ALEMBIC: Body and Spirit. Live Art as Healing Art

In Dialogue with Jana Astanov

Jana Astanov is an interdisciplinary artist, a poet and an independent curator born in Poland, and living in the US. She is a founder of CREATRIX Magazine, portal for creative expression focused on art, activism and spiritual practice. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance art, sound art, and installation. In her work, she utilizes spiritual traditions, somatic movement, sound art, ritualistic theatre and Astrofeminism, a term she has developed through her character Yannanda The One Who Speaks With The Stars. Together with her partner Niko van Egten she co-created an electronic music group ASTRALOOP featuring her poetry in dark electronic arrangements. She has performed at Tate Modern, Smack Mellon Gallery, Grace Exhibition Space, Venice Biennale, Documenta 2017, and many other galleries, festivals and independent venues worldwide. She is also the author of five collections of poetry: Antidivine, Grimoire, Sublunar, The Pillow Book of Burg, and Birds of Equinox. In this interview for Art Spiel Jana Astanov discusses her ideas on performance art and specifically on her most recent upcoming curatorial project ALEMBIC: Body and Spirit. Live Art as Healing Art.

AS: Tell me briefly what led you to this curatorial project.

JA:ALEMBIC: Body and Spirit. Live Art as Healing Art is an extension of my curatorial series on magic and shamanism known as Noumena, which usually takes place on Solstices and Equinoxes. One of my characters, Yannanda, The One Who Speaks With The Stars, is a medium, a certified hypnotist, and an astrologer using Western and Vedic astrology to access one’s soul. A year ago, I had this idea of creating a group show with performance artists who use different healing modalities in their practice, whether through the use of humour, shamanic traditions, modern science, or in purely conceptual form. My original lignup included Miao Jiaxin, Lisa Levy, Shauna Cummins, and Jaguar Mary. Then at the beginning of 2020 the opportunity arrived to submit to the Emerging Curators program run by Local Project Art Space.

As it turns out we clearly need these healing modalities more than ever! Covid19 highlights the shortcomings of our state of health: poor quality of the Westerners’ gut bacteria, linked to the soil depletion and monoculture, meat consumption, obesity – we are in a permanent state of crisis. Western civilisation also has a poor track record with regards to mental health. Depression, anxiety, and suicides have all been on the upswing in recent years across all segments of society, and the pandemic and the isolation it has caused have further contributed to the increase in these numbers… and there has of course been a light shined on the ugly underbelly of systemic racism, whose exposure has brought out a much needed reckoning.

Originally the event was supposed to take place online. However, together with Carolina Peñafiel, the gallery’s director, we decided to join it with the two other curatorial projects of Furusho von Puttkammer and Sierra Ortego, turning it into LIC LIVE ART Performance Art Festival.

Jaguar Mary, Mythic Bird, 2019, Performance Art, photo by Erik McGregor

AS: What can you share about Local Project Art Space, the Culture Lab LIC, and The Plaxall – the art venues related to this art event?

JA: Local Project Art Space is a vital community hub with many opportunities for emerging and mid-career artists, curators, and community organizers. Go check their website, they have open calls pretty much every other month. I have participated in their group shows with my digital collages, performance art work, as well as a curator since 2017. It takes a true dedication to carry on with an art non profit in a modern capital such as New York, with Wall Street investments funds buying out every millimeter of land, rents going up, wages staying close to the same level as 20 years ago, and big multinationals co opting the city; if you recall Amazon had wanted to create their headquarters in LIC., but were effectively fought back by an ad hoc group of community activists, and such progressive politicians as Alexandria Ocasio Cortez I lived in London for 8 years, and let me tell you, it’s hard to find performance art in London unless it is institutionalized via the Tate Modern, and their performance art for kids program, or an MFA program. Our culture is driven by the value of money so it puts a price tag on creative expression.

I am impressed with how Carolina Peñafiel has steadfastly continued for so many years as a director of LP. And although she is now moving to Miami, within the last couple of years she has created a solid blueprint, and legacy for the next generation of grass roots art organizers.

I have seen many fantastic shows at the Plaxall Gallery, where I also curated a performance art series, Noumena: Magic and Shamanism, in 2018, so I am excited and grateful to be coming back. And if you haven’t seen how the Culture Lab LIC transformed their parking lot, it looks like an art fairy land, or a micro regional Burning Man.

AS: How do you see the role of Performance Art in this Covid period?

JA: I believe in community organizing, the sharing of ideas and in the process of collaboration. I often fail but never give up! Never. Being a mother of a 2 year old I need to keep up my hopes for humanity even though the civilizations, just like the human body, are susceptible to entropy. Babylon failed, so did too the ancient Greece, and Rome, and recently the Soviet Union. Perhaps the USA is the next empire to wane. What kind of world would we want to live in after the collapse of rampant capitalism with 100h work weeks for the professional elites vs starving wages for the majority? Honestly, perhaps everyone would feel relieved. I like performance art to be political, feminist, socially engaged, angry, dealing with trauma, going to the extremes, celebrating life while the world is crumbling. I usually describe my performance art practice as “mythology vs ideology”, referring to my two main interests: the political & economic foundations of our civilization and mythological/ religious values.

Performance art, poetry, and art in general, help us to get in touch with that authentic part of our being. It helps us enter and be in the flow, reconnect with our feelings, and soul: being present in the moment like a meditation as medication. For me, the process of creation is a trance, an opening up to the ocean of ideas circulating in our collective unconscious, and ancestral heritage. I enjoy dressing up as the Red Goddess, Polish Madonna, Urania, The Green Astral Witch, The Queen of the Seas or a mermaid if you prefer, which is really the archetype of the ancient Proto-Indo-European Goddess known to the Slavic people as Mokosh, and in Indian philosophy represented by the state of enlightenment known as “moksha”.

