I discovered Oglaf last night. A first I thought it was pretty cool and smart. Then I thought maybe it was a bit bro-ish. Not that I mind, just the perspective of who’s writing and drawing alters how much I enjoy it, usually because it ends up slipping into dickhead hetero bro ‘humour’. Then … “Heh. Snake tits.” And when I found out it’s done by an Australian pair, it all made sense. Fucktastic! It’s so disgustingly, brilliantly funny. My guts are aching. I want to live there. Buying the comic already! (Not sure if it’s a comic or masturbatory aid. Probably going to end up blind either way. Doesn’t matter. Fucking worth it.)
Some rather nice art has fallen my way recently, falling around something that might become abjection. Of course it induces controversy, squeamishness and nervous laughter, the kind that says, ‘I don’t understand this and maybe I don’t want to.”
I wasn’t sure how to write about all this. At first I thought I’d make a separate post for each one, then thought the two exhibitions with trans* people in them should go together, though awkward because of the dogmatic and shrill noise from a couple of trans* blogs. One of the pieces – Buck and Allanah – I discovered on the blog of a trans porn star, which in a roundabout way comes over to alien tentacle rape. To avoid more confusion, I decided to throw it all here.
Emile and I sit somewhere in Berlin talking about art (well, mostly making noises, and sometimes talking about art). Tentacle porn comes up, thinking of Hokusai and my wondering where this might exist now. Emile sends me some links. Genki Genki. I wonder how nice this might be to do while suspended upside down.
Then I discover – same day even – an exhibition by artist Andrea Cano and photographer Manuel Antonio Velandia turning Barbie and Ken into trans* women and men. (The whole thing is more interesting in Spanish, because it got hijacked by a bunch of english-speaking, right-on trans-activists who started out by calling the work a product of straight, cis- fetishists until it turned out Andrea is a trans* woman, so then without missing a beat went on to loudly decry her for stereotyping trans*women as hookers whores and streetwalkers with a plastic surgery obsession. Blah. No wonder I prefer trans* porn to trans* (pseudo) academics.)
I like the statues of Buck and Allanah, part of an exhibition by Marc Quinn. I don’t find his attention to particular bodies so easy to reconcile though, and the gallery statement is a bit awful also. It smacks of sensationalism and gawping idiots, “Looka tha freeeks mama!!!”. But equally, the strident victim speech from some trans* blogs on the Andrea Cano exhibition, the current heavy obsession with trans* guys in the queer scene, along with a not unproblematic indulgence into femme play make it all a bit heavy and burdensome.
Aaahh… problems all around. So.
I think the Genki Genki porn is brilliant, bringing to the world of internet porn a lineage in Japanese and asian art that goes back at least to Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife. Buck and Allanah is poignant on its own, but a little empty in a post-Jeff Koons Cicciolina when seen in the milieu of exhibition and gallery. Barbie and Ken, part of Invisibles: Natures transgressive it likewise so. I smile, it makes me happy to see such things at all, but its worth comes more from the weight of theory loaded on to interpret it. And mostly that theory is decidedly lacking, asinine.
In and of itself, the latter two are not especially interesting. What causes such a work like Buck and Allanah to exist in the first place is the profile of their lives as both porn actors and trans*, and how these interact. I was thinking of Jenny Saville’s painting, Passage here. For me also, I find them more interesting as people, and what they publicly say about their identities. Perhaps then this work is something of a public service announcement, or political art in the vein of Jenny Holzer? Hmmm… no.
If they would do a film with Genki Genki, the universe would be perfect.
Some more photos, this time from the dress run at Noarlunga, deep in the christian south. This theatre was one of those caverns built I suppose to allow for more carparks by providing ‘culture’. The roof howled and thrashed like banshees in the wind, drowning Xuan when she spoke, the stage was so vast and cavernous it was difficult to feel human on it, an absence of mess and dilapidation, things I associate with a theatre or place to make performance.
I like these photos because it’s a dress run of sorts, it was the last night after three months together, no one was particularly serious, and they got to play as much as they wanted, and sometimes this got quite strange. I like the smiles and laughter, it’s nice to see my friends having fun.
