Culture Editor, Luca Demetriou, reviews a Live Art performance by UoB Student, Dania Kioufi, who strives to feel a final connection to her grandmother through ritualistic performance
Dania Kioufi, a final year drama student, presented an intimate live art performance in The Basement at the Guild of Students, on Wednesday 4th March, directed by Becky Kroon. Developed from her Live Art module, Kioufi completes ritualistic processes in order to ‘feel a final connection’ to her grandmother who suffers from dementia. Through this process, she eternalises her grandmother, in memory and performance.
Live art as a practice, performance and event can be difficult for some people to get to grips with. Often it can be experimental, and it foregrounds actions and tasks in performance that aren’t typically ‘scripted’. Typically durational, live art exists in real time and often plays with longevity. Live art questions what art is. The Live Art Development Agency defines Live Art as: ‘a way of thinking about what art is, what it can do, and where and how it can be experienced’. And frequently, it is simplistic acts that can make live art so effective and affective. It highlights subtle ways of viewing the body in performance and subsequently, our own. Through questioning, live art enables us to rethink how we come to view this body and this is often because of the atmosphere that live art events create. In The Oil That Sticks it is the spectators, the sounds, the lighting that transfix spectators onto the performer, engrossed into the subtle and ritualistic acts being performed.
From darkness, Kioufi lights small electronic candles around her, bringing into view a bowl of olive oil, a white sheet, a towel, and a picture frame of her grandmother. After she brings light, Kioufi undresses, leaving her body bare to spectators. Her expression reveals a sense of pain that is being meditated, as Kioufi eternalises her grandmother in this last and intimate connection. Slowly, and with a tenderness that is comforting, she lathers each body part in olive oil, limb by limb. We are brought into the performer’s interior world, as if we have stepped into their room.
Dania Kioufi is of Cypriot descent, and this performance speaks to her diasporic experience. Throughout the performance, Cypriot hymns accompanied the ritualistic actions. Along with olive oil which is central in Cypriot cuisine and culture, Kioufi bridges diasporic worlds of Britain and Cyprus, a sort of baptism that seeks to synthesise cultural traditions within a performance of memory, longing and closure.
The Oil That Sticks also questions the way in which we view bodies. Throughout the western world, naked female bodies are sexualised, and autonomy is often removed from these subjects. Kioufi bathes herself in oil, becoming the commander of her own actions, as she attempts to ‘elude sin’. And rubbing oil on oneself, although not sexual, can come to be viewed sexually by spectators. Spectators after the performance found themselves questioning why the nude body is routinely considered sexual, or rather how it comes to be viewed as sexualised.
This performance is a communion between life and death for Kioufi, negotiating her grandmother’s dementia and diasporic Cypriot culture by performing ritualistic actions to memorialise, eternalise and connect.