In the last couple of months, I turned my performance art practice with the character Yannanda, The One Who Speaks WithThe Stars, into weekly zoom sessions (every Monday from 7 to 8 PM) called Alchemical Summer, where I give astrology readings, often dressed up as different archetypes representing the current planetary alignments, and simply connecting with my community.

We need to connect more with one another, in meaningful ways. Astrology is not going to solve all your problems, but talking to someone about your life and being seen in all your complexity will certainly make you feel closer to your true expression. However, if I see you are undergoing a Pluto transit I would instantly send you to a certified therapist (Yannanda’s blog). We need collective healing, collective therapy, and, really a miracle or a quantum leap; perhaps it is an opportune time for us to ask the Elders from the Native American nations of this land to guide the rest of us through this process. Think mass healing ritual, instead of mass killing, mass shooting, and mass incarceration.

I also think there is an opportunity to bring performance art to the forefront of social change. Our economy is failing the middle class and the working class while the ruling elite gives its full moral and financial support to corporate America. As power corrupts so too does unlimited wealth. It’s a vicious circuit. We have to fight for our cities and fight the established economic ideology that serves the proverbial 1%. The Occupy Movement started as an art protest then grew all around the world shining the light on blatant inequalities. Whoever thinks that The Occupy Movement failed is wrong, the people in power were afraid, so once again the artists must become the thinkers, the visionaries and the activists, using the power of imagination to reinvent the world.

Jana Astanov, Yannanda, The One Who Speaks With The Stars, 2019, Performance Art, photo by Katie Cercone. (Local Project Art Space)

AS: What is the idea behind your curatorial project?

JA: We live in times in which quantum physics confirms the most far out theories of Western as well as Hindu philosophies that unify the world as one consciousness that expresses itself through the creative medium of space and time. This holistic view of the world is proliferating throughout our Western ideas of body and soul, and the mechanical division between them. Theories of the healing effects of art have been present for some time, therefore, there are studies that confirm and quantify the healing dimension of art. It is in this spirit that we bring together artists whose practices embody the view of holistic healing.

Performance art is an art medium that has been particularly associated with the catharsis power of healing, and particularly healing of trauma, individual and collective. The time base practice, and its nowness, that experience of being “caught in the moment” seems to allow the transmutation of energies, possibly even transforming the audience into the extreme mode of participation as the collective body subject to the healing. In times of political and social divisions between the class of 1% and the rest of us, the precarious equilibrium of our cities in the face of XXI century pandemics, and the technological advancements that do not soothe our souls, evoke the creative healing powers of artistic practice into the quantum leap of holistic thinking.

Jana Astanov, Garden of Covid, 2020, Performance Art for the camera, photo Niko van Egten

AS: Please tell me briefly about each artist and how does their work relate to each other in context of your curatorial premise?

JA: Alembic: Body and Spirit. Live art as healing art presents the works of performance artists who are interested in translating concepts of healing into the art form. This idea embraces such diverse healing modalities as shamanic traditions like in the works of Jaguar Mary, who this time performs together with Evie Star as they open the festival at 6PM; trance inducing experiences through the medium of light as in the work of Arantxa Araujo, who is presenting a new project called Onda (“Wave”); the meditative sensory journeys through the somatic movement practice of Sindy Butz. Marni Kotak will present I am Illumimama of the New Illuminati, her new real life performance in which she establishes a New Illuminati in the Arts and Politics free of fascism, domestic terror and illness against/in our righteous healthy artist leader bodies forever in good health and longevity, which anyone can join by simply writing what they most wish for on a dollar bill, and reading out loud: “I AM THE FIRE. YOU ARE THE FIRE WE ARE THE FIRE.”

And finally 7 PM Clapping, a collaboration between two artists Ronit Levin Delgado and Iren Kamyshev who use dynamic embodiment to encapsulate 2020 events, and share their personal experiences: connection and disconnection, thus symbolizing the long period of quarantine loneliness and desire to socialize using the sound of original news recordings and mixed sound of 7pm “clapping”, fireworks and protests.

This project reflects our communal experience of living through Covid19 which turned out reality into a series of performative gestures from wearing masks, and gloves to keeping 6 feet apart, and elbow hugging. During our outdoor event at the Plaxall Gallery Parking Lot we will, of course, observe the rules of this new world, while we celebrate the LIVE ART grateful that after months of online shows we can finally connect with our community in a socially distanced event. Hope to see you this Saturday!

Marni Kotak, Illumimama of the New Illuminati, Established 07-04-16, with her Son. 2016 (Image Courtesy of the artist and Microscope)

Sindy Butz, Performance Art

Iren Kamyshev

5-25 46th Ave, Long Island City, NY 11101

ALEMBIC: Body and Spirit. Live Art as Healing Art: Curated by Jana Astanov. Artists: Jaguar Mary + Evie Star, Marni Kotak, Arantxa Araujo, Ronit Levin Delgado + Iren Kamyshev, Sindy Butz

DIY UTOPIA(S): Curated by Sierra Ortega. Artists: Kennie Zhou, La Candelaria, GOODW.Y.N

NO MATERIAL: CANNIBAL WEALTH: Curated by Furusho von Puttkammer. Artists: Deity Delgado, Poet7, Cacia Zoo, Joseph Sledgianowski, Lewis Derogene. Music by PRONE.

Please keep in mind this is an outdoors event that will follow social distancing guidelines.

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: