Navina Neverla is an Indian-Austrian multidisciplinary artist (born and brought up in Germany), living in Portugal several years, living in Viena since 2019, yoga teacher and winner of the People & Plants performing Arts 3º Award of the Bionic Festival 2020
Navina you are half Indian half Austrian, where do you feel you belong?
That´s a very good question. Nowhere! Actually, I always had the feeling I do not belong anywhere. I am a so-called third culture kid, or individual (this is a term invented by the sociologists Useem & Useem, in order to define individuals with intercultural hybrid identity, who are located in between different cultures, or different cultures of their care-takers. This has its good and bad sides. The first thing that comes to my mind, are feelings of alienation, up-rootedness, wherever we go we feel little bit like an outsider. But also, it gives people with an intercultural background the opportunity to get to know different cultures easily and to have the openness to adapt to different cultural circumstances.
To give you an example: I was living 7 years in Lisbon altogether. Since 2019 I am in Vienna, I am half Austrian, but I have never been living in Austria before. When I go to India as a half-Indian it is a similar experience, I am half Indian, I am familiar with the culture but there are still differences and cultural clashes because you might not understand all the suttle cultural cues, because of being born and brought up in Europe. And in Germany I was always feeling little bit like an Alien, although I was born and brought up in Germany. A nice analogy can be drawn to gender-queer people, they are in-between the gender roles, in-between the categories. That’s the same with intercultural beings, but on the cultural level, this feeling of not fitting into any box or category. On the other hand, this gives us the chance to connect with people who have a similar background, and kind of blesses you with an open mind and understanding for «deviations from cultural norms».
You describe yourself as a hybrid nomad and a cultural hybrid, does globalization imply we are all cultural hybrids in the digital era?
Good question! I would say, no. Because, now with the Corona p*andemic we can see the borders closing again. And fear is always what makes people close down and go back to what they know and are familiar with. And this is what also the local governments are doing unfortunately.
Cultural hybrid means growing up between different cultures. Of course, people today with globalization have been more able to move around and travel. But I think now, with Covid-restrictions this is changing again, so we are going little back in that way. But of course we also have other advantages, like we are more protective of the natural environment with this increased measurements which are actually quite difficult for people who have families in different countries, like myself. As artist I used to move around a lot. I have a nomadic lifestyle, like other digital nomads too. I think there is a link there, but it is not an immediate connection. So, I think it is much more complex..
Your works analyze freedom of speech and try to push boundaries, cross disciplines and you approach your work holistically, which projects have had more impact in your philosophy?
Respiratory Protection 2045 is the work that directly addresses the question of freedom of speech and democratic values in general. It also pushes the boundaries of art forms like most of my recent oevre. However, altogether – most of my recent works, which you can find on my website, on www.NavinaNeverla.com and on www.Vimeo.com/movingimagemovingbody address the question of boundaries and limits in content as well as form. The themes I have been exploring range from intercultural identity, transcendence, liminality, spirituality and memory amongst others. Holistically insofar, as I am also Yoga teacher, and my work is strongly influenced by my spiritual practice. Moreover, I do not believe in categories of art forms or defy categories in general. I try to approach the world in a holistic way as the name of my cultural association MovingImageMovingBody – Association for Contemporary Arts and Holistic Practices suggests. Actually I have been creating art works under the label MovingImageMovingBody since over a decade by now.
What I mean with holistically might become more clear when I give an example of the work Sauerbrunn – Hold onto freedom (2016) – it was an immersive live installation that encorporates different aesthetic elements like photography, super 8 film, live sound (by Pablo Jordan) and a performative 1-1 experience for the audience members engaging in all senses, the work adresses memories, one of the elements are also autobiographic texts inspired by shamanic healing practices, here is a quote of what I wrote via automatic writing (another reacurring element):
«How to build a swing out of memories? How to transcend. How to surrender? How to Not accelerate? How to fly while staying grounded? How to grow roots? How to swim the currents. How to find the exact moment for taking off. How to ride the wave without drowning. How to master the art of self-control while enjoying the ride, up and down the wave of life’s emotions. How to not swing inside the painting on the wall. How to stay focused. How to allow him to take a lead. Whilst staying free? How to leave? How to love? How to eat the chocolate cake without falling sick. How to land smoothly. How to fly? How to heal?
