RAM SAMOCHA and AGNIESZKA KARASCH talk about Draw to Perform, an International Symposium for Drawing Performance.

Agnieszka Karasch and Ram Samocha, Draw to Perform


18.03.2014, Warsaw-Brighton

RAM SAMOCHA and AGNIESZKA KARASCH talk about Draw to Perform (an International Symposium for Drawing Performance), process-oriented art, performance documentation, viewer’s attention, logic, game strategy, emotions and interventions.


AGNIESZKA KARASCH: From your experience as an artist and a curator, do you notice that it is in GB where performance and drawing are connected more than anywhere else in Europe? Judging from the quantity, quality and diversity of drawing performers, drawing collectives and events organized around this theme in England…

RAM SAMOCHA:  It’s interesting you’re asking this question. I haven’t thought about it this way. I guess this kind of activity can happen in Tel Aviv or someplace else, but I don’t know if it’d gotten the same focus though. I think it would have been less interest around it. The first “Draw to Perform” symposium took place in December 2013. It was an international, three day event in London, all about the connection between live drawing and performance. I think it actually was the first one referring specifically to this subject. I am now working on the second one. London is a center in a way, so people really focus on what’s going on here. That helped the symposium itself and it also helped to track other artists and bring them to this event.  As I said in the symposium, I started it because I was in Performance Space, which is an artist-run space in London, an alternative one, dedicated to the performative and performance art in particular. At first I felt like a stranger there though, because I do drawing performances and there are not that many who do it. In fact, when I became a studio member there, it was not that obvious that I am a performance artist. I also felt that the symposium was a little bit off the main stream – also in reference to performance art – when I organized it for the first time.
I started to search for people who did the same practices as I did. It’s something that is inside of me. I did it before in relation to obsessive and repetitive drawing and curated a large show about it (Explosive Drawing, 1999). A friend of mine told me it was really interesting that instead of keeping hold of something that’s very personal and unique, I went and found other people who did the same. Like it’s not original in a way, you know what I mean? She said it was something very powerful. For me it’s natural. I am not going to say: “oh look how original things I am doing here”. I have a need to communicate and that’s why I became more and more attracted to drawing performance.

AGNIESZKA KARASCH: I share the same feeling and I am on the same side with you. When you are a visual artist, when you draw or paint, you often have to eliminate other people during the creative process, close yourself from the outside world…

RAM SAMOCHA: Yes and that’s one of the things I found interesting when I came to London. I did my masters at University of Waterloo, Canada. One of the first things they did was to give us studios to work in. Everybody, painters and sculptors, locked themselves there immediately. At one point teachers said: well, lets all try and work in a shared, open space. It lasted for exactly 3 days and then everybody put curtains to close themselves off. Performance Space is something completely different. The process here is open. You have a desk; you do all the sketches there plus brainstorming. There’s a large space where you can practice. This lack of boundaries has a strong influence on me.

AGNIESZKA KARASCH: Performance usually assumes the presence of another person, whether it’s a viewer or another artist.

RAM SAMOCHA: Yes, after I graduated and did my first solo show I got shocked. There was no direct response to the work I had done for many weeks. Since then I started to communicate in some other ways, such as organizing artists’ meetings, doing group shows and eventually in 2004 started with drawing performance.

AGNIESZKA KARASCH: I found art education as a valve or a way to express myself and to connect to other people. I am very much on the same side. I love communication and exchange of ideas. It brings me further.

RAM SAMOCHA:  The latest teaching experience I had that connected to performance and process was still before I left Canada. I gave a course for professional artists with addictions at Workman Arts in Toronto.  Being a course about abstract painting on one hand, it evolved towards the performative on the other. I started by working with oil and so on, but gradually we went over to using cameras, highlighted the elements of process in relation to abstraction. Eventually everybody ended up doing live performance (laugh). At the beginning I was thinking about the idea of the whole course and titled it Abstract Movement. I wanted them to experience and gradually go over to live action. The problem was To that there was no access to any equipment. So on the first day of the course, with the first exercise people instinctively put up their own cameras and phones and started recording the process. They naturally connected painting, communication and exposure.

