performingborders (Alessandra Cianetti): Diana, as someone who works at the intersections of Live Art, political theory, curation, criticism and writing, your practice is a multi-layered, complex and exciting mix of academic research, experimental multi-media writing, and performative practice. I have been following your contributions for The Department of Feminist Conversations’ series ‘An Encounter’ and I was struck (and moved) by the ‘performative’ structure of your ‘An encounter with borders’ and the exploration of movement, bodies and your personal experience in ‘An encounter with distance.’ I would love to know more about how your lived experience of borders and movement across them as a Romanian migrant leaving a country that was ‘in the midst of one of the most aggressive phases of communism’ has informed your practice over the years.
Diana Damian Martin: I left post-socialist Romania at a time of short-lived hope, following a slow period of transition into capitalism that had its local specificities – before diasporic Romanian communities came to dominate right wing news headlines and tabloids. I was a non-EU migrant when I moved to the UK and since, political transitions have meant I’ve had four distinct legal statuses, each with different politics of visibility attached. It is here I first came across the term ‘Eastern European’ to designate a wide variety of border-relations and regions, and became fascinated by the intersecting local, global and planetary politics that shape how we think about migration and its cultures of belonging and exclusion. What is a cross-territorial body? How does movement complicate processes of recognition, dependent on frames that do not only pertain to a nation-state? Perhaps as a result, a lot of my work crosses contexts and occupies forms: the interrogatory, the speculative, the conceptual or the performative. Likewise, my interest in procedure and anti-representational poetics stems from wanting to unpack normative and colonial structures for writing and research, especially in English. My work feels transitive because my experience of movement and place has been transitive; desire shaped so much of my experience as a young person growing up in a post-socialist state; and as an adult migrant, I am confronted with a poetics of excess.
Eastern Europe is a term that comprises an often invisible region of Europe with distinct and complex border politics, ethnic identifications and shifting nation-states. As a mixed-ethnicity Romanian, it was through my work that I began to unpack the border narratives and experiences that imprinted certain ideas about how bodies move across (and why), the sets of permissions and exclusions that shape this movement, and the shifting narratives of the region. A diasporic identity opened up new ways of thinking about border crossing as tied as much to failed swims across the Danube before 1989, as to being on the territory of an unrecognised state. There are also cultural tropes that are unfamiliar- I did not know about the stigma of Romanian orphanages or the image of 1989 that dominates cultural discourse as a hopeful moment that still allowed two different political systems to co-exist. I grew up with disappointment at the immediacy with which capitalism adapted to Romania post’89, and the extent to which the oppressive structures of socialist rule remained in place and enabled a quick and extreme dominance of the political far right, homogenizing political discourse.
Upon entering the European Union, Romania (along with Bulgaria) was subjected to transitional measures in the UK that restricted access to the same mobility and local rights as other member states. This experience of being in transition in such explicit ways, across European borders that translated that policy in multiple ways, was really formative: it made evident to me the unresolvable tensions that shape processes of identification and belonging, and the often conflicting factors that lead to their legislation. It also made evident how easily migration becomes a stratified space. During my time here, Romania has become the second most common non-British nationality in the UK, according to a report by the Office for National Statistics published in 2018; so many of those working here, with varying levels of precarity or privilege, exist in constant and necessary movement between two geographic points– it is a particular experience of migration that is embedded in economic difference. In Encounters with Distance, I think about the varying poetics of distance as they shape this move between east and west, and back – at times, it feels like trespassing; at others, it’s smooth and indistinct; and at others, it’s a long cue for toll points with shifting border policies. Perhaps this is why in my work I am interested in the conceptual and political iterations of translation; in some of my Something Other texts for example, I work with multiple languages as a way to excavate the power dynamics that shape such relations.
performingborders (Alessandra): ‘I no longer translate, but my body is as translation, when words stand on opposite sides of the border. I think about forgetting, a lot. I dream in multiple languages but I cannot always carry the politics across, and the direction of movement seems vital.’ Writing for Chapter Six of the collective Something Other, you use the word a mișca (to move) you refer to language and the politics carried by moving bodies. In the multi-media essay and speculative fiction ‘And the Vampires Flow Towards the West: The Ecological Poetics of Eastern European Migration in the UK’ you refer to migration as ‘a composition in time and space’ linking ecology, Anthropocene and colonialism in the reading of the UK xenophobic rhetoric surrounding the lifting of the UK transitional measures for Romania and Bulgaria on 1st January 2014. Can you tell us a bit more about what role language, ecology, colonialism and the UK hostile environment policy play in the making of your multi-disciplinary and multi-media work?
Diana: The Hostile Environment Policy announced in 2012 – so connected to the colonial and racialized relations to migration in the UK- is aimed at producing voluntary leave. It is tied to processes of subjectivisation that construct illegality and ‘waste’. My interest in ecology, migration and their political nexus is rooted in my witnessing and encountering representations of migrants as inherently connected to ecology: from the imminence of tides, flows and waves of, for eg, Romanian migrants following end of transitional measures, to the construction of a rhetoric of debris and extraction. This creates this impression that migration can and should be governed at managerial level, and that political relations can be reduced to labour power and economic arguments: migrants become debris to be transported and tidied up. Viewed through the prism of the Anthropocene, the era in which human impact on the earth becomes a driving force of planetary destruction, this never ending dissolution unfolds through different conditions of visuality- in which the level of the metaphorical undoes the choreographies that hide beneath it. Material agencies impact on communities discarded for their lack of resource or agency ahead of the increasing pressures of the neoliberal global market, and on the biosphere itself, on erased borders and biological inversion. This correlation is telling- it is both speculative and predictive. Despite the oil spills, plastics, tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, extinct species, waste continues to be a means of political deployment, a false metaphor for care.
