Maria Anna Potocka
you have to live it.
The decisive majority of artists divide themselves in two worlds. In their works they are artists “proper,” and from day to day they are more or less eccentric conformists to the prevailing lifestyle. This approach is profoundly justified, as it allows the artist to communicate experiences from reality to the realm of art, where they undergo ironic, critical, or revolutionary interpretations. Artists reveal the falsified and poisonous aspects of our reality. In this way they refresh our critical/interpretive mechanisms. Such artists are subjects of endless investigation for culture, which turns them into its tools.
But there also appear artists significantly fewer in number who focus all of life on themselves, becoming universes of their own art. These artists hold no discussions with reality, they impose their own model, which simultaneously becomes their art. Such artists have included Nikifor, Henry Darger, and, to some degree, Roman Opałka. We might also count EVA & ADELE among them.
The “case” of EVA & ADELE does, in many respects, differ from the above-mentioned artists. Its foremost innovation is the introduction of the social aspect. The other artists lived in their private, enclosed worlds, whose fabrication required they come in contact with no one. EVA & ADELE’s model presupposes extensive interaction. It also contains a wide range of social commentary, which can be apprehended as a delicate and congenial way of upending social biases. Subtlety, persuasion, and a lack of criticism or discontent are the basic stylistic features of EVA & ADELE’s life and art.
Their artlife has its precise rules, to which daily life is subordinated in all its minutae. The most important moment of the day is their public appearance. EVA & ADELE never go out without all the accoutrements. Their day begins with carefully shaving their heads. Afterwards they sit down to breakfast, when they establish the ensemble of clothing and accessories in which they intend to make their appearance. Individual pieces can be re-worn, but the final outfit must appear unique. They stand before an extensive and orderly wardrobe dominated by the color pink. Everything comes in twos: clothing, pairs of shoes, accessories. One small, one large. The choice of ensemble for a given day is noted down in a special card catalogue, which allows them to monitor the frequency of an object’s use. After breakfast, they begin the make-up ceremony in separate bathrooms. They then begin carefully dressing. The procedure of preparing for the role of artwork takes over three hours. They almost always appear together in public. Sometimes Adele goes out by herself to arrange something. For the past twenty years, Eva has not left the house without her.
The work of creating a living object d’art differs little from painting a picture. Technical materials stand behind both one and the other. Both one and the other occur undocumented, un-witnessed, in the privacy of the studio. Only the finished work is subject to criticism and shown to the viewer. EVA & ADELE step out onto the street. This is one of their galleries, and one of the most experimental. The great art events are their museums. They attend almost all of them, providing a considerable attraction. Their public appearances have definite rules, and should not be confused with public performances. Their excursions are part of life, a facet of their everyday reality. They take along neither cameraman nor photographer, but they do allow themselves to be photographed by chance passersby, and pose with them with a smile. There are always plenty who are eager. Small wonder; they resemble an exotic tropical island amid the gray pedestrians, with their extravagant colors, radiating positive mental energy. An amusing paradox emerges in this clash. A normal person, the “mentally retiring man in the street,” seems artificial and dishonest in contrast with this kitschy and stylized couple, who, for all their artificiality, appear sincere and authentic.
“Normal” people have difficulty making creative contact with themselves, because they do not distinguish themselves from others, and thus do not perceive themselves as distinct creatures. In his/her own eyes, a normal person is a generalization. Artificial people stylize themselves on someone else, putting on a mask or incarnating themselves into some sort of medium, challenging their own authenticity. It is only a small step from here to self-recognition. Once initiated, this process never ends. Art can be one of its tools. The art mask becomes a screen with selected fragments of authenticity, which are not only recognized, but also explored in-depth, and begin to determine the individual’s character. This delicate procedure creates the most important sphere of art: the artistic personality. Its perfection, and its cultural applicability (which are not necessarily the same) hinge upon the recognition of authenticity and the selection of the right mask or the right medium for displaying it.
Here, in part, lies the secret of the spectacular impact made by EVA & ADELE, two carefully masked creatures who create a dialectical image; they are simultaneously truth and lie, artificiality and authenticity, tradition and revolution. To better understand the phenomenon of EVA & ADELE, we should have a look at the issues they address in their work of masking authenticity. These include: gender, identity, life, art, authenticity, masks, relationships, and finally, creativity.
Gender is the most striking and, simultaneously, the most intricate facet of this pair. We see two bald women, dressed both sumptuously and identically, hidden behind thick and elaborate make-up, grinning sincerely, sensitive to themselves and to others. Behind this image hides the body of a small woman and a large man who became a woman. His spiritual femininity having conquered his physical masculinity, Eva was legally recognized as a woman. Eva’s sex change allowed them to marry as a homosexual couple. The mixture of femininity and masculinity found in both of them is additionally complex in EVA & ADELE’s case, because the once-male Eva is much more poetic, delicate and womanly than the always-female Adele, who is decisive, practical, and for all her charm, sees things “like a man.”
The growing mutual similarity, the identical clothing, the gender cocktail, the mandatory smile and friendly attitude, and the public appearances in masks are the basic violence to identity that EVA & ADELE allow. Can such utter manipulation still hide an individual identity? It looks as though it not only can, it even improves the identity. It is never easy even in a friendship to evaluate another person’s satisfaction with his/her identity. Moreover, many people have painlessly smothered their need for a sense of identity, or have discarded it in favor of a sense of religious or party identity. Satisfaction with identity can only be felt indirectly, through how a life is consummated. The more contentment, diversity, passion, private interpretation, and “sense of meaning in meaninglessness,” the more tangible the identity behind it. EVA & ADELE’s attitudes seem utterly saturated with these identity successes.
In putting on a mask, we introduce a simplification. Our internal complexities, sometimes too difficult for our own selves, are veiled by an unambiguous message. In EVA & ADELE’s case, putting on a mask appears to be a memento for a hidden interior. Their life proceeds on two planes. They make contact with the public sphere through their masks; we see others better when they cannot see us. Contact is more complex with the internal sphere, because it involves ungluing oneself from the mask. Many of those in masks renounce this complex operation and find solace in identifying with the mask. EVA & ADELE can live on either side of the mask with equal intensity.
The masks EVA & ADELE use are complicated because, apart from the meticulously composed outfits, they are also composed of states of mind. These, of course, are absolutely mandatory in all social contacts. It is difficult to imagine this couple dressed normally. By the same token, a great mask-making operation stands behind every excursion from the house.. The demands of artificial, masked life dominate the private sphere, which in effect becomes the directorial storeroom of a public appearance. To this we must add the enormously time-consuming cosmetics and dressing up. There is also the mental training required to maintain a sincere smile. When we convince ourselves that all those around us are beautiful and good, then such a smile comes at a moment’s bidding. This complicated mask, made up of clothing, mental state, and convictions, affects the organization of private life, and becomes life itself. Underneath these complex everyday activities a more total game of life is probably being played out. Both Eva and Adele have invested themselves in the product called ‘EVA & ADELE’. This investment would seem non-refundable. They have both voluntarily surrendered their entire existences to the other, once and for all. Their relationship is a marriage to the nth power, total, allowing neither of them to function independently. Both parties recognize the scope of this dependency. EVA & ADELE’s struggle for a meaningful existence becomes a struggle for survival, but not in the face of hatred; it must be based on warmth and friendship. Eva and Adele could teach plenty of married couples a thing or two.
Subordinating life and art to each other blurs the boundaries between them, causing the worlds to blend, and setting us before a creature of whom we have little experience. The result is a life/art of sorts. This construct, which EVA & ADELE have worked out to the finest detail, inspires our fascination and jealousy, as it conceals a “decked-out personality.” If gaining control over one’s own life is the object, then taking control of one’s outward form would seem to be the first step. This procedure seldom called art is a relatively common one, differing at most in the depth of the creation. EVA & ADELE went further, searching for a form to fit two very different people. Its mutual acceptance, the fact that for twenty years they have with growing satisfaction functioned this way, proves that the form has considered the needs of both, creating their unity without violating their diversity. They have begun to live the life of the twofold creature they created together. This creature is their most important work of art.
Authenticity is the illusion of one’s genuineness and intentionality. The decisive majority of people consent to this illusion and make no effort to analyze its suspect devise, composed of countless accidents and assaults. Moreover, what we regard as our authenticity is most often a formula of sorts to which we are accustomed. EVA & ADELE have dared to penetrate their authenticity in a dialectic manner, by discarding it in favor of an image that is a mutual compromise. In this procedure, everything that puts up resistance and insists on being treated as a separate entity can be regarded as an element of individual authenticity. This process albeit unconscious, quasi-fighting applies to every relationship of equals. Except that elsewhere it is imposed, which radically diminishes its conclusiveness. EVA & ADELE have premeditated it, and it looks as if they have achieved success, because they give the impression of people who are consciously grounded in their own existence.
In the case of EVA & ADELE one of the basic tools of discovering authenticity is a relationship with “the other,” i.e. with a partner who is meant to be identical, but fortunately is not. Every difference projects something authentic. For a person who does not seek to be subordinate, a relationship with another person is one of the more important methods of knowing oneself. It is one of those cognitive machines we operate intuitively and without much creativity. EVA & ADELE have made this mechanism conscious and creative. There are few examples of the use of this mechanism in the arts. An artistic couple we might compare with EVA & ADELE is Abramović/Ulay. Their performances also pertain to the relationships between partners in life and in art.
EVA & ADELE’s creative work functions on a number of levels. Among these the most important is one to which we have no access personality discipline and enhancement of self-awareness. From a cultural point of view, EVA & ADELE’s most important work is their presence in the public space, which combines a subversive commentary on gender with aesthetic impudence and a Christian imperative to be good. Their appearance is always so surprising, their look always such a departure from all those around, that they seem to have descended from outer space. This impression is reinforced by the power of their psychological aura and underlined by the delicate messages in their movement, smiles, and glances. EVA & ADELE’s full artistic existence occurs when they unexpectedly appear amid in public. The first response of the people on the street is a delighted sense of surprise and aesthetic bewilderment. Afterward comes reflection, which has a fairly wide field to roam. Around this most important work appear various artwork satellites: self-portraits, photographs taken by passersby, drawings, objects, and finally, traditional oil paintings. All of this constructs a modern art hierarchy. At its core is working upon oneself.