janet grau



Performance, installation, 2001

In the fall of 2001, my colleague Doreen Uhlig and I inhabited an installation consisting of two stylized, communicatively linked private spaces for a five-day performance entitled devotion. Throughout the performance, including times outside of gallery hours, we abstained from all forms of communication media (telephone, TV, radio, Internet, books, newspapers) and did not speak. Instead, we maintained a continuous conversation by slowly and elaborately embroidering messages onto our clothes, alternating between German and English, depending on who was ‘speaking’.

We wore these embroidered dresses during the performance, exchanging them according to a clear system. Only one of us could ‘speak’ (embroider) at a time. When the message was complete, the dress was sent to the other side using a transport mechanism of washing lines and pulleys that remained part of the gallery installation.

At the end of the performance, the embroidered conversation, now spread across three dresses, was presented to the public.


The performance quotes traditional female communication rituals. Historically, women socialized while spinning, quilting, embroidering, and similar crafts, which also served as a medium for gossip and the exchange of information. In devotion, this ritual is transformed by using needlework as the sole means of verbal communication.

The performance is not about nostalgia, but rather aims to use alienation and extreme deceleration to reveal the interplay of body, movement, space, language, and medium in a new form. This approach contrasts with the current and ongoing rapid acceleration of communication processes, which often leads to a sort of disembodiment. Instead, devotion offers a body-intensive model in which the fundamental conditions of interpersonal exchange can be observed and discussed.

The conversation between Doreen (German) and myself (English) reads from left to right:

Ich frage mich, wie lang es dauert, einen so großen Satz zu sticken.

and I was wondering how long I would have to wait for you! [b.t.w. your words look nice.]

Ein wenig in Eile. Noch. Ich muß an Deine Geschichte denken – die Suche nach dem wilden Tier

I’m sorry, but I don’t know which story you’re talking about! [I tell so many…]

Du hast mit dem Jungen das Tier gesucht… vielleicht gab es gar keins, in der Höhle, aber wer weiß?!

the connection escapes me. Are you making some sort of comparison???

Du hast es so schön erzählt. Eigentlich weiß ich nicht, was ich

yeah, that was in March with my nephew Isaac, in my father’s backyard. but I told you that already –
– shall I tell something else then?

Oh ja! Etwas lustiges! (Heute war es, als hätten wir Streit. Ich lese Deine Geräusche – wie Du atmest, schluckst, die Schere ablegst. Das Schweigen macht mich nervös.)

that was really funny just now [an hour ago, perhaps]: unwitnessed moments of spontaneous, uncontrollable laughter! so much goes unnoticed, like the fact that I’ve stitched this entire text upside-down…

Die Nadel ist zu langsam: sie zerhackt sie – aber die Gedanken rollen noch weiter

I forgot to tell you [actually, I just didn’t have time yet]: the other day, T.‘s niece came by, & when she saw me, she blushed.

… und ist Dir die ältere Dame aufgefallen, deren Dahlien im Hof blühen? Sie schaut manchmal zum Fenster herein, betritt die Räume aber nicht. Ich glaube fast: diese Ausstellungsstücke sind ihr suspekt.

is she the one with curlers in her hair, who seems to be always doing housework? she was just outside, hanging up [no – taking down] the laundry; she saw me watching her, but avoided eye contact, which I can fully understand.

Ja, das ist sie. Und gestern Nacht, weißt Du, es war schon fast Morgen, da mißglückten viele Stiche und ich geriet in Unordnung.

so much to say [I stitch fast to compensate]: [but then it’s terribly SLOPPY as, I’m sure, you’ve noticed]: you spoke in your sleep last night. the blushing niece came back again today. After lunch, I almost stitched the word ‘chocolate’, in the hope of getting some.

Diese geschwätzige Zunge! Heute Nachmittag werde ich ein ernstes Wort mir ihr sprechen!

ooohhh, I can’t wait! but does it have to be a serious word? I doubt that I can keep a straight face!

Und: Werden wir es vermiss

Read essays from the catalogue:


Read review from Dresden magazine:

Many thanks to Elly Brose-Eiermann (büro für kunst, Dresden) for daring to host us for this performative experiment.

Photos: Dario Lombardi

WordPress Cookie Plugin by Real Cookie Banner