PERFORMA 09 : Feminine Futures

Performa Biennale, NY 2009 Tragédies Charnelles: Valentine de Saint-Point Performance, War, Politics and Eroticism


Summary of Project

Sarah Wilson
This interdisciplinary project is conceived as a two-hour multimedia performance, within the program of Performa Biennale to be held in New York in November 2009. Founded and curated by performance art historian, Professor RoseLee Goldberg in New York, the Performa 2005 project will introduce an American public to the powerful and charismatic figure of Valentine de Saint-Point. It will in addition foster this remarkable artist's recuperation into the history of performance art and politics in France, preparing the way for future performances or exhibitions in France and internationally. Saint-Point has started to reemerge as a pioneer in academic and dance circles: a symposium to be held at NYU in October 2005 should lead to a significant France/US publication as part of this project. Recognition is long overdue.

The project is conceived by Adrien Sina, Paris-based media artist, curator, theorist and performance art specialist, who has created the most complete digital archive dedicated to Valentine de Saint-Point in existence.

Valentine de Saint-Point, great-niece of the poet and statesman Alphonse de Lamartine, was the only French member of the Futurist group, and author of the Manifeste de la Luxure (inaccurately known as the 'Futurist Manifesto of Lust'), the 'Manifesto of the Futurist Woman' and Le Théâtre de la Femme: the first attempt to define what would now be classified as female performance art. At a time when Europe was programming its own destruction in the first world war, she was the first woman - functioning at the heart of the twentieth-century avant-garde - to explore the relationship between the personal and the political. She thus anticipated the American Feminists of the 1960s whose work of self-transformation was framed by the Vietnam War. She was both a performer (dance and drama), theoretician, a prolific writer in poetry and prose, and political activist. An 'Orientalist' in the fullest sense, she became an active voice in Middle Eastern politics, living in Cairo from 1925 to her death in 1953. During a period when both French and British colonial regimes were challenged, she advocated cultural cooperation instead of armed conflict; her battle for female liberation in Egypt and Syria, however, confronted resistance as great as any faced in Paris.

Like Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan, her precursors, she brought her work and ideas to an American public, collaborating in New York for her 'Métachorie Festival' debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1917 with the composer Dane Rudyar. She was profiled by Djuna Barnes and by the New York Times. A striking contemporary comparison is with Marina Abramovic , currently a New-York based artist. Her celebrated Venice Biennale performance Balkan Baroque of 1997 - like Saint-Point's work, a Tragédie Charnelle with its pile of blood-soaked bones which she scrubbed - synthesized the personal, the feminist, the political. Individualing the tragedy of the Balkan War, it created a powerful visual symbol (commemorating the pain of all lovers, wives or widows) that has outlived day-to-day political reportage.

A Nietzschean in the most profound sense, Valentine de Saint-Point's thought was structured by the precepts of Greek tragedy, whose heroines, from Hecuba to Antigone and Medea, focused upon the conjunction of personal trauma and cruelty with the outer world, from the city, polis, to the politics of war and domination. The cathartic and 'citizen-forming' functions of classical tragedy were ever present in Saint-Point's reformulations. The crossover between historical axes and images and contemporary resonances are central to the conception of Adrien Sina's multimedia project.


Performance / New technologies

Performance, War, Politics and Eroticism : challenging brief. Adrien Sina will engage with Valentine Saint-Point's contemporaries, from Rudolph von Laban, Mary Wigman, Vaslav Nijinksy (The Swan Song, Saint-Moritz, 1918) to Martha Graham (Heretic, 1929; Lamentation, 1930) and contemporary figures whose works may be seen to echo and extend Valentine's preoccupations, such as Joseph Beuys, Gina Pane, Chris Burden, Yoko Ono, Mona Hatoum, Shirin Neshat.

Rather than 'performing' a Saint-Point manifesto against a backdrop, or 'recreating' a dance or theater piece (no choreographical record remains), his conception acknowledges the fictional and imperfect nature of historical reconstruction based on fragments.

Rare drawings and woodcuts by Valentine herself illustrate her writings; she showed at the Salon des Indépendants. But most of her artistic output, taken to Egypt, alas awaits rediscovery. Model and muse for Auguste Rodin and Alphonse Mucha, Valentine de Saint-Point was costumed by Leon Baskt while her futurist dances were depicted by the futurist Baldo, Dunoyer de Segonzac, Valentine Hugo, Vivian Postel du Mas and the American synchronist Morgan Russell. Part of this project will involve the 3-D animation of drawings made for or by the artist, using motion capture and interactive technologies.

The performance space will therefore blur the limits between real bodies, film, video, voice, music, kinesthetic perceptions, perfumes, real and virtual presences. Mirroring this environment, the intellectual atmosphere created will be one of suggestions, questions, theoretical propositions, unstable emotions - always avoiding the banality of literal reconstruction. The performance space may fade into darkness, images disappear or reappear... Sina's 1995-6 exhibition Fluctuations Fugitives, which involved artists from America, France and Japan (Espace d'Art Yvonamor Palix, Paris. La Ferme du Buisson, Noisiel) initiated this working process, which continued with a video and performance festival in the underground vaults of the Chateau Pommery, Reims and the publications Tragédies Charnelles and Immanences Spatiales (special issues of La Mazarine, 2000).


Symposium / Publications

This project should give rise to two publications: a program for the evening performance and a more substantial book on Valentine de Saint-Point. The souvenir program would be conceived as an art work and would include a biography, photographs of Valentine and her contemporaries, extracts from seminal texts and manifestos, her drawings and woodcuts, plus list of participants etc.

The book, conceived as an alternative display space for a full treatment of the concept Tragédies Charnelles by Adrien Sina, will present a filmic progression of images of and by Valentine de Saint Point - reconstituting a life from the scattered fragments which remain. These will be interspersed and overlaid with texts, not only the Manifesto of Lust, but lesser known political texts and actions for example. Her contemporaries - indeed all those whose works may be seen in dialogue with Valentine around the axes of war, performance, politics eroticism - may also find their place here. A biography and critical bibliography, together with contributions from conference participants will help make this a complete introduction to the artist. The book will offer a visually powerful hommage to Valentine: while standing as an art work in itself. A co-edition partnership with French publishers is desirable and would help spread costs.