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António Branco and Riccardo T.

António Branco and Riccardo T. are a performance art duo whose work is about the body and its presentation. Drawing from their own experiences, their work primarily focuses on the queer body, the energy inherent to such a presence and its social implications. Their research then branches out into related themes like contemporary sexuality, gender norms, porn consumption, and fetishisation of actions and bodies. Our mutual friend, artist Antonio de la Fe, had suggested I speak to them because of their experiences as performers and as life models. I spoke to them a few days after I had seen them performing their seven-day work 20 Minutes To Appear as part of Peckham International Art Fair (PIAF) 2018.

Modelling at House of Illustration. Photo by Brian Would

Riccardo T: I’ve been modelling for the past year, year and a half, and I do it both for schools and also for a private artist and normally it just involves to be in a position very still for a certain amount of time that they define. That can be five minutes, up to 45, one hour maximum. And then you normally have breaks because these poses can go on for a week as well so we need to have breaks to go back into our body.

Hamish MacPherson: Are some of the poses sometimes too difficult to hold?

António Branco: No, I mean the faster they are, the more complex they are because you have to hold them for less time. The longer you have to hold it the simpler they become.

RT: I had a few times when at the beginning particularly when they say, “Oh we’re going to do this pose and it’s going to be 45 minutes” and I took a position thinking, “God, it’s going to be so easy to take” and then after 10 minutes it’s very hard physically. But then I was in the pose so I just suffered for the rest of time. But yeah some of them are very hard.  And I feel like the very simple ones for a long periods of time they become very hard. So I had to take this position, just a simple sitting position, a slight contortion of the bust and I had an arm rest so I didn’t have to hold anything but I had the same position for three days. And at the end of the second day it was very hard physically, I could feel my spine starting to have problems and every muscle would hurt when I would go back in the position. There’s something also interesting about that because I feel that when you go back into a pose, the body really recognises it, so you go back into your position and it’s really very easy to re-find the exact same position because of this slight pain, but then when you stop in the position for a second you think, “Okay, this is exactly what it was.”

AB: Like muscle memory in a way.

RT: I guess coming from a dance background I also have a lot of…

AB & RT: ...awareness of the position…

RT: ...of the body in space.

HM: Do you negotiate with whoever’s setting the pose about what’s realistic?

RT: Well normally we set the pose ourselves; they give us a timeframe and we strike something. As a model most...well personally, most of the time I am entitled to the pose so I can do the pose that I want but I also know that I’m a sort of...lucky...not really lucky, but coming from the dance background...

AB: You’re an aware model.

RT: Yeah, I’m an aware model because I used to study architecture so I know how to make the position interesting, from 360 degrees because I know that loads of models particularly when they start, they just stand in a very simple position and that can be a very interesting position to draw from the front, but then if it’s not very interesting  because it doesn’t have torsion, it doesn’t have crossing....So as a model you always should try to give a bit of interest.

HM: What’s torsion?

AB: Twisting your spine...crossing your legs...

RT: ...or having a cross of the arms or you know a little bit of leaning one side rather than the other one, so not just to give a very square, simple position, an ‘anatomically correct’ position. So you’re always try to give a bit of something else. I think something interesting about drawing or painting from a real body is that...and that’s one of the things that the teacher normally says, “To forget everything about the body” because all the proportions will be slightly different. We know there’s going to be parts of the body that from one perspective may be longer and parts may be shorter and so as a drawer or a painter you really need need to forget about thinking, “Oh this connects with this, and this should be like this in comparison to the classic....”

AB: Understand the reality of it.

“I know you’re there somewhere, please start working right now, because this is embarrassing”

HM: We didn’t talk about what your experience was Antonio.

AB: I’ve done some live modelling but he has a lot more experience than I do. And I normally don’t do....well I’ll start now...tomorrow I’m going to do a long pose, but it’s gonna be the first time I’m going to do a pose that is longer than 25 minutes. So I don’t...I’ve never experienced this thing of going back to a pose for a few days or anything like that. But, even with poses of 15, 25 minutes you do feel that, “This is great, it’s easy” and then after five, ten minutes you think, “Oh my god how am I going to sustain this?” You become really aware of the muscles you’re using to support that position, as you strike it you don’t feel it but after a while you’re saturating it.

RT: It’s like the first push up is fine, the second is okay, the third is...and it’s the same striking a position and remaining still...

AB: I feel as well that there’s something very interesting physically happening because I’ve had a few times where I would hold a pose and one of the muscles would start trembling and I would be five minutes into the pose and there’s another ten minutes to go and I couldn’t stop the trembling muscles. So I start thinking which muscle I could use instead of...

RT: ...trying to swap muscles and rest one and use the other...

AB: it might be a slight shift of weight from the front of the foot, to the back of the foot or something like that....

RT: But sometimes I feel for example...

AB: ...or using the glutes [1] instead of the quads [2]...

RT: In this exact position for example I tried to swap from the back of my legs to the front so using the know trying to use the psoas [muscle] [3]. I feel like “I know you’re there somewhere, please start working right now, because this is embarrassing” because it was trembling so much.

AB: It’s also an interesting practice to try and discover other ways of using your body. But then of course for longer poses, not just physically but it’s also the mental endurance of remaining in that pose. So I feel that when you’re doing a life drawing class, you draw a lot on the power of purpose so you know that you’re posing and there’s something happening and there’s a reason that you’re doing it and that kind of drives you to endure. If you asked someone to pose for half an hour at home with no purpose it’s going to be impossible. When we did the PIAF performance at some points there was nobody there, but we kept going and we were posing and it was quite hard to endure certain poses because there was no power to bounce back our all had to come from within. So in a way it’s also quite draining. It’s how you keep finding new ways of sustaining that physically and mentally and finding purpose in the practice in a weird meditational way...

HM: Is that part of it as crude as thinking they’ll be annoyed if you say, “Just a minute, I’ve got to shake this off”? Is there an element of that or is it more that your collaborating with them...

