Flying into Tegel from Brussels yesterday evening, north of Berlin. I sat in 20-F, the sun coming in over my right shoulder, as we cut a giant curve from the Berliner Ring to turn back west, I sang, “… As we moved out of the farmlands into the grid …”.
These lyrics. How she sings them. Just my regular reminder to self that after 24 years Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville is still one of the best albums ever.
I only went to Autoworld Brussels’ Ferrari 70 Years to see the F40, so I could make a post quoting Kathryn from Iain Banks’ novel, The Business. I worked it all out in my head in the middle of the night. I would photograph the mad rear wing with ‘F40’ on it and have that right below, “‘I never drove the F40.’ He sounded like a disappointed schoolboy. ‘What’s it like?’ ‘Brutal.’” Brutal. I thought I was so fucking clever. It was worth it.
But if you’re coming here looking to perv on an F40, you’re in the wrong place: the F40 got its own, brutal gallery post, plus an extra special post ’cos it’s just so bonkers. You can find it here though, in the background of at least seven photos, if you’re desperate for some rear wing action; playing Spot the F40 is going to keep youse happy if all the rest of Ferrari hoonage does not.
I like the smell of Autoworld. I like the smell of cars and engines, fuel, brake fluid, oil and other lubricants and hydrocarbons, and the smell of all that being roasted and cooked when it gets raced. The biggest disappointment was no open engine bays. I could tolerate the lack of access to gated shifters — at least there’s glass to look through, but all those glorious engines and transmissions hidden away under metal and composite? Nope. I also wanted more supercars of the Enzo, LaFerrari or FXX K type — and they really should have just called it FUC K and be done with it. Ferrari FUC K. Probably more of a Lamborghini name. Also more track hoonage. Yes, it’s only 45 or so cars, but I’m petty and love seeing GTs slammed and grimed. I got some of my jollies with the burning yellow 430 GT 3 Scuderia and more with the intimidating red-and-white striped 308 GTB4. Also the silver Ecurie Francochamps 250 GT SWB with fat yellow number circles, which had pride of place in the hall.
I always — obviously — associate Ferrari with the colour red, Italian Rosso Corsa. It’s as beautiful and recognisable as British Racing Green or Bleu de France (of course Germany’s colour is silver, which is why I only remember it as an absence of colour amidst these other three). But Ferrari also does an unholy yellow, a black like the existential void itself, and occasionally, infrequently, sublime metallic browns, blues, and silvers, more often in the ’50s and ’60s, but occasionally returning later, like on the Testarossa with its ’80s dark, metallic steel-grey idea of a science-fiction future. And all this colour is so dense and deep. Light doesn’t bounce off the surface, it goes through the layers and comes back changed. It’s one of the signifiers of high-end cars, this paintwork, like the difference between laminate wood flooring and butchering an endangered, 1000 year-old Kauri for planks.
On light, Autoworld is a vast, arched, skeletal hanger full of natural light. Most of this is diffuse, and with the exception of some pockets on the wings, ridiculously easy to photograph in. The Ferrari exhibition though, at the far end where all the windows are curtained off, relies on artificial light, and being Ferrari, that meant bombing all that paintwork and metal with red LEDs, which rotated through a faintly sick yellow and lugubrious blue. Lucky, enough natural light flooded in, but it occurred to me that unlike art museums, where — in the best examples — light is so sensitively considered as to allow the work itself to be seen as it is, car museums seem to take the post-techno rave / chill-out room approach to lighting, as if all this monstrous and awesome machine art is in need of a boost. Which human eyes amazingly can adapt for, but cameras tend to freak out. So the reds sometimes look like a bloodbath dipped in a bloodbath, and the yellows lost all hope.
Unlike my usual museum-ing — which I admit has gotten way out of hand, and I’ve been trying to find ways to reel in while still giving large collections their due — I decided to do little to no editing of the photos. For a long time I’ve been committed to the camera doing the work, but accepting the necessity of post-processing to deal with lens distortion and off-kilter stuff, along with sometimes painstaking cleanup of glare and colour balance. Here, I’ve done some minor, rapid colour adjustments (yellows, I’m looking at you), on some photos, and left it at that. I’m not claiming the results are faithful to Ferrari or the museum, but it’s more-or-less what my camera and I grabbed on the day.
Speaking of yellow, the Dino 246 GT rotating on a turntable is beyond glorious, and I might even have designs on coveting it more than the F40. But the car that impressed on me the truly hellish nature of Ferrari and these kind of cars in general is the deep metallic night-blue 275 GTS from 1965, first owned by Raquel Welch. It’s a front-engined convertible, with a V-12 throwing out 260 bhp at 7000 rpm to the rear wheels for a top speed of 250 km/h. The photos don’t really convey how diminutive and delicate it is, a rag-top roof with seats that barely come up to shoulder-height, slung low on wide tires, how easy would it be for those rear wheels to cut loose and utterly destroy driver and car. “250km/h in that!” I laughed nervously. I’m still looking at it, 250 km/h an hour in that. It strikes me that the kind of driver capable of doing that to a car would never attempt it (outside one of those ‘… controlled conditions …’ type warning prefaces), and the kind of driver who would, has no idea what they’re getting themselves into. Glorious hoonage.
