It’s mid week and The Royal Academy is full of old and/or slightly pretentious people. Everybody is walking slowly, acting very concerned with the art around them. A subtle but conspicuous surge of young people in dungarees, charity shop trousers and Nikes are making their way up the steps – because Liv Wynter is about to perform in the middle of the Ai Wei Wei exhibition. Obviously.
I catch Wynter before her performance. Given the fact that she freshly graduated this summer, it astounds me how far she has come and how hard she has worked since then. Slightly shitting herself – which is fine and expected – she is about to perform in one of the most prestigious galleries in London. I’m excited.
The first time I saw Wynter perform was when she headlined the Open Mic night at the infamous but brilliant Goldsmiths occupation. As she spit words fuelled with passion, aggression and pure fire, I had goose bumps. The energy she created in the building was second-to-none, and so I couldn’t wait to see what she could do with the unsuspecting gallery-goers at RA.
Rocking up in a black tracksuit and Timberlands, fans and friends wait in the exhibition before Wynter returns in a completely sheer and sequined maxi dress. Her eyebrows are blue to match the turquoise across her chest and her nipples are covered with duck tape ‘X’s. She looks bad-ass.
People gather under Ai Wei Wei’s bike chandelier and Wynter takes her place below an archway. She introduces herself; ‘I’m Liv Wynter and I’m a performance artist from South London, I’m 23 and I’m a Virgo.’
Nerves pushed aside she goes straight in, cutting the air with her words, ‘stand me between these white walls and know it’s elitism that’s lighting me,’ she’s stamping her Timberlands on that marble floor and she rages. ‘No motherfucker wants to pay me, you ain’t even gonna give me a fucking sunflower seed bruv?’ assuring us ‘this is not a favour, this is a demo of my labor.’
Like a slap in the face the message hit home. The message of how much highbrow and elitist practices rule, even in art. How so often, as creators, we work for free as a favorable act in exchange for carrot-on-a-stick career prospects. With her words Wynter rejected this. She claimed back the space that she was taking in the Ai Wei Wei exhibition as a demonstration of her own hard work – and rightly fucking so.
Wynter went onto perform three more poems, including one of her most renown and powerful pieces, Body Apologies, as well as a piece about the room itself, joking about it being ‘site-specific art.’ This final performance in particular really made me appreciate how poignant it was to hear Wynter perform under a chandelier which was made to encapsulate communist China. The contrast between Wynter’s work alongside that of Ai Wei Wei was a perfect paradox. In culture and in medium, they couldn’t be more different, but their ability to take the human experience and shape it into something so authoritative in meaning and beauty is what sealed them together as artists.
If you haven’t gotten the impression by now, Wynter is definitely one to watch. She owns what she does, performing with valor and consistent innovation, always remaining humble and true to her own process, as well as those of fellow creators.
Currently teaching about queer performance art at an all-boy private school, Wynter’s next project, HEADFUCK is due to take place in January of next year, where she will be giving personal performances of new texts via Skype. You can find out more about this at livwynterisaheadfuck.com.
You can also catch an interview with her and listen to her perform on Talk To Me for Wired Radio, the official radio station for Goldsmiths Student Union.
Photography by Joel Bamalam