Wearable Porcelain, Rituals and Japanese Butoh: the Philosophical Explorations of Sindy Butz

By Virginia Villari

Sindy and I met last December at Fountain Art Fair during Miami Art Basel Week. As one of the exhibitors at the fair, I was beyond busy, going insane over whatever little detail, lacking sleep and, at times, wishing I was an artist rather than a curator… I saw Sindy performing twice and those where probably the only rare moments during those 3 days madness when I took a break, when I stopped and enjoyed some good performance art.


V: It seems like your performances often have primordial, ancient, organic features and atmospheres, blended with a rather postmodern and sometimes futuristic aesthetics. What are the central aspects of your performance art?

S: Well when I look back at most of my performances I think I can say my themes usually emerge around the spectrum of human awareness and broadly about mankind, the fall of mankind.  Regardless the topic I choose, sometimes I work on it in a very emotional and personal/intimate way and then sometimes in some sort of clinical or analytical way. It’s absolutely intuitive. I wouldn’t say there is one specific, central aspect because I am interested in such a broad range of things.


For the past year I’ve been studying as much as I could, Philosophy, Moral-Philosophy, Perspectivism…Historical epochs such as Romanticism, Romantic Crafts, Romantic Movements; Middle Age; Renaissance and I focused a lot on empiric studies about the human consciousness. I do lots of research during my artistic creative process. (Not always every idea or concept gets used. Some ideas sit and wait for a while until it’s their turn. Or I never use them.) In my work I usually create a certain narrative and share my, let’s say, analytic but very emotional studies with people. It’s more like an offering. Performance helps me to process my emotions about what i learned for myself. I call my performances often philosophic explorations. The atmospheres, as you called them, which I develop, come very naturally because of my personal preferences in materials, light, colors and form. I don’t plan out what has to look futurist or what ancient. I usually have some rules to my work regarding how the aesthetics should come together but they are of course a secret!  😉 My biggest dream as a kid was that sometime in the future some inventor will build a full functioning time machine. It never happened. I am still waiting. (Hahaha!) So I guess i travel through time with the help of research!


V: You grew up in East Berlin. Did this city’s, and Germany’s, longstanding performance background – from groundbreaking 1930s cabaret to Rebecca Horn and Klaus Nomi, just to name a few – influence your work in any way?

S: I almost wish I could say yes. Maybe it did on a subconscious level, through art, education and media. But I find most of my inspiration in sculpture, restoration and traditional craft as well as contemporary drawing and photography. I am in love with works by Francesca Woodman, Ann Hamilton’s Pin Hole Work, Louise Bourgeois, Ghada Amer…and so many more. Lately the work by Krzysztof Wodiczko really moves me the most. I like how he removes himself in a certain way from that self- obsessive position that almost all us artists have and becomes some kind of bridge for people who maybe need to share and speak more than we do. In 2008 I discovered “Butoh” and started training as much as i could. That in addition to my dance and Ballet education as child and teenager for 10 years inspires me to share my ideas through performance again. In that sense I am very moved by Pina Bausch, early work by Nina Hagen, Kazuo Ohno, Tatsumi Hijikata…It’s great to use your own body as a tool to express stories. 


V: One of your signature series are the wearable porcelains.  How did you come up with this idea? Why porcelain?

S: The project started in 2006 because I was interested in combining my two most favorite passions: clay work and fashion design. I am still obsessed with the idea of working with a material just to test its limits. Experimentation time! In this case mainly the limits of ceramics in order to answer questions like “how much is it possible to really make it wearable and bearing at the same time?” Working with materials such as clay and fabrics and as well as with the shapes and volume of the human body is very pleasurable to me. Also it has a very poetic and symbolic aspect to it: the protection of the fragile human body through strong but breakable porcelain or ceramic. It is also a poetic interpretation of the armory of the modern human…Shells? Second skin? This could go on for hours…I love the very tactile property of clay and to play with it and I like the more technical skills of draping techniques that come from fashion design, which I use to create my artifacts. The combination of all these factors is a pleasurable challenge to me.


V: What I find amazing about your work is that it is very conceptual in all its various forms without being cryptic or cold, but it is instead very aesthetically charged and incredibly engaging for the public. How do you balance these two approaches to art?

S: Maybe I balance it by the rule of: Less is more! Whatever I work with I try not to be too literal with my ideas or my opinions. Also it’s not so much about giving answers or encouraging discussions. I am not that interested in that anymore. Sometimes I feel everything has been done and said before anyway. So it becomes just about being in that moment with everyone together. It’s simply about the personal love for wisdom and offering the essence of it. I try to leave an open end and let the audience decide.


V: Rituals inform a great deal of your creations, from performances to artifacts. What’s the meaning of rituals in your art and in your life?

S: Well if I work with rituals just to practice I prefer them to be repetitive, excessive body work or work with smells: herbs, incense, teas as well as certain sounds. Especially within a community ritual is great because it reminds you where your place is in the world. It gives me the feeling of being grounded and balanced. It helps me to let out negative energy.  It’s very satisfying. It’s some sort of psychological cleaning. And this is true also when I work with clay and sculpture: I think the process has similar characteristics to the one described above. It’s about testing patience, perfection, sensitivity to the material and knowing when to stop. 



V: What have you been up to lately?

S: Lots of performances in New York already since the beginning of the year. Keeping it busy! I finished 2012 with a solo performance presented by Grace Exhibition Space at Fountain Art Fair Miami during Art Basel. That was a great experience. We also had some fun performances with the Group Non Grata, which I am a member of since 2008 officially i think 😉 Just last weekend my Butoh Dance company Vangeline Theater, where I am a principal Dancer in, presented a beautiful strong show. People were truly moved by it. And my big next goal is to get back into the studio in spring and start a new collection on porcelain pieces.


Sindy Butz

Vangeline Theater

Grace Exhibition Space

Non Grata

Fountain Art Fair