MAGAZINE

Interview with Katarina Zagorski

Winner of the open call 'Radical Empathy'

Katarina Zagorski x Kotryna Tribusinaite

Picture taken during the performance by Ondrej Koščik

Katarína Zagorski (formerly Katarína Mojžišová) has created projects in dance, theatre, and performance art. She has choreographed for professional ensembles, schools, short films, and television. For seven years she lived in Ireland as an independent artist and Guest Tutor at the University of Limerick. She holds a Master’s degree from The Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava and is a recipient of international grant awards. “Kilometre Dance “was performed at Doma Dobre 2020, an event organized and produced by Pohoda Festival for Depaul Slovakia. I have tapped into Katarina’s artistic practice and her decision to enter the open call “Radical Empathy” by wendy.network.

 

Can you tell us more about your artistic practice? What inspires you? How did you become an artist?

I started dancing at a very young age. I don’t know exactly when I became an artist. You see, here we are not taught to talk about ourselves as artists. We were taught to think of ourselves as dancers or choreographers because the connotation of the word “artist” would mean that you achieve something special regarding what you do. When I was in Ireland, I noticed that the term “artist” was used in a very casual expression, which made me feel very good because it didn’t carry that heavy burden of responsibility of an “artist”. I have to admit that I like to refer to some of my projects as “works of art” rather than performance or theater. What inspires me? I always feel inspired when I can’t handle it: when I’m incredibly busy. It can also be something very casual, for example, my artwork “Kilometre Dance” was inspired by my former name Katarína Mojžišová of which initials are KM – like a kilometre. So I thought it would be nice to do something with my old name!

So interesting! Indeed, many women identify with one name and then – it suddenly changes – while men don’t usually experience that in their lives.

It’s funny because when I came back from Ireland after living there for 7 years and then got married and changed my name, at first people did not recognize it was me and my artwork. But it’s also exciting – like a new beginning! Like there was this artist Hokusai who changed his name very often, that was his concept.

In your statement that you applied for the open call “Radical Empathy” you wrote: ‘Last year I was asked by the CEO of Pohoda Festival Michal Kaščák to perform “Kilometre Dance” at their charity event Doma dobre. Can you comment on this process, how did you connect your original artwork, created in 2017, to this request?

Pohoda Festival, which is one of the largest festivals in Europe, also organizes smaller events. Doma dobre was an event for Depaul, a charity for homeless people in Slovakia. The festival director Michal Kaščák, with whom I collaborated earlier, called a week before the event – in December. He explained to me that the “Kilometre Dance” would connect the bus stop and the dormitory – the route that the homeless take in order to get to the dormitory, which is about a kilometre long. It is located on the outskirts of Bratislava. Usually the homeless get off the bus and walk to the dormitory, which is quite a long way.

When he called and explained his request, I knew I couldn’t call any other dancers to participate because it was such short notice, but also – it was really cold outside because it was December. Plus, we were in the Covid 19 pandemic lockout. So I thought of linking Kilometre Dance to a character I danced a long time ago. The character is a strange creature that no one knows exactly what it is – maybe a human, an alien, something from a fairy tale – and this character has no home. Also, the character’s costume was quite warm as it was filled with down, so it was suitable for the current weather. I had this costume in a very old wardrobe in my parents’ country house and it smelled pretty bad. I performed with an open cage that was my “luggage” so to speak. It just all kind of came together. It was a very special way of being once I put the costume on.

What was the name of the character (was it Vank?)?

The character didn’t have a name. Vank was the name of the performance that was created in 1999. It’s a made-up word. There is a Slovak word “vánok” which means “light breeze”.

Continuing about characters: The call ‘Radical Empathy’, in which you participated with this artwork, is also based on a character created by the founder of wendy.network – Michael Mastrototaro. The character named Wendy was written for his 1999 cyber novel Machfeld, and we identify Wendy as an explorer, creator, magician and rebel. How did you initially find the connection between your performance and this open call?

