An Article written by
Nikolina Komljenović
17 June 2024

How does the term “diverse body/ies” resonate with you?

The inclusion and representation of individuals with different identities, backgrounds and physical attributes is what I see as “diverse bodies” in general and also in performative practices. It is an acknowledgement and celebration of the wide range of experiences, perspectives and abilities that exist within the human population. An image of the ideal body has been created by media portrayals based on corporate sales. Every period of history finds its own image of the ideal body. These are models of beauty standards and we often, whether consciously or unconsciously, fall into the trap of classifying bodies according to these standards. The same parameters are often used to determine success. It makes us feel attractive or unattractive, confident or not. This ideal body image is uni dimensional and is a celebration of youth alone, as if ageing does not exist. Diversity brings richness. Embracing different racial and ethnic backgrounds, being transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming, valuing all body sizes and shapes, a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities and age groups, allows for a richer and more authentic representation of the human experience. This openness fosters empathy, understanding and connections between performers and audiences alike. Every body is a “good” body, that is what makes it interesting. A conscious body, dependent on the countdown of the years, but in the constant presence of the sharing of what is a “beautiful” body. The body is a force and also a mirror of our habits, of our knowledge and of our memories. Bodies. They are different. No body is the same. No two minds think alike. So how could we create norms? Let's celebrate diversity!

#SPINE © Ivan Marenić

In your project An Object is transferring into the Subject #SPINE, you are placing the specificity of each body as a priority, and holding diversity as a positive thing. Can you tell us more about your exploration of this concept in this particular work?

The body is our essence. We start from the Body and end up with the Body being all that is left. There is no us without the body. It is a living organism and is reshaped according to its uses. Just as water takes shape in relation to its limitations, the body uses weight and reshapes actively according to its flow in relation to the central axis. I start with my own body. My body is extremely physically capable. At the same time, it is specific in its deformations. What is a simple movement for other performers is a hindrance for me. It sometimes prevents me from doing my work. But each body is specific and has its own limitations. The idea of my performance An Object is transferring into the Subject #SPINE is to make the spectator aware of her/his/their own body through the observation and perception of the possibilities and limitations of another specific body. None of the bodies are ideal, though they are perfect as they are. The female body — mine — performs seemingly simple actions that are extremely painful for this particular body. The focus is on the possibilities and the limits that are defined by the pain. I place my body as an object in space, dissociating parts of the body in movement and exploring them individually, looking for their specific potentials and pain thresholds. Each part of the body is first treated as a single layer, and then the layers are brought together in a multifaceted work, as a reconstructed whole, opening up new movement possibilities. Through objectifying and dissociating my body in parts, I look for a synthetic pathway to the subject – myself. The division between the subject (the observer) and the object (the observed) takes place within the subject itself and is transmitted in the body to be seen by the audience. I move towards the individual subjectivity of my body, starting from the mechanical movement of the body-object. Through each layer of the body, the subject emerges and communicates. In general, in all of my work I emphasise the individuality and uniqueness of everyone involved. Restrictions are viewed as opportunities to find unique ways of moving.

#SPINE © Ivan Marenić

As a contemporary circus artist, specialised in aerial silk, and a dance performer, what is your and your peers’ attitude toward the topic of ageing in the performing arts, and does it translate concretely in your artistic practice? If yes, how?

