Activities related to gossip, pleasure, and humor often are derided – unjustly, of course. Tine Milz, dramaturge and co-director of Theater Neumarkt in Zurich, invited Ceylan Öztrük, a visual and performance artist, Teresa Vittuci, an artist who works in the realm of contemporary performance, and Annina Machaz, a multimedia and performing arts practitioner – indeed, three of the most interesting female artists based in Zurich according to Tine – to converse about the potential craftiness of gossip, pleasure, and humor. As the conversation, which took place on one of the last days of summer in Zurich, demonstrates, all three artists relate to these topics in one way or another.
In addition, Tine asked Ceylan, Teresa, and Annina to bring an object that is dear to them to the interview, which was originally published in the German print magazine Das Wetter and is re-published on V/A as a part of our ongoing focal theme on “Crafts.” Find out more about these objects here.
TINE MILZ I would love to talk about gossip. Silvia Federici writes that gossip was a female practice of solidarity and knowledge building. Towards the end of the 16th century, gossip began to be associated with negativity. Federici found the following sentence in a lot of medieval literature: I go with my gossips. It basically means I go with my friends. Since we are gossips and artists, I thought this could be a very interesting starting point for our conversation. What is artistic friendship for you and how did we meet?
TERESA VITUCCI I remember the first time I saw you, Ceylan, at Limmatplatz after swimming. We clicked right away, and we became friends before I learned that you were such a good artist. We used to hang out in your shitty, dark, and gloomy apartment on Langstrasse, where we loved to party. It took quite a while for me to understand what your artistic work was, but then I was amazed and really proud to have such an amazing artist as a friend. I mean, I still am; I always show everyone Ceylan’s website and her Instagram. And when I’m looking for inspiration or when I have to write a concept, I often check your website because it is so meaningful to me.
CEYLAN ÖZTRÜK That’s nice. Now I’m happy that I have such a good website. I knew both of your work before meeting you. I was impressed by your art and that often leads to friendship. Annina, I met you when you were doing a performance with Florentina Holzinger, Vincent Riebeck, Nils Amadeus Lange, and Manuel Scheiwiller at Art Basel in 2015.
ANNINA MACHAZ Haha. Yes! You arrived with a huge backpack, and I was hanging naked in a tree. Then somebody said, oh, that is Ceylan. And I asked, is she cool? Somebody said, yeah, yeah, she’s really cool. Teresa and I met at HKB in Bern during our studies. She was doing her master and I was still in the bachelor.
TV Our first encounter was really funny. I remember that we had the same phone; it was one of these unbreakable phones with rubber all around. Annina started to throw her phone against the wall to prove that it couldn’t break. And then we both ended up throwing our phones against the wall.
TM I met Ceylan and Annina the same day. It was on my second day in Zurich, and I went to this strange e-cigarette event hosted by Nils Amadeus Lange. Annina was a fortune teller and Ceylan showed her fantastic Venus and glass dildos. Nils also introduced me to Teresa some weeks later. You performed in his show Together, and I was totally stunned by your extremely funny performance.
TV Oh really, that’s how you met me? Wearing Gucci shoes…
TM And then we started to collaborate in different contexts and formed kind of a network of trust and support. And it is obvious that we are all inspired by each other.
TV And we have our witch meetings. For me, this offers a bit of a link to the gossip topic. I am always looking forward to our encounters, especially when I am on tour or working because I know if you struggle, we can solve it together. And, of course, there is always a lot of gossip. In the beginning it felt like we were just playing like kids, appropriating some made-up witch rituals, but then it became really impactful for us.
CÖ It created a powerful energy. Suddenly there was such a focus.
TV We burn or bury things. We give back things we lived through and yearn for others to come. We write our thoughts on paper, throw them in the toilet, pee on them, and flush them down. I love our witch meetings because we never talk about art or work.
CÖ It’s more about private life and we never talk about other people. We don’t do a normative concept of gossip. We are really sharing, catching up, and trying to understand what we want and what to invite into our life. Our witch meetings started during Covid, I was living in a house with a garden and invited you to come. And then it started from there and became a ritual.
AM I was wearing the same dress.
CÖ That’s how it started. And then we had a fire and we said, why don’t we burn our doubts and struggles?
TV Yeah, we were burning them and then we repeated it.
CÖ And then I got sick, and I think our rituals saved my ass. They have been really powerful and special.
TV It’s true. We did so many rituals when you were sick and some of them were very powerful.
CÖ It was a healing circle. Somehow it can be related to the type of gossip that Federici analyzes. We form a network of women to create solidarity and good energy. We don’t live this capitalist, patriarchal understanding or labeling of gossip.
AM And we realized that there’s so much energy and that we should harness this energy when we really need it. We agreed that if one of us writes SOS in the group, then everyone sends their positive energy to the person in need. But this is another story. Different story, different gossip.
TM It’s so nice to listen to you because this conversation is so joyful, funny, and full of pleasure. How important is the element of pleasure in your work?