Freshness, Coolness, Wind, Rain – they come to nurture the earth with new life.
Without water, no life possible. Without fire, no rebirth. Without Wind, no freshness. Without air, no flight. Without earth, no roots» [Text by Navina Neverla 2016].
It was presented at AADK Centro Negro | Espacio de Investigación y Creación Contemporánea in Murcia, Spain 2016. Funded by a Crowdfunding Campaign on Indiegogo, suported by Larga Marcha Arte y Ediciones Spain in 2015.
However the super-8 Film was also presented at various short film festivals, amongst them Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen or Cannes Short Film Corner. So this shows the many layers and transdisciplinary approach of my work both in form and content.
What is in your opinion of the state of Contemporary Art in 2021?
That’s a difficult question for me to answer. From a personal perspective I think there are a lot of things created which are actually no more relevant to the new times we are living since 2020. I think it is super important that artists start reflecting what is going on politically on a global level. Maybe you can call this a new type of era, lika a post-contemporary art since 2020, and this might be the future. It always takes time for new waves to reach a broader audience, or the mainstream and contemporary art is such a marginal niche anyway….
Can you tell us more about your project Respiratory Protection 2045?
It is a participatory installation event, it is a work strongly relating to site and the public space as the agora of intervention, Thematically Respiratory Protection 2045 reflects on dystopian visions of the Corona restrictions and what it has to do with digitalization, and last but not least digital surveillance as well as social distancing that comes along with it. It addresses democratic values like freedom of speech amongst others too. Some people have asked me why I draw such a negative vision? It is because I think we are already in the middle of this reality. And some people do not even notice and do not see a problem with it. I was doing a dystopia because in the first pandemic lockdown I experienced it as quite dystopic and I started with automatic writing. And this is how Respiratory Protection 2045 came into fruition. Later it took the form of a performative installation, it was presented together with Anna Prokopová (Dancer) and Marcos Rondon (Sound Artist) as a work-in-progress at Espaço Alkantara in Lisbon, in the context of Moving (Re)Union. We received funding from the MA7 through Einmaliges Arbeitsstipendium der Stadt Wien aufgrund von Covid-19 and BMEIA through the Austrian embassy in Lisbon. If we receive more funding from cultural institutions a follow up of this project might be possible, maybe even a Utopia, but you know without money you cannot make anything happen in this system we live in! So yeah, we are very thankful of the support for financial support for this project. And when I say we I mean the artists who have been, are and will be working together with me, as everything in life, there is a constant flux and new formations of collaborations are happening now.
In the digitalized cultural panorama, post covid19 pandemic, do you see future for performing arts?
I don’t actually believe that we are post-covid-pandemic. I think this will be part of our lives in the next years, in the next decade. Also, the restrictions and everything that came along with it. The future of the performing arts – I think it definitely changes the Performing Arts the life of all artists. I think it can possibly go into two different directions. One is the stream that will go more site-specific life, in public places, doing balcony performances, occupying public sites. This is one option. The other option is to go more in the digital plane, working with new media, with film, video, with internet, interactive digital formats and new technologies.
The question is, whether this can still be considered Live Art, or are we seeing something new, like new hybrid forms emerging here?
It makes me little concerned to be honest. Because I see a lot of choreographers very excited about the digital formats and suddenly want to become a filmmaker or videoartist. For me coming from the opposite direction, or having an opposing biography, I come from film and visual arts, and photography, and then finished my Master in Dance in 2015. For me, the life element is super essential, because you have an encounter, and you have a very different engagement with time and space, then you have with digital arts or new media.
And of course it is very interesting to create hybrid forms, yet also to question what it means on a sociopolitical level for the arts. We have to stay super aware and give space for different paths to emerge.
Also, the funding institutions, but I think they are quite aware of it anyway. They opened up new funding possibilities. Again, you have to apply for it. The question is, how will artists survive in this new landscape of the Performing Arts, maybe there has to be something like «Bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen»! Because artists cannot depend on Covid-funding. At the moment the cultural scene is very restricted indeed. We see delays in Premieres and Performance events getting cancelled or moving online. A lot of Premieres were postponed due to Covid P*andemic. To sum it up: Most artists are struggling these days. Depending on the country, in some countries much more than in others of course.
