LADA — All The Books I Looked At

I’m doing this as a memory. I went to LADA, spent the afternoon in their Study Room, trawled hundreds of books and pulled out a few, spent minutes or tens of looking and reading. Also a memory. I am reminded of my own history in biographies or documents of people and groups I think of only infrequently, which at one time were all I thought of. Or others I know about and have never read, or have circulated around me, or are entirely new. The books are arranged chronologically, in the order they were purchased in. Of all the possible arrangements, this is my favourite. It tells you something about the book that it doesn’t and can’t tell you itself.

These are the books I looked at and read a little of. In chronological order — mine going from first to last, and LADA’s going backwards in time from most recently acquired to about halfway through their collection. Some I like; others I don’t. I am still wondering what they tell me about me.

  • Pina Bausch — The Biography, Marion Meyer (trans: Penny Black)
  • my body, the buddhist, Deborah Hay
  • Precarious Lives — Waiting and Hope in Iran, Shahram Khosravi
  • A Field Guide for Female Interrogators, Coco Fusco
  • Integration Impossible? The Politics of Migration in the Artwork of Tanja Ostojić, Pamela Allara and Manuela Bojadzijev
  • Guerilla Aspies — A Neurotypical Society Infiltration Manual, Paul Wady
  • Leigh Bowery — The Life And Times Of An Icon, Sue Tilley
  • Black Artists In British Art, A History Since The 1950s, Eddie Chambers
  • Test Dept: Total State Machine, eds. Alexei Monroe and Peter Webb
  • Tania Bruguera: On the Political Imaginary, Carrie Lambert-Beatty, Gerardo Mosquera, Helaine Posner
  • Thee Psychick Bible : Thee Apocryphal Scriptures ov Genesis Breyer P-Orrige and Thee Third Mind ov Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
  • Jan Fabre: Stigmata. Actions & Performances 1976-2013, Germano Celant
  • Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader, eds. Patrick Keilty and Rebecca Dean
  • Femininity, Time and Feminist Art, Clare Johnson
  • The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium, Eleanor Heartney, Helaine Posner, Nancy Princenthal, Sue Scott
  • The Shit of God: Diamanda Galás, Diamanda Galás and Clive Barker
  • Jan Fabre: I Am A Mistake. seven works for the theatre, ed. Frank Hentschker
  • Female Masculinity, Jack Halberstam
  • Trans(per)forming Nina Arsenault: An Unreasonable Body of Work, ed. Judith Rudakoff
  • That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation, ed. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
  • Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene New York 1970s, Lydia Yee and Philip Ursprung
  • Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain, Imogen Tyler
  • Are We There Yet? Study Room Guide on Live Art and Feminism, Live Art Development Agency
  • The Incorrigibles, Perspectives on Disability Visual Arts in the 20th and 21st Centuries, eds. Adrian Plant and Tanya Raabe-Webber
  • Queer Dramaturgies: International Perspectives on Where Performance Leads Queer, eds. Alyson Campbell and Stephen Farrier

orgy of tolerance

To have your idols disappoint. It is a delicious sensation. And probably inevitable, necessary.

My Friday Antwerp wanderings, despite the sublime moments in Yoji, Walter, fashion and architecture, were all a precursor to Troubleyn. Jan Fabre has been for me, since 2003 when I saw the film Les Guerriers de la Beauté in Vienna, and the beautiful Je Suis Sang at the Melbourne Festival the same year, one of those I think of when I make performance. One also I wanted to work for, perhaps still do, though after Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day in Vienna, and especially Orgy of Tolerance, I am left wondering.

Je Suis Sang was for me one of the pivotal works I have seen, my introduction to Jan Fabre after years of dark rumours. It was – with all the wine-drenched frenzy – all I hoped for in what dance might think of, when it realised it was both forever twenty years behind the times and hopelessly conservative. Last year in Vienna put a sharp stop to such romanticising, seeing Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day, and my day trip to Antwerp to see Orgy of Tolerance was… deeply frustrating.

Warming up on stage is always a conceit. The awareness of an arriving audience necessarily removes the attention from the personal to a distracted outer, in a different way than that sense of impending presentation of self does while warming up out of sight. So what kind of performance do the several dancers in white underwear, long socks and trainers do? Much waving of arms, jumping, shaking limbs, explosive breathing. Either they are desperately hyping themselves for some collossal two hours or they are over-acting.

Or getting ready for a good wank.

A friend said to me that traditional sex is both obsessed with penetration, but more so with chasing orgasms. As the rifle-sporting guerillas in wool jerseys, thick and warm forest-toned trousers, boots and scarves coach the wankers towards a demented and performed string of orgasms, much shouting, stomping, hyperbole and grandstanding ensuing, ‘Do it for your country!’, and people start to walk out, I wonder if I shall reach any transformative state as an audience, watching.

