Reading Rämistrasse #67: Brit Barton on Alexandra Bachzetsis at Karma International

Created to resemble the photoshoot for a Guess ad, the artist was clad in high-waisted and fitted denim jeans, nude stiletto heels, a plain white t-shirt and minimal makeup.

In mid-September, artist Alexandra Bachzetsis twice performed Perfect, a solo choreographic artwork from 2001, at Karma International as part of solo exhibition/installation Rehearsal (Ongoing) for Zürich Art Weekend. Created to resemble the photoshoot for a Guess ad, the artist was clad in high-waisted and fitted denim jeans, nude stiletto heels, a plain white t-shirt and minimal makeup. A portable clock radio stood by for the artist to make various analogue dialling gestures in order to change songs and recalibrate the tone of the work while repeating the same movement as before. Pop music that is by now more closely associated with grocery store shopping was part of the soundtrack. The entirety of the performance was a blurry ten to fifteen minutes, while the audience shifted to adjust and the studio lights increased in temperature and brightness as time passed.

The repetitive and probably exhausting performance was clearly designed to strategically subvert Marianismo – the feminine, saintly aversion to Machismo ­– throughout. The artist’s repertoire of gestures compounded female sexuality, endurance and the heightened problematics of gender in a rebuke of the male gaze. However, in re-performing Perfect, the movements that had been referential (hip hop meets Jane Fonda aerobics) can still be read as such, but cultivated an unexpected uncanniness that comes with a contemporary re-examination of the Y2K aesthetic. While romanticising and regurgitating twenty years ago is essentially a fashionable obligation within the cultural sphere, the nostalgia trip is less interesting than the social implications of what has and hasn’t changed for the artwork.

Beyond the recognisable and ironic forms of break dancing or ass shaking was Bachzetsis’ return to sharp, robotic gestures and a dissociative stare. There was a moment in Perfect where the artist’s movements seemed to prophesise the infamous dancing scene from the movie Ex Machina (2014); the scene has the sexy but lifeless and dull cyborg staring at a Jackson Pollock until activated by the music into fantastic choreography—because «after a long day of Turing tests, you gotta unwind.» In this case and with this artist, does the lo-fi lack of polish of Perfect in a world that has seen Anne Imhof’s high production value Faust bring us closer to contemporary artist as human or contemporary artist as cyborg? In Bachzetsis’ pared-back work, the banality of a woman feigning a white-cube type of isolation in a room full of people was underlined.

Performance art as a form of avant-garde theatre has never been, nor will ever be, for everyone. The inevitable tension between the captive gallery audience and performer was palpable, as those in the space shifted to see, sat down or left the room altogether. Perhaps at this point a lone woman dancing in front of a camera for an unknown audience is all too known and just as easily ignored. It is now so part of our daily vernacular – as is our own ability to control it ­– that what might have been alluring is now commonplace. But the artist is obviously well trained in maintaining and suspending the longing of whoever chose to stay. With that unspoken negotiation, the payoff of waiting comes in what we probably actually desire: the slow spiral of a poised, yet dishevelled, commanding but exhausted woman. A telling note that no matter the year, some things do not change.

Rehearsal (Ongoing): Alexandra Bachtetsis, Karma International, Weststrasse 70 & 75, 8003 Zürich, Switzerland

17 September–30 October 2021, further performance 30 October.

Photography: Annik Wetter

Reading Rämistrasse

If art criticism is losing ground, we must act. That’s why we created space for criticism – Reading Rämistrasse – on the Kunsthalle Zürich website and publish reviews of current exhibitions. What is published here does not represent the opinion of the Kunsthalle Zürich. Because criticism has to be independent.

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