Reservoir: Frank Pay (ENG)

Kaaitheater bulletin May 2007English

item doc

In the Reservoir section we give an artist the opportunity to tell us about their ‘reservoir’: the library, video collection, archives or experiences on which they draw when creating. The musician and performance artist Frank Pay talks about his personal world and that of his PONI collective.


My mother, who worked in the fashion world, listened to music a lot. Through her I got to know The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Cure and Jimi Hendrix, and also classical music standards like Ravel’s Bolero. She played this music incredibly loud as she tore down the road with me on the back seat. That music made a big contribution to my cultural baggage. No books were read in our house. But I did go with my parents to the first performances by Rosas and Wim Vandekeybus and to films like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and The Kiss of the Spiderwoman.

After two years of study at the Antwerp jazz studio I ended up as a percussionist on the Brussels jazz scene. I experienced the heyday of the Kaai jazz club. Aka Moon appeared there every Wednesday. At that time Pierre van Dormael was still a member of the group. They had a musical influence on me. At that time my main models were Steve Coleman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and people like that. I played at the Kaai too, with a group of our own, Catch 22. It went quite well but I still had the feeling that ‘there had to be more than that’: I wanted to do something with theatre, dance and art. While looking for somewhere I could practise on the drums, I ended up in a big dilapidated factory in the rue du Boulet: we shared the space and the rent with a small group of artists (Freek Wambacq, Erik Nerinckx, Hilde Fauconnier, Luc Stallaert and Barbara Visser). It was with them that I started to experiment with installations and performances. I used my first PC to write compositions that soon found their way into dance performances by such people as Riina Saastamoinen. In the meantime, my mother had moved to Paris to work with Martin Margiela: I learnt a lot from him. Among other things he taught me more about Andy Warhol: my first trigger, something completely different from jazz.

In 2002 I spent six months in Hangar, an arts centre in Barcelona. During that residence I experimented a lot with toys, dolls and other things I found in the street. I also had a lot of time to read: Cees Nooteboom’s Allerzielen and Rituelen, Oscar Wilde, a biography of Marcel Duchamp and suchlike. At the same time I was thinking about what I would do for the next five years: it seemed to me that performance art was a form in which I could combine dance, theatre and music. Shortly before that I had discovered the work of Julie-Andrée T through a video conference in Ixelles: that inspired me so much that I invited her to the first audition/workshop of what was later to become the PONI group: a ten-day initiation ritual. In Barcelona I was constantly faced with ‘questions of identity’, with the way Catalans relate to Spaniards. So ‘language, identity and ritual’ became the three words around which we worked in the first PONI project.

A sort of psychoanalysis

I chose the name PONI because it is short and recognizable in any language and also because it’s an animal. That’s probably because of the time I spent in Iceland: you can drive around there for days without seeing anything but sheep and ponies. Iceland is a very inspiring country, especially because of the incredible passion of the people engaged in art there: they are so fucking motivated to get off their island but at the same time very chauvinistic and full of solidarity. I’m fascinated by Björk, the Sugar Cubes, Einar Orn and the whole punk scene in Reykjavik.

I also find Romeo Castellucci’s work incredibly interesting. I’m attracted to Italy anyway: the food, the drink, the culture, the colours. When it comes to art, Matthew Barney’s work has made a great impression on me in recent years. Castellucci and Barney are artists who create an open space the viewer can fill in for themselves. And they cross boundaries in their work; one makes visual theatre, the other theatrical performance art/installations.

But the things that most stimulate me in my work don’t come so much from books, music or other performances, but out of myself. My own development remains my most important driving force, my ‘generator’. It is only when I notice that I have a particular interest – in identity, eroticism or politics, for example – that I start to accumulate information on these subjects. My work is actually a sort of ‘psychoanalysis’ of the various stages of my life. On a tour in Israel, for example, I became extremely interested in politics: you are really in the political epicentre of our world there, amongst ancient conflicts. One of the results of this interest in politics was the ‘wall project’, an installation/performance I made together with Merlin Spie.

I am very grateful to have the people from PONI around me: they are an incredible source of inspiration. I learn something from them every day. They are all good in what they do (dance, music, visual art, etc.) and, what’s more, they are all curious to look beyond their own boundaries and also to take account of everything that has happened in the history of art. Take someone like Gudni (Gunnarsson) for example: he studied painting in Iceland but says Tintin is his main source of inspiration. This Icelander comes here and tells us we shouldn’t forget Magritte. He is convinced that the dadaist Hugo Ball, or Magritte or Delvaux, would be very pleased if they were to see our work. For the second PONI project we worked with the words ‘death, illusion and ritual’. Rituals enable you to communicate about things you cannot communicate in any other way. In this creative process we worked on requiems for a time. That taught us a lot about composition: the way those systems of repetition, canons, and so on are put together. Two films were also very important in the working process: Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Faustrecht der Freiheit, especially for the homoerotic side of Fassbinder and his work, and that body language that is able to express so much.

Idiocy and humour are incredibly important to me. You could define idiocy as: simply daring to laugh at yourself and everything else. Perhaps idiocy is even the opposite of religion. But in the end it is psychology that remains my biggest fetish: I have always been interested in inter-personal relations. I also believe in Muses: women inspire me, however difficult it is to work with them. All this provides me with ideas: after all, it’s always a combination of a good image, the energy of the music, a beautiful movement or a fine building, a colour or smell, an object, the context, the spectator... it’s a form of alchemy.