A few days prior, watching SOIT’s We Was Them, I thought it was gratifying to see a performance that for once had a usefully adequate and well-spent budget. Orgy though, through its acutely designed mise en scène, mostly I was thinking, ‘Ooh, those Chesterfields would have cost a fortune’.

The scene changes. The men with guns lounge, beside each sofa, a lamp, small table and crystal decanter set. Lighting of cigars, and colonial men’s club jousting about the natives. ‘What has the world come to where we can’t even hunt a Pakistani anymore?’ while erect cocks are stroked by docile assistants lying at their feet.

A litany of offensiveness. Designed to shock? Or to show our tolerance by remaining? Remaining still and mute. Or our cynical apathy by doing both? I thought of the first episode of South Park I ever saw, ‘I haven’t seen a Jew run like that since Poland, 1938!’ Shocking, offensive and quite brilliant. So how is it that such a similar arrangement of words and settings here in Orgy seems empty?

Perhaps something like complicity from the audience, that when those horrid, dark Arabs from Morocco are mentioned, some laugh knowingly. It is uncomfortable to hear. By virtue of the meaninglessness of the past hundred years of western culture, I am a horrid, white, quarter Turk, or something similar. I think of the sameness in Berlin towards Turkish as in Brussels towards Moroccans. My whiteness hides both the possibility I could be on the other side of this conversation. It also relinquishes me of any sense of national or cultural identity, and perhaps that, as a outsider is something of a saving grace.

I don’t have an answer for this, and neither does Jan. I was thinking of Gaahl, being gay in the black metal scene when he said, “Mankind is known to be narrow-minded, so… I think it will be positive for some and negative for some. It’s always good to have some negative as well. Otherwise you would end up with equality and equality is the worst thing in the world. Equality is stagnation. It doesn’t let anything grow. It holds back.”

The scene changes again. Bondage, domination, whips, pain, humiliation. It’s not so believable though. Rather than showing a genuine interest in SM, this comes across as a vanilla heterosexual artifice. Perhaps this is the difference in Berlin, where this manner of kink has more value than gutter salaciousness, though equally, the equating of bondage immediately with porn and debasement speaks poorly of the intellect behind the opinion. Or perhaps this is the point, this is what intolerence represents any sex that is not straight and penetrative as. Personally though, I would have found far more convincing if it was demonstrably the case that the performers and others were speaking on this from personal experience, rather than unskillfully flailing with whips.

More scenes follow. Guns with dildos on the end, dildo dog tails, giving birth to consumer products with plentiful gusto in supermarket trolleys, Jesus and the fashion queens, (sort of) punk music, Flemish white trash, KKK and piles of bodies from Abu Ghraib. Fucking. Fucking sofas, fucking a bicycle, talking about fucking, or at least saying, ‘fuck fuck fuck’ a lot.

Talking at the audience, ‘You think we are terrorists…’, and later, ‘Fuck you…’. I score a ‘Fuck you’ for coming to the show for free, and another for conspicuous fashoin consumerism, as my Walter van Bierendonck retail bag shifts uneasily beside me, worried perhaps of a lynching. ‘Fuck you Jan Fabre’ also. Why? What are you trying to say? That it’s bad, that these acts of intolerance are bad? That our tolerance has let in those who are not and now the barbarians overrun the castle?

I’m finishing writing this a couple of weeks after seeing, so its freshness is dulled. I’m not sure if this is a bad review, though likely I will earn a third ‘Fuck you’ as it goes with the 21 or 27 less favourable ones. Would I see it again? Yes, though rather I’d like to see Je Suis Sang again, but that’s not the point. I’d see it for its horrid, raucous, bloated, incomplete, endless wandering, somehow like substanceless vaudeville, somehow attempting high social politics, its inadequate direction that firstly asked for extremes from performers who were more than capable of giving that and then sold them short by providing scant justification and direction for this, and perhaps also failing to bridge the chasm between those extremes and the social world upon which they discoursed, leaving everything in a storm of much noise and confusion, and yet glaringly incomplete.

impulstanz – settlement… (perhaps day 9)

I saw Jan Fabre’s Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day. It was unmemorable. Earlier I ate organic crunchy peanut butter and banana sandwiches. mmm…

This morning two tonnes of sand arrived. Actually two cubic meters of wet sand, so possibly somewhat heavier. I kept my hands clean by shoveling it into a wheelbarrow while others moved it inside and arranged it on the khaki groundsheet into a low embankment the length of the space, eventually to be filled with water. I do like simple repetitive things at the moment and the satisfying sshhhh of blade cutting sand and rasping as it flew off into barrow over and over was soothing and immanent blisters aside I could have done it for hours.