So, it definitely changes the future of the art scene. But it is also a responsibility of both, politics, curators as well as cultural workers to see and decide where this is going to take us. The moment is now!
Last year you won the 3ºPrize of the Bionic Festival, what was your experience performing with trees?
First of all, thank you so much to the jury for awarding me with third price. It is a big honor. It is actually the first price that I have won in 37 years. It was a very good experience working with the festival, working with a curator, and the artistic director Miguel (Honevo). He saw our performance at Espaço Alkantara and invited me to participate in the festival which has a great opportunity and success.
We worked with improvised movement structures and I love working with improvisation, so that was perfect. We were shooting the video in one day, which you can see on the site of Bionic Dance. My dance partner was Nerium Oleander.
The movements and texts were largely drawn from my performance: work in progress Respiratory Protection 2045 (as presented at Espaço Alkantara but I adopted it accordingly to this new setting and frame work of the festival.
For Bionic Dance it was a Solo, and turned out to be a dance film whereas other hand my creation presented with the dancer Anna Propoková at Espaço Alkantara was a different one. Marcos Rondon from Hekura created the sound design for both versions.
He is an amazing sound artist from South America, based in Vienna. We created the film with Honevo in Lisbon. But the festival is «Madrileño», from Madrid, and the jury from Spain.
I have to say it was a really positive experience working with Miguel from the association Biomima Hub and of course with Nerium Oleander, the tree. 🙂
So what was my movement about? I was working with the energy of the tree, and the memory, and the sensations of the dystopic test Respiratory Protection 2045 [by Lakshmi Chellani], which you can hear in the video. Actually, I had just returned from a retreat at the Buddhist Centre, so I was super present and aware and clear in my energy and movements. I think, that has really positively influenced the work and the interaction with the plant, which I saw like a dancing partner. Of course, it is very different dancing with a tree, then with a human being: the tree might respond, but in a much more subtle than humans, and also more subtle than human beings usually are aware of. We do not pay attention as humans usually, we do not speak their language (of the trees), but we know that plants do react to music for instance! So that kind of proves my point, you see: Obviously all living creatures can feel vibrations, they need oxygen, and love, like animals, and like humans, and humans are actually some subspecies of animals too if you really think about it.
With all the environmental problems we face, do you think plants should have a main role in the Arts of the future?
Humans always assume that they are superior to all living creatures, but actually they are the only ones who are destroying the planet, they are destroying their own habitat, their own resources. No other animal that would use their own intelligence against their own resources, like humans do. I think we are underestimating other living creatures, and of course we don’t speak the language of the plants. We don’t know if they have something like arts as well. But, we could include them in our artistic practice and I think that would raise awareness for environmental issues, for sure.
Do you have a favorite plant?
Yes, several: I like all the plants who are probably more exotic, more Mediterranean. Maybe that has to do with my Indian roots. Also, I prefer exotic fruits, like coconut, papaya, and trees like palm trees, I like, Strelitzia reginae which is also called Bird-of-Paradise-Flower. You find them a lot in Tenerife, for example, I really like those. If you think of local trees in Europe, I like Weeping Willow. When we were children, we used to build treehouses out of these leaves. I have a lot of memories of fruit trees in my grandparent’s house. I am a big fan of trees, if you can say that.
As a cross-disciplinary creator, what projects of other artists inspire you?
As your question already implies, I am particularly interested in artists that cross boundaries in form and content. There are actually so many, and I don’t like to put them into boxes, but of course the Fluxus-artists in the 1970’s they were super important Performance Art.
I really admire Joseph Beuys for his visions and for connecting shamanic concepts with art. He was really a visionary and a revolutionist in every way. Also Yoko Ono was and is a great artist also when you think about audience participation she was super important.
I also like Marina Abramovic because she is also working on themes like limits, limits of the body, limits of the mind. I would say, she is also a healer and a witch. I find that interesting as an approach because my interest lies in cross-disciplinarity thinking.
