The Letting Go
by Stine Hebert, Curator, Copenhagen 2008

For Bella Angora 2008 has been a year formed by one conceptual statement: “I refuse to battle”. The artistic project driven by this agenda takes the shape of drawings, videos, objects and performances. But what does it mean to refuse to battle? And is that even possible?
Contemporary life in almost any part of the world somehow contains an inherent element of battling. Fighting for survival, for love, money, success and acclaim is in many ways the unconscious driving force of our lives. A mentality which is perhaps unavoidable as a human being, if one takes the outset in Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory of “survival of the fittest”. But Bella Angora seems to be questioning the reasons and consequences of choosing these fighting manners in your personal and professional life. It is undeniably controversial to seemingly let go and pull oneself out of the game. Nevertheless, Angora pauses and raises the question of potentiality in this position. The controversial statement: “I refuse to battle” is in itself not a way of locating oneself outside the system. It is a way to ask questions and critically reflect upon this system.

Staging a close proximity

Angora operates within very familiar visual strategies as they allude to our excessive exposure in every day life to popular culture and commercial communication. Her aesthetics reference pop-music videos and in the performance part of “I refuse to battle” even includes a twisted cover version of Kylie Minogue’s hit song “Can’t get you out my head”. The music in Angora’s videos and performances is always highly seductive and ear catching as she makes use of its capacity to instinctively convey and initiate specific feelings in the audience. The banality of the lyrics in much pop music resembles the clear-cut statement: “I refuse to battle”. It is a way of communicating which appropriates the mercantile articulation of a message, as unmistakable, straightforward and ready to consume within a few seconds – similar to being confronted with a billboard advertisement driving through public space. The deliberate na´vetÚ of the expression is a flirtation with mass media’s methods of communicating and representing reality. However, the content is not banal but it is intentionally presented as such.

It is interesting to unfold Angora’s method of representing herself as a female performer. An artist, who is always in the spotlight and insinuates to be telling us about the personal life of Bella Angora in her art works. First of all Bella Angora is not the artist’s real name but an alter ego. Take a moment to taste this name: Bella Angora. It ironically connotes something sweet, beautiful and soft, just like a puppy. Paradoxically, aggression and embarrassing emotions are none the less the point of departure in many of Angora’s art works. Her self representation therefore stresses the importance of challenging the apparent unmediated immediacy of Angora’s works and reminds us that they are ambiguous products of artistic strategies.  

There is a strong element of feminist considerations present in the pieces but they are always presented with humour. “I refuse to battle” entails reflections on what it means to be a woman in the art world and in society in general – as an attractive female performer and a sexual object of desire. Angora plays on this and her performances often involve strong physical elements. In the performance piece for “I refuse to battle” she takes off her clothes in front of the audience while changing into a new outfit. This is yet another way to indicate that the audience is experiencing direct contact with Bella Angora. She seems to be claiming that nothing is hidden underneath as there is simply no need to go backstage to change when everything is already on display. This performative behaviour seduces the audience to unavoidably get the idea that we experience a 1:1 relationship with Bella Angora.

A self portrayal of universal topics

An entangled personal and artistic life has created the basis for much of Angora’s art.  Since 2003 she was collaborating with artist Christian Falsnaes but following the exhibition project “Bella Angora vs. Christian Falsnaes” in 2007 they split up. The versus exhibition can be seen as a precursor to “I refuse to battle” as the two artists were competing to create the best art piece and hereby investigating the mechanisms of wanting to be the greatest and of rivalry on a professional and personal level. Dealing with the same issues and taking it a step further is Angora’s recent project stAR.T. StAR.T is an art cast show conceptualised by Angora. She has been travelling around Austria and held open auditions for both amateur and professional performers for her own art star show and hereby highlighted the absurdity of the aspiration in contemporary culture to be a star.

Angora uses her personal experiences to articulate and question common desires. Her concern with universal themes such as intimate relations and the concomitant issues of love, loss and new life somehow always situates Angora in the middle of it all. Instead of recording a contrast between the general subjects and the recurrent self-portraits, it appears to be a method to create a figure and thereby an effective way of communicating. The constant self exposure in fact makes it impossible to capture the identity of Bella Angora. This artistic persona can never be contained and by making us curious of this matter Angora once again seems to be pointing not at her but at the narcissism and uncritical adoration of icons in pop-culture in contemporary life.

“I refuse to battle” is not a confession. It is an experiment with a new agenda containing a provocative possibility to do things differently. It is a conceptual expression which is meant to create space for reflection and has on different occasions been followed by the sentences: “I’m not afraid to die”, “I’m not afraid to love”, and “I’m not afraid to live”. Refusing to battle is an attempt to find a new method for relating to the conventional structure of the battling mentality. A letting go which is necessary in order to rediscover.