Considering that I am in my 40s, and the conventional wisdom is that a circus and dance performer is active until 35, maybe 40, and then they are no longer able to perform because of accumulated injuries, wear and tear on the body, age itself. But on the other hand, on social media we see more and more 90-year-olds dancing and doing challenging gymnastics. We use the body, that is the essence of our existence. It seems that with knowledge and practice over so many years, we can become experts of the body. So I think that as we get older, we actually become more and more connoisseurs of that same body. We rely more on technique and ideally have a better understanding of that body in the relation to our practice and the changes that take place. At least my work is based on this thesis. By listening to the body and the impossibilities, I try to turn them into possibilities. The question is also what are our parameters, possibilities and expectations of ageing? And how do we individually adapt and come to terms with these changes? Now that I'm in my 40s and playing a lifelong project — An Object is transferring into the Subject #SPINE — I am dealing with this question right now. How does the body change with the passage of time? I started the project in 2013 and premiered it in 2015. This #SPINE © Ivan Marenić The interview corner: a broad spectrum of artistic approaches to a global issue 31 year I performed it twice after a break of 5 years. It was surprisingly pleasant for me to play the performance again and to see how I can apply the knowledge I have gained over the last 5 years. How I am becoming more articulate in working with the body, how I manage to isolate parts better, to move even smaller units. I am more persistent, and so I observe how the work and my limits move. The intention is to continue the project until the end of my life and to record the development and changes with a camera. Ageing in the performing arts is a complex and individual journey. It involves adapting to physical changes, embracing new artistic directions, and continuing to contribute to the art form in meaningful ways. By recognising and valuing the contributions of ageing performers, the performing arts community can foster a more inclusive and diverse landscape that celebrates artists at all stages of their career.

The Thin Line © Ognjen Karabegović

Be it through your own personal solo creations or through the site-specific performance, you explore the theme of pain and tactility, as well as the relationship between body and space. Why was it important for you to include and connect with these thematics in your circus creations?

In my solo performance An Object is transferring into the Subject #SPINE, I explore the theme of pain, endurance and tactility. The focus is on the deformation of my body. I use that to create movement. It is formed by the pure functionality of the concrete body, i.e. the inability of the concrete body to perform certain movements. The starting point is the awareness of the complex organism that is the body itself. Starting from simple movements to the increasingly complex ones. The pain is palpable and ever-present, and through the action I push the limits of endurance. The idea is to find a way out of the pain and to improve the articulation of the body with the help of movement. Endurance of a body and space are topics I deal with in my other works as well, particularly in The Heat, If I Play a New Game and The Thin Line projects. I want to explore the intangible, the dissolution of forms and an atmosphere. I am interested in the created space and its constantly evolving character. Furthermore, I define space as universal, empty. The meaning is inscribed with the spectator and established by the act of performance. A realistic physical action draws viewers into the space of the performance, allowing them to become empathetic participants. Participatory work using the viewer's empathy is the most developed in The Thin Line. In all the mentioned works the space is not only physical, but also imaginary, sensory, directed by each individual's gaze. This space, observed from multiple angles, opens up a new vision and interpretation for each viewer. For example, The Thin Line and If I Play a New Game are practices that continue to add new layers of interpretation and performance with each new work and each new act of performance.

While performing these projects, what sort of reaction do you get from the audience?

The audience. The more subtle the performance, they breathe with me, the quieter the performance, they make sure not to make any noise, they monitor the intensity and reflect the body articulations. My performances are sensorial. They occupy the whole body and set migrating cells into action. They are not rational or coded. They are made up of a multiplication of intro(impro)-spections with a focus on performative presence, creating space-time events that form their own language of process and method of expression. The meaning is given by the viewer. It can only exist in context, and the context for each individual member of the audience is primarily what their own memory provides. I am working on developing a real-time composition system in which the performer performs an action or an act that is not burdened by a clear and logical, symbolic or fictional meaning. It is all in the process of recognizing each individual in the space and looking for the meeting between sender and receiver, a space that both create together. In the end, I am interested in what we have created together.

Nikolina Komljenović holds an M.A. in Art History and Comparative Literature from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb. She is a performer, choreographer, aerialist, contemporary dancer, pedagogue and producer of the Experimental Free Scene Association (ekscena). Her main interest is the idea of the performativity of the body as a subject, exploring notions of movement, gaze, voice, presence, space, time, light and relation at the molecular, experiential and relational levels. Nikolina approaches the work in a dialogue between all these elements directly on stage.