And pioneers of film and dance, for instance Maya Deren: she was the pioneer of the dance film at her time, another visionary and again crossing boundaries of art forms. Her approach was revolutionary at that time in the 40s.
And nowadays, for example as a female choreographer, I really appreciate the work of Marlene Monteiro Freitas. I think her choreographies have a very specific approach to movement, that I admire. You could say it is expressive, I am not sure whether this is the right word. Also, the themes she is working on, I identify with you see.
But I have to say it is more difficult to me in 2021 to name artists that I admire, than back in the days. People have told me that my work is retro and why I am quoting artists in my work that were relevant in the 70s. Well I think it was an amazing time art-wise like, and they are more up to date than ever. Also when you think about independent films, like for example Nouvelle Vague or Alain Resnais, in times of increased digitalization going analogue and shooting in real film is almost a political statement right.
Another work that I admire is Talking Head by Liquid Loft. It is a choreography that I was super fascinated with when I saw it at ImpulsTanz a few years ago. Actually, I can’t identify with all their work, but that performance specifically addresses digital communication and the body when it comes in touch with new technologies. It is a performance and choreography that really impressed me when I saw it. Well, you know here are so many artists, that are inspirational and each one of them is unique, that is the beauty of art.
Also Meg Stuart is an artist that I really appreciate, I was participating in the Tanzkongress at Hellerau, that was lead/curated by her in 2019: I really appreciate her approach to energy or rather how she works with energy on as an artist and it was also amazing that the whole congress’ catering was based on Vegan food. 🙂
Are there any books, you would like to recommend to Biomima readers?
Oh, there are so many books.. One of the books that has highly influenced my research amongst others is written by Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff: The age of surveillance capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. And of course all the dystopias you might be familiar with, such as 1984 by Orwell, or The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, those are books that have influenced this particular research. But, I mean, I don’t think you can have read enough books. I am not that kind of person who collects books, but I think I think it is super important that we keep reading real books and not only online articles especially in theses times.
You are also interested and work with heightened states of awareness, as a performing artist, do you think recuperating dance rituals can become a therapy?
Regarding your question, I would say that definitely there is a link for me between shamanic practices, healing and artistic research. I would not say it is necessarily art or dance as a therapy, but I would say I am interested in the intersection of art and holistic practices. And in holistic practices I also see shamanic rituals for example as a way of healing body, mind, and soul. I would not say I am interested in art therapy, but rituals have a repetitive structure and this is what defines them. In Yoga for example you have the Surya Namaskar, the Sun Salutation and it always follows the same structure and order of movements as a sequence, however, every time it is a little bit different. If you think about a spiral – a spiral always returns to the same point. But every time it returns something is slightly different, you can spiral up or spiral down. For me, it has more to do with my artistic research. Things I am busy with are definitely rituals and shamanic as in holistic meditation, awareness, heightened consciousness. They are super important also to create a certain presence on stage and certain type of energy. This is what I am interested in. I am not interested in dances that have a very strong technique or can push the legs really high. I am rather interested in the presence of a performer and their energy. My work is very much focused on that. If you ask me what energy is – that´s another question.
You are also a Yoga Teacher, how can people approach you for private classes?
Thank you so much for asking this question. In the beginning of my teaching I was also little embarrassed because I thought that art and yoga classes don’t go hand in hand. But the deeper I go into my yoga practice the more I can see that it highly influences art and there are so many intersections and the spiritual practice is strongly influencing my artistic research, especially in terms of Performance Art.
They can approach me in any way really, by email, by message, by phone. So, this is how people can approach me. They can also reach me telepathically – no, just joking. Or maybe not? 😉
Of course, personally I am happy to provide prices and the timetable. Unfortunately, we live in a capitalistic system that does not allow to teach yoga for free. But there is also this practice of Karma Yoga, where you teach yoga just for the sake of teaching because you want to share this blessing with others.
Biomima organizes Yoga workshops with Trees, do you think this can be a great exercise for the body and mind?
Absolutely! At first, I was not sure whether you meant “with trees” as trees being there, or “with trees” as students. Anyway, trees being present in the space when teaching. I think, this is amazing. During the Covid pandemic I was actually teaching outside. I love this idea of going back to a natural environment, in contrast to teaching online.