AGNIESZKA KARASCH: As far as I see form the FB event’s page, the symposium was a great, unbelievably rich mixture of live performances and theoretical presentations, all of them referring to drawing. This particular, let’s say category of performance art, a drawing performance shows the process of emerging of drawing. The photographs document some of these processes beautifully, but don’t you think that some of them can with time function as icons rather than real documentations? Like in the case of Joseph Beuys for example…

RAM SAMOCHA: Yes, you’re raising something that is very crucial in relation to performance generally and drawing performance especially. I can start by saying that when we did the evening of live performances, I specially invited a photographer to document the evening; a member of Performance Space, a super professional guy dealing with performance in particular. He was shocked when he got into the event space. He looked around and saw so many people taking photos. People are obsessed with the need to document. And I said, of course there will always be people doing it, because it’s all about process, exposing and stabilizing fragments of an action.
Yes, it’s a big thing. There are artists who like being documented and ones who are more towards the performative.
I know there are lots of artists who find dealing with documentation really annoying and disturbing, so they let it go. There is one artist that I know of who doesn’t take photos at all. He takes only videos and if he needs still images he takes them from the video. Some members of Performance Space for example ask people not to take photos because they want them to feel more then look at the whole thing through cameras.
I am quite obsessed with documentation though. I always have to have a camera. By the time I finish an action, if somebody else has my memories and I don’t own it, I feel like I’m knickered, like somebody else has the right to what I did. I don’t like this feeling. Sometimes I wait for people to send me images. I know some people feel freedom from not having documentation but for me it’s only frustration.
As I said, it’s a big issue and still in progress.  I once submitted photos from a documentation of my performance to a competition. The jury really liked it but they found it in-between. They didn’t know if this was the work itself or if it was a documentation of an action. They said, sorry it’s too confusing; we don’t know how to deal with it.

AGNIESZKA KARASCH: And that’s exactly what’s left from Beuys actions, icons such as: fat on the chair or Beuys with a rabbit sitting on the chair and so on. The same in case of Vienna Actionists, Arnulf Reiner especially. All these documentations serve as icons or final images nowadays.

RAM SAMOCHA: You have to understand that for me there is a necessity of documenting the moment. Additionally, the material is flexible. I don’t have to use it as documentation only. I can take documentation of the process and print it as an object or use it with the remnants of a performance, side by side. Actually, the solo show I’m working on now is dealing with the same thing. It will be on in June in London and will be called “Remnants”. I will show there leftovers from past performances and a projection of my drawing actions. Objects, drawings and strips work by themselves. Every material that you have while you go live is an object that you produce. It’s a constant play.

AGNIESZKA KARASCH: The nature of performance art is very transitory and ephemeral. The photographs – as was just said – just partially give us (the absentees) the idea of the logics behind the process. This oftentimes contributes to the fact that many of contemporary performers simply repeat what’s already been or what’s being done by others. People do things without awareness. This would make things much easier for other artists and researchers if they related to performance video-archives. There are quite a few good ones, mainly privately-run such as Boris Nieslony’s in Cologne.

RAM SAMOCHA: Video documentation is one thing, but there’s also a performance for the camera done in one’s studio. I am working now on a project with another artist who does video performances. This is her material and this is the format she uses. It’s totally different in terms of final visual outcome. There’s something very unique in the end result of such a drawing done for the camera. It’s different from the one you work on in the studio and during a performance. Sometimes it’s very powerful and sometimes it’s very disappointing, I have to say. The action may be fast and energetic and at the end I think I should have worked on it little longer. That’s why I am working towards exhibition now to show the results, remnants of those live drawing performances. Not because I am so pleased with them but because they are very powerful in a way. Still, there where two or three canvases from performances that I looked at and said, no I won’t show this one, it’s just too simple for me.
AGNIESZKA KARASCH: Would you agree that performances can be divided to emotion- and communication-based? The first type is where performer’s inner experience is important, concentration goes inward. There’s stress on the process, the unforeseen, ritual, exhibitionism,  own experience like in case Herman NIetsch, which has been going on since the 60/70-ies. Another performative approach bases communication. Communication runs in sort of controlled way because control is set by some strategy or game which is defined already prior to the action itself.