RT: Yeah it’s a collaboration and because you’re being watched, there’s always a performance aspect to it that is a kind of drive in the performance energy and if you’re not being watched and you’re just doing it by yourself, that kind of viewer-performer contract is not there. So if there’s no contract to uphold why does it matter that you sustain this? When you start feeling a bit faint you’re thinking, “I don’t have anyone that is going to be annoyed because I slightly moved my head.”

HM: So why would you keep going?

RT: Why? Personal challenge. And we created, in a way, an open studio so we would work inside that frame to create a personal practice, to keep pushing through our personal practice until a possible breakthrough. I say possible; it could be there it could not be there…

AB: It was a space where we’re trying these things and almost like training it. Or training ourselves. Because the whole piece was about endurance in a way and sustaining. Sustaining the pose, sustaining all those hours of being in there and not leaving even if you aren’t pushing things. You don’t leave; you pose and you walk, you dress, you undress...How do you deal with that? You just keep going and you don’t go crazy.

HM: I suppose there’s always the possibility that someone’s going to come in and see it.

AB: Yeah. And it was about noticing the difference within ourselves when there was someone watching and when there wasn’t. And really using that and trying to remember that kind of sensation and energy and try to use it even when there’s nobody there.

RT: Because when you pose as a life model there is this sense of performativity which is very different modelling is more about practicality. So we’re very interested in the very small changes in perception that make a pretty big difference from something tiny....

20 Minutes to Appear by António Branco and Riccardo T. 2018. Photos by Piotr Krolicki

RT: Something else that is related to the piece and life modelling is that the piece is called 20 Minutes To Appear and that comes from the pose itself takes a certain amount to be real in a way because whenever you take a pose you will have just slight micro movement that you actually really detect yourself in your body. You will settle in a pose and it will take time, your breathing will start moving slightly....Also if you’re trying as hard as you want to keep the same one, you we will always slightly change.

AB: You will always collapse a little bit, shift your weight, your breathing and then it’s the first 20 minutes when you’re doing all these little shifts until you find the real pose in which you will settle in and you can in a way sustain it better and that’s why it means that the real pose only appears after 20 minutes. Strike the first one and then again it starts being a bit unbearable and then finally you can kind of sustain that pose. And that’s the real pose that the body naturally will take.

RT: So lots of teachers and artists, they would in the first 20 minutes sketch but they wouldn’t really study the pose. It  would be more of a fast thing and then afterwards they would say, “Okay, I can do it.” Or the tutor will say, “Okay, let’s do our first 20 minutes, there will be slight changes in the body so don’t indulge too much in your painting; don’t make it perfect right now because it will be slightly different.” And that’s no one’s fault.

HM: When you see a final image which is truly still in way then how does that relate to the stillness...even after 20 minutes there’s still breathing and vibrating...

RT: It is something different. With long poses I start to think about the poses as a sort of non-written manifesto of the body. So whenever you take a pose in a way I feel you’re putting a statement out, but then throughout these three days of performance you mentally go through so many different changes and I’m thinking, “Am I in the same pose after the three days as in day one or has something changed such that I can’t really recognise the same persona inside it does?” Does it make sense?

HM: It does, well I think so.

AB: Because if you’re still, you’re kind of performing in a way you’re giving energy right?

RT: Yeah...yeah.

AB: Your energy changes every day anyway; how you wake up how you slept, where you ate, but also is it warm, is it cold...

RT: The thinking process we have behind it...

AB: Yes of course because you’re not brain dead. You think about dinner, you’re thinking about your work. You think about not moving and there’s so many nuances and how that resonates in your body and the energy you give away to the painting.

RT: So for example on day three when I watched the painting, I’m wondering, “Is this a real pose or is there some movement in the pose?”...

HM: Because your mind has moved so much.

RT: Exactly....

AB: But then there’s no painting or drawing that is objective so it really is a collaboration and it’s something that doesn’t really exist in the real world anyway. So I guess you will never be you or the real whole, you will be a fantasy.

HM: Can you say more about the mental process is of being in a pose.

RT: It depends. I go through very different changes. I have days particularly when I pose for a portrait and I just want to die. I just want to fall asleep because I find portrait posing much harder because really there is no possibility for movement. While life modelling uses the whole body you still have the possibility of slightly changing breathing, or of slightly shifting your head and that really is not going to change anything because the perspective from the painter is so different and it’s so far away that three millimetres are not really going to change it. In portrait posing it’s a lot about the eyes; you keep watching the same point and I find that so hard. I think in a way it needs to reach a level of separation between body and mind, which I find very hard to reach and I’m normally pretty embodied so I have this problem of completely separating. I kind of drift away for ten minutes but then I come back into my body and I’m still looking at the same point!  

AB: And lying down poses; super comfortable but really hard to keep awake.

‘The shame technique’!

RT: I find sometimes that it’s fine to do [sleep]. I fell asleep in a few lying down poses and sitting down though it’s a big deal, your head literally starts [mimes head dropping] so you find ways of waking yourself up.

HM: How do you do that?

RT: I do it through shame. So for example when I’m posing and I notice that I’m falling asleep I started thinking about sexual stuff. It works particularly well when I’m nude. If I’m nude and I start to think of sexual stuff I’m sort of awakening the lower parts of my body and then I’m getting scared that something’s going to happen so I really go back into, “Oh my God, I’m very awake.” And that thing doesn’t happen because you know that something’s going to happen and that that doesn’t make anything happen.

HM: Genius!

RT: It took a while to learn to learn it. I feel that I should copyright it.

AB: ‘The shame technique’!

HM: Do you have a technique Antonio?

AB: No, I just fell asleep, which is even worse because I was posing this Saturday and it was even worse because I was posing and performing for a theatre piece and I had to take a cue to start moving. And I was asleep so I didn’t take the cue! Luckily it was just a rehearsal and I did take the cue for the actual show but...I don’t know I have to come up with a technique. I don’t fall asleep ever unless I’m lying down.  

