A performance by Anja Carr.
Performed at Le Générateur, Paris, organized by Dimanche Rouge and Performance Art Bergen, 23 March 2014 and the Agency Gallery, London 23 May 2014. The horse and scenography from the performance is exhibited together with Carr’s photographic works at her solo show LET GO!, curated by NO WAY, the Agency Gallery, London 24 May – 21 June 2014.
Anja Carr’s performance Horseplay explores a variety of themes relevant to performance art, psychology, and every day life. The work is not complicated, yet it effectively works on many different levels. The piece starts with a flat image of a horse; two horse-shaped cut outs sewn together give this flat image an ‘inside’. The horse was handmade by the artist herself, and carries cartoonish features and expression. Inside this horse, she waits for the public to enter the room to start the performance. Once ready, Carr exits the horse through a hole at the rear. Thanks to her horse-mask, and the glossy red material of the opening, we immediately imagine a birth scenario. On exiting the horse, we see the artist is wearing the outfit of Pippi Longstocking, a popular children’s book character. At first acting the part of the horse, wobbling on new-born legs, she tries to awake the flat horse by nudging it with her head. Not succeeding, she assumes her human form by removing the mask. With a wig and freckles, we see the image of Pippi Longstocking much clearer now. She gazes at the motionless cartoon horse, the mother, for a while before returning a hand inside the horse to retrieve a harness and a rider’s helmet. Carr straps it on and puts the flat horse between her legs intent on riding it. Of course, despite all kicking with her riding boots and clickings of the tongue, nothing happens. Becoming desperate, she retrieves a whip, and starts to ride the horse while whipping it in a frustrated manner. Kicking and clicking, faster and faster: still nothing. She sticks her hand deep into the horse’s opening once more and slowly pulls out a string of sausage. Being pulled out from the red, glossy labia, the string certainly resembles an umbilical cord. Carr begins feeding the horse, putting ketchup-covered sausages into its mouth. One by one, she rubs the phallus-like, homemade sausages in her hands, fervently adding more and more ketchup, splashing wildly. Patting the horse in between with ketchup on her hands, results in a rather piggish scenario: When on the horse’s neck, the ketchup looks like blood. The artist attempts to ride the horse again, faster and faster until she is exhausted and falls to the floor. Out of breath, the artist emphasizes who is alive and who is not. Finally giving up with ketchup all over, she flounders over to the horse’s mouth and crawls into the narrow opening. She lets herself be eaten by the horse, illustrating perhaps a shift in the power-relation. After a lot of struggle and groaning, she comes out at the other end once more, this time reborn more as the artist herself, without the Pippi-wig. After looking at the horse with a disappointed expression, she lifts it above her head, like her declared childhood hero Pippi would do, and walks off stage.
From the very beginning, Anja Carr’s performance communicates a struggle with imagery and the imaginary. The flat horse is certainly little more than an image. The 3D form of Carr waiting inside to be born disrupts this image, of course- the physical form in the real world cannot be contained by a simple flat image. The idea is continuedthroughout the entire performance: man, born from the imaginary. The most significant difference between man and animal is the creation of culture, the development of stories to create meaning. A problem with this arises later, as we also see in her performance, when man’s idea of reality, his imaginary construction, doesn’t behave as he expects it to. Anja Carr hopelessly trying to ride the horse echoes images of man insistently attempting to drive forward commercial systems, pushing forward with a burning desire for satisfaction, with results that are fleeting at best; mercilessly destructive at worst. From everything from sweet caresses to violent whippings, we see that Carr wants nothing more but for this image to move, to respond, and to carry her away. This desire for escape brings us to another theme; that of the reality of a child.