I think the second example is obviously more readable, logical and therefore clear for the viewer. The performance doesn’t impose any interpretation onto the viewer.  There’s a certain clear strategy, logics in performance and here an observer is equally important as a performer. An observer can follow the logics of the performed piece, read the intentions or the game or simply participate as we’ve seen for the past 20 years. Isn’t for example your “Cover up” from 2013 an example of the communication oriented piece?
How would you relate to that? What are your preferences here?

RAM SAMOCHA: It’s both. I always balance myself and cannot be devoted to one idea or one rule. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, that’s simply my character. If I paint something abstract I always do realistic sketches from nature first. Some of my performances are very expressive, other are fairly complicated or layered. Sometimes I perform by myself and other times I communicate with viewers or engage them. I do so to experiment and to express myself. I have to say though, that there has been this quietness in latest performances. Sometimes I think I am just by myself. All very quiet and audience becomes more and more concentrated. The one you mentioned, the “Cover up” 2013 in London was such a quiet action as oppose to the same one from 2009, which I did in Toronto, where there was some distraction, talks and laughs among the audience. So there definitely is some kind of concentration that is going on right now.


Lately I made a performance with an artist, Gerald Curtis. I wrote numbers from zero to nine and he wrote the letters of the Polish word translated as “to remember”.

AGNIESZKA KARASCH: That exactly is something very important for me – holding peoples’ attention. I like observing how audience responses to a performance, no matter if it’s a visual, music or theater performance. Zygmunt Piotrowski, a Polish performer, has been dealing with the problem of peoples’ attention in his performances a lot, also in the collective ones. He actually only stands and meditates during performance. Of course in his art he refers to philosophy and religion, such as Buddhism but within a space context and within collaboration especially, such pure standing has a very powerful effect.
There are many ways but I think one of the powerful ways to hold audiences nowadays is a strategy or a game. When people try figuring out the deeper structure of the action throughout an entire performance.

RAM SAMOCHA: You think that more people are paying attention to art now than in the past? It seems to me people rather say, oh it’s performance art and I don’t understand it, so they go away.

AGNIESZKA KARASCH: Yes, they don’t get it because there are reasons for them not to understand. Most of performances are too personal, emotional, meaning that they refer to inner experiences of an artist. We artists, critics, curators expect people to find their own explanations. People got used to not getting  information in art. They got used to thinking independently and that’s good but I guess it’s gone quite extreme now, so viewers leave. For example, I like how Jane Grisewood and Carali McCall cooperate in their drawing performance because there I see structure and system that they follow. They are somehow limited by certain rules that they establish and people not only start understanding their game, but they follow and at some point also admire the drawing itself. That’s what I mean by audiences’ attention.
In your performance “Connections”  your whole body and senses are engaged when you start. There is this inward focus. People feel that there’s something very intense and personal going on there. It’s great to watch this powerful scene. Suddenly you go out of it and start engaging the audience in communication by inviting them to run and draw with you in a certain mode as you run against a person. Can you tell me more about it? Didn’t people find this sudden transition confusing?

RAM SAMOCHA: No, I didn’t find any clash in this one. At least not in this particular work. It was quite harmonic because, as you said, there were these two parts there. In the first part I also covered my head with a mask. When I approached people and asked them to draw with me I was taking off the mask and was becoming somebody else. The whole idea behind it was, how long I could keep doing this, keep running back and forth along this long wall. The second part was about trying to get beyond what I was able to do. At the end I approached somebody and asked him to lift me up so I could reach little higher. That’s why participation of the audience was crucial there. It was actually planned.  We didn’t talk about it but participation of audiences is really very tricky, both in a drawing performance and generally.

AGNIESZKA KARASCH: I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say about it. In personal performances, trans and ritual are incredibly intriguing to watch. As an outsider or a viewer, I am watching a scene that’s going on there on a little pedestal or in a defined performative space. I am in another world. I may enjoy being a witness and staying outside more than being invited by an artist, especially when he’s just been going through some kind of an intense, personal experience.

RAM SAMOCHA: It’s something very personal, isn’t it?
AGNIESZKA KARASCH: Yes and I can potentially be less engaged or not at the same temperamental, energetic or emotional pace with a performer. Therefore your presence could have been overpowering. I am just considering all this by playing a devil’s advocate here. I hope you don’t get it as criticism.

RAM SAMOCHA: Oh, not at all. It’s really very complicated. In terms of level of intensity, sometimes you just expect from somebody to draw a line, just one line. Among some audiences there is this willingness to participate and among others there’s just this vacuum and no response. I guess that’s quite important to you because you work not just as yourself, do you?

AGNIESZKA KARASCH: Yes but I have to say I am not directly interested in participative actions. There has been this tendency, all over the world for decades but especially in the nineties, to participate. I think it continues because it’s institution-supported stuff. What I really enjoy is working in, watching or researching collaboration and not even in the sense of “drawing together” but coming up with and working on particular strategies or codes and then applying them to my own art or teaching drawing.

RAM SAMOCHA: Returning to your first question as it also relates to the subject of participation in a way, I’d like to recall the discussion panel from the last day of the symposium. I asked why there were more and more people doing drawing performance lately. I personally think the reason for more artists pursuing this now is appearance of Internet in our lives. Since the introduction of Internet people have been trying to search for occupations that cannot be replaced by Internet. Quite a simple but truthful comparison are all the beauty services. Being a hairdresser is one of the examples, but also being a drawing performer (laugh). That’s true! You can’t do it anywhere else but here, being yourself and alive. Internet diverted ideas and actions towards another meaning.

AGNIESZKA KARASCH: Yes, that’s also true.

Coming back to the division I mentioned and within it this kind of emotional, personal, inward oriented performance… Now let’s try to consider it the other way around. Would you feel that an intervention of another person in your performance could bring some benefits for you as artist or for the creative process itself? Or would it be too shocking, disturbing for you?
RAM SAMOCHA: Unexpected intervention. Well I have two examples I can tell you about. One of them happened when I did a five hours performance in a commercial gallery in Toronto. Five drawings done within five hours and it was my first live performance in a gallery. At one point people got very excited. Markers and pastels were on display near the work. After I finished one of the them, they started going over the drawing and continued my action. The gallery owner came running. I said: ‘oh fine, go ahead with this’ as I‘m very interactive, but the gallery owner said: “No, no, don’t touch it” and she took the tools away. Afterwards I could understand her reaction because, after somebody has been touching your work, especially when it’s been done in a commercial relation, it’s totally changed, it’s not fully yours anymore. In terms of working with commercial galleries, one has to be aware of consequences and rules.
The second example would be “Connections”, where I told people to draw a straight line. I repeated myself as I was saying: straight line, straight line…., and there was somebody at one point who did a curly line in the middle of the work. He did something else then what he was told. It was something so different from the whole idea of that work, you know. I could have erased it but I kept it although, to tell you the truth, no I didn’t like those two curly lines (laugh).
I also worked with people on “Pay a visit” which was an interactive installation and performance. I asked people to draw with coins on a large roll of paper that I placed on the gallery floor. The visitors drew on it whatever they wanted. I had a general idea about the mark making at the beginning of this performance, but then it turned out to something like graffiti in a way. To tell you that I liked the final result… – no, not at all. I now use this roll of paper for other drawings and projects and recycle it, but to present it as a work of art – no way. Plus I am too much of a control freak…

: It’s coming out, now! (laugh).
RAM SAMOCHA: Yes, you know, I am an artist.


18.03.2014, Warsaw-Brighton