/ cumbersome dough / (2012-2022)
a long durational performance piece where I stand up holding a gigant rising dough in my arms for up to 5 hours.
This piece has been shown in multiple different versions since 2012, sometimes together withe Ester Olofsson.
Image from performing at Supermarket Art Fair (2015):
Images and video from performaning with Ester Olofsson at Kunstverein Familie Montez, Frankfurt am Main (2018):
Video from performning Cumbersome Dough with Ester Olofsson during Supermarket Art Fair 2017:
Images from PAIN performance homecomming tour at Galleri Syster (2013):
A long reflection:
For me, the performance experience starts the day before. For some reason, I always get extra nervous before this particular work. Maybe because I know it will be hard and that I will feel bad; that I will oscillate between hopelessness, weakness, and an enormous strength that I didn't know I had in me. But most of all, I think the nervousness is due to the fact that I can never really know how it will feel, even though I have now performed the piece several times. I can never know what kind of dough I'll be dealing with until I'm standing there with it in my arms, with hours of struggling ahead of me.
So, it starts with a nervousness and worry that follows me to the store where I have to buy all the ingredients for the dough. I usually go to the store with a huge roller bag on wheels and fill it with flour, sugar, and yeast. Something that usually generates a lot of sideways glances from both staff and other customers. Dragging the bag to the venue where the work is to be performed gives me a premonition of how heavy and difficult the dough will be. At this point, I begin to feel eagerness. I kind of want to get started and bake it as soon as possible; I want to start getting to know it, form a relationship, and find out what it's going to be like this time. But it is better to wait and not start kneading it too early because if it is allowed to lie and wait too long before the performance starts, it will be far too sticky and completely irregular.
An hour before it is time, then the baking begins. I spread out garbage bags as a base and sprinkle on some flour. Then I usually go by gut feeling. Part lukewarm water, part yeast, part sugar, stir around, top up with flour until the consistency feels good and then some more. Something I have learned is that it is better to create a slightly drier dough because otherwise, it will be too sticky during the fermentation process. The dough is built up from several smaller batches and gets bigger and bigger.
When it's time to go on stage, the trial by fire will lift the dough from the table or floor and up the arms as it clings to the surface and feels impossibly heavy. The road to the place where I will then stand with it in my arms feels long, and a slight feeling of panic appears in my chest. Thoughts like, what the hell have I gotten myself into?! and, this will never work!! mostly buzz through my head.
But once we're in place, the panic usually subsides as we sink into each other, into a feeling and into a rhythm, where the dough wants to sink down and at the same time stick to me, and where I'm constantly lifting it up again, trying to hold it together in my arms. I want to create a safe place for it, where it can ferment and grow. I want to take care of it.
The dough feels to me like a kind of living being. An unruly awkward body that breathes like me.
Sometimes it is too dry, so dry that it wants to fall apart. Then it requires me to kind of knead it in my arms every time I lift it up to keep it together.
Other times it's too sticky, so sticky that it sticks to just about everything: my hands, my arms, my hair, my skin, and my clothes. At its worst, it almost feels like it's becoming a part of me, and we're both sinking to the floor.
Sometimes, however, the texture is perfect, just the right amount of flexibility and strength. That was the kind of dough we had when Ester and I performed the piece at Supermarket 2017. Maybe it was because we helped each other with everything, the handling, the kneading, the planning, so that everything was done properly, and nothing was rushed past.
Overall, the experience of the whole work was very different when there were two of us. When I am alone with the dough, for example, I feel more exposed but also stronger because I then have more control over the situation. When there were two of us, it became more of a struggle between us trying to handle and hold the dough up, and the whole thing felt much heavier than usual, even though we were helped to carry it. Probably because it was so difficult to coordinate carrying and lifting. One might feel compelled to switch grips, while the other thought they had a perfect grip on the dough. This also affected the movement pattern somewhat enormously. When I'm alone with the dough, the movement is mainly up and down. The dough sinks down, and I try to lift it up. But when there were two of us, our lifting and the lowering of the dough formed a kind of rotation.
It made me reflect on what it is like to try to take care of and create something together with others. How difficult it is to form a common vision and idea of how to proceed. But also how much interesting comes out of this difficulty to meet.
While I perform this work, whether I do it alone or together with Ester, thoughts and feelings run through me completely uncontrollably. I hear and see the surroundings as if through a fog, a fog that flows around us struggling to hold together and take care of the dough.
I forgot to mention the smell. It explodes in my nose as soon as we open the first yeast packet while we bake the dough and grows stronger throughout the performance piece. Towards the end, the dough exhales alcoholic fumes that make me feel like I'm going to both pass out and throw up. The smell of yeast and the fermentation process spreads in the room and makes us take up the whole room. It is not possible to detect our presence when the yeast sticks in the nose. We become like a fermenting, growing, fighting presence.
Sweat pours down my face.
The audience stands both near and far. Some ask if I'm fine, if I need help, how long I've been standing there, and if I need water. But I don't answer. I'm too engrossed in the dough and holding it together in my arms, giving it a place to rise and grow.
When the work is finished, I/we let the dough fall to the ground. It is strange. Right at the end, I always feel like I could stand there just as long. Like all the strength, power, and energy suddenly flows back into me, and it feels sad to let it fall.
When the work is finished, a long shower awaits, and several rounds of hand washing the clothes in an attempt to remove the residue of the dough. Several days later, I can feel a sharp dried dough crumb stuck to the hairs on my arms. Then come the training pains in the whole body: back, arms, neck, legs, feet, fingers, and stomach.