A pre-show nervousness makes me need to poop. The complexities to this poop conundrum require that the excretion happen spontaneously without being forced. I equate my shitting with an emptiness that is necessary for the success of my performance. When I am empty, there is room for the intentions of the work, my own intentions, and the palpable experience of the audience to come together in the form of my art. The embodiment allows me to recognize all aspects of the work as egalitarian, to come together as a unit. Everything is sensation. Everything happens simultaneously and nothing is trumped in importance. I am able to experience the moment as it perpetuates through space. A wild sense of being/becoming the art that requires emptiness.
I am a performing artist. My body is my art. When I rehearse for a performance I practice techniques, tasks, compositional elements, but these are fleeting forms that change with every project. However, the practice of being/becoming art is continual. This requires the constant cultivation of a very specific body/person.
I am obsessed with cultivating the perfect body/person. A personal perfection, I realize that now. For many years I cared too deeply for the “well-being” of others. Like a narcissistic sob story I assumed that I knew what was best for everybody, based on my own experience. Truth is, I feel that way sometimes still. However, I have discovered a personal sense of groundedness, a comfort within my being that allows me to recognize other people as their own entities. To sit and peer from behind glossy pupils, I allow sounds and sights to come to me and I recognize that individuals have their own ideals and morals. Maybe not everybody is striving to accomplish perfection. Or maybe the perfection that they strive for is external from them.
Every aspect of my life and how I conduct myself is a conscious and regimented affair. From the eight hours that I strive to sleep every night to the ritual of thoroughly brushing my teeth before bed. From the cleanliness and decorative nature of my apartment, to the way that I dress myself in the morning. I count the number of chops that it takes to cut an onion and I think about the placement of my feet my ankles my knees, etc., every time a take a step as I walk down the street. My food intake is a particularly complicated aspect of my artistic practice. I love food, the preparation of it, the aesthetic of it. I love it as a cultural reference point, as nourishment, and as tradition. But I am only able to enjoy eating if it is done in a very particular way.
As I write I take moments to pause and eat a bite of food. Rice smothered in spices—saffron, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, and cloves—all things that help my body digest, renew my cells, and keep me vibrant and alive. To be my art I need to expand into my surroundings, dissolve into my intentions. Yet the capability is only there as a result of nourishment. Just as I willfully digest my food, when I practice my art I often feel as if the universe is digesting me.
My dialectic in question is food or art? To reach perfection—my self-acclaimed perfect state of being—I must be empty, but nourished.
I am not however, choosing between art or food, but rather… the avoidance of feeling full. This assumes that an all-consuming life of art is perfection. I live my art 24/7. If I am active enough in my work—a necessary physical feat—I can eat and enjoy food without feeling full. I have a daily studio practice that is not about creating a product but rather cultivating a quiet meditative state in which I can actively practice being comfortably alone while also expanding into my surroundings. This practice is both physical and mental, and subsequently makes me hungry. When I am hungry, and I take the time to cook myself food, the ingestion is pleasurable. When I am not hungry, when I eat out of necessity or boredom, it becomes a burden and I would prefer not to eat at all.
This is not a piece about anorexia. If you choose to see this obsessive nature as an eating disorder, let me just say that it is an active stance. Through my repetitive nature this practice becomes habit and the obsessive nature dissipates. What is left behind is healthy and persistent art.
If my idea of perfection is a constant immersion in my work and my work as an artist is a constant practice, then I suppose eating is just part of my artistic practice. I must however differentiate between art forms. I would first like to negate the idea that I am dancing all the time. I do not believe this. In fact, I very much disagree with the popular position that everything is dance in so far as it is claimed as such. This piece of writing is not dance. Period. Dance is however, one major sect in my practice of art, as is eating.
The question stands alone, is my personal perfection unattainable? This is a question that can be answered only moments before death—if then. Or perhaps I must alter my idea of perfection to make it attainable. My mother recently said to me that truth is her salvation, can perfection be mine?
Nikima Jagudajev (b. 1990) is a dance artist and socially engaged writer living in Brooklyn, NY.
(a note from CLR: these Writing Realness pieces came out of TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN, a Movement Research writing workshop I taught in conjunction with American Realness 2015)