HM: Do you always make sure you’re well rested before?

AB: That’s the thing; I was rested before the actual performance.

RT: The way it works is that schools and institutions give notice months in advance and maybe it’s an evening course so you’re still going to have a day job, so you’re not really well rested and you know you’re just comfortable and you have a little heater next to you giving you heat and you’re just sitting down really comfy.

AB: And the room is normally quite silent as well.

RT: The room is quite silent and sometimes they just point a light at you and everything is dark around so...

I’ll undress right now if you want.

AB: Something very interesting we didn’t say is the relation between our still body and the painters and once we start moving. Like the objectivity that they’ve given to’s really fine for people to look at us if you’re still and nude and you’re painting but as soon as you start moving and talking to them, suddenly they can’t look at you because now you’re a person, you’re not an object. And things feel awkward...they want you to cover up and just two minutes before they were looking at you and they knew everything about you already when you were an object. And now you’re a human. So it’s really interesting to see their reaction, how they see you whether you’re moving or not, just because you’re naked.

HM: Is it particularly if you’re naked?

AB: Yes, it’s particularly if you’re naked, because it’s okay to look at you because you’re not human right now, but then once you get a personality and you’re talking and you’re nude, it’s just really weird.

RT: And from the model point of view I don’t find it very weird because I’m thinking, “You’ve been looking at me for three hours, it’s not very different. I’m still a person

HM: Was it strange to begin with? Or ever? Because this is an unusual interaction.

RT: Of course if I have a half hour pose, I’m not going to be here naked running around but if I have three minutes just to stretch, I’m not going to go and re-dress and undress myself in three minutes because the three minutes are gone.

HM: So are they pretending you’re not there or just...

RT: No I mean if you speak with that person they answer but if they don’t really speak with you it’s more that they turn away and they don’t speak. There’s something interesting as well in the concept of undressing in a studio, which is, lots of models require to have...

AB: A screen.

RT: A screen and they want to be behind the screen when to get undressed.

AB: And then they’re going to be naked.

RT: Personally I don’t find that a problem because, you know, there’s nothing sexual in undressing. I guess there’s always a sense of striptease in a way that a lot of models feel. So yeah, normally there’s always a screen.

HM: How do you feel about that?

AB: Oh I just undress. I’ll undress right now if you want.

[Everyone laughs]

AB: I don’t need a screen at all I just undress. I’m talking about this performance I did on Saturday because it’s the most recent example but a lot of times you were stopping and changing something going back and it was literally breaks of a minute, two minutes, 30 seconds, and I would stand up and walk around and I would not get dressed because it’s just...But it was a different environment because it was a smaller team, they were all dance artists so they were used to the body in a way different from painters. So I did not feel this kind of awkwardness and, you know, being scared of looking around, but...It’s kind of empowering. If you do it unsexually when you’re there I feel powerful being naked in front of people because I know I have an effect on the way they see me when I’m naked.

I’m so happy because I have loads of time to just think.

HM: Why did you start modeling?

AB: Money.

RT: Personally, I was a very prudish person until a few years ago while now whenever I can perform in things I’m always thinking, “Yay naked!” still. And I started this because last year we perform for this artist called Donna Huanca at the Zabludowicz Collection [4] and we were in the gallery for three months naked, body painted and uh, yeah, we had to move very slowly...

AB: Keep still...

RT: Stand up straight, sit down and kneeling’ very square positions and very straightforward. And I was thinking “I actually don’t mind this.” On one hand I find it therapeutic and on the other side...stillness is a very good moment..

AB: It’s a very good practice...

RT: Yeah...

AB: learn how to be still....

RT: Apart from that, it’s also a very good moment to critically think about your own stuff. And it’s something that we don’t really have, you know. So every time I have a class and particularly if I need to think about a project, I’m so happy because I have loads of time to just think.

AB: It’s something that people don’t usually have, you know, we’re always running around, sitting on the tube, going to work, going home, cooking. It’s so rare to have a moment where you don’t do anything.

RT: And particularly in this moment right now it’s always like, “Oh I will grab my phone. Oh, I’ll read my Kindle.” I will always try to do something else rather than just be with my thoughts. Or I would listen to music. That can help but then at the same time, it’s also something outside.

AB: We always do something. Instagram, Facebook, reading, watching TV, cooking...

RT: So yeah, I find that stillness is very good for really critically thinking about your performance of your practice, your things. And then on top of that you get paid.

HM: Win, win. And has it changed the way you there a certain way of thinking in that stillness?

AB: It is a different way of thinking. Even if you put aside time to think, for example, “I want to think about this project, I’m trying to think”. You’re kind of forcing it. I don’t know...when you’re still your thoughts drift and...

RT: I find it very...degressive?

AB: don’t decide to try be like, “Okay, I’m going to brainstorm about this.” You’re not paying too much attention to what you’re thinking until maybe something sparks and then you choose to go over there and find out a little bit more. But then you to do that again and you...

HM: What was that? [I didn’t hear properly]

RT: You’re thinking, “Oh my God, I’m having such a good time and then...

HM: “I just need a pencil to write it down!”

RT: ...particularly when you have a watch a clock in front of you, you know, and you’re thinking, “I’m drifting so much” and then I look at the watch and it’s just 15 minutes later and I’m thinking, “My god I’m having the time of my life” and then it’s gone and you know time restarts passing ...[taps table slowly and regularly].. and I’m thinking, “Oh my god, I still have ten minutes left” so you start thinking, “Please please go faster.”

HM: When do you think you will stop? Or do you think you will stop life modelling?

RT: I don’t know. I find it very helpful... I guess I will stop sooner or later if we will start working more with performance research and development and things happening. It’s also a question of time because...

AB: If, when, hopefully the performance work takes over everything we have to do then...But right now stillness has a big part in our performance work anyway...