After them leaving Adelaide, then me leaving also, then arriving almost two months after the show, I finally got some photos of all the people i can remember sleeping with…. These are some I took in the wings at the Star Theatre, I think the best night of the season, rough, angry, a bit thrashy and it felt real, made me nervous to watch knowing people I knew were there seeing it, and the theatre, kinda rundown and a bit scuffed suited it so well, it was … this night, the storm coming in and wings you’d crash into the wall if you didn’t stop in time, the stage almost too small and lights to bash into, and the four, who made it personal and … this was what I wanted. So, Daniel Jaber, Paea Leach, Tara Sor and Yang Xiao-Xuan, my little gang of trouble who made it real.
Talking talking talking. I was really not so prepared for this rehearsal, but it turned into a bit of a long conversation … mostly me talking really, about where the work came from and just going through all my notes out loud.
I’ve been trying to work the Rape of Lucretia scene into something that isn’t a repetition of what I’ve done before, and started to see it maybe as being part os a larger scene that is a combination of all the scraps of ideas littering my notebook. Both before and after, tonight on a bus again, my new favourite place of rehearsing, I tried to make this germinal idea something real and tangible enough to be played with. There’s a long gap between talking about an idea and making dance with it.
Talking and watching porn movies.
This was a closed rehearsal, I don’t think I’m going to say much about our conversations here. I found myself at one point surprised at how awkward I was to talk about certain things in front of four people I feel very comfortable around when I seem to blog to a mostly unknown public with exhibitionist impunity.
The piece has taken a very personal turn for the moment. A friend of mine said to me while sitting in the Black Cat in Fitzroy and talking about – of course – Judith Butler and my gender, “You know, you’re really lucky, you get to live what we only theorise about”.
So when I leave writing about stuff for a few days, things get … blurry. The last few days have been bewilderingly intense in the world of dance here, and personally. I suspect chocolate at next rehearsal. I really am deeply grateful and overwhelmed by the love and support I’ve received from the dancers here, and how much they’ve made me feel like I am part of a family. This really is an amazing and wonderful place, and I do feel so lucky to be here.
I’ve been meaning also to write about Daniel’s rehearsals, as I’ve found myself playing a boy snake who emits female pheromones to attract other boy snakes so they will sleep on top of me while I hibernate. Yes, the personal pronouns are all a bit confused around here. It’s fun and having not been in the process of developing a performance as a dancer for what seems like a lifetime, I am deliriously happy to do one of the things I truly love.
Playtime. I had a list of things to get through without a doubt naively optimistic, but we actually got through over half of it, and altogether gave me plenty to think about in conceptualising the piece as a whole. Back to the Sabine Women, and more amnesiac and hysterical, panic-stricken comings-to-life of Rubens’ paintings, and pulling it together rather successfully with the biting and punching stuff. It could have been a disaster and I’d have been left with no idea what to do next.
Mostly it was just a day of working through things we’d already done, considering what worked, talking about it a bit, and then finish. After all this, sitting around somewhere dark and pondering what to do next was the bit of endurance. My notebook is being eaten by a bacterial sprawl of letters and words. I think I know where to go next, and also have a constantly replenished list of things to try, but it feels like it’s close to a point where there is a parting, it’s going to have to become one thing or another.
Sometimes when I get to this point in a development I feel an emptiness at what has been left behind. At the beginning, there is this sense of all these possibilities the work could be and slowly it gets collapsed into one thing. This time, it feels like it is unfolding into what it could be, becoming itself. Plenty of embarrassment for me.
A visit to the giant porn supermarket next to ACarts yesterday, to search for any book I could find on instruction in Shibari しばり, Japanese rope bondage. The woman working there said, “I dunno … I just work here”, but rifled through all her magazines and turned up “Japan Bondage 9”. I’m particularly fond of the photograph of the suspended woman with the birdcage hanging from her groin. So tomorrow I need to buy some rope.
That was not the point of today though. I really wanted to work through the “Rape of the Sabine Women” scene, a biting, fingers like teeth, grabbing, entangled limbs colliding with the floor mess of rape and orgasmic frenzy. It was one of those … processes … that is not like a moment of transcendental clarity, when you realise in a vertiginous wave how it’s all supposed to work, it was a blind stumbling away from what I know and don’t want to repeat and near to desperate and likely failure.
I don’t mind things not working, but the luxury of the slightly patronising, “Oh yes, all artists need to fail, for things not to succeed”, is only realistic when you have the time to deal with the residue of disaster. When – like all choreographers in Australia who endure the torture of miserly budgets and infinitesimal rehearsal periods – there isn’t really the time to indulge, the point when working through an idea should be discarded as a deadend is too close.