Waste also has an aesthetic connection to representations of Eastern Europe – mobile and often fetishised images of abandoned buildings and socialist blocs, of detritus and debris. I am currently working on a project that explores how this unfolds through the image of the balcony in socialist housing, particularly its aesthetic export; balconies that perform a distinct poetics of political discontinuity, as a staple of socialist architecture institutionalized in the urban landscape, but also a curious, non-aligned territory, literally displaced, neither inside or outside, fully walled or open-bordered.
In And the Vampires Flow Towards the West, I inter-relate encounters with performance work by migrant and its relations of labour and class, with speculative fiction scenarios that search for future subjectivities that are plural, displaced and hopeful. In my image-based work, I try to intersect border points that perform alternative narratives of entering and exiting, drawing on local histories, rituals and practices. Romania has a really rich relation to folklore as a particular commons, and I am increasingly drawn to histories of witchcraft and healing rites in that context. I explore some of these in my writing based work, where I can hold a more fluid relationship to language. I am searching for ways of sustaining linguistic plurality as a mode of accessing different poetics of belonging and sharing. In my text say, then, I navigate the language with two clock dials, and the numbers appear at random, as if skipping time and falling into the future, concurrently, I deploy translation as a means to talk about in betweenness (east and west, here and there). This return to the body as translation is a connective tissue for a lot of my work.
performingborders (Alessandra): Your practice is as much an individual endeavour as it is a sustained collective practice through groups such as Something Other and the The Department of Feminist Conversations that you co-run with Mary Paterson and Maddy Costa, and the collective Critical Interruptions, a Serbo-Romanian critical cooperative exploring Live Art and performance criticism. Something Other’s website quotes Peggy Phelan saying “performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance.” What have been the processes, strategies, actions,… generated by this collective exploration of Live Art, criticism and writing? And what are the developments you foresee for the future?
Diana: Live Art has been formative to so much of my work and it is through it that I discovered disruptive collaborative practices and intersectional, plural identities. This has been on the one hand, in my own uncovering of my relations to ethnic, sexual and gender difference, but also in my research, shaped by an interest in queer and feminist studies, critical race studies and theories of political thought.
One of my ways into Live Art was through criticism; but I felt really alien to criticism’s tactics and processes of authorship that felt to undermine so much of what radical practice does and constructs. Live Art offered not only a welcoming and fluid community, but also the realization that my interest was in criticism as a process, instrument or paradigm, not as a fixed practice of upholding positions of privilege and marketisation. My collaborative work stems from this position; in the Department of Feminist Conversations, we explore feminist modes of exchange and in Something Other, we host work that holds fluid relationships to performance and critique. the relay, for example, our collaboration with The Royal Court, is a series of durational conversations between people drawn from very different experiences and contexts. For Edge of an Era, we explored correspondence in and through archives of female artists working in the 80s in a series of audio letters, Archives of Now.
I am interested in criticism and performative practices that slip between methods and that politicise the encounter with and from performance. There is a colonial politics of recognition tied to criticism that is very slowly being eroded, but it is so embedded into the normative politics that so much writing comes with. I think my interest in collaboration and cooperative ways of working is shaped by wanting to displace the authority of authorship in favour of exploring the politics of thinking and writing in alliance. In my research, I look at for example, histories and contemporary practices of nonconforming criticism that offer forms of political inquiry. In my work with Bojana Janković as Critical Interruptions, we are developing strategies and modes of thinking with Live Art that foreground criticism as a collaborative, political practice. We explored some of this in Critical Interruptions Vol 1: Steakhouse LIVE, a project that evolved from a collaboration with Steakhouse LIVE that explored live writing as a discursive structure.
There is a lot happening at the crossroads between criticism, performance and Live Art, and it is a more inclusive and fluid ecology that is shaped by excellent cultural workers who operate collaboratively and develop radical working practices with political urgency. It however continues to remain a precarious, nomadic and shape-shifting intersection of fields that receives little support from public funders – it is nearly impossible, for eg, to develop a publication or writing project that does not have a wider scope, and even more difficult to have financial support in doing so. We need to continue to make explicit the labour and processes that shape and create critical spaces, and how necessary they are when discussion is so easily instrumentalised and rehearsed.
Diana Damian Martin is a writer and researcher working in performance. She is editor of (states of) wake: Dedicating Performance (2018) and On Time: A SPILL Reader (2018), and co-hosts Critical Interruptions with Bojana Janković, as well as Something Other and The Department of Feminist Conversations with Mary Paterson and Maddy Costa, inter-related projects that think politically about performance and performatively about politics. Diana is a member of Generative Constraints Committee and Writingshop. Her academic work has been published in Global Performance Studies, Performance Research, Contemporary Theatre Review and Journal for Theatre, Dance and Performance Training. She works as a Senior Lecturer in Performance Arts at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She once appeared in an issue of Private Eye, where her writing was described as obscure, impenetrable and unclear.
Featured image credits: Landscape, Diana Damian Martin