Belgium performance artist Thibault Delferiere brings his work on physicality and disability to Nottingham Surface Gallery this weekend, and we had a bit of an email chat with him to see what he's all about.
So how did you get started with your art?
In 1992, I started to learn philosophy at the University of Louvain in Belgium. I was steeped in great texts and ideas, good food for the mind, but my body needed something more. One day I wandered in a paper shop and I bought a painting set. At the end of the year, I showed my paintings to a painter friend of mine who then strongly encouraged me to paint more and attend a summer workshop run by a great teacher. This teacher has opened my mind to new techniques and other artists such as Bacon and Michaux. I had my first collective exhibition in 1998 and then held a solo exhibition in 1999. 1998 was also the year I made my first performance, in which I created a wide painting onstage during a rock concert surrounded by the band!
How does your own physicality inform your art? How do you incorporate it into your work?
Art is the product and meeting point of a mind, a physicality, a personal history, an historical and a social context. That’s true for every artist. Sure, my physicality is less common, but it’s just one component of my art.
What do you think makes your art unique?
Me! I’m joking but not entirely. I think every artist makes a specific art, but I suppose some more than others. I believe, beyond the issue of disability, my way of concerning the body has less limits than some other artists. Perhaps I dare to experiment a little more. I work on subjects and forms that are of interest to myself, first of all. And as I live and work alone most of time, I can develop a very personal art. Nobody tells me what to do and above all what not to do.
What's your process for creating a new piece of work - where do you start, and where does your inspiration come from?
It’s very variable. My life is entirely devoted and focussed on my art. I have almost no private life. I am almost constantly thinking about what to create. I’ve some key subjects of interest : the life of the body (in many senses), sexuality, death, religion. These themes work as a guideline. I work regularly without a specific aim, but things start to develop. I accumulate ideas and drafts of work and when an opportunity for an exhibition or performance comes up, I collect these elements to create a kind of synthesis.
Another way can simply be wandering through a flea market, or a second hand shop, finding a special object and deciding to make it the centre of a new performance.
But sometimes, I have a specific idea, and I seek to develop it out of necessity.
Can you tell me about some of the philosophical ideas that underpin your work?
In brief, I would say I’m very influenced by Heraclitus’ idea of a world in permanent motion. We’re always consumed in a huge movement that overwhelms us. We have very little control and are powerless to resist constant change. My question is what can we do about this? The second great philosopher of my personal pantheon is Nietzsche. With Nietzsche we have an ethical duty to live with the chaos. First of all, we have to accept it, then we find the good in it. The best way of living is perhaps to take go along with this the great chaotic movement.
For me, one of the function of the artists is to confront the audience with the absence of truth, rather than to reach a sense of harmony.
I believe in art, “beauty” and “truth” are replaced with intensity. Intensity is neither good nor bad, nice nor ugly. I want my art to be intense, even if that means being acceptable to less people.
What are some of the ways you've collaborated with other artists?
In some cases , I was completely at their service. For example, when I worked with great Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch, I was a simple actor following the master’s instructions (and with great pleasure). Another way is when I find a performer I know well, where we have a closeness, and we build a performance together. Perhaps my most frequent method is to have an idea, call some performer friends and ask them to collaborate. We then do a lot of discussing or not, depending on how we have worked together in the past.
What do you think of the British art scene's support for performers and audiences who have disabilities? How does it differ from the art scene in Belgium?
To be honest, I don’t know the situation in Britian. As a performer, I hope I never to be invited somewhere because of my disability. I’m someone from the outsider art scene. But when I say outsider, I’m talking about an underground network rather than structures devoted to art for disabled people. I never present my work as that of a ‘disabled artist.’ I know that if I were to, more doors would be opened for me. But I prefer remaining more private, and being free to make what I want, rather than being labelled an ‘activist’ for the integration of disability.
How does your work challenge audiences? What has the audience reaction been to your work?
It depends on the place I perform and the type of performance I do. Some have been more shocking than others. It varies. One way the audience never reacts to my work is with indifference! As to the features of my performance that challenge them, I’d say first of all my physicality. Secondly my lack of taboos! I have my own limits, but perhaps my limits are a little further out than the average person. Also I suppose the subjects raised by my work, death, sexuality. Timing is also a very challenging feature of my work. I have made performance that are very brief; around 15 minutes long. And one of my recent performances lasted 96 hours!
What are you planning for the Nottingham performance?
We are making a piece of work inspired by the Greek myth of Sisyphus; condemned by the gods to endlessly roll a rock up a hill and watch it roll down. We have taken this as a starting point to begin working in a very focussed way with a set of objects in a space. There’s also live painting involved. We’re exploring the idea of the act of creativity and construction and how this links to everyday life. There will bew live usic played by Giuseppe Lomeo who I have collaborated with many times. Right now me, Jack (New Perspectives’ artistic Director) and Giuseppe are in a rehearsal room in Nottingham working, talking, painting, arguing and creating!
What do you want to share with artists during your masterclass? What sort of people should come along?
I hope artists from many disciplines will come to have an experience that enriches their own practise. I never introduce myself as a teacher or expert, just as an artist with 20 years experience of performance. I will perform for them, explain about my work and give them practical work to do, It will be a combination of thinking and doing! I also hope people come who are not artists but have an interest and would like to be initiated into the business of making work.
Thibault Delferiere will be at Surface Gallery on Monday 22 May 22 at 7.30pm. He will also hold a masterclass for Nottinghamshire artists on Saturday 20 May 2017.