Shibari life drawing. Photo by António Branco and Riccardo T. Drawing by Frank Gambino

HM: What about Shibari [5] is that part of this as well?

AB: It’s different. It’s a bit different...

RT: But everything gets really linked together both in our practice and our lives in a way. Every artists has his practice very linked to his life

HM: Do you want to talk about Shibari? Is that part of your artistic work or is that your personal...

RT: It’s more part of this life modelling thing actually because we did Shibari classes for drawers. But then it has a very different sense of performativity as well, which is very different from performance and it’s very different from the performativity you have in life drawing classes. There’s something also there which is slightly different.

AB: But the poses are much easier to take.

HM: Because you’re supported by the rope?

AB: And also they poses are always shorter because you can’t be bound more than a certain amount of time because it will cut your circulation, it will damage nerves. So the maximum poses is always around 15 minutes.  

RT: I think I did a 20, but that was the maximum.

AB: There’s also an inner sort of movement happening inside the pose when you’re hanging...

RT: There’s not such a thing as stillness if you’re hanging and you have slightly different changes in the body which are natural.

AB: A nice difference about it is in this case we don’t really decide the poses so much because it’s you and the person tying you. In these cases it really is a performance even if it’s a pose and you’re going to draw but it is a performance in a way; you get into the poses and how he ties you and getting into the pose is something worth watching. It’s not just, “I’m getting into the pose now”, that moment is also something to look and see and draw as well. It’s almost choreographic in a way as well.So I would say, you’ve got life modelling, you got Shibari in the middle, and then performance because Shibari has a little bit of both in a way. It has a bigger element of performance than just life modelling by itself.

HM: Is that because the tying is...

AB: Yes because the tying is action.

RT: Exactly, there’s an outside person shaping you and shifting you.

AB: It’s a bigger spectacle, you get unusual poses. It’s quite tough sometimes physically

RT: I really like Shibari because it’s like having someone hugging you very tight for a long time.

HM: And do they explain what the pose is beforehand?

AB: No, not for these classes. In this studio they have classes where they teach about the history of Shibari, they teach you how to do things, it’s more in depth. These ones are about drawing the Shibari figure, so not in this case.

RT: They just tie you up. I mean of course in the BDSM [6] practice you have a rope top and a rope bottom. So here there’s another range.

AB: You assume a role...

RT: ..that’s different from just passive and active. It almost has a sexual role but then you have the power as a rope bottom to say, “Oh I don’t really want my leg there, it’s hurting right now so in ten minutes I will die.” There is a communication happening.

AB: That said it doesn’t feel sexual at all. It’s sensual but not sexual.

HM: Would it be different if...well, how much access do you have to the pleasure of a rope bottom who isn’t doing it for a life drawing class? If someone’s doing it in the privacy of...

AB: Just doing it as a practice you mean?

HM: Yeah.

AB: So we’ve frequented a few classes and workshops but we haven’t really got into it that much because of time. Personally I can’t really comment because we don’t really do it. We do have an interest in it but I think a lot of it is visual appreciation more than the practice itself because we haven’t gotten into it so much.

RT: Also because it’s a Japanese practice, and to be good you need to practice for years and years.

AB: It is very technical.

“I’m very close to you, now draw me.”

HM: And is the attitude of the drawings different in any way or the other? The tone of the class?

RT: Normally it’s a very different kind of session. I find life drawing classes....there’s two kinds of them. Normally the evening classes that you can do in pubs, you can do life drawing Shibari, you can do it in groups, we also pose for Edmund Farmer who does sort of queer East London life drawing classes. And the evening ones, because it’s a mix of people; amateur and professional coming to draw...

AB: So it’s always more open, it’s each to their own.

RT: Exactly.

AB: And then in the school ones it’s more like they’re being taught.

RT: It feels much more academic and I feel that in the posing itself, you know...I get very camp when I do evening classes. I do love my camp posing, but then when I do normal school classes, they’re much more...

AB:  Anatomical...

RT: ...toned down. For example I was posing two weeks ago and, you know, it was just the first or second class they were doing in drawing and I took a position and the teachers said, “It’s too much: there’s too much torsion. Just stand straight, very easy, simple.” She’s said, “I know you’re great, but you’re giving too much information for them right now to be able to....”

HM: Too complicated

RT: Exactly. I guess it’s the same as a dance class. If you go for the first time they tell you, “This is a plié” [7] it’s not going to be like, “This is the third act from La Bayadere [8].”

AB: I think the evening classes are more interesting in a way because it’s this thing of how can you challenge them in their drawings by your posing.

RT: I like to play a lot, for example, with proximity because if you go very close to them and you get foreshortening. So yeah, you know, I’m thinking, “I’m very close to you, now draw me.”

AB: You really feel like - and you are - you’re influencing their work and because everyone is so different in their techniques and styles I feel it’s a more vibrant class...

RT: Because there’s also less...I guess at the courses you’re going there because you want to try to learn how to draw, so they try to be very anatomically correct. And this is the exact length of the bust compared  to your legs . While an evening’s or for example when I pose at Slade [School of Fine Art], because it’s just for students so whoever wants on that Friday can come in and draw. So they use their own practice to draw you.

AB: People do caricatures, people do surreal, people go realist, it’s really fun though.

RT: Yeah, exactly. Particularly at Slade because lots of guys sit down and start drawing you on the floor on boards. I love that because I look at them drawing.

AB: Yeah. If it’s on the floor you can see what’s happening.

RT: If I’m posing here and you would draw me right now I could see you but normally they have just the board and you can just see the back of the board which is totally different.

AB: It really helps when you can see the drawing because it really gives you something to also focus on...almost entertain you a little bit...

RT: It’s almost like slow TV.

AB: Yes very slow motion TV...animation.

Sometimes I go and see the drawing and I look so masculine that I think “that’s not me.”

HM: How is the reveal? What’s that moment? Do they always show what they’ve done?

