The Serpent Within 

Maikon K is no stranger to immobility. The performance artist originally from Curitiba in Brazil has come to Berlin supported by the Martin Roth Initiative for ‘facilitating shelter for artists at risk’ after his seminal work, ‘DNA of DAN’, which premiered in Brazil in 2013 and is one of the first acquisitions of the Something Great Collection, was censored in his home country. The Brazilian authorities labelled the work an ‘obscene act’ and arrested the artist on two separate occasions.

Often set in a public outdoor space, ‘DNA of DAN’, begins in stillness as Maikon, encased in a large plastic environment, stands motionless for three hours while a thin coating of plastic substance dries over his body. The audience observes from outside this plastic habitat, watching as his body, completely naked and removed of all hair, makes shallow breaths so as not to rapture the fragile coating. Once the skin has dried, the audience is invited to enter the space. Then Maikon begins to move, charged with the energy of DAN – which refers, in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, to the ancestral serpent, the origin of all forms.

Maikon now finds himself amid the Covid-19 lockdown and again confined, this time within his apartment. Recently, via a zoom call from Berlin, he spoke about his motivation to create 'DNA of DAN', his artistic research, and an artist's solitary life during the pandemic. Here are edited excerpts from that interview.

By Renae Shadler

DNA of DAN by Maikon K © Tathy Yazigi

How did you create "DNA of DAN", and where did the concept come from?

The research began with my interest in the role of the serpent within ancestral cultures. The serpent represents the fountain of life in African traditions, whereas, in Christianity, it is attached to the archetype of the devil.

For me, the serpent is an animal of much power and knowledge about the universe. It's the guardian of the stars. My doubt is why the Christian religion came to vilify it. They suppressed the animal and what it represented – the instinct and the wild and sexual side of humanity.

What I think is curious is that all these ancestral cultures knew that the serpent possessed knowledge about the beginning of life. It was only in the modernity, in the 70s, that scientists discovered that on the molecular level of DNA, when you look in a microscope, the shape is like two serpents.

The name of the performance comes from this connection. In African ancestral cultures, DAN is the name of the Serpent God and, it also has this connection to the snake-DNA-helix. For me, this is not just a coincidence.

DNA of DAN by Maikon K © Tathy Yazigi

Can you speak about how shamanism and ancestral knowledge informed this creation?

In this piece I'm looking for a shamanic body. Every culture has a kind of shamanism, because in that time we lived more exposed to the environment. So, we didn't feel separated from the nature like we do now living in cities.

Shamanism is how you activate in your body all the elements that compose us: the fire, the water, the wind and the earth. The shaman or sha(wo)man understands this connection and how it exists within their interior. For example, the earth is the bones, the water is our body's water, and so on. I know it's difficult to speak about ‘nature’ in culture but these elements are also recognized in science. It is how we are made up.

So, in the ‘DNA of DAN’ my question was: How can I become another being which is not a human without representing something?

What I was searching for in the figure of the serpent was not a religious connection but rather how to incorporate this shamanic way of understanding. I wanted to create a new language within my body. So, the water speaks, the water is dancing, the water is healing.

The scenographic proposition in the piece is very striking. Can you share how it came to realization?

I invited a visual artist in Brazil, Fernando Rosenbaum to design and create a structure for these serpent bodies. I asked him to create something big enough for people to enter inside. The large plastic inflatable environment he made represents many things: a uterus, an alien home, a bomb and so on. It is only a thin plastic, like a membrane separating me from the world. It is fragile.

The installation was designed for outdoor spaces. We can present the performance also in galleries and in large spaces with high roofs, it is not a problem, but I think it is more special when we stay in relation with the sky and with the trees.

Another visual artist, Faetusa Tezelli, worked with me on the costume design. We researched the serpent and were interested in that moment when the serpent sheds its skin. Faetusa created a thin plastic mixture, which forms my second skin, and in the second part of the performance, when I move, the skin starts to tear and sometimes I eat it.

DNA of DAN by Maikon K  © Anonym 

In your research you explore means of altering consciousness through body practices. How do you work with movement and prolonged stillness in this piece?

I worked closely with the 'snake-DNA-helix' and how it relates to my spine. Together with Kysy Fischer, who helped me with body research, we explored the serpent's path along the spine and how that connects to the chakras. How can I move from each chakra? For example, I spent a lot of time researching which kinds of songs came from the first chakra, the second chakra, the third chakra, and so on. Through the sound, I created vibrations and sensations that could transform into movement.

I also worked on how to stay in immobility and, because I have to stay three hours standing without falling, how can I use this experience to expand my energy? I was guided by the behaviours of the serpent and tried to activate this same perception in my human body. For example, the serpent feels the environment from the tongue. It doesn't have a good eye, so the animal perceives it in this way. To do this, I did not think from my head but from all my skin. It is subtle work.

Can you speak about your journey, as a performer, from inside the work?

In the beginning, I am exposed, and at the same time, the plastic environment protects me. Always something is happening. I'm in immobility, but there is always movement inside me and around me in the environment.

I build up a lot of energy in my stillness, and then the assistant lets the audience inside. If the people go inside, they can see the details. It is a very intimate moment and more relational.

During the performance, I work technically with many directions and sensations. For example, I work with the gaze to channel the energy of the serpent. It's not a human eye. Sometimes it is hypnotic; sometimes, I look at a person and sometimes through their body, beyond them.

How has your journey been since making this work? Where do you find yourself now, in this moment?

I think it's difficult to present this piece during the current pandemic. When the audience is outside, the beginning of the work could be possible, but then the audience would not be able to enter inside the sculpture with me, which is essential. I have to relate.

I am now living in Berlin because of the Martin Roth Initiative, a program to support artists who have been censored or are 'at risk' in their own countries. I came here in September 2020 when things were reopening, but now we are in another lockdown, and I don't know when I'll be able to go back to work.

DNA of DAN by Maikon K © Tathy Yazigi

Maikon has plans for the future, despite the difficult situation, and continues to expand through immobility as he prepares for another shedding.

Maikon K is a Brazilian performance artist from Curitiba. The core focus of his work is the body and its capacity to change perceptions, influenced by a shamanic perspective in which the performer unfolds himself into several different realities through specific body techniques, using song, non-verbal sound, dance, visual signs and ritualized activities.  His interests are states of consciousness, dark humor, the relation sacred-profane, sexuality, intensities, grotesque, to provoke rituals, to test sensibilities.  Maikon K has a degree in Social Sciences (emphasis on Anthropology of the Theater), and for the last fifteen years has researched means for altering consciousness through body practices and ancestral rites.  His work DNA of DAN (2013) is part of the Something Great Collection. 

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