We know for sure that trees are so important for cleaning the air, CO2. Just being in nature can have such a healing effect already. I definitely would be interested in following this idea. I am feeling super honored to share my Yoga practice in nature or with trees being present.
Just to add, it is exciting that you are asking about body and mind. Actually, Yoga stems from a Sanskrit word meaning union, between body and mind and soul or spirit. It is not only an exercise for the body, obviously. It definitely is something that incorporates the whole of a person, a totality, this means also the spiritual aspect of the practice. Additionally, everybody has experienced taking a walk in the woods or by the sea, how refreshing and energizing this can be right? Just to make it more graspable for everybody!
Do you want to collaborate with Biomima and create an exercise routine with trees and plants?
Definitely yes! I think this is an amazing idea.
What does an artist think of the state of health today in the world?
I perceive health holistically. I do not separate between body, mind, and soul. I think when the soul is starving, the body is also starving. When the mental state of humanity is deceased, I think the health of the planet and of humanity is also in danger, as we currently see in the world. This is what is happening. So, I would not separate between body, mind and soul. This relates back to ancient practices like Ayurveda, which is very closely related to Yoga, where you actually have the same concept, that illness happens when you are not in accordance with your inner voice.
But this is not only like an individual decision, however, I believe it is a conscious choice of humanity to what kind of consciousness we want to elevate as humanity. Everything starts with the mind, everything starts with the thought, starts with doing good in our immediate surrounding. If everybody does this – like for instance buying locally, supporting sustainable farmers, sustainable living, self-sustainable living, then we can actually have a huge impact on a global scale.
What ideas you think are necessary to live in a healthier planet and ecosystem?
First and foremost, it is crucial that human beings start to live more consciously, more in tune and aligned with nature, be wiser, and aware of our resources, to acknowledge that we are part of the ecological system. We are not above nature, we are part of the nature. We can only function if we are aligned with this idea. Also, to think global, but to act local. Means, to buy organic food, to buy from local small farmers, to go more in the direction of self-sustainability instead of supporting big brands and industries. It all starts with being aware, and thinking differently, and if everybody would do that, it would have only little impact, but together we can change the world. Of course, we have to believe, everything starts with believing. It is still possible.
What projects are you working on now?
There are two main projects I am currently working on. One is Respiratory Protection Step 2. Actually, it is in the conceptual and acquisition phase for funding. We are also planning crowdfunding and further applications for funding. Funding is actually a big part of artistic work, which is very underestimated and very invisible. As an artist you usually invest weeks and months into this part of production phase.
It is like winning the lottery. You put a lot of coins and never know whether you win.
This is something I want to change. I want to having a regular artistic practice, even if it is a no budget or low budget, being in the studio, even if is one day per week. There is so much bureaucracy involved with this whole acquisition of funding.
So, Respiratory Protection 2045 [step two] is in the making.
But there is always like creative projects in the backburner. I have films to edit. I have analogue photography. And of course, my practice as Yoga teacher, which involves also daily self-practice and body practice. Also, automatic writing. So, this is my constant artistic practice. I also applied for a PhD in artistic research that did not go through. But maybe I will try again, it was also with Respiratory Protection 2045 [Step 2].
Has the pandemic had an impact on your work?
I think it would be naïve to say or think it would not have had an impact on artists’ life and work. Of course, if you close the majority of the cultural institutions, if you delay premieres, if you cancel performances and screenings, of course it had a huge impact. Also, the fact that the boarders were closed. My life is very international, I am a digital nomad. I am currently based in Vienna and Lisbon. For me, I must say, I was quite lucky, because the Austrian system has received me quite well. If I was Portuguese and would have stayed in Portugal, it would have been a disaster. Well, we never know, but this is what I was afraid of. Austria, compared to other countries, also other European countries, like Portugal, has a strong social system, and also a strong focus on arts and cultures. And there is a very strong support system. Even though, we (the artists) are a very marginalized group, and the one that face a lot of existential struggles, I can sing a song about that.