AB: Well because you see...

RT: Also if they don’t want to show me I go around and watch.

AB: ...because you see so many different ones after quite a few different poses...I don’t know...

RT: I never give a big value to the finished work in a way I always feel that, to them it is a practice. You know I have posed very few times for artists who wanted to do a final drawing or a painting. Most of the time they’re all practice, they’re all thing to get better.

AB: I never give much value, I never sit down and go, “Oh wow this is great.”

RT: But then there enters another thing which is representation and how you would like to be represented. Sometimes I go and see the drawing and I look so masculine that I think “that’s not me.”

AB: Yeah, that’s a funny thing...

HM: Does it change how you see yourselves if you are seeing so many images of yourself?

AB: It just makes you question, “Is that how you saw me? Is that how we really look like?” I mean there’s drawings of me that I look like him. And I have the question, “how did you get there?”

RT: And particularly it’s very interesting to see the difference when you do classes and you don’t really speak with the students and when you start having a conversation with them afterwards because I see the drawings really change because they’re actually trying to rob your soul kind of thing. While if they just sit down and start drawing you, it’s just a practical thing; they’re trying to reproduce you, almost photographically. Which has nothing of your character of yourself...

HM: You say ‘robbing your soul’, so you find that a bit troublesome do you?

RT: I don’t find it troublesome I just find it interesting.

AB: It’s just different.

RT: I don’t go home crying. Then at the same time I look at it and I think, “Eh?” and it’s something very interesting for example they are very good drawings then I start questioning the whole history of art and I wonder how fun it would be to actually see the paintings of the people of the Greek masters near to the real person that they draw...

AB: See the actual people that were painted.

RT: I guess there’s always a sense of abstraction in it...

AB: It’s never real.

HM: And as you say, in a class they’re being encouraged to draw what they see not what they think is there but maybe often it’s always still happening; they’re carrying something of what they think you are rather...

RT: And lots of times it comes out like the thing that I was telling you before; the unwritten manifesto of the body as the pose, it comes out of the pose. So the whole sense of camp posing or the way a pose can just be very square...

AB: Oh yeah because a pose has messages, you know...body language. [demonstrates two different poses] There’s completely different poses, they’re both me when I’m doing it but they would be different paintings. Or you could draw them both just physically what they are from their, the physicality, but also add their underlying sense of campness or masculinity.

HM: They’re expressions of culture as well, they’re not just purely physical arrangements.

AB: Because we’re very aware of what it means we’re giving it to them and then it’s their decision to chose to....

RT: I guess there’s three parts to have your own representation, you trying to portray the pose; there’s their own representation where they’re trying to see themself in the pose; and then there’s the third representation which is yourself looking at the image that they did.

HM: There’s a lot in there. Can we talk about your performance?

RT: Yeah.

20 Minutes to Appear by António Branco and Riccardo T. 2018. Photo by Piotr Krolicki

HM: There’s big overlaps. How do they speak to each other?

AB: So the way we brought posing and stillness into our performance work was because we got asked earlier this year to, to a masterclass for House of Illustration [9]. They wanted to go crazy and they didn’t want stillness. Rather they didn’t want a classic setting for a class rather than they wanted us to be performing and people to be drawing. So it was kind of interesting to start to begin meshing performance and posing and thinking how we would subvert that. So in the end it was really interesting to have a class and really flip the power structure. So normally you pose and they paint and that’s it. In this case they didn’t know anything; they were just there and we were just in a space and we were going to do something but they didn’t know how long it’s going to last. So they were really going at it and there was this sense of energy of trying to capture everything happening and maybe we’re going to stay in doing that thing for 10 minutes or maybe it was going to be two minutes. Most of the time I didn’t even know how long I was going to be, you really just do it then see how you felt about it.

RT: Also because we were working with this concept of creating an image; presenting an image and then having your personal sense of performativity of the image. So whenever this image would come to an end it would finish naturally and you would feel that the image didn’t really have anythouhing else to say because they would have no more energy and you would move into the next one.

AB: No matter if people are finished with the drawings or not, we would move into the next one straight away. It was interesting in exploring this sense of how it is and how people really react and catch up to that feeling of not knowing how long things are going to last and how can they catch things.

RT: And we started thinking about that because in the exhibition [20 Minutes To Appear] our performances were replying to an exhibition by Jo Brocklehurst; she was this illustrator going to clubs in the 80s and drawing the fetish scene and the club kid scene so we still had this sense of queerness in the posing and the costumes we were using. And then because these classes were done mainly for fashion students, we started thinking what would be helpful for a fashion student that goes into a drawing class. We start thinking, “Well, when they draw, they normally draw when they are watching a runway. Is someone still on a runway? No”. So we started to have these melting poses, which was like taking the pose – and we used this also in the last performance you saw – and melt into the floor in 10, 15 minutes. Because then they had to make a decision because it was very hard to make a personal decision of, “I want this moment to be in” and then start drawing it was continuously moving....

AB: It’s about working with memory and...

RT: But then at the same time you never have such a drastic change that the body’s completely different.

HM: So they’re always ahead or behind what the pose is.

AB:  Because it’s continuous movement. It’s like a still movement or a moving pose. You have this pose, but then you will move really, really, really slow. And you start crumbling. So they really had to choose when to start....Because of you start after two minutes it will already be different.

We really like to question the ownership of the muse.

RT: With that we were also questioning...well the question was about where is the ownership of a work? Because you know particularly for these Jo Brocklehurst, she used to draw in clubs and the fetish scene; the drawings are amazing but they are amazing also because of the subject. Without the subject she wouldn’t have the work so where is the ownership of the work because normally with a painter, the painter did it. And I think, “No it’s just a technical part.”