Biting, falling over, Paea with a brand new root canal, trying with everyone at once and no delineation between each cycle of collapse. It looks like a brawl. I have an idea in my head what it should be but to try and apprehend it is to see it slip away. So we go back to the basic elaboration of what works, the performance of teeth biting as well as the literal physical act, flesh remaining in this maw until the fall is complete and then for an instant more, or if it breaks apart, lunging to obtain that bite again. Lots of other things, just casual possibilities that need to be coaxed into foci of intensity the way undifferentiated cells coalesce and bloom into organs, viscera, bodies.
There is a feeling I get of unwilling apprehension, that I know I have to do a particular thing but if it doesn’t work … We were looking at a bunch of different paintings of the Rape of the Sabine Women, like what I did with Goya’s etchings Disasters of War in extermination, Shunga and Chungongtu in hell ad nauseam. Despite the not copious rehearsal time, I really want to not repeat what I know and have done. Yes I can make cool things from turning old paintings into performance by following a specific process, yes I can make steps, and I’m really good at it. I don’t want to ossify what I do now or ever otherwise there’s no point.
I do like working from paintings or film or photographs or … though. So knowing things weren’t working too well and really without some fundamental addition to all the teeth and fingernails it was not going to survive the evening, and time dwindling, just look at the painting, take stuff from it, like a memory, or amnesia, try and find what would have been the real trajectory of that person if the painting was one frame from a film and …
Something about Bacchus and Dionysis, not just getting drunk with some nymphs but consuming in a frenzy until it erupts in an orgy of fucking, drinking, brawling, tearing each other apart, not pleasant or nice or polite but terrifying the berserk ecstasy and cataclysmic madness and not wanting to stop. I think we got there, Paea has this intensity within her body, earlier she was just whirling like a dervish, Xuan both panic stricken and rapaciously lascivious, and Tara caught in a loop tripping over, bursting to her feet. It made me twitch, I wanted to not be just watching, far away on the outside.
I don’t really know how it’s going to work with the biting, I can see possibilities but … always but. But … Japanese Rope Bondage Porn!
Being the day when a carpenter who has fantastically scant evidence for ever having existed in the first place was hung up on the objects of his trade and encouraged to die, I thought I start my erratic wasting a couple of hours by mocking god-botherers.
Pharyngula mostly writes about biology and has dead sexy aquatic porn, like photos of Hagfish embryos. Quite regularly though he likes to ridicule, and laugh at creationists, believers, all the usual vacuousness of faith, especially if it comes from a scientist.
In a lazy Friday destruction of Dr Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, he says, “I would suggest that this argument by Collins would be better answered by supporting the divinity of Julius Caesar. His existence is far better supported than that of Jesus; we even have examples of his writings preserved, with monuments and first hand personal accounts of his life. He allowed himself to be called a god — Deo Invicto, no less — and his successor built temples to the Divus Julius. It’s awfully silly that Collins thinks the argument that either Caesar or Jesus was a god generates uncertainty, that he resolves in one direction for one of the pair, and in the other direction for the other.”
Far more important though, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month if you live in the United States. I doubt a month will make much difference though, but I would like to see all my friends who have complete assholes for partners stop making excuses and choose April as the month to take out the garbage.
Back to China.
The Chongqing Nailhouse suddenly became news if you spoke English. The New York Times had a piece, and I was sitting at Orange a couple of days ago and saw it in The Age too. Hamish McDonald used to be the Beijing correspondent replaced a while ago by Mary-Ann Toy, but there’s no change in the approach to China coverage from either The Age or Sydney Morning Herald. Admittedly I read a lot of blogs and news coverage coming out of China, but these papers are consistently a week or two behind, provide inadequate and cursory appraisal, and largely seem to get their news from a small subset of China blogs. If that’s all it takes to get a gig at The Age, I wanna be in the Guangzhou office. (I’ll just read 在桥下流 and put my name to whatever Feng37 blogs about.)
Mainstream Media and the dereliction of Theatre. Both Nicholas Pickard and Alison Croggin from different incidents come to the same point about their respective city’s papers attenuated interest in performing arts, which is pretty similar to their coverage of China, viz. the nailhouse above. Over the other side of the world, New York Times previews Becky, Jodi and John that opened a couple of days ago.
