May 30, 2020

Interview with Maya Lubinsky, actor and art performer

Maya Lubinsky is an actor and performer who collaborates to produce works that have been shown in top class galleries like Tate Modern and the ICA. She is based in New York City.

Could you give us a brief artist’s statement?

I am to a great extent an actor, but one who performs in art works, sometimes writes them, often devises them. As a performer in the art context, I am to a great extent a device. I am a tool with a will, but nevertheless, one that can’t affect being itself. Much of the work that I participate in, is self-reflexive about the line between it and me. I have collaborated with great artists (Gail Pickering, David Panos & Anja Kirschner, Tai Shani, Pia Borg, Peter Burr) to create performances and films that have been shown in great galleries (Tate Modern, Hayward Gallery, ICA, Barbican Theatre, NY Museum of Moving Image). 

Still from Sleep No More by Punchdrunk

How did you become an artist? Did you always dream of a life in the art-world?

I became an artist very gradually, and almost unbeknown to me. That’s completely antithetical to the state of being an artist – which is self-motivated, self-realizing, and self defining. I trained in a classical London drama school. Shakespeare, Chekhov, Tennessee Williams. 
But art suited better my open ended understanding of the world, and collaborations with artists followed suit. Using as an analogy the iambic pentameter, most known as the rythm we hear in Shakespeare’s verse, where a line always ends with the finality of a last stressed syllable – it didn’t seem like an apt mode of exploration, when life leads to many more questions than answers. Shakespeare broke these rules (when a character really felt something, or encountered something they didn’t know what to do with, a final unstressed syllable came as a stall, as a breakdown in meaning), and contemporary art does that a lot.

Do you work as an artist full-time? Describe your typical day. Do you have a routine?

I am lucky to be an artist full time. I am currently living in New York, performing in Sleep No More, by the UK theatre company Punchdrunk. I moved here to perform in the show. I am also completing a first draft of a film, and participating as a co-writer in a number of projects – the performance piece Special Effect, which I wrote with Peter Burr, premiered in the Museum of Moving Image earlier this year, and is currently on tour in Europe. So the days can get quite busy.

My schedule is unusual, in that I never know how a day will develop, but I know how it will end – a 7pm show every night. All the divergences and developments will lead to this fixed point – which I think is a profoundly different life to those who experience their freedom in the evening and night. I have developed a barter system with myself, where I establish a number of activities as highly valuable, and I am free to chose between them at will. Due to the fixed nature of my evenings, I have found it very important to cultivate productivity and freedom concurrently. So mostly I will pick a topic of study, a good book, and my own work – and will use them to flee each other. I am currently balancing listening to a university lecture series on the physiology of perception, reading In Search of Lost Time, and writing my script. And that way I get to be relatively unbound, while also getting a lot done. I try not to have too rigid expectations of myself, and to remember that my currency is in my verve and not in my discipline. I think it’s about setting up structures where my desires lead me to the right place.

Still from  And Coffhorus Resounds: Gravastar or Candy from Paradise, Tai Shani’

Which historical and contemporary artists do you refer to most often? How are you influenced by their work?

I refer to Beckett a lot. I am endlessly fascinated by the way he suits the form to the content. He epitomizes to me the perfect work of art – singular, confronting, rousing, making extreme demands of the audience.

What are the other influences on your work?

The world is. It’s an obvious statement, but I put a lot of effort into continuing my education, and expanding my areas of interest. The internet gives access to incredible resources for cost-free learning, and I am always taking online university courses on a variety of topics that help me develop a more refined perspective of what things might be like beyond my meagre scope. As a theatre person, psychology was a natural starting point. From there I went on to gender studies, philosophy, courses on the brain and memory, the senses, behavioral economics. My education directly impacts what I have to talk about.

Do you have any tips or advice you wish you had known earlier in your career?

I wish I’d known that my path would be unlike anyone else’s, and incomparable to. I wish I’d known that my ambitions and desired for myself would change, in ways that are unforeseeable. That what I want at any given moment is my statement of intent, which certainly propels me, but that life does what it wants. And what it gives me is infinitely richer and more valuable than anything the twenty year old me could have imagined. I wish I had been told that an artist’s true work of art is her life.

Translated to more practical terms – do what interests you, and see where it takes you. All you have to offer is yourself. 

Do you have a quotation that you keep coming back to and that keep you going? Have you a motto that gets you through?

The last question made me think of a Yiddish proverb my Russian great grandmother used to say – Der mentsh trakht un got lakht. Man plans and god laughs.

But I am not quite so brazenly cynical.

I always used to say to myself that ‘boldness is always recompensed’. I recently tweaked it to ‘wholeheartedness is always recompensed’, but I lack empirical data to support either of these claims. In truth, I doubt that any thing is always recompensed, but both ideas – each in their time – kept me moving forward.

Still from Zulu – speaking in radical tongues, Gail Pickering – performed at the Tate Modern)

Which artist should we all look up immediately? 

I think you should look up Tai Shani.


There once was an artist from birth.
She sought subtext and pathos and mirth.
She took drama at school
and they taught her to drool
O theatre what is it worth!

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