AB: We really like to question the ownership of the muse. Because we really like to see it as a collaboration especially in these kind of setting that we were just doing where we were really giving...facilitating everything; the images, the space. So in a way it’s almost our exploration and you’re here to just document the end of it so it’s almost our work. Because if you take it into dance, it really works like that. So the choreographer takes the dancers into the studio, he facilitates through tasks, the creation of movement that the dancers create and then he puts it together and uses and it as his work. So ultimately the work is the choreographer’s work and not the dancers, even though in a way they made the paintings that the choreographer then put together as it were. So if you referred that to modeling and painting then the muse facilitates the room that allows the painters to create. So “It’s my work!”

HM: What do you mean by that?

RT: Well, in this case we were facilitating everything. If you go into a studio of an artist they say “please sit down, this position, this position, this position...”

AB: Yeah that’s different, but if I’m making my decisions. If I’m offering like this, or dressing like this, or remaining like this then it’s as much as mine as yours. Of course it’s yours because if it was someone else’s painting it would be a different technique. I think it’s really important to also be aware of that collaboration and that co-authorship, that it’s really in existence as well.

HM: But does the creation of an object, the person who physically creates the object does that traditionally gives that person a priority in the ownership?

AB: It does but as I said in this area, we’re trying to bring the ideal of dance or  you know, if I create this movement through the task that he gave me....

RT: It’s really about collaboration....So our work with the poses started with this sort of project.

AB: But in relation to the last one, it really was also about slowing down image consumption of ourselves and with other people, because you know, social media, TV, we are consuming images so fast nowadays. So it was really trying to challenge ourselves and other people to be able to stay with images longer than they would.

RT: Particularly with performance there’s this thing of going to a performance, taking a picture and then…

AB: “Okay, next one.”

HM: You mean, often in the gallery situation?

RT: Yeah, while, you know if you really want to take a picture of this performance we were doing, a second one you would really have to wait. Because you think we are just posing, you know melting on the floor in 15 minutes you would have the same picture for five minutes so you had to stay in the piece to start understanding it as well.

AB: It was a really challenging piece for the audience.

RT: For the normal way that an audience consumes pieces in galleries.

HM: Can you describe it for the readers?

Can you really unperform...once you know people are looking at you?

AB: So it was an open studio research piece. So we created these kind of playgrounds with three different platforms with pigment in resin. We had also a rail full of different clothes from our own private collection and two big Instagram cut outs of ourselves. And then we gave ourselves three different tasks that we could do, well four I guess. Which were posing until the energy dissipated; the energy that sustains that image or the interest in that image disappears whatever that is. I guess it would depend on moment to moment and how you feel. The second one was melting down, which is a Butoh [10] exercise in which you are in an upright position and you need to reach the lying down flat on the floor position, but you need to take 10, 20 minutes, well you decide how long you’re going to take but you’re not timing it so it’s your inner clock and your own perception of time. So sometimes I want to take 10 minutes and I actually took 20 minutes. Or I take 10 minutes and I literally did it in five minutes.

RT: Also that is really relatable with the audience because we have an audience now, you try to be the best of yourself, so the actual times slow down even more.

AB: So if I had an audience I would take 20 minutes, if I didn’t have an audience I thought I was taking ten but I was taking five, seven minutes.

RT: Two minutes and it will be over! [laughter]

AB: There was no energy for me to bounce off and to perform to and this research we’re trying to do is on how to retain that energy. It’s not about just showing but it’s about being able to do it as well. And the third task was, we had this really small long runway, two metres long, 30 centimetres wide and it was again all about sustaining an action. So we would get a naked, put one item of clothing on, walk to the end of the runway, pose, walk back, put a second item on, walk the other runway, pose, and go back and forth in a crescendo until it’s literally impossible for you to put anything else on you.

RT: We wanted to create this sort of a live sculpture that sort has a bit of club kid and queerness embedded, you know sort of like Leigh Bowery [11] imagery or Daniel Lismore [12] imagery.

AB: And then just undo everything again, piece by piece of clothing until you’re back to being naked. And then the fourth possibility was to unperform. To literally do nothing and we had a few books around related to posing and spectatorship and body image that we could just read. To then come back into the other tasks with a different mindset because we were there for seven days for four hours, five hours a day. So it was really about how do we also sustain ourselves throughout the seven days and how do we make these tasks new? Because by the third day I had done everything already, I had done those tasks so many times. So there was nothing interesting for me doing it as well. How do I renovate this, how do I make them interesting again? So the books were also there and the unperformativity too.

RT: And it was as well this sense of unperforming, can you really unperform...

AB: Once you know people are looking at you.

RT: And particularly when you have someone looking at you thinking that you are performing. Because if you have ten people around you watching the piece and then you propose that you’re going to sit down and you leave the runway...the runway was the most, on the level of performativity, the higher one so when things are happening it almost had a sense of spectacle inside it. And then you just go back [to the back of the performance area] and read; people are still in that mindset. So they have also a sense of expectation of performance.

HM: Does that then change what you’re doing or how you’re seeing yourselves?

RT: It does and it really brings questioning, because after three days it’s true that someone is watching you but then that level of performativity feels really changed because you don’t have an expectation, you’re not scared, not the first day when you’re very excited. Something that is happening so many times that it’s true that you have the view from the audience but it’s a very different level.

AB: And you’re also bored of it. You get bored. You get tired. At some point we noticed in the beginning we were doing the same poses everyday. And then the challenge is to find new poses you copy images, so once you get to drain something to the maximum to then bypass that and discover something new.

RT: And then you can start a different relationship with the poses so if someone would pose then the other person would start...not stopping posing alone, but starting creating images with the other person.

Camoufleur by Nadim Abbas. 2017. Photo by António Branco and Riccardo T.

HM: Have you had equivalent experiences in other people’s pieces because I’ve done a piece in a gallery and while it wasn’t still there were just four poses or gestures and I had to rotate between them. I guess it’s different if you’re being told what they are by someone else. I imagine there are advantages but challenges that you’re able to set the rules...

