Johanna Linsley’s ‘Translation Iterations’

A excerpt from Johanna Linsley’s ‘Translation Iterations’ presented at Performing Documents at the University of Bristol, 2013. Johanna was an advisor on my 2012 performance, Defense Mechanism, commissioned by and performed at Les Subsistances, Lyon.

The oversize helium balloon that helps Alison transition from a sequence featuring a 14-year old, pregnant, Okinawan prostitute to a sinister version of the classic Le ballon rouge has escaped. Not only is it banging against the high ceiling of the rehearsal room, but the fishing wire that Alison uses to produce the illusion of the balloon as violent stalker has managed to wrap itself around one of the rafters.

I have just arrived at Les Subsistances, and I am still marveling at the seemingly utopian set-up of this stunningly beautiful monastery-turned-multi-arts-laboratory in Lyons. Alison has been here a month, amassing an eccentric array of props and working out sequences for her first foray into live performance. Christopher arrived a week ago, and he is working with Alison get the performance on its feet. It’s at the difficult stage that I remember from doing theater, when the concrete demands of timing and repetition collide with ambitious ideas and impossible visions. We spend a lot of time talking about this specifically theatrical labor, comparing it to the problem-solving practice of video- or filmmaking, and the often single event-based logistics of performance or live art. Among other things, theater is hard, we conclude.

Our current difficulty – extracting red balloon from rafters – is solved with (very) broken French, enthusiastic hand gestures and the patience of the incredible technical staff at Les Subs. Christopher and Alison get back to work, and I observe.


Defense Mechanism, the result of Alison S. M. Kobayashi’s residency at Les Subs, is both a continuation of and departure from her usual practice. The multiple characters (all played by Kobyashi), the elaborate costumes and props coupled with a DIY aesthetic – all of these are carried over from her prolific video work. Her decision to fully embrace theatricality with Defense Mechanism – rather than, say, opting for the theatrical-ish performance lecture or deconstructed artist’s talk that often characterizes the visual artist’s entry into performance – marks an ambitious added dimension to this practice. Along with her well-established interest in a Cindy Sherman-esque investigation of the performance of identity, Kobayashi has here included an edgy, breathless live component that, to me, calls to mind the specifically theatrical experiments of the Wooster Group. In what follows, I want to trace a few of the consequences of this move, and to flesh out some of the possibilities it seems to offer.