I admit, if it had been Lamborghini 54 Years, I’d have been way more excited than Autoworld Brussels’ Ferrari 70 Years. But I’m in Brussels, and Brussels has a car museum, and it’s been a while since I visited the church/temple/synagogue/mosque of hoonage. Plus there was a pretty high likelihood I’d get to see what all the fuss was about with those F40s.
There were plenty of pretty cars, from the curves of the ’60s to the wedges of the ’70s, the hyperbole of the ’80s, and the mad angles since then. All that’s for another post (as are the pair of oddities I saw in the revolving motorsport collection — no GT40 this time!). This one’s for the red, 1987 F40.
Ferrari doesn’t stir much enthusiasm in me. They strike me as the province of rich show-offs who aspire to being classy, but don’t get that in that price range, there is no classy, it’s all about fucking arrogance. Hence my love of Lamborghini. But hoons seem to have a requirement to love the F40. Like the GT40, it wasn’t until I saw it there that I really got it. They’re kinda similar, both hammers in search of a nail: for the GT40 that was Le Mans; for the F40, it’s not so succinct. Maybe to say that as Enzo Ferrari’s last car it had to represent Ferrari the man and auto designer and Ferrari his company.
It’s a beautiful, rough, violent, messy masterpiece. It’s fucking terrifying. It’s the kind of car that would kill you way before the limit, if it hadn’t already rattled you apart with its spartan expression of engineering. I would do quite a few questionable things for a passenger seat.
I went to Autoworld Brussels again today, to see the Ferrari 70 Years exhibition. I spent a lot of time on my knees before the F40. (Ever since I planned to see this exhibition, I was hoping there’d be an F40 there so I could quote Iain Banks as Kathryn on it in The Business: ‘Brutal.’)
‘I’d love a shot,’ I said between corners. ‘Would you let me drive? Just for a bit.’
‘Well, I don’t know. There’s the insurance …’ It was the most worried he’d sounded so far. ‘I’d love to, Kathryn, but—’
‘But, Kathryn, this is a Ferrari.’
‘I’ve driven Ferraris. Uncle Freddy used to lend me the Daytona when I was staying at Blysecrag sometimes.’
‘Oh? Well, yes, but that’s front-engined, you see, quite different handling characteristics. The 355 is mid-engined. Much trickier on the limit.’
‘He let me loose in the F40, too. And, of course, I wouldn’t be going anywhere near the limit.’
He glanced at me. ‘He let you drive the F40?’
‘A couple of times.’
‘I never drove the F40.’ He sounded like a disappointed schoolboy. ‘What’s it like?’
Six hours on the Autobahn and straight into the theatre to find Gala and Michael hard at it. I reckon they must be near the end, arriving so late as I did, but they keep going, like they were waiting as long as possible for me to get there before they started. In the end I missed maybe 20 minutes of their pre-general on Thursday evening and had the delight of their sweaty hot bodies jumping on me the instant they realised who the tardy arrival was.
Turns out missing the beginning is crucial to understanding what’s going on. Without Gala’s first monologue the piece only has the meaning I put on it; it’s a strong argument for context and against interpretation. So I’ll start with interpretation. A woman in a long, pale-lemon dress, cut just below the half-way line of her calves. Sleeveless, but over a dirty white short-sleeved shirt. A man in Oxford Blue corduroy trousers and a blue-grey unbuttoned shirt over a dirty white singlet. Both bare foot. A stage coated with ash, four wooden chairs, and downstage where the stage manager’s box would be if it were on-stage instead of off, a table, chair, computer, sound and light desks, spaghetti-ing cables onto the floor into a red effects box, and a single microphone on a long cable.
It’s one of the enduring clichés of dance theatre, ballet, contemporary dance and all, the single man and woman on stage, dressed so, performing the clichés of heteronormativity. It would be a comedy, except it’s not. It’s a cliché also of gay male choreographers making such work, almost a compulsion, like having to ‘reinterpret’ Giselle or Swan Lake. I’m watching these two dancers, tall, lithe, strong, who I’ve known for well over a decade in various cities and countries, who have danced together for thirteen years now, who I adore — so let’s not pretend I have any interest in lip service to ‘objectivity’ here — who I love watching dance, especially when it’s their own dancing, especially together. I’m watching them, and without the benefit of that first monologue, wonder how awkward it’s going to be if they fall over into that cliché. And giving them credit here, I know them for mercilessly mocking all the tropes and stereotypes of dance, both with their words and with their bodies. Yet sometimes the piece makes itself, and sometimes even the most caustic find themselves wanting to say something on those roles and identities and selfhoods which are real and lived, which we have to negotiate even if we ourselves are not fully part of, even while they are so often used to fill the void of ideas.