I connected it to the “Radical Empathy” but also – to the character Wendy. I understood that it was an amazing character full of different meanings. I thought it was related to the character with no name. I also understood that Wendy has two sides to how she is perceived, and I thought that my character also brings controversy. And, the cyber novel Machfeld was created in the same year as this character – they were born in the same year! I think it’s a big deal to be born in the same year as someone.

The term “Radical Empathy” connected to this performance because it was for a charity event and it was also intended to encourage people to donate. However, I was concerned that I would discourage people from actually donating because I felt it was a bit of mischief to put this crazy character in that context. I felt like it will be a little bit rude and that it won’t be perceived as “high art” or won’t create the conventional appeal. But at the same time, for me, this character completely corresponded with the situation. I thought it might provoke controversial reactions. And it did.

"Kilometre dance", 2020

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It’s interesting that you feel that way because for me your performance immediately evoked empathy. I especially liked the scene where you followed some people you didn’t know and they were awkwardly ignoring you. I recognized myself in that state of ignorance.

You’re right, it’s a bit self-critical. When I was performing, I was not thinking about the outcome, I was just so in the character that I was somebody else at that point. I didn’t control myself when I was performing. “But then the president of Slovakia Zuzana Čaputová also participated at the Doma dobre event, and that’s when I thought, “I hope this isn’t too much?”. The festival director actually saw that it fit and he never doubted the idea.

You also used a rather radical soundtrack. I was wondering what the soundtrack represented?

We thought because it’s a dance, it would be nice to have some music in it. I offered three compositions that were used in the original performance and two other related projects, and the director chose KK Null and excerpts from his Kosmista Noisea. It’s noise music, quite extreme and raw sound that responded to the site which was the outskirts of Bratislava: it was winter, but there was no snow, so the trees had no leaves, it was quite pale, gray, and industrial. It was so dreary in there, I even got lost during the performance because everything just looked the same.

I noticed that the alternative lifestyle of being a nomad, in nature, away from conventional city life, is becoming more and more popular. Arthouse films and documentaries have been exploring it too, even the Academy Awards (“Nomadland”, 2020). Why do you think people are looking for alternative ways of living, in your opinion?

I don’t think city life is conventional, but I know what you mean. I think the pandemic has also caused people to move out of the city.

I thought of that when I saw your performance, especially when you were on the bus and got off in the middle of a field. You looked around as if to say “I came here, but I don’t know why”. I considered that people these days have been actively choosing to live alternatively – without settling.

During the performance I didn’t think about it, it just happened. I think the desire to not be tied down to one place appeals to everyone a little bit, especially because the means of communication and the media connect us virtually. But I like to think that it’s not completely virtual and that there’s always something solid in it.

So why did you decide to join wendy.network?

For one thing, I was intrigued by what Michael Mastrototaro and Sabine Maier are doing, because they are avant-gardists, artists who search for other forms of doing things that are sometimes completely unknown to me. I’m curious about it because it’s the future or one of the future possibilities. So I wanted to join even though I don’t understand much about cryptocurrencies and crypto art.

Next month we’ll be hosting a virtual wendy.network quarterly meeting where you can not only meet other people from wendy.network, but also understand more about what wendy.network is doing from both a technical and ideological perspective. You are more than welcome to join!

My last question, it’s a question where I’m addressing you as a person, not as a character in the performance: we’re talking about ‘Radical Empathy’, so do you think empathy is something you’re either born with, or you’re not, or it’s a skill that can be trained and developed? What is your journey to empathy?

I think there are people who are born with it, but I am not one of them. I believe empathy is a way of realizing something. I deal with it a lot: When you perceive art, you are training your empathy. In Slovakia, talking about empathy is especially important: after the collapse of communism, people suddenly felt that they were free to do what they wanted. Sometimes it gets ugly, it seems that Western countries have already gone through this and we are only going through it now. In The US for example, showing empathy is showing your greatness, while in Slovakia it is sometimes not perceived that way. Empathy is seeing the big picture, and that’s still hard for many people.

Agree. Thank you very much for your time, Katarina.

Snippet from the "Kilometre dance" performance video

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