The Art Star And The Sudanese Twins raises huge issues about art, adoption and exploitation. Renowned installation artist Vanessa Beecroft answers some of the questions that arise from the film.
What are the challenges of using living human beings in your art? Do you pay them for their involvement?
I pay the women who participate in the performances, though when I started I had no budget, and women usually volunteered or accepted modest fees. The instructions I give them are minimal: do not talk; do not move too fast, too slow; do not interact with the audience. The women usually understand this without much explanation.
The participants adhere to the work as if they were responsible for it, too. It’s like a self-portrait in which they accept to be portrayed for what they are and for what the portrait says. Painting a model at school wasn’t enough. What interested me in the model didn’t surface until I decided to show the women live. They bring new content to inanimate portraiture, something unexpected, and add their aura to the picture.
Why did you want to go to Sudan?
I read in a New York Times article that the genocide in Sudan was getting worse. I felt compelled to go and witness what was going on. It was not a rational decision. I couldn’t believe what I read, and I wanted to go there to see how the people were.
Was it difficult leaving your baby behind?
Yes, particularly because I was going to Darfur. I was afraid. However, I went anyway, moved by an instinct that I had to go.
What moved you to want to adopt? Was it the conditions in the orphanage or the intense experience of breastfeeding the twins?
Both. But the experience of meeting the twins was probably the main cause. Nothing similar, apart from the birth of my two children, has ever made me feel so close to people. I interpreted it as a signal for me to change.
Why did the adoption fall through?
I was convinced that I could overcome law and bureaucracy by making a strong case.
But two factors made me insecure about the decision to adopt. First, I wasn’t sure what the feelings of the natural father really were. At the time, the translator kept saying the father’s only wish was that I take the twins, but I wasn’t really sure about it.
Then there was my husband, who rejected the idea and threatened to divorce me.
Ultimately, my husband asked, “Is bringing them here more convenient for us? Better for them? Is what we call luxury luxury for them?”
Even if I thought I could provide the children with a special existence, I could not really say that life in our side of the world is ethically, psychologically and even physically better.
Would you try again or consider adopting an at-risk baby in the United States?
Did you have a feeling of being exposed when the documentary was shot or screened?
When it was screened, I felt unfairly, selectively exposed. There were no scenes of motherhood, of my devotion to my children and family, no nursing scenes in the U.S. or Africa (at the time Brettkelly shot, I was still nursing my younger son); too much emphasis on the eccentricity and persistence and no idle time, which is not reality.
I believe that Brettkelly, like every author, creates a biographical portrait of the self by showing others. I can say the same of myself.
Did the Sudan art project bring some awareness of the situation there?
I’m not sure. But I thought instead of painting apples, I may as well try to paint this picture. And I will continue this way.
Pontisister Project © Vanessa Beecroft
Hatje Cantz published a book on Vanessa Beecroft’s performance art in 2004.
VANESSA BEECROFT CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
2007 THE DARFUR PROJECT
(Pescheria di Rialto, Venice Biennale) Installation evokes the slaughter in Sudan.
2005 THE LOUIS VUITTON PROJECT
(Louis Vuitton store, Champs-Elysées, Paris) Performance on the occasion of the store opening. Beecroft places models on the shelves next to the bags.
(Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin) One hundred women stand still for three hours, each oiled from the waist up and wearing nothing but a pair of pantyhose.
(San Diego) Performances use men from the U.S. Navy.
(Milan) First exhibition, a series of drawings, plus the past eight years of her Food Diary.
For more information, go to www.vanessabeecroft.com.