I had the opportunity to sit down with Simon Senn, the performance artist behind ‘Be Arielle F’, and further discuss his creative process for that piece, his relationship with technology and have an insight of his next project.
Simon Senn is a Switzerland-based performance artist who studied Fine Arts in Geneva and started exploring video & performance quite early on his career.
He enjoys this piece as it deals with “Digital stuff” that “can change us as humans” but also the fact that he is able to tell the story of “something that I experienced for the first time” and “share it with the audience”. We both agreed that it’s a “beautiful story” which enables “to start a conversation to deal with all those technologies”.
I wanted to learn how he ended up creating that kind of performance piece as, I, as a personal experience, have not come across many artists with a similar praxis. As he elaborated
“I started creating the performance without knowing it, without realising it”.
That performance was created quite spontaneously. He was looking to expand his skills so he taught himself, via tutorials on the internet, how to utilize virtual reality (VR) and he quickly got interested in motion tracking technology as he found fascinating the fact that “you could move something in the physical space and it moves something else in the virtual space”.
That led him to try out an avatar of a body which resulted in his current piece ‘Be Arielle F’. But what is his relationship with the real-life Arielle? Simon says that he has one rule with Arielle: to exchange e-mails only regarding the performance piece and ‘talk’ only during the performance piece. Now, after many shows, Arielle and Simon have a more trusting relationship but this trust “comes a lot from the audience” “because a lot of people from the audience told her about the show” “and she now trusts me a lot because of the audience”.
Before that trusting relationship though, there was a legal aspect of using her body replica with various questions rising, including the borderlines of what is considered ethical or even illegal. Could a lap-dance be considered sexually explicit? What would happen if the artist were to add an element such as a ‘swastika’ on the replica of the body? A Simon informs me, technology develops in such a quite fast pace that the laws are not able to keep up with that pace which means that “they wait for cases of victims and then they make new laws about those cases”. In his process of trying to find out what could or could not do with the replica of Arielle’s body, he came across the question of whether a lap-dance could be considered sexually explicit material. He was informed that in some countries that could be the case and with the way the show could ‘travel’ to many countries, it would be an issue to further look into. Another lawyer, brought to his attention a hypothetical situation of the artist adding an element such as a swastika on the body, something that Arielle could sue him for but he then could sue the company that sold him the replica for not making it clearer in the contract the do’s and don’ts. To that he says “The company, needs to make individual contracts every time someone wants to buy a replica, for a specific usage, for a specific time”.
Performing a piece during the pandemic via zoom, a piece that was created before the pandemic, not being specifically designed to be shown remotely from home, which was how it was presented to “Present Futures” festival, brought up the question of what this new way of demonstrating a performance piece adds or subtracts, from the quality and the total experience. Simon sees clear differences between performing at home and performing live on stage. “Not one is better that the other; they are just different. When I do it at home I really like the fact that I’m telling the story from where it happened. There is a documentary aspect that I really enjoy”. On the other hand, for Simon, working live in space, creates an atmosphere of a safe space, hence his sharing of a lot of his personal experience, and he really enjoys meeting people after the show as “they [audience members] come to me and tell me also a lot about their lives, their relation to gender for example or technology and there is that direct way of interacting with people that I miss” “and also what I miss with the stage” “is the dance that she [Arielle] asked me to do”.
What’s on the horizon for Simon Senn? He is already working on his new project that deals with Artificial Intelligence (AI), an AI that is modelled out of Simon’s personality, to which Simon refers as “he”. It is a performance piece that also came alive accidentally whilst Simon was mentoring a student, Tammara Leites, for her diploma, for which she wanted to create an AI that is able to write books. Simon could see a lot of his personality within the texts generated by the AI, who (or which?) would also offer to Simon, many new ideas for future projects. At times the work-in-progress AI could be “super sexist and super mean”, something that Simon and Tammara are looking into and further research.
There are not upcoming scheduled performances of Simon just yet, but you can visit his website “Simon Senn” and get the latest information about his projects and any upcoming events.
PS: This week, the police in Greece, attacked and brutally hit one person for speaking out because a person of the police force was about to fine a family who were taking a walk at a square, following all the governmental restrictions of wearing masks etc. #stoppolicebrutality #liveyourmythingreece