Strings, lipstick, Franz West and a tube of blood: Ivo Dimchev and his copycats in ‘X-on’

‘Why should I be using a dramaturg? So someone could solve my problems? I prefer taking all those decisions myself.’  That was what Ivo Dimchev was telling his audience, being interviewed on stage at Kaaitheater (Brussels), right after he had performed in X-on. For the first time the much-praised performance artist has come up with a performance for the ‘big’ stage, for the first time he isn’t alone on stage either. In my opinion, he could have done with the help of that dramaturg. As in I-on Dimchev once again uses works of art by Franz West, number 36 on ArtReview’s 2011 Power 100.

Two tourists walk on stage and into a museum. The girl is holding her camera. They admire a work of art on a white pedestal. The museum guard explains that it is a work of art by Austrian artist Franz West. That they can touch it. That they are even meant to touch it. Because this is one of West’s Paβstücke or adaptives, works of art that are conceived to be used by museumgoers. But what if we break it, one of the tourists asks. And then all of a sudden they start firing their imaginary guns. The guard falls down. The girl puts one of the adaptives on top of the guard and takes some pictures.

A bit later Dimchev walks in. On high heels, wearing just a tiny little string and some make-up. It’s not Dimchev, as a matter of fact, but Lily Handel, a persona he created for his performance Lili Handel (nominated for this year’s Bessie Awards in NY). And then the other three appear again, ‘dressed’ in the same way as Dimchev/Handel.

For Dimchev it became clear quite soon that it is impossible to do something with West’s adaptives (nice contradiction: you can’t use those works that are meant to be used), so for X-on he opted for a series of rather abstract scenes. X-on is also about the concepts of original and copy. The three other performers are merely copies of Handel, and Dimchev asked West for three copies of the works of art he wanted to use for X-on.

As much as I do admire Dimchev, I found it difficult to really sit this through. For starters, although I understand why Dimchev needed Handel – he wanted the ‘performative body’ to interact with West’s adaptives and not merely ‘a’ body – Handel, in my opinion, proved to be too meager as a basis to carry the whole of this performance.
At first it’s funny to see Dimchev strut on his heels, and see the other three try to do the same, but quite soon you have the impression that you’ve seen everything there is to see about Handel.
Secondly: sure, this is about the original and the copy, but to me the imbalance on stage between Dimchev and his three copycats proved to be too big as well. Dimchev’s presence is rather overwhelming, his three companions – not gifted with Dimchev’s strange charisma – have not much to offer to counterbalance that.

And although X-on had some great scenes (in combination with music), to me quite a few others should have been disposed of during the rehearsal process. All in all X-on turned out to be too slow and lean. Seeing Dimchev draw some of his own blood (in Lili Handel he does so too and then auctions it) and then using it to paint on his body and his chair, in the midst of all that, felt like a desperate attempt to shock and stir things up a little bit. It made me merely shrug my shoulders.

A dramaturg. Didn’t I mention it? It may sound a bit too severe, but if I summon this up: there’s more to bringing a performance to the big stage than just having a couple of strong ideas and a stage-filling presence.

For a trailer & short interview, click here.



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