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An Interview with Joshua Sofaer

Joshua Sofaer talks about:

Failure and performing life
I think that the main reason why people come to see a performance in real time is the possibility of failure. Houdini said that the way to attract the largest crowd is to indicate the possibility that someone might die. So this could be the most ultimate failure: the stunt goes wrong and he drowns. That is the failure of the work. People go to live performances to see how it doesn’t or does fail. It is not quite the same to see something that is pre recorded.

So what is failure? Failure to me is felt very personally. Somebody could have felt my performance was great and I felt it was a fail. Someone could feel it was rubbish and I felt it was a success. I suppose it is about intentionality meeting reception.
But I think there is a great attraction in the unexpected, the risk that something could go wrong.

Audience and surprise
The audience is the most important thing. They are the people we are working for. And most of the way I am working is working in a participating way with audience. There is always a difference with every audience and the energy that is in the room, so in a way it is often surprising. Thatis the thing about performing live.

Control and spontaneity
In terms of my art making I am not very spontaneous. I would like to bring more spontaneity in my work but my work is quite planned.
When I perform I always work with a script. I don’t trust myself enough in a performance context to not have it pretty prepared. This script is written word by word, it is possible that I write something like: “You can say something that is not on the script” in my script to indicate that I can improvise. It is probably fear and wanting to be in control.

The work that I have been making the last couple of years has involved lots and lots of people in a much larger context. You have to fill in health and safety forms like 5 months in advance. It can’t be spontaneous; it does not allow any room for spontaneity. I miss having experimental time in a studio, just trying stuff out. But it is not how I am working at the moment.

When I make an installation for example, I do not work with a script, I facilitate a situation where something could happen.
When I look at my career -for what it is worth- I think it is too reactive. I think I would like to be more proactive in terms of what I like to do, or where I would like to work.

Humour and hierarchy
In the hierarchy of art, humour is seen as lowbrow. Generally speaking, dominant forces in art consider humour as something of less value than something that is without humour. So if you look at art, which is institutionalised in theatres or in opera houses or in galleries, it is work that lacks humour. Humour is often put on as a sideshow, in the basement or in the cocktail bar. There might be reasons for that. I completely disagree with the idea that humour makes something more shallow.
Humour, laughter is an emotion, just like tears. I think in most successful pieces that I have made I tried to take people on the journey to both. Laughter and tears can catapult a meaningful experience. I think you need both in life.


Jolijn de Wolf [:]