The next day I see the whole work. I pay attention. I listen to Gala say, “Have you said any words of love today? There are no words of love today.” Say, whisper, bellow. Her voice is a typhoon blasting the stage, pushing the air before it. Rage, hate, anguish. This is the story of Medea, who kills her children after her husband’s betrayal. This is the story of Gala. In Genesis, Michel Serres says,
The more I think, the less I am me. If I think something, I am that something. If I simply think, I am no longer anyone. In any case, me thinking am nothing.
[…] Dance is to the body proper what exercise of thought is the subject known as I. The more I dance, the less I am me. If I dance something, I am that something, or I signify it. When I dance, I am only the blank body of the sign.
When Gala and Michael reference the story of Medea and Jason, the Gods take an interest. Not to say it’s an invocation, but rather to recite the lines from Euripides’ Medea, and to find or thread together multiple variations, be it Euripides, Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio, or their own private lives deferred through these variations is enough to reverse the relationship. It is Medea who dances her life through Gala as much as it is Gala who draws on Medea to tell her own. It is a repetition across time, through each work referencing a predecessor, tracing branchings and bifurcations back to Medea. It is a repetition also in their bodies, dancing themselves, dancing each other.
I want to diverge from philosophy here and write of the awe I feel seeing these two together. Because this is becoming something of a review and not just photography and a travel document, Gala and Michael first danced together in Leigh Warren & Dancers, Michael coming from Oz Ballet; Gala from WAAPA (by way of me and a couple of pieces back when I actually made dance). Michael went on to Compañía Nacional de Danza in Madrid, while Gala went to Charleroi Danses then Ultima Vez in Brussels. As for why I was seeing them in Wuppertal, Michael joined Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch a while ago. So we’re talking about two highly capable dancer-performers, who have worked across dance, theatre, opera in Europe and Australia while making their own work together for much of that time, and ‘officially’ since 2012 under the name cie. OFEN. They move, alone and together, with brutal clarity. This isn’t the kind of work you can make in six weeks by throwing together some steps and ideas; it’s a knowing of self and each other down to their bones, worked into their bones. Even if they had gone fully into the cliché, I’d be destroyed by the beauty of them together.
The inevitability in their dancing. They compound that with dialogue, or with just the mundane acts of technical concerns, changing the lights, sound. There’s a moment where Gala is on all fours, around the centre of the work, the light and the energy has gone into a dark place, like blood is going to be spilt — or already has and you don’t even feel it yet — and Michael, barely above a whisper, spits, “Get. Up.” Savage. A slap to the face. Hatred where there was supposed to be love; betrayal and resentment and spite. You want to see work like this. You want the shit mediocrity of the cliché exposed for what it is: violence and abuse. Those saccharine dramatic conceits of the love story rest on the unmentionable bodies of murdered women, and while Medea might have murdered her children, this is projection: it is not women who are the murderers, not terrorists who women must fear, but the men in our midst, the men closest.
It’s a fucking hard, brave work.
It’s a beautiful work. I’ve said that already. Here is the violence of abuse, and here also is something to aspire to, here is a way out. Michael and Gala, Gala and Michael. Maybe a decade and some years is what’s needed for such a work. The care they take with each other, the familiarity, even or especially when they get rough, when it needs to be endured. The matter of fact getting on with it, like digging in the garden, there’s a complete absence of pretence that also doesn’t try and be some shite authenticity, like here’s the genuine, essential, real Gala and Michael for your entertainment. I want to say more, but then it becomes personal, and the point of a performance is to defer biography. So I will end with the end. Michael is back at the table. He and Gala have danced together, separate but together, increasingly apart, the light has increased for this last somewhat third or act, he sits and watches her as she comes from upstage in front of the chairs, dancing, dancing, and fades the lights, she’s smiling. Alone, survived, no longer Medea, Gala dancing, smiling.
Several hours in a car hooning on the Autobahn somewhere around the 180km/h mark, arriving in the evening getting dropped off outside Börse theater, and straight into an already underway dress rehearsal. Michael had called the day before, asked if I could take some photos during one of the runs. I was bringing my camera anyway because art, and hoping I’d get to do exactly that. This is one from that Thursday evening run, a beautiful, hard, glorious work by two dear friends whom I’ve watched for almost all of the thirteen years they’ve been dancing together. Two of the very best.
I love me some drone. I love it more when my awesome friends drone. Justine will be. Tomorrow, Saturday, afternoon, in Berlin, drone-ing bits of NASA. It’s going to be most excellent! (& If you’re not in Berlin, and are in Canada, then Drone Day has you sorted.)
Drone Day Berlin 2017
The sky opened and out came dr(((o)))ne
Please join us in an afternoon celebration of Drone Day (droneday.org) on a cloud of sound. Around the world people will be making drone sounds on this day.
You are absolutely welcome to come.
There will be drone, experimental, and ambient sounds. There will be paper and some art supplies for you to use. There will be free tea for you to drink. Come listen, relax, draw, work on quiet creative projects, explore your meditative mind, or catch some droned out ZZZs. Take some time for your ears.
There is an elevator and there are accessible bathrooms. Please contact us if you would like to arrange a ground-floor pickup.
Saturday, May 27 at 15:00 – 17:30
SoundCloud HQ, Rheinsberger Str 76/77, 10115 Berlin, Germany.