On Becoming my Grandmother
2014, documentation of a performance, Oxford, A5 zine, 10 pages, risograph printing.
This methodology allowed me to become my grandmother, Gregoria Sanchez de la Rosa, who suffered from Alzheimers. She lived through and survived the Mexican Revolution. This exercise helped solve some of these research performance art practice questions, such as what is art performance for.
Different aspects of becoming someone else need to be considered when practicing Live Art and Performance Art. I dressed as my grandmother for three hours in a first phase of the methodology and impersonated her. She suffered from dementia caused by Alzheimers. One of my aunts took care of her for the rest of her life.
I walked for three hours with artist Robert Ridley-Shackleton. I asked him to be my companion, since I could not remember grandmother walking by herself.
By being my grandmother, I experienced anxiety when expressing my need to go home and not having help to achieve my desire. I got tired and proposed to lie on the grass. I needed a moment of calm and rest. I was going to continue our walk, but I was asked by my companion to stop the experiment because he was tired of me being my grandmother.
By acknowledging the request to stop impersonating my grandmother, I realised that there are visible and invisible limits when becoming someone else. There are aspects in the process of becoming someone in performance art that need to be considered before a performance piece happens.
Outside research, we empathise with someone closer to our reality. Consciously or unconsciously, we make their reality our own reality, and vice versa, because for a moment we know we are both vulnerable. Other people prefer not to step into this process.
In daily life, these moments of close relationship and physical proximity are invisible tools to engage in an empathetic process. The process of empathy is very complex; to engage into someone’s else’s life requires different levels of proximity to the person in pain, or the person living in a vulnerable situation. It also requires a space to explore feelings and sensations.
The invisible proximity of bodies is a performance tool that other artists have used in performances to trigger an empathetic response towards victims of violence. In performance art, these empathetic processes need audience and visibility. When working on this first part of the project, Robert was the audience.
In this direction, On becoming my grandmother offered a self-made reconstruction of a present before it completely vanishes from memory. The context in live art is not a ready- made reality; it is a constructed reality in constant transformation.
The second part of the methodology involved visiting a museum in my personas. I took my grandmother to Manchester Museum. I did not dress as her, but behaved like her. I was someone between her and myself. I had a camera and took pictures of the things I thought my grandmother would feel curious about.
Nevertheless, the process of becoming someone else in the museum exposed that the documentation and audience would be different this time, because I did not dress as my grandmother and I was alone. This particular artistic practice invented a visual empathy in what the performer looked at and framed in photographs printed in a risograph booklet.