But, at the same time I was very lucky, I received a scholarship from Vienna, and received some project funding from the Austrian Embassy in Lisbon, so I was able to present a work in progress last year. So, actually, surprisingly, the year turned out to be quite productive. Even though, with 36, I was forced to stay at my mother’s house due to the pandemic in the beginning. Now I am slowly settling in. Still applying for funding. Let’s see what this year will bring.
So, for the whole scene, it had a huge impact. The impact is also that it is changing the art scene, either people go more site specific, or they do online premieres, or try out to do new formats. Artistically speaking it is also an exciting period, but at the same time it is quite challenging, specially financially. And of course, if you are not yet so well established in the system you struggle more than an actor who is working for a state theatre, or if you are the director of a state theater.
Yeah, this is my answer. Of course, everybody’s experience is different. But generally speaking, yes, the pandemic had a huge impact, and it will have a huge impact, the next decade maybe.
Why are dancers and performers, less admired than sport athletes?
I don’t know if that’s true. I would say it very much depends on the country, what the state of the arts is. And also, to question society and how it works. Which is very important in pluralistic societies? While sports have a different function. It has the connotation of entertainment, and achievements. They are still the heroes, the further you jump, the faster you run, it is more measurable on a way. Arts are very subjective. It is a question of taste, whether the jury like it, or the audience likes it. It is a question of taste. Or the question of who knows whom. Whereas sports and athletes are more measurable in numbers. And people can follow more easily, even if they are not so in tuned with arts. If you struggle with existential issue, like in Portugal there are people who do not know what to eat the next day. Of course, they do not have capacity, any time, or any interest to follow arts. Whereas if you turn on the TV and you see somebody jumping very high, it could inspire them to work very hard.
Do you think we will see a renaissance of dancers and performers, recognizing them as the athletes and artists they are?
I not sure if I understand the question. For me, athletes are separate entities, something I associate with mainstream and entertainment. Art is something which I associate with a marginal practice that unfortunately reaches a very small percentage of society. It would be amazing if we could – through site specific art, through public performances, also through new online formats and interactive, interdisciplinary hybrid forms and mixed media – reach a broader audience and also to engage people and make general public participate in art, that would usually not participate. In that sense it would be amazing. Let’s never stop dreaming?
If you could plant a tree today, which trees would you plant?
It is difficult for me to decide because of the multiplicity of my being. Like, Fernando Pessoa had many heteronyms. I guess, there are some parallels there. I am thinking of a palm tree, orange tree or a so-called weeping willow. But my favorite tree is probably the Banyan tree. It is a very nice tree, under which it is said, that Lord Shiva and Buddha had their enlightenment. The funny thing is, when it grows up, it also grows down again. The branches go back down into the earth to become roots again. It is a very nice symbol of the endless cycle of life and death, the Samsara. This is the tree I would plant, because we are facing a new era, some call it the age of Aquarius, or the end of Kali Yuga (the end of the dark age). So, at the end of every dark age, there is a lot of confusion, but if you look closely you will see, that the veil of illusion is slowly lifting and general traumas are being restored. What I am aiming at, it should be a tree related to peace, and to love, and breaking free of Karmic cycle and reaching Samadhi. This is why I would choose the Banyan tree, because it is a very beautiful symbol of cycles and new beginnings.
A dream for 2022?
Actually, it is a dream that ties up loose ends and connects the dots.
Yesterday was a full moon, and I was practicing meditation, I like to practice also visualization as a method to create a different future and to manifest reality as beautiful state.
So my dream would be to find a way to connect contemporary art and holistic practices, my performance installations, my photography, my films, my yoga teaching, contemporary dance and to create a practice that generates wealth and abundance and lot of money, so that also other people could share and benefit from it.
This would really be a dream coming true, which I hope would also contribute to society and to the state of the arts.
Of course, I have also many dreams for the world, like less hunger, less poverty, more social justice, more truth, more freedom, equality and a better access to knowledge, to education and of course that we as human beings finally learn to treat the planet as we would treat a loving nurturing mother – that we learn be wise with our resources and stop exploiting our beautiful planet, which we are part of, to care for it, what people call sustainable living and to understand that we are part of this ecosystem and cannot live without taking care of it in a way that future generations will also be able be nurtured by this earth and benefit from this change.