On this level, Carr’s Pippi Longstocking costume, and the general aesthetic of the work, point clearly towards this perspective of a child. A child’s world is no less real than that of an adults (even if the adult’s world may agree more often with the laws of nature than a child’s) the only difference being that the adult’s world has the backing of authority and mass-agreeance to push aside doubt and make believable the construction. The degree between imagination and reality is little more than how many people agree that the construction is in fact “real”. During his or her youth, a child lives in a wild flux of amazement to his or her new found existence, curious about the rules of reality, and continuously disappointed with shattered dreams. In the beginning, there are no rules; they must be taught. In such a liberal context, a child is free to put his imagination at a 1:1 ratio with reality. He has little reason to believe why his beliefs shouldn’t be true; he hasn’t been taught that yet. The external environment serves more as a canvas than a set of rules. Just like a child reaches out to imagery presented to him and constructs his own stories, Carr is born as a horse, from a horse. Identifying herself with the image of the horse is parallel to the child’s loose distinction between the difference of “What I like”, “What I am”, and “What I can be”. Willing to take control and action, however, a child embraces his freedom of choice and creates an imaginary world that follows his own decided rules. “This is a horse, and I will take care of it and ride it away.”
That being said, no matter the authority, the laws of nature will always eventually shatter a fantasy. As man has always both depended and struggled with nature, Carr’s character too struggles with the conflict between her idea of reality and the physical reality of the horse. In her most desperate moments, thrashing about, kicking, clicking, and whipping, we can see cracks in the façade starting to appear. The metaphor continues: man struggles desperately with reality and nature, trying to discover all the elements that validate his view of reality, refusing to accept any alternative. This struggle of man versus reality, although steeped in frustration, also points to the personal struggle of the individual with his or her own physical body. The passion the artist expresses towards the horse, within the emotional closeness and feeding, and in the end the violent whipping of the horse between her legs, highlights the sexuality of the character. It is not so much read as a sexual act with the horse, but more of a sexual act with the self. The character projects upon the object the fantasy of loving and being loved. Of course, such a perfect love, the reuniting of the desiring and the desired, is expressed sexually; in this case, a masturbatory scenario (although even if the horse were alive it would not be any less so).
Her costume makes reference to another common construction of reality; that of the child as super-human. The story of Pippi Longstocking is of a young girl with super- human strength that lives alone in a colourful house, with her own horse and pet monkey as friends. Perhaps more super-natural than this scenario is her personality. In the story, her spirits never wane, and despite being parentless and certainly alone (aside from her animal companions), she is always bursting with optimistic energy and flaunting her bizarre features and habits of life. This fantasy carries out three forms of the strength desired by mankind, and especially of the child: 1. To be physically strong enough that no physical danger actually poses a threat, 2. To be independent enough that the private perspective of the world is never influenced upon by other’s (and also to continue to be influential for others), and 3. To be so emotionally fixed in a positive outlook that it is incomprehensible that any bad news would have a negative impact. These expressions of strength, paired with the assumed eventual adoration of onlookers, forms a type of “ideal” situation of the self, a being that is doomed to forever struggle between the separation of internal and external. These pursuits can be seen not only on an individual level but also in groups, communities, countries, etc.
Carr wearing this costume is especially interesting because the artist we see performing IS an adult. We find this direct link between the fantasy of the child and the fantasy of the adult. The interest here is that there is nothing shocking about the fact that Anja Carr is an adult, because all adults play out constructed roles. The construction of the artist, the construction of the businessman, of the labor worker, etc… What is seen as ridiculous and certainly more noticeable is when the constructed role is poorly played. But the assumption of Carr as the performer (in this case the child) is the same assumption of any average man as his working role in society; it’s true as long as we believe it. This is a direct echo of the child playing the role of Pippi longstockings. “I want to be something. I want to be defined. I want to be invincible. I want to be a cartoon character.” Role-playing is the chasing of fantasy.
To conclude, much as we are never able to escape our assumed roles, our believed fantasies within this reality, Anja Carr too is unable to escape her delusion of being a real Pippi Longstockings with a real horse. This is not seen as a sad ending, however; like the child forever ready to play once again with his toys no matter that they never respond to his questions, and the man forever ready to continue with his way of life no matter the pain it causes, Anja and her horse is seen as an honest relationship, and beautiful in that way. We concede to let Carr live in her imaginary world, because we know that it is her own personal struggle, and we too all have a constructed reality of our own.
Anja Carr is an artist and gallerist based in Oslo, Norway.
NO WAY is an independent art label based in London.
the Agency is a commercial gallery which supports artistic innovation and frequently collaborates with guest curators and organisations.
Alexander DeBavelaere is a Canadian artist and writer based in Paris.