The following interview is part of a larger publication of collected interviews among Center for Performance Research’s New Voices in Live Performance Artists: Sidra Bell, Antonio Ramos, Elisabeth Motley, and Alexis Zacarello. The publication edited by Elisabeth Motley and J. Haggis provides a platform for shared dialogue and conversation for both the participating artists and public.
Elisabeth Motley and Antonio Ramos at Hungry Ghost in Brooklyn
EM: I’m familiar with your work Ella from four years ago. Can you talk a little bit about how you see that work in relationship to your work now?
AR: In terms of Ella, it was kind of a work in progress. Sarah Michelson was my mentor for this project. She is a great artist. Working with her… she gets you to a point where she asks you so much that you get so frustrated. She pushed me so far. In a way I can see her aesthetic within the work, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Eventually I had to tell her to fuck off and say “I’m just not going to do what you tell me to do, and I’m going to do what I want to do.” For me, I like to create in a way where it is kind of like—I dunno, maybe I have ADD—it’s like one day I’m brushing my hair and I think, I should do this in the piece, and I just follow it all….I’m very curious about masculinity and femininity. I have this issue that as males we have a female side that we don’t explore. “Ella” means “her”… Which is interesting because the work I am making now is called “El,” which means “him”…. I guess I’m interested in the idea that the duality is there. Males are brought up this specific way. We put these rules… I am so opposed to these rules. Why should we behave like this? What damage…I dunno, it breaks my heart. It was maybe my struggle too, being judged by my behavior. A lot of my creative practice is about exploring this limbo place- the present moment- the now, and how my body, mind, emotions, and spirit feel as a whole. This place where you don’t belong to any group or gender. For me, it is an expression of representing that non-place, or people that don’t have a place. What is our place in society? We don’t have an approval of what that place is. So I think in Ella I was playing with a fantasy of going back and forth; having a man going to all of these other potential magical places. I was trying to take that vulnerability onto the stage, and so many people say, “That was so ugly.” I think it is just that over the years I am becoming more naked.
EM: Tell us some favorite artists you have worked with…
AR: Neil Greenberg, Jeremy Nelson… Luciana’s process I really enjoyed.
EM: Can you talk about your approach to the naked body as part of your performance work?
AR: For me, it is about sexuality. I don’t think it is a perverted theme. It is all about this liberty. Because I have a question about liberty. My piece Homeland was based on a queer homeless teenager who came to New York in the ’90s. We were all naked the whole hour of performance, but various accessories were put on the whole time. To me that statement was clear. As the director I was nude, even though I was not in it.
There was a lot of questioning in the process. What does it take to have that vulnerability? At one point the nakedness became the clothing. I think this is the point, and I got this feedback from the audience as well. It’s interesting, because I got blocked on Facebook about seven times. They took my photos and videos down from this work. Society looks at nakedness as ugly or vulgar. Representing all of the different bodies, we are so different, but we are all the same. I mean, you can post people being decapitated, but I could not post my images and express freedom, and it’s wrong. This is a big question for me. So in my work I try to just be myself.
EM: Antonio, do you have a favorite color?
AR: I love red….
EM: Can you expand on what your creative practice is like?
AR: It’s very in the moment. I rely on technology. I have maybe four studios that I rent in the city, plus any particularly inspiring place (apartment, park, bathroom, kitchen). I put my phone on the floor, I tape myself doing some things, maybe I have a wig, Barbie’s, or a piece of feather. I find phrases in these improvisations and assign them. Neil was really interested in details; I’m more get the sketch. I don’t want them to look like me. I don’t want them to be exactly the same. We work from that: We work from improvisation, directive-based improvisations. I call it the “de-composition.” I take a phrase and de-compose and then de-compose more. Or, what can I take from a phrase and mix it with another phrase? For me, I think the dancers really make the work. They are very smart and creative when you just give them a little bit. They can create amazing things. I love being in the studio, engaging. You learn how to look for the best thing in people, and that is the art of choreographing.
EM: Can you talk a little bit about your massage practice and how it has informed your creative practice?
AR: I love it. I still think that I don’t know much. I wish sometimes I could shut down my creative side. Something about working with your hands can get my mind to be more creative. A lot of times I find my ideas while with clients. It’s kind of like a meditation. The practice is a dance. I’m connecting with this person in another way and helping them move through this static place. It’s not like I have a lot of movement; it has become a spiritual practice, sensing and feeling this body, and trying to help them move through something together. It makes me feel good. I’m working with a lot of guys. I teach tantric work as well. Yes, it can be sexual, but I’m not having sex with my clients. I think my work has a lot of sensuality in it, and so that crossover exists there.