Of course I have to finish with trannys, what do you think I am?
Another sublime one-liner dressed in a lurid font, Meghan Chevalier’s Confessions of a Transsexual Porn Star, who is the rather famous subject to whom the title refers. I sometimes wonder about my social standing when I seem to have quite a familiarity with the world of shemale porn…
It really all comes from six words that out of context reads like an incomplete sentence, and within that is where the ellipsis belongs at the end of that story of Michael and me drinking Long Island Ice Tea in Guangzhou. Stephanie says, “Probably, I have been lucky, though.”, meaning the acceptance by a group of her “preferred gender”.
I ended up writing about someone whom I don’t know, who nonetheless had something of an effect on me. Anna was a transsexual in the porn world, and who recently died in a car crash. As an aside here into porn, Dennis Cooper who has been working with Gisèle Vienne on Kindertotenlieder often writes at great length about porn stars he has known and fucked. That I like porn and think it’s one of the great pinnacles of human culture is not the point, rather, do you, or more precisely, do you look at porn? Obviously if come here often enough you’ve been exposed to my completelyunfocussedadoration of smut.
Because, and here I think I have not so much in common with many trannys as evinced by most of the internet forums I have been on, and left feeling … well … like god, I am a freak … nah actually I think, “Jeez these people are uptight”, and get back to smut. I think one of the many things that seduced me into having a sex-change (such old and funky nomenclature I like) was the representations of transsexuals in porn.
If you read many books or forums or interviews where transsexuals are doing the talking, so often Cocks Are Bad OMG!!! I don’t touch it! (I don’t even talk about it and jesus-fucking-christ I do NOT masturbate. Ever. And No Sex Before The Op.) Contra this, shemale porn is pictures of chicks-with-dicks and it’s all cock. Forget for a moment blah-blah-exploitation-blah-blah-opressive-representations-of-women, because that’s not what I’m writing about. On one side there is the first version of the trannysphere, and on the other pictures that profoundly undermine these statements. It’s no different from the “gay for pay” homo-porn boys.
So coming back to Anna, who I stumbled on just after I finished VCA, along with a couple of other shemale pornstars who … I was utterly awestruck at these women, who for me after years of reading boring no-sex-please-we’re-transsexuals at worst or seriously obtuse academic wank from the 90’s identity politics world, were an epiphany.
Despite making some unfair generalisations viz. tranny forums – there are quite a few people out there who share a somewhat similar view to me on our bodies – there is an issue I don’t think I’ve ever seen discussed. For the moment I’m not even sure how to assemble such an idea but …
An anecdote. When I was maybe 12-ish and living in New Zealand, my dad, living in Toronto sent a parcel, birthday, I can’t remember. What’s important is not the contents of the box, but the newspaper used to wrap the gifts (I think Hershey’s Peanut Butter Cups amongst other things). One sheet had this photo of an 18 year old girl who’d been arrested for shoplifting dresses. The freaky-wow factor in all this was “she was a he!”. I was like (extremely without speaking), “omg I wanna be her”.
Which brings me to the issue and back to Anna again. Transsexuals present their situation as – to be really reductionist about it – ‘female trapped in male body’, and ‘I just wanna be the woman I am’. In the scheme of going from male to female (or vice versa, though the dyke/boi/ftm/drag king scene seems to understand this better) the transsexual meat in the sandwich is just an unfortunate waypoint on the journey.
So if I’m looking at a picture of Anna and thinking, “Waah! I wanna be a shemale!”, what does that make me?
And that’s the issue, the idea of choice, that someone might choose to become a tranny because that’s what they wanted to be. To extricate this from the almost identical wanting to be female is … tricky. And yes, if I look at a female body, in a magazine, on the street, a friend, I’m like, “yeah I want to be that”, or … language sometimes gets difficult in that it can’t keep up with multiple tenses and things happening at once, so, “yeah I want to be that/that’s what I am”, though currently +cock.
To be absolutely clear here, this isn’t me questioning my being transsexual/intersex/generally odd in the gender binary department. But to change the word ‘female’ to ‘transsexual’, to look at a transsexual’s body – and this is where I think porn is kinda helpful in that it is the complete body, naked, and also sexual – and say “I wanna be