Thoughts on Ivo Dimchev's P-project

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Ivo Dimchev P-Project Side Step festival 2016

P-Project (premiered in 2012) is a performance by the Bulgarian artist Ivo Dimchev in which the audience gets the opportunity to perform and will be paid for its participation. After giving a short description of the performance on the 4th of February 2016 and its development I will pick some issues that came to my mind during that evening.

The artist enters the stage with a chin length wig, an orange scarf covering his shoulders and a provocative pearl lingerie covering his genitals. On stage we can find in the back, on the left side, a Keyboard and in the front, right and left, two tables with chairs and computers. Ivo Dimchev is heading to the keyboard, where he will sit and stay most of the time of the performance.

Some technical issues slow down the actual beginning of the performances but are very well included by the artist and reveal at the same time certain difficulties in live performance. Although the piece is announced as an interactive piece based on the voluntary participation of the audience (Zodiak Web page) and the program text lays open the event,Dimchev explains the background and the initial idea and rules of the following performance. We, as audience members, know that we have to engage ourselves tonight and the experience of that evening depends on our contribution. Premise for this piece was his desire to give total dramaturgical freedom to the audience. The initial idea of presenting a pussy catalogue, dropped into an installation, which can be attended after the show. P-Project then developed into a piece on its own. During his performance Dimchev pays for the audience’s contribution which consists of actions or things Dimchev asked for. Within the action the participator has artistic freedom in fulfilling the task. Ivo Dimchev will musically and vocally accompany all actions. The song texts are created live, using the text material by two audience members who write texts or words during each action. The first contributors are asked to write poems or dance, later on to be naked on stage, kissing or faking sex, and for closure to write a critic about the performance.

After his introduction, Dimchev invites the first two audience members to write a poem for his first song. Quite a simple task, easy to realize and it will be rewarded with 20 euros. No problem in finding two volunteers, which are going to sit on the computers and type some sentences. Two paid volunteers and one artist, sharing the stage for about 5 minutes and the rest of the audience experience the first phase of the performance. For the next two rounds Dimchev asks for non-professional dancers that would join the stage together with two new poets. The payment for the dancers is a bit more attractive than for the writers. Within these three rounds, the artist creates a “safe” space for the audience to overcome their fears to come on stage and to share their words and dance and test themselves.

After having “shaped” the atmosphere we come to the second phase of the performance. Now, Ivo Dimchev wants to see two people (no matter which gender combination) kissing on stage. This action is paid with € 60. But there is one more request which is only communicated when the kissing members are already found: kissing, but with naked torso (with bra for the women). Some light changes are supposed to make the ambiance a bit more comfortable and the kissing couple take their shirts of without any veto. We observe two poets behind their computers and a kissing couple trying to find their way through the five minutes and the artist singing but commenting on the happening as well. In a next round Dimchev is looking for a couple that fakes sex naked on a mattress. Even the payment of € 250, - per person doesn’t evoke an immediate participation. But on that evening we are “lucky” and watch two female audience members getting paid for being naked and executing fake sex. After this round, surprisingly, follows one more round paid by the artist. The last € 50, - are for somebody that has one minute to do what ever he/she wants. We know observe a person that goes on stage and might surprise the audience with something unexpected.

Photo: Ivo Dimchev

At that moment, we come to a state where the things that are asked are entering a more private and vulnerable field but are very well paid. Do we now ponder between participation for money or watching the participators?

Finally all budged is spent, but to end the performance, Dimchev is asking for one last contribution. In a third face two volunteers are asked to write a 10 sentences long positive and negative critic about the performance. The freshly written critique will be read out loud by their authors and since there is no money left to pay them Dimchev asks the audience to donate. He is collecting the money from the audience and handing it out to the authors, and of course commenting on the amount. After having watched these audience members showing their capacities on stage for one hour,

there seems to be a certain sympathy for them in the audience and their last contribution is rewarded with our money.

The performance ends. A small rebuilding lead the audience to Ivo Dimchev’s pussy catalogue installation that he was talking about in the beginning of the performance.

The performance was, for me, very intriguing in its structure. Before we, the audience, enter the performance space we know some things about what is going to happen on the evening, for example, that there will be in total € 1000, - which are paid to audience members for performing on stage. During his performance Dimchev regularly points out the importance of a correct payment of his voluntary performers. Nothing should be taken for free. The connection to issues and questions in the artistic field concerning payment and labour is obvious. The payment of our contribution is one trigger to go on stage, but the dramaturgical freedom is attractive as well in its way. Within the task the audience is seemingly free in some ways, and might only realize afterwards that the freedom turns into an illusion. The participator is bound on what Ivo Dimchevs desires and faces a certain time limit. Another problematic situation in the artistic field becomes visible, where time restrictions and artistic freedom can stand in each other’s way and final decisions may be regulated by institutions. For the last contribution the budget is exhausted, so there another source of money must be found. And since the situation is so well built, the public is open enough and willing to pay the voluntary artist.

One could say that these “problematic” topics might not be new to an audience visiting Side Step Festival performances, – at least not unknown. Again a performance about institutional critic?

But Dimchev’s way of criticising and putting these issues on the table is different. In a smart way, he creates a successful, even entertaining evening: In 60 minutes stage performance, he achieves to demonstrate problematic issues of the performance / choreography / life art context only through audience’s participation. He represents two different roles to me. On the one hand, he represents himself as artist through his disguise and the role he plays in his performance, and on the other hand he embodies (without disguise) the art institution he is dealing with. Furthermore, the performance offers different ways of involvement affected by Dimchev’s role of artist and institutionalized body: Whom do we follow tonight? How much are we passive and active audience members and / or participators? When do we enter difficult /

problematic territory because we decide to contribute or not to contribute? Do we follow Dimchev’s artistic proposition or do we follow the all over problematic request of the institution?

Depending on our view, we can be together with the charming artist, that commands the technician and persuade audience members to come on stage for money. Or we follow the institution that asks us to create something in a limited timeframe for any amount of money and pre-set conditions. We can act within his artistic proposition, being on stage with the artist for an obolus, supporting his songs with text material or being accompanied by his music and creating a pleasurable evening. Or we act within his institutional proposition, being in a dilemma between making the show happen, following the rules until it (maybe even) becomes uncomfortable for the contributor and/or the audience members to be paid for the “work”. Of course, now, the either … or follows a bit of a black-and-white-logic, but I want to emphasize how he is on very thin ice in his show. Although we are free to choose if we want to participate we already participate by attending the show. Then we make the first poems happen and slowly work together our way up until some audience members are ready to fake an orgasm naked on stage. A common feeling of responsibility takes over up to the point where we pay some members for their written critique out of our own pockets. The pressure of participating and the pressure on the participator are almost not sensible, but somehow with us all the time. Light, music, ambiance and contribution have an entertaining character, are funny, even ridiculous, but executed by the participants in a serious way. And maybe only through our serious execution for money can be visualized how unsafe and absurd the performance is. It is due to the artist’s interest, that P-Project must become a success. Thus Ivo Dimchev has to succeed in convincing his audience to participate in the show, to make it work. In my opinion, Dimchev found a playful way to make all of the audience’s decisions slightly ambiguous and problematic.