RT: Because you can also break them because you are the creator in a way. But then at the same time we also perform for other people, so you really stick to the rules. Even last year I worked in so many performances that are about stillness or very minimal movement. I used to work for this artist from Hong Kong called Nadim Abbas and he did a piece in Vitrine Gallery [13] and my job was wearing a white boiler suit against a white background and I had basically to disappear.

AB: Camouflage.

RT: Yes camouflage with the background and then I was on the other side were I had a camouflage [boiler suit] and a camouflage background and I had to disappear inside the wall and I had an insect mask on top. And this was very interesting, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Vitrine Gallery, it’s in Bermondsey Square [London] and it’s a vitrine [14], it’s not a gallery. It’s a very long...

AB: It’s just a window

RT: It’s just a very long window display and it’s probably a meter and half deep, maybe less. And...

RT &’s in the square...

RT: it’s very different for the audience because you don’t have the audience entering the gallery with a mindset. It’s happening almost site specifically. And with these masks I couldn’t see. I couldn’t see who was in the square, I couldn’t see if people were there . But while the performance was on for two months I really started questioning myself, “Am I performing?” I am sending out energy but who’s the energy for? So many times I was performing in the evening so literally the square was empty when I entered.

AB: If you can’t see there’s performance’s like if the tree falls and no one hears it does it make any sound? So if he’s there performing and he doesn’t know anyone is watching is it really performing? Unless you can find it in yourself as a practice.

HM: That’s one of the things you’re exploring...

RT & AB: Yeah

Weltschmerz by António Branco and Riccardo T. 2017. Photo by António Branco and Riccardo T.

HM: Do you think you would put yourselves into that position, in that kind of piece where you wouldn’t know if anyone was watching?

RT: I guess it’s a possibility. It’s not in our future plans.

HM: I guess I mean the principle of it...

RT: It is an interesting one.

AB: So far we have performed for nobody quite a few times and that is a very specific feeling and it requires a lot of energy from our part.

HM: Are you referring to the piece I saw...

AB: To one we did earlier in July for a gallery in Mayfair [15]. People always came in groups and once someone comes in, four people came in so at some points we had  quite a few people in the gallery and at some points there was nobody. Or I performed once an on a Monday there was literally no one there and throughout five of six hours there were two people in the gallery. It was this performance where we had a platform and we were chained by the neck to the platform and we were also just posing and there was some audio files for the audience to hear to go along with it. I couldn’t leave that space because I was chained and I had to pose and I had two people in five hours. I just thought “Why am I here? How is this benefiting anyone in the world? How is it benefiting myself? Is it? Is it not?” It’s just interesting to put yourself in those extreme situations and really to challenge how you cope with that and those questions that come up.

RT: There’s no right answer to those questions. It’s just a process...

AB: In the beginning I was very interested in making work that challenges us physically so I worked a little bit with pain, telling myself I have to do it, “It’s painful but I’m doing it.” So now it’s kind of the same thing but not so much about the physical part but more about mentally. Still how to go through it and how to approach it mentally.

HM: Were you both performing in that one you were talking about?

RT: Yeah.

HM: At the same time?

AB: No. It was even harder in a way because we were alone. We were alone in that room chained to a platform and we had to keep going.

RT: Also there it was about posing and how people received visually the same information but then each audio file was exploring the performance in different ways and asking the audience different things within the performance so it was also about afterwards, how you speak about a performance. So you think you’ve seen the same thing but actually you experience different.... And we had people messaging us after a few days and they’d say, “Oh my God. I just realised the audio files were different.”

AB: “I was just talking to my friend and said to them ‘wow, what are you talking about?’”

It was about being so aware that you could just add your pose next to ours and not be noticed.

HM: Can you give an example of what was on the audio file?

RT: So we started to think about this as we were choreographing the audience, so one audio file is asking them to move sculptures around and about values in art, so it was ask them, “Feel free to move the sculptures around, move then to the other side” and then we would explore values. for example, “What is the value of a human being in a capitalistic society.”

AB: Another one was about posing. So we asked people to pose with us, it was a little bit of a somatic practice, like a somatic class where you’re lying down and the teacher kind of guides you through your body; feel your lungs, feel…

RT: So it was about finding your own practice in the body and being so aware that you could just add your pose next to ours and not be noticed.

AB: It was really about breaking the barrier between performing and and audience because there was only four headphones and there was more people in the gallery so only four people were doing this and as they start to...well some people chose not to do anything and just to ignore, which is also fine...and some people did go with it. Once they start going with the instructions, grabbing a sculpture and moving it around you are performing because people around you don’t know what you are doing so they see you going on to our platform and grabbing a sculpture and taking it to the other side of the room and it’s a transformation of the audience becoming a performer without really realising it. And then once you do perform how do you feel about that? Or how you feel about choosing to ignore? And why do you? Why do we have this problem about crossing that little barrier? Because we’re taught not to touch things because they’re valuable. And we told them “this sculpture costs £3,000. Pick it up. Scratch it. Drag it around. Change the position.”

RT: You touched it you buy it! [laughter]

AB: You know we asked them to come and touch us. It was interesting to see a lot of people would just touch the shoulder – that’s a very safe place – and they would touch the leg..

RT: In this piece we were wearing high heels, pants, a corset and lingerie so we were really nude in a way. Not naked...

AB: Because we couldn’t...

HM: So you would have liked to have been naked? Or that was one of the things...

RT: Yeah, we thought about it definitely, but it’s Mayfair, we are in the window of the gallery so... And also there it was very interesting to see how the objectification was different so people outside through the window they would really objectify us. They would take pictures, they would stop...

AB: They would point, they would laugh, they would copy...

