Volume Eights: CURATORS OF YOUR OWN WORK
in conversation with Emma Frankland and Tamarra
Here is a snap shot of a conversation we had with Tamarra and Emma (who just so happens to be Dylan's sister) about their experience creating the Trans Performance Exchange . A beautiful six month long project between the two trans artists. It's an exchange of information, knowledge and love between their homes in the UK and Indonesia.
Each month they have each released a new digital postcard onto Instagram, and if you haven't seen them yet, do! (Supported by British Council Arts).
Hope you enjoy!
(Reading not your thing? Don't worry, you can listen to our conversation here)
Madeleine: Do you feel as if lockdowns and Covid will have a lasting impact on the type of work you make?
Emma: So my practice had really become about going abroad and taking my work internationally, meaning the audience's that I was reaching, were queer, trans and very far away from my own local community. Something that's been nice, reflecting on a forced period of having to be at home, was for the first time looking around at my immediate community (and not even the extended community, which for me, would include Brighton and London). I don't think, without the pandemic, I would have shifted that focus, and actually looked for an audience that was very close to home. I think particularly queer artists in the UK, we get drawn to the cities, there's lots of reasons why that is, and it's really understandable, but it's also really important that we see queer, and other marginalised artists taking work outside of the main big cities. So that's been really cool.
I haven't loved taking my practice online and wherever I have there's always been a kind of live element to it. So even though some things have existed online, they've also been performances that happen in real life. Anything that I've made digitally has been a capture of something that's happening in real space.
Tamarra: Actually, my experience is not so different from Emma’s experience, my work is based on my research, so mostly I was travelling around cities in Indonesia. And now I can't go anywhere. But I still can go in the city, in the area of Jakarta. And then because of that, I do my online performance, mostly in public spaces. [Except from Volume 5] when it was the worst lockdown so we couldn't go to the public spaces anymore. And that experience for me I felt like I wasn't performing for the audience, but I did my performance for the camera. I felt awkward. I wasn't comfortable because I felt like the camera directed me, not me making the harmony with the audience. You know, the energy in the harmony being with an audience? The annoying thing was when the cameraman says ‘CUT’. And I’m like ‘come on! (laughs) I'm not making a movie! I’m doing performance art (laughs)’
So that was a bit annoying for me for the first time. But after that, I learned the cameraman cannot direct me, I have to direct the cameraman. So in the next video, he never ever said ‘cut, cut cut’.
Dylan: The project is called Trans Performance Exchange,
and you're exchanging these postcards. Have you felt yourselves taking elements from each other’s practice?
Emma: I think that each film I saw, made me want to just continue to up my game. So every time I saw Tamarra’s film, I‘d be like “ah fuck, okay, I want my next film to be up there,” I love the risk that you take Tamarra, with stillness and with time, and often the payoff in your film comes right at the end. And I think that's something that I've tried to do. So I think that's something that I've tried to bring into my practice.
Tamarra: I can’t say much more because Emma’s already said it- but I try to exchange also, a bit about my culture. I'm playing with an egg, because the egg is a sacred thing for women and also with the dresses, with the traditional market. I want to exchange the kind of culture of Indonesian trans people here.
Emma: I found that quite difficult actually, I think the full title of the project was, From My Land to Yours, A Trans Performance Exchange. Obviously everything that we do together is about cultural exchange, and that's been really valuable for me; to learn about Javanese and Sulawesi culture, as well. But it's hard for me because I think that I feel less proud of or less able to even know what British trans culture is. You're sharing this beautiful clothing, beautiful concept, all of these things, that particularly when in the second film, which had the theme of “My Land” all that I can really think about is that I live in this really racist, hostile country. How do I represent that? I am also a white person in this country so I have this privilege and power. And so I did feel that that was maybe the film that we were furthest apart in.
Dylan: Have you enjoyed the process?
Tamarra: It was fun. Of course, it was fun. The idea’s always come after we have posted the work and we have our private conversation, and we talk about the next idea. That's come organically, actually and that's not so complicated. But also I feel proud of myself, because mostly, when creating new work, I always ask a curator to help me. But now I feel like I'm an artist, and I'm a curator, because I'm writing down all the things and posting on Instagram. So there's a lot of things I learned from this process.
Madeleine: I think there is something really interesting that happens on Instagram; how it starts as a viewer, is that we watch the videos first and then we read the caption. It's not like in an art gallery, you might see a painting and then you might well read the description first or even in a theatre, you might read
the programme before you watch the piece. But on Instagram it happens the other way around.