Cleaning up with a water blaster. Mopping the floor. Lunch. I bought the peanut butter then, and ate more cheese and tomato on bread, plus apricots in the third floor green room. It was suckily cold today, not as bad as yesterday, but I remember my time in Vienna was endless days above 30º and blue skies laced with a tapestry of contrails. Now it hangs disinterested, a grey nothingness, with frequent warmth-sucking bouts of rain.

We warm up. I’m feeling a lot more energetic than I have for months, since ADT, I think. Though each day eventually fatigue reaches me and pulls me under.

I think we started with the martial arts drills. I like Hans affinity for reducing things to simplicity or even absence, obviously that has much in common with my attitude to making theatre, why dance around a lot when what you really meant to do was walk from here to there? And also it’s uncommon to work with someone who indeed does the work themselves, not just deferring the manufacturing of content to performers.

So we reduced the fighting drills to repetitions of each of the three phrases in order, after a time one overtaken by the next. For some reason the three big guys start it. Of course it looks impressive, but there are some girls here who punch and attack like Durga. Or maybe it’s me getting picky over gender divisions.

Which of course was the big thing, the big disappointment, if somewhere in this an artificial delineation of male and female has appeared I would have lost all interest. Instead there is a strange lack of intimacy and binary relationships. How to imagine a closeness between people that does not automatically become about couples. For some this has been irritating or even frustrating, that there has been no real development of such relationships, as though this was the genuine and real definition of intimacy. I far prefer imagining other worlds and ways of relationships and whether or not this was Hans’ intention there is for me something more compelling in a suspension of the individual to the group, however much in need of therapy we are.

We are putting the scenes together, and went to the start, morning, emptiness, I go for a run. Highly, highly improbable. More likely I go for a chocolate croissant and return to snoozy oblivion. A body floats down the river. People wake and begin, and for some this morning os broken by the intrusion of the waterlogged and washed up newcomer.

I forget how much we do every day…

We have a line out, a public phone to make calls. I order much peanut butter, bread, bananas. It’s been weeks since my utter favourite meal has passed into my mouth. How to say, to elucidate without saying. How the brevity of words, pauses, silences, convey the entirety far more than if someone were to say it all. We’ve done several different versions of this, the ‘what to do with three euros’, others… again I forget, slippery memories already beyond capture.

The river reminds me of the storm-water culvert and flooded stream under rain in epidemic.

We go to sleep in our tents. I miss this all as I’m passed out. Both Johan my former tent companion and Estelle are secret polizei, who slip from their tents to capture the four who try to escape. Three or four times to run this part and I photograph the inside of my tent, and the outside through it.

And finally dancing girls to fighting to our theatre piece (which still needs a lot of work) to the possessed running. I for some reason started laughing in the fight part, like a brawl in a club, all my worst imaginings, vile hetero men like thuggish tanks, vacuous tiny girls, it’s like hallucinating with a raging fever. I can’t easily subsume myself into a role where there is this kind of violence. So I laugh while others pound each other, stalking for the next savage explosion. Maybe it’s like A Clockwork Orange.

We haul ourselves through the three act travesty and begin to run in darkness, and then to finish.


Falling asleep while passing time in a nearby bookstore while waiting for Michael to arrive in the distant north of Carlton, then providing him with considerably poor directions, “Are you near the Courthouse Theatre”, “No, that’s on the other side of the street” as I stood beneath a large sign announcing “Courthouse Theatre”, I was quite worried that lacking chocolate I wouldn’t make it through the show without a long sleep, probably at some crucial instance in the proceedings. Bonnie and Ruby ran up breathless, running from Swanston St, Mike and I already were finished our first drinks of what would end up to be a night of many bottles, and so to one of the stranger European blow-throughs of the past few months.

Bringing a baby to the theatre is an often an act of misplaced hope, but unlike economy class, they usually depart before enduring too many withering scowls. Not so at B-File where the unhappy mewling has already begun once the martial anthems die, and continues growing and fading for most of the performance. An anxiety-inducing noise in any circumstances, here carefully planned to make us all unsettled as the intentional soundtrack to airport customs nightmares.

B-File cites September 11 as a somewhat starting point for the loss of liberty and citizenship, though the work is far more interesting when not considered as a metaphor for what has become the banal sabotage of human rights by western governments. It could be a metaphor or social commentary on Abu Ghraib and Lindy England’s Iraqi dog-on-a-leash, or the CIA’s extraordinary rendition, all small fragments in the detritus of a policy of dehumanisation. It’s far more interesting devoid of these comparisons that are never mentioned anyway in the performance, and seen as the desperate comedy of anonymous totalitarianism in the lineage of Slaughterhouse Five, Animal Farm, and Catch-22.

