Fairgoers attend Frieze not only to view the work, but also to see one another. To facilitate the fun while staying on topic, Isabel Lewis turns socializing into art. As part of Frieze Projects, in partnership with ICA as part of the ICA Offsite week, the Berlin-based Dominican performance artist hosts a series of “occasions.” These gatherings involve music, dance, smells, talks, people, and plants. Lewis’s convivial performances are planned throughout Frieze, in locations dotting London, including inside the industrial Old Selfridges Hotel. Like all great hostesses, Lewis is wary of overly orchestrating her plans, but here she offers us a glimpse into what she has in store for her happenings.
Artsy: I saw on Facebook that you posted a photo of yourself on an opulent petal-pink sofa. Will that sofa feature at Frieze?
Isabel Lewis: It will be part of the decoration of the space, and that makes it part of the work. But no single visual element is important as it would be in an installation. The decoration contributes to the atmosphere that I create, but it is not part of the art itself.
Artsy: When selecting objects to decorate this environment, are you imagining a fictional decorator or participant in the performance? Are you asking yourself—who would buy or sit in this sofa?
IL: There is actually no particular rationale to my selection. I gather decoration, piecemeal, in each place. I did similar pieces in Barcelona and Liverpool. The environments that I develop are particular to each city. I scavenge, borrow, and pick objects in second-hand shops. I want to reduce the unnecessary waste I produce.
Artsy: Is there anything that you consistently use in every city setting?
IL: Plants. Plants bring life and amazing energy. I gravitate towards bamboo and lots of dark, leafy plants. I don’t use many flowers.
Artsy: Flowers fade, but isn’t that part of performance too? How do you feel about creating something ephemeral and social in an environment associated with sales and financial investments?
IL: I actually do not think of my work as ephemeral. I know that discourse around live work and performance focuses on its ephemerality, but I believe that the bonds and connections people make are not ephemeral. They are lasting. Those bonds are my material. Memories can resonate for a long time; these are real things that individuals mould in their lives.
Artsy: What are your specific concerns around creating a performance during Frieze?
IL: I aim to reduce the visual dominance and seduce all the senses, especially neglected ones. Frieze is about seeing. I want to give people more than that. I also assume that people will have less time and attention for my work during Frieze. They will drift more than usual. I want to welcome that.
Artsy: Is your work partially a critique of social codes, norms, and expectations at big art events?
IL: Not at all. There is no judgment in my work. I am not commenting on acceptable and unacceptable behavior. I am only inviting people to be in contact with themselves and others. I want to let you be yourself. It is not a critique; it is a celebration.
On view at Old Selfridges Hotel (14–15 Oct) and Fenton House (17 Oct)
Images courtesy of the artist