TV I often think that if I’m going to put my body through artistic work, then it might as well be fun and pleasurable. But then very often it’s not because it’s basically working on a laptop for hours on end. Then I go to the studio, lay down on the floor, and it immediately feels like coming home to my body. I reconnect with my pleasure; I take my time and try to search for pleasure in whatever topic I’m working on, even if it’s as heavy as for example the concept of evil. It’s actually super funny to watch The Exorcist from 1978. Fun is my catalyst. Of course, I often torture myself through processes. And Ceylan is always like, stop, it’s your work, it’s a job, you should enjoy doing it. I mean, Ceylan is very good at the pleasure part.
CÖ You can also get pleasure from torture. Pleasure is craving something and being connected in a particular moment. It’s always about trying to find that particular moment.
AM For me pleasure comes in the beginning and in the end; in between I get stressed. It is always fun when I start to develop my characters, like for example the witch in Florentina Holzinger’s show Tanz. But then comes this period of hard work when you managed to get over the initial hump and you see how your character is working on stage. It is the purest form of pleasure. During this stressful part, I learned how to shift my focus. I started to build funny and absurd papier-mâché objects and helmets. The creation of such objects gives me real pleasure. And, of course, it’s more pleasurable to share responsibilities. That’s why, for example, I loved to work with you, Teresa, and Theater Hora for our piece SACRE!. It’s so special when you find people with whom you can share responsibility. If it’s not shareable, then it’s double, triple hell. But when you find this kind of sisterhood, support, and solidarity, the work is so much more fun.
CÖ The biggest pleasure for me lies in finding the idea. The idea is the most beautiful thing. You look for something to fall in love with. But you need to really fall in love, otherwise, it’s dry and empty. When you fall in love with your idea, then anything is something to hold on to, then even torture is bearable. And then you hold on to this feeling for when the time comes to create.
TM I love the moment when it all comes and melts together. When everything makes sense and then you understand why you are doing it.
CÖ Yeah, but we also pressure ourselves too much. Sometimes there is no connection, and it doesn’t make sense. And the sad part is that we don’t accept failure. It’s also totally fine if we fail to make all connections flawless during a work. But it’s so hard to accept it. We should take our failures with more humor.
TM All three of you work with different layers of humor. All your pieces and shows are razor-sharp and have multiple layers. You playfully mix criticism and deconstruction with pleasure and humor. Would you consider humor as a tool, a defense mechanism, or a weapon?
CÖ I don’t know. Tell me if I’m wrong, but we are people who can make jokes about ourselves, and this is an a priori access to humor. And then there’s, of course, also being able to reflect on work with humor.
AM … we are not taking ourselves too seriously.
TV … and we still have a little bit of self-doubt.
CÖ And it’s also good to put this energy into our works. I think we are taking ourselves and our work seriously, but life already is so abstract and absurd, and actually nobody knows what the fuck is going on. That’s already funny in itself.
AM Compared to what’s actually happening in this world.
CÖ I mean, for example, we are watching Silvia Federici talk, and we smile and enjoy her jokes even when she is talking about the most serious subjects.
TM She is a joyful militant, a joyful feminist. Somehow the humor we are talking about is female or/and queer and breaks with the male genius cult and the artist egos who take themself too seriously, lacking any form of humor. And it is fun to get rid of the genius because the genius is the problem.
TV The male genius cult misses a certain kind of reflection on being vulnerable and being a potential failure, being human. I feel humor, or at least the humor I work with, must have this level of self-reflection, which is already a queer approach as opposed to the patriarchal idea that I’m right no matter what and everything else be damned. For me humor is a weapon that helps to penetrate the patriarchal system, and it allows me to talk about things that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to talk about. Humor is a key. To get someone to laugh is like opening a door to their soul.
CÖ Humor helps creating an alternative and offers less edgy, less stiff possibilities.
AM The humor I love to work with is always on the edge. Everything has two faces and that makes the difference. I am always trying to embody several emotions at the same time by combining, for example, slapstick with a sad poem. I don’t like when people come to me after Ophelia’s Got Talent [another piece by Florentina Holzinger, where Annina plays a pirate] and say: “You are the pirate, the comedian of the show.” I am not the comedian of the show. That’s why I’m a bit allergic to the word comedy because this has nothing to do with the sort of humor I play with. I love the grotesque.
CÖ Annina, your way of integrating humor is really pushing us to an edge that we would otherwise not go to. In your last piece I cried and laughed my ass off.
AM That’s the beautiful part of my work. I really love it, but I’m also always scared if suddenly it wouldn’t work anymore. Then I really should stop performing and change my job to become a gardener. We are also a bit spoiled since we never or very rarely had complete failures. So, I don’t know how I would feel if my humor wouldn’t work anymore. That’s why we do the witch circles, to make sure it doesn’t happen.
TM And maybe we should create a show together.
AM I am down.
CÖ I would love to write a screenplay.
TV What would you write about? The witch circles? Failures? Right now, I think that there’s still something missing in my up-coming piece and maybe it’s you, Ceylan. It would be really nice if you wrote a text for my new piece. It’s about the concept of evil.
CÖ I love it. Let’s talk about it.