RT: And then when they would come inside they would almost have a sense of reverence towards the performance. They would start speaking in a low voice, they wouldn’t take pictures or they would ask, “Can we take a picture?” And we’re thinking, “You just took it outside, what’s the difference? It’s the same thing you’re experiencing?” And then the third point was when they had the headphones on because it was our voice, either mine or his, they would link whatever voice they were listening to to the person so it would start a human relationship in that moment so it would be totally different. I had people sitting in front of me listening to it and crying and I thought “Oh my god I’m Marina Abramović [16]” [laughter]

AB: Because the way the texts were composed, they were quite personal, they said things like “Hi. Welcome. Thank you for coming. I’m here and you’re there. Please come a bit closer. That’s a bit too close, please go a bit further away.” Or “Come touch my sculpture, sit on my platform, give me a kiss, shout at me.” It was pretty human.... But we would never speak.

Weltschmerz by António Branco and Riccardo T. 2017. Photo by António Branco and Riccardo T.

HM: Was there an invigilator there or was it just you two?

RT: Yeah there was an invigilator there.  

AB: We didn’t put up too many boundaries. There was this girl there and she came and touched my balls. There was a woman caressing me and she was said “Oh you’re so beautiful, so beautiful.” There was one text about value and she really started reacting talking to me and she said “Oh not you’re very valuable but I’m not going to buy you because I don’t believe in buying other humans.”

RT: Because we also sold the performance as an option so you could buy the performance for 30 hours and then you could consume the performance in the way you wanted so you could have that performance for 30 hours. You could have three hours in your house or you could have an event and you could say “I want this performance for the event.” And you would have a contract of 30 hours and when the contract would be finished you would be left with nothing. You would just be the buyer of the piece.

HM: Has anyone bought it yet?

AB: It’s a bit hard to sell performance.

RT: We think of it more as a conceptual piece.

AB: It was an experiment. It’s a living sculpture for example, “Can I have it for six hours in my house, just in my kitchen performing this piece.”

HM: How much was it for 30 hours?

AB: £14,000

HM: A gallery could afford that, or a rich person.

RT: We wanted to sell it for much less than we actually started to think about the practicality of the thing and we were thinking, “People could actually buy it...”

AB: It’s ten performances of three hours.

RT: Exactly...and [they could] fly it to Paris.

AB: And then you have to travel and you have to take the performers ten times, take the sculpture there...

RT: And build the things and so we were thinking, “Actually it has to be more expensive then.”

HM: With regards to the did you feel about that? The people touching your balls or your head...

AB: I don’t really have a problem; this Saturday I was doing a performance in which...she touched me everywhere.

HM: A member of the audience?

AB: No, no no, it was a performer but I met her that day. It was her work, It was a performance for blind people, it was all about sound. There was this section where she was making sounds with my body and I was fully naked, she was dressed and she had microphones on her cheek and hands and she was pouring water on me and massaging me and she was making sounds with opening and closing of my butt cheeks. Moving my lips, she was rubbing her face on my beard to make sounds with the microphone. So it was really, really, really, really invasive. But then at some point I was thinking, “Oh, she just touched my testicles” and I’m thinking, “Oh okay” and then, “Oh she just touched my anus” and I was thinking, “Well, okay.” So those moment shook me for a second. But then I set down and I thought, “It doesn’t really matter.”

RT: I guess if it doesn’t have that history or that sexual connotation, at the end of the day, it’s just a body part.

AB: [referring to the gallery performance with headphones that we were talking about earlier] I guess if it’s an audience member you don’t really know what they thinking but then again it was such a quick moment, and it was such a...Touch...and Release...And you know she touched me before on the shoulder and then the leg and I guess it was interesting, she was testing how far she could go because it’s such an unusual thing to be able to touch artworks, sculptures and performers and if you’re brave enough you’re also interested in testing how far you can actually go.

HM: Yeah. But you’re still a human being so the rules of how you touch human beings is in play.

RT: I guess, once you have the permission - we were really asking them to do it; “Touch me. Touch me anywhere...

AB: “It’s fine...”

RT: “ can touch me anywhere.” So there is a possibility there.

AB: We knew that...

RT: So we thought this could be a maximum point. Someone could theoretically do it. That’s what we’re asking. And in that sense we gave consent to a passive process. Where we were thinking, “Oh yes it’s in the text, these are the possibilities, we’re fine with it.”

Weltschmerz by António Branco and Riccardo T. 2017. Photo by António Branco and Riccardo T.

[1]  The gluteus maximus is the main extensor muscle of the hip. It forms the prominence of the buttocks.

[2] The quadriceps femoris is a large muscle group that includes the four prevailing muscles on the front of the thigh.

[3] The psoas major is a deep-seated core muscle connecting the lumbar vertebrae (in the lower back) to the femur (thighbone). The psoas major is the biggest and strongest player in a group of muscles called the hip flexors.

[4] The Zabludowicz Collection is a London gallery.

[5] Shibari (Japanese meaning ‘to tie decoratively’) is commonly used, in English at least, to refer to Kinbaku (‘the beauty of tight binding’) the ancient Japanese artistic form of rope bondage. I had been told that Riccardo and Antonio had done some Shibari life modelling.

[6]  BDSM - bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism, masochism.

[7]  A fundamental of ballet, plié (French meaning ‘creased’ or ‘bent’) is the action of bending at the knees.

[8]  La Bayadere is an iconic 19th-century Russian ballet by French choreographer Marius Petipa.

[9]  The House of Illustration is a public art gallery in London devoted to illustration.

[10]  Butoh is a form of Japanese dance theatre.

[11]  Leigh Bowery was an Australian performance artist, club promoter, and fashion designer, based in London for much of their adult life.

[12]  Daniel Lismore is a London-based fashion designer and stylist.

[13]  Camoufleur by Nadim Abbas. 2017

[14]  A vitrine is a large, glass cabinet used for displaying art objects.

[15]  Weltschmerz by António Branco and Riccardo T. 2017

[16]  Marina Abramović is a very famous performance artist. In her 2010, 750-hour piece The Artist is Present, the audience took turns sitting opposite her for a few minutes each. Many people were moved to tears by the experience.