B-File exists on the z-axis of a Cartesian coordinate system. It moves back and forward through the depth of the stage, and assigns enormous weight of meaning to particular, vague regions. Farthest from us is the location of waiting, wherein a lack of identity within the state they wish to enter banishes the travellers to limbo and in a small area, little larger than what a body can occupy, their impedimenta creates a temporary installation of proof of existence. It is a haven the size of a chair. It is also the negative region of the axis; they do not exist. To cross the axis into the positive space of the state, and so accrue status as a citizen or legal visitor they must win favour of customs officer Phlegyas to pass the Styx. Unfortunately Phlegyas is insane and shifts the axis always slightly further away, always conditional on evermore impossible, unreasonable, hysterical demands, degenerating into loud, obscene, sexually vulgar remarks, evolution unwinding into snorting, squealing piggish barbarity.

One officer Paulo Dos Santos says, “Adelaide has no contemporary dance only stripping and …” (makes fucking gesture). “You know Nuureyv?” “… no …” “You know Peena Bousch?” “… no …” “You know jzhonky moov?” “… no …”. Not warmed up to do the splits, Silvia Pinto Coelho is forced by Paulo Castro (“This guy with Rammstein tattoo, when I make he spilt, he could touch”, holds finger and thumb to illustrate cock brushing floor) to dance, doing an inspired Trisha Brown combination, bad New York post-modern dance at its finest, and the mid-stages of another humiliating interrogation, where her dignity remains despite demands to know what she thinks when she fucks.

Again an interrogation, this time Madeleine Lawrence sexually assaulted and groped by Jo Stone and, “Your passport says you are Greek, why don’t you understand what I am saying?” “You are from Austraiiya, name four animals. Not Kangaroo, Crocodile …” More unnecessary probes into lovers, sex and intimacy by officers employed for their fondness of bestiality over their respect for the law and human rights. And even they do not trust each other, a glaring absence of self-esteem erupts through violent demands to see each other’s identification, and one upmanship, “I am marrying the boss in a few months”, “My grandfather served in the force”, a grotesque possibility here that when institutions make abuse of power a policy, only the sadists remain.

This is a hard, physical performance, extremely well rehearsed and bearing the mark of an acute critical eye. There is barely a movement out of place, and certainly none not thought about, and the physical and vocal dexterity of the performers serves to inhabit the space of a nightmarish, frighteningly insane enough to be true horror world. The language flies between German, the undeclared default, that slips back and forth with English, then Portuguese, Italian, Greek, the languages of the International Community.

There was one sticking point for me, and one other moment of dissatisfaction. The entry of Jo, the second Police Officer midway through, after the intense performances of the two Paulos did not slide quite smoothly for me. This was the introduction of a new and different dynamic, the superior to Paulo, and an uneasy transfer of authority. It’s a really minor thing in what is a beautifully executed and extremely well directed performance, but for a moment, I didn’t quite believe. A part of this which is my own prejudice is that I find Australian theatre accents a bit unbelievable. In Grace, the final spat ‘t’ puncturing an accumulation of letters like a sharp nail is not something you tend to hear in vernacular, the precise enunciation overlaying what is a fairly sloppy spoken dialect for me often splits the identity of the performer into character and actor.

The moment of dissatisfaction came perhaps an hour in, when the lights under a wall of sound blacked out. I thought, “Is this the end? No, not yet, oh crap, I really hope this isn’t it because it’s too short, it needs to go on, omg! (yeah I talk to myself in chat-speek) it’s so not ready to finish”. I spent a good deal of B-File thinking “genius genius genius” and “can’t you think of another word?” and when it ended so soon, I was in torment.

As an aside, I was really saddened at the complete lack of awareness in the contemporary dance scene here of this show, after-all, this is a town that got uptight about Jan Fabre, and looks to companies like Ballets C de la B, Sasha Waltz, the whole Brussels and Berlin tanztheater scene as something near the pinnacle of contemporary dance. Yet members of the B-File ensemble have worked with all these and other companies, and for us at the end of the world here with scant chance to see firsthand this era of performance, it’s a rare gem that was stupidly missed through pathetic lack of advertising.

It would have been agony to have seen a performance I thought was not so good, and then this morning have to stick the knife into its back, especially because the remainder of the night involved a number of bottles of champagne, our little gang of audience and half the cast. But despite my unabashed love of eurotrash, and to hear these languages spoken so I feel homesick, this is a profoundly strong performance, swiftly traversing physical and verbal humour, moments of embarrassing cringing, and not occasionally cold threatening anxiety, often all vertiginously at once. B-File unfolds a horrible moment of powerlessness in which people aren’t simply humiliated, abused, tormented, all without reason and then to walk away; once on the wrong side of the axis you are no longer human, there is never any leaving, no future, no possibility of hope.