Yana Schnitzler: Creating Performance Art

Yana Schnitzler of Human Kinetics creates performance art. She is a New York artist who explores individual connectivity with a particular interest in the female realm. Her current participatory art project draws women together from around the world giving them a unique opportunity to heal.

We all have things in our life that hinder our personal growth. Sadly, it can be difficult to release its hold on us.

This performance art Tales of a Phoenix: The Letting Go Project offers you a role, allowing you to release that which is holding you back. I am so excited to participate and you can too. Learn more.

The project began about one and a half ago. Yana made an initial call for women to participate through social media and online, inviting them to write down on a piece of fabric what was standing in their way. Then they mailed or scanned it and emailed it to her. She started receiving pieces from over 45 countries including Australia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Uruguay, Russia.

Now, she is sewing all the pieces into a room-filling skirt and eventually wearing it in a performance. Finally, and symbolically, the skirt will be destroyed and with it, the blockage in your life. Yana shares her journey today.

What Has Been The Response?

The response has been so touching and beautiful. When I receive those personal and sometimes intimate pieces, I often cry, because I see myself.

Earlier this year, I had a gallery run in Manhattan’s garment district. I hung all the pieces on the walls, to begin with, like a traditional exhibition with a mannequin affectionately named Sally, in the center of the room wearing a plain white skirt spread out filling the room.

AT FORTY FIVE Yana Schnitzler
Garment District Exhibition New York City

Over the course of the seven weeks, those pieces on the walls slowly came down and were attached to form the fabric of the skirt.

As it was a storefront, people could see the exhibition and were drawn in by curiosity. I also had a sandwich board out on the street encouraging participation. It was unbelievable how many came in, even men. Everyone wanted to read what was on the pieces.

Some came in and just stood there crying because they felt the pain that was hanging on the walls. It was a very visceral experience. Many wanted to participate and share their story. That was unexpected, after all, it is New York, people are too cool and usually too busy.

I think though the project was timely. It was February, with COVID behind us and everyone was more open, waking up. You would not believe how empty New York City had been, like a ghost town.

I feel because of the past year, we were scared. COVID stirred us up and gave us an opportunity for reflection, to reconsider our values and what’s important to us. And I think all that really came together in the response.

Some days I didn’t have a single minute to create and work on the skirt because so many were coming and responding to it. They didn’t expect to see things so personal and painful, like a piece that says, depression, or shame, or anxiety or patriarchal overloads. It caused many to stop in their tracks.

Yana Schnitzler Performance Art
Yana sewing fabric pieces together into the skirt

There was a very different level of communication happening. Women were talking, feeling, and sharing. I was there to hold the space for them to have an experience, to share their stories, or declare for themselves what they wanted to let go of.

What Did You Learn?

We’re so much alike regardless of where we are in the world. We are all facing similar things that create a bond, a sense of community. That very fact is empowering as well.

There is magic in all the positive responses. It has been an incredible journey so far.

As performance art goes, the project has its own rhythm, and it has grown. It is interesting because, at times, it did not go smoothly. At first, some days I wouldn’t get pieces and I would think maybe the project is not what I should be doing, or it doesn’t want to be born. Whenever I was close to giving it up, I got another piece. So, it was like dangling a carrot in front of me.

Another example was when I was running out of fabric. Then my husband saw huge trash bags filled with fabric samples on the street in the garment district. The solution found me and added a tactile experience for women. Women could make more personal choices from a range of fabrics and colors.

What Is Next?

Originally, I wanted to create the skirt and then finish the project. The response was so powerful, so touching, and empowering that I felt it needed to be seen by as many as possible and many women should have the opportunity to participate. Pieces continue to come in and I am busy adding them to the skirt. There are multiple showings in the US and then it moves on to Germany.

In the spring, I’m going to do a closing performance art show wearing the final skirt. By that time will be huge. As each piece is connected, the skirt figuratively collects women’s voices together so I am gathering those voices around me, and finally publicly destroying the skirt as a symbol of letting go.

Can We Participate In This Performance Art?

Fitting the skirt on the mannequin Sally

Yes, I am still accepting pieces. You can find the details here.

Simply you take a piece of fabric you have. It could be meaningful like your favorite blouse or just an odd piece. Write what you want to let go of in whatever way you want; markers, pens, paint, even embroider or hand stitch. Then you mail it to me or scan and email it to me and I will print it on fabric.

It can be a unique way of setting that intention for yourself. I encourage you to be creative.

Get To Know Yana

How did you get started in performance art?

Growing up in communist East Germany, there wasn’t much room for individuality: You go to school, get a job, get married, have a family, and work your job until retirement. No room left or right. So, even though as a child I was always drawing and crafting, moving, and dancing, I never considered myself an artist. I was a people pleaser and thought I had to follow that ‘regular path’. However, in trying so I got into real trouble – with myself. Depression and overall unhappiness eventually led me to quit my job in the film business, which was a starting point of my journey.

My journey is one of a “split personality” so to speak. I’ve always had two contradictory sides in me: a people pleaser on one side to fill that inner void and a quiet rebel against everything mainstream on the other. However, the more I am becoming who I am, the more I learn to be myself and do the things that I feel I’m here for the more these two sides are fading away.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your journey?

The most rewarding aspect of my journey is that I feel like I keep growing, as an artist and as a person. I’m learning more about myself, who I am, and what I “really” care about. And in this process, I feel I’m becoming more whole.

What has been an unexpected barrier and how did you overcome it?

When you move to another country, as I did twenty years ago, you find all this new freedom. That’s what you left your home country for. You’re able to re-invent yourself, and you go for it. Only to realize at some point, that you carry that same cultural conditioning that you had left in the first place within yourself and that this is what holds you back on a deeper level.

Performance Art AT FORTY FIVE
What women are letting go

What is your key strength?

Focus and perseverance. I’m also quite organized.

If you could meet anyone for lunch, who would it be?

I have a long list but to pick a few:

  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, for her incredible courage, determination, and foresight
  • My paternal grandmother, for her love and to learn about her life
  • Louise Bourgeous, for insights about her work and artmaking process

What is the best advice you ever received?

I find the best – and the hardest! – advice is: “Trust yourself.” We live in a culture that overemphasizes a rational view of things. The mind that reasons and has explanations while our gut feeling says the opposite but cannot “prove” its point. That’s why it’s such a challenge as we have to trust. Trust that kind of deeper sense of knowing.

What do you need to make more room in your life for?

More fun stuff, such as random handstands at the beach. I used to love to do them as a kid, and though they’ve gotten bad I still enjoy doing them. Or ice skating in the winter.

Celebrate Audacious
Yana Schnitzler of Human Kinetics

If you could learn anything new, what would it be?

I’d like to learn to weave. There’s something about working with physical material that I find very satisfying, that tactile experience of it. I would also love to learn trapeze or kiteboarding.

Learn More

Website is humankinetics.org

How to participate and send your piece of material

Follow on social media:

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If you love art, check out our Women In Art series

Meet other Audacious Women

Sherry Kallergis
Sherry Kallergis

Sherry loves creating and pulling together things, values her eclectic group of friends living fascinating lives around the globe, is an eloquent listener, can’t write worth a damn, but loves a great story and is a sponge soaking up new tips that will help make her (and your) life extraordinaire!

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