York International Arts Festival. The room is silent for all of those excrutiating minutes, except for the blasting fans and Bojana's deep breaths, and I was in a state of absolute concentration. When the Montenegrin performance artist asked what I thought about it afterward, all I could think to say was, "...tension. I felt the tension."
Huddled in a back corner during last month's installation performance piece, I didn't have the best view of Radulovic—though I could clearly see her painted lips that seemed to beg for relief. I did, however, have a strategic view of the audience. And all who had gathered at Brooklyn's Invisible Dog Art Center seemed to have been feeling the same tension.
Radulovic's performance is powerfully discomforting. In the moment, you're unsure how to consume it, and when it was over, I didn't quite know how to feel. Was she a victim? That sounds like the obvious answer. But I think what needs to be asked is, "What is her relationship to her sexuality in the context of Air Doll?" Because after talking with Radulovic, I realized her role couldn't be broken down so easily.
Out: Could you tell me where the making of Air Doll began? What sparked the idea, initially—any cultural influences or personal experiences?
Bojana Radulovic: Well, doing performance in my life just happened. I graduated from audiovisual production, and I’ve worked with film, video production, television, and film magazines; so, I’ve been involved in lots of different media. I was invited to be part of a performance festival in Holland, and I was brave, and at the same time, crazy, and said, "OK, let's do it!" I didn’t want to lose my chance. Right now, I am a performance artist, if I can say that, and I work on films. I love what I do. It's my choice. It’s good to have a choice.
Speaking about Air Doll, you see lots of situations of disordered communications. Moments in life that are dominated by pain, fear, and sometimes too much communication, which is now minimized to two openings: mouth and vagina. I am coming from a traditional context of living. I think that when you are from a country where lots of things are taboo, you can start to think about sexuality as something that is not good, and you go in some different direction—like destruction or sexual abuse—and life starts to function through just two openings in a need to communicate and have a union with someone else, to receive understanding and self-confirmation. It's a process. It's a state of mind. It's someone's life.
Another influence is the Ingmar Bergman film From the Life of the Marionettes. In the opening sequence, Peter Egermann, played by Robert Atzorn, tearfully murders a prostitute with the same name as his wife, Katarina, at a Munich peep show before sodomising her dead body.
Is your performance—your variety movements and everything—rehearsed at all? Or is it more improvisation?
I try to be free of choreography. I want to be free to perform with the audience, because the audience is really important; they should also be free. I would love for people to be able to communicate through the performance. Sometimes they interact; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are angry and say it's not a performance, call it a different name because there is no interaction. But I am afraid they are wrong…or not, I don’t know. The point is choreography is not my language.
Have you noticed any sort of pattern with audience interactions? Because one thing I noticed was the drastic difference between the way women interacted with you versus the men.
I don’t know why it’s like that. I will never forget a gesture from one young lady when I performed Air Doll in Belgrade: She wiped off my red lipstick from my mouth. It was very gentle and sophisticated, and I was actually very happy. Other ladies talk to me. I know that they feel compassion. But the boys are mostly on the side of vagina, and they are acting like it's a toy—I mean, a real air doll. It’s like Proust once said, “Trying to understand love by looking at a nude woman is like trying to understand time by taking a clock apart.”
And at the New York perfromance, there was only one woman who participated. She was very involved.
I really don't know who the woman was, but she "interrupted" my performance, laying on the table instead of me. But for me, it wasn't a problem; I'm glad she interacted. The performance started to remind me of another one of Ingmar Bergman's films, Persona, with me as Elisabeth Vogler (Liv Ulman) and her as Sister Alma (Bibi Anderson). Someone from the organization asked her what she was doing, what it meant. She told them, "I just wanted to protect her." So I'm glad she felt that compassion.
I would imagine it feels vulnerable being up there on display for so long like that.
Being on a table in some gallery or cultural center and represent-slash-perform Air Doll is nothing compared to life outside. And it should be vulnerable. I am for vulnerability. No matter what Air Doll looks like—if it looks like a dead body that is having some dead movements—I speak about life and the will for living.