Mischa Badasyan is a performance artist and activist from Russia based in Berlin. Since many years he is working with human bodies as an artistic tool of expression. He is a video maker, producer, and director.
We have followed several of your projects. Starting from Save the Date, in which you slept with one partner per day for a whole year. One can clearly see that your work took a different turn and that you are now more focused on collective public actions. How would you say your work developed throughout the years?
Indeed, the project SAVE THE DATE has changed completely my life. Both in term of art and in terms of body, sexuality, and how I perceive others. I still work with my own body and create video, photo, text, and art research pieces. But in the last years, I drew a big interest in art direction. Since like 4 years I am making video art and films. Besides that, I am creating human art installations and site-specific art interventions and performances. It is another level for me. I got really tired of showing just me and my body in front of the audience. SAVE THE DATE project just knocked me down and I couldn’t stand it anymore to face me and myself and my body. Apart from that, I find performance art very egoistical and many artists have big issues with their ego and narcissistic approach to their artist practice. It is a huge strength not to be in front of the camera or in front of the audience. I am enjoying the opposite now – being behind the camera and delegate public art actions is the right thing for me to do at the moment.
As a performance artist and activist, where do you draw inspiration from?
I think I wouldn’t say something totally new or special that my inspiration is coming from simple everyday life actions/accidents/encounters and events. Since an early age I was involved in political/social work in Russia: I used to work with autistic children, I supported an animal rights group and became a vegetarian at 17, I was involved in human rights campaigns and antifascism. When I moved to Germany at the age of 20 I immediately started volunteering at the LGBTIQ* and AIDS organizations. I also became a food activist and I save food for over 5 years with FOOD SHARING project. We collect leftovers at supermarkets, bakeries, cafés, etc. and spread them at homeless shelters, refugee camps, and just among friends.
My second education is social work. Over 4 years I am working in the field of migration and refugee. From 1stof August I am going to work at the Queer Refugee Shelter running by Schwulenberatung.
All those activities help me as an artist to remain to be down-to-earth and being connected to people and local communities. My best ideas are coming from experiencing something myself through the body or through observing the others.
My boyfriend and my art partner Abdulsalam Ajaj is another big part of this. He is a self-taught photographer from Syria with incredible knowledge and skills.
How are your group actions organized? How do you recruit people, and is there a specific topic related to each intervention?
City interventions are very exhausting and hard work. We shoot always at night / early mornings due to security reasons. So, we would shoot between 3.30 and 5.00-6.00am and after I have to go to my daily job. Which means people who are participating in our actions have to commit a lot. That makes the project so strong and powerful because everyone is totally in and really enjoys the process and supports the idea. After each shooting, we have a kind of ritual of having breakfast all together and share our emotions and experiences. It is very important to provide space for it. Usually, I would make an open call on Facebook or ask random people on the street, at different art events, etc. if they are willing to be part of this art project. But for now, it became already a big community of people who always willing to participate and get naked. It is the biggest achievement for me, I would say. Because this is all about Berlin and all those beautiful people living here. Our interventions consist of a series of actions. The first biggest action was a WATERFALL at Viktoria Park. It has been a monumental art piece where people became a human flow and covered the waterfall in the city center of Berlin. Another series has been made at different subway stations. It took us almost 3 months to complete those actions. Photos of this series got viral and people started to follow us and support us more. The picture we took at Hermannplatz station of people laying down at stairs got into the Guardian newspapers – one of the famous established newspapers in the world. Now we are focused on the topic of modern and brutal architecture and body.
Another noticeable thing about your performances is that the human installations are mostly composed of naked bodies. How does nudity play a role in your work?
I enjoy nudity very much because it is in my point of view the most honest and authentic way to speak to the audience. Since I am working with the city and urban spaces, it is important to deconstruct all the labels, layers, and other unnecessary constructions of our society. Nude body in the public space is still a big challenge. The majority of participants of my actions were never naked in front of a camera and some never in their life outside of their house. Each time they would get naked they feel empowered and fulfilled. Every time I watch those people or when I also get naked and join the action I am getting so much dopamine and stay full of energy for at least a week. For me, it is important to work with all kind of body types. BMI doesn’t exist for me and I never cast people. Basically, I welcome everyone.
You took over known public spaces such as Alexanderplatz, Berghain and several subway stations in Berlin. What was the general reaction to those actions?
People are in love with the results of our actions. For me the strongest one was at the Alexanderplatz. I still can get goosebumps when I think about this action. There were many preparations and many risks: a few nights beforehand I had to check what time water is off and on at the fountain. I also was climbing there to check the distance between the pillars and their number. The Fountain of People´s Friendship is an incredible monument. I knew I had to make an action there and I was excited for a few months before going there. But since it is the city center and in just 100 meters you can find a police booth I was anxious that this beauty could only exist in my head and never in real life. The other problem could be the high of pillars. They were pretty long and if someone had fallen down from them, they could literately die. It was 4.30am in the morning, over 13 people came. I was extremely nervous and I told to people, that I don’t force anyone to participate. That we can check the space around and decide all together whether we do it or not. There was not a single doubt. Participants wanted to go up and they got naked in a minute, climbed up and started walking on the pillars all the way up. I couldn’t believe that they are doing this, I was screaming out of happiness and laughing at the same time. I was delegating people how to stand, what to look at, and how to move. Once I asked them to put their both hands up and keep them, I could see a clear image of living water, how people transformed into living sculpture and how they naturally belonged there. I could cry and watch it for ages. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time. After 5 min there were over 20-30 tourists taking pictures. In total we spent like 10 min and had to leave. Berghain´s photo got also viral. Even the club itself shared the photo. Unfortunately, they didn’t bother to mention our names. But we created kind of a meme that people wanted to share and enjoy. It was a true story about this famous club.
Your human installations could be perceived as guerrilla actions, which is also a theme we discussed in the third issue of our Pornceptual Magazine. What is the political motivation behind your work?
My main goal is to create a feeling of belonging. This feeling shouldn’t be based on place of birth, nationality, your religion, etc. It should be lived through a body experience. Once you put yourself into a vulnerable position and place your naked body into a public area, there is a natural switch or a shifting happening. Many people would admit that now after participating in those actions and being again at those places makes them feel that they are part of it. That those places belong to them and vice versa. I think it is pretty much an essential idea of belonging. Apart of that body remains a political tool. Depends on the place and time we can use it in so many ways and achieve so much by using it in
Do you consider your work pornographic and do you believe that a pornographic work can become a social movement used to express political notions?
No, I wouldn’t say that my work is pornographic. Quite the opposite, I am trying to desexualize a naked human body with my projects.
For more about Mischa’s work, follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/badasyanmischa/