Emma: It's been the thing that I felt a little bit stressed about. I really want the writing to be read with the film. And my worry is that someone would watch the film and not read the writing. And sometimes particularly with mine, I like to put the image that plays against the words or something that maybe has more nuance, and I really like that we chose to make the films nonverbal so that they’d be accessible to audiences in English and in Bahasa Indonesian. But yeah, still feeling that reliance on needing to give some kind of context or wanting to have that there. It's hard giving over that control.
Tamarra: For me, actually, I just feel like I just throw it on Instagram. With most of my installation work I also can’t control the output of my work. I can’t control the audience feeling what they feel, what they do with my art work.
On the online platform they can also say something bad or whatever, but I don't worry about that, because that’s a good thing to know or to see people's reaction to our work.
Madeleine: Can I ask why you chose Instagram?
Emma: Instagram was definitely chosen for ease and because Tamarra and I already have quite a good Instagram presence. It was a way of finding an audience because personally, it's quite rare that I'll follow a link and watch something. But I scroll all the time. So if I scroll past something, I'll see it. And if I have to make time to go and watch it at a certain time or whatever, I won't. Also, I think my philosophy with digital work, and I know this differs with other people; but I really feel like fucking hell there's so many barriers to getting an audience, why not make it as easy as possible for people to view it and to put something up and then it to be available forever? I don't see the benefit of trying to make it scarce and make it harder to see than it already would be. The first film that we put out is still getting views now, you know, it's cumulative. And if we’d just put those up for a short window of time, it'd be seen by much fewer people.
Tamarra: For us Instagram was just our gallery for our project.
Emma: Tamarra, is there anything about the safety of being on the internet and visible? I know that we started off posting a lot of things in both languages and then there came a time that we stopped doing that because of your safety in Indonesia.
Tamarra: Yeah, I remember that case. But I forget what case that actually-
Emma: I think the first one.
Mads: The Trans Goddess* piece?
*[The accompanying description written by Tamarra for the film TRANS GODDESS: Allah, the God in Islam that I believe in, is a symbol of fluidity or the fluidity of feminine and masculine traits. Allah has no gender, Allah is neither male nor female. Allah is a reflection of the entire contents of the universe which is
depicted in the Asmaul Husna, or the 99 names of Allah. God is femininity and masculinity within me.]
Tamarra: Yeah, because I felt worried that Muslim people would react in a bad way. But we are lucky. We didn't get it.
Dylan: It's interesting thinking about, and I mean, particularly Tamarra with your work often taking
part in public spaces, and just remembering that online is still just as public. Even with it being on
people's phones in what feels like quite a private relationship between performer and audiences,
it's still hugely public. In terms of safety, is there anything else to mitigate against that?
Emma: When I was over in Jakarta, the first time that I went to Indonesia, I remember the people curating the performance that I did saying, ‘Oh, we won't, we won't get in any trouble. But if we use terms like ‘LGBT’, ‘transgender,’ these are the terms that will likely trigger a response.’ So we removed searchable terms in Bahasa Indonesian. But yeah, I mean, it's not lost on me that, you know, like I said, I can be super critical of the UK without really any fear of repercussions.
But, yeah, that element that I really respect of Tamarra’s work, which is very bold and taking work into a public space. This is just as exposing, and there is a choice of putting something out that is findable, searchable, and we do have no control and it's public access, right? It probably is owned by Instagram now or some shit like that. I don't even know. You don't have the same control over duration. With an in-person show, when it's over, it's over.
Dylan: Is there anything that you think you will take from this period of having to create remote work that will impact your in person work in the future?
Emma: I think for me, better access. I already had realised that with turning Rituals For Change, which was a live performance into a film, and how much more accessible that has been. I'm less squeamish about the idea that a live performance should only be viewed in the live space. Because there's so many accessibility barriers towards that; there's physical ability to be in spaces, safety level of persons, you know, confidence being out, like all of these things. Someone can watch queer Tik Tok without that much fear of getting outed but if you're going to come and see a show that feels like a bit of a bigger thing.
Also the questions of, how do we share work internationally? It feels so important to be able to reach out, to fuck borders, and to recognise that the trans community, the queer community, the arts community, whilst we can recognise the ways in which we're different, and the ways in which privilege plays out, that we are a small community, and that should transcend these false constructed ideas of national borders. But how do we do that with the planet in trouble? So I think the idea that, (and it was interesting reading your interview with Pigfoot about the ecological ramifications of digital work, and nothing being absolutely neutral) but it does feel that that's something I would like to continue in my work, is to make sure that there is always some kind of offer that can be accessed in a different way. And I just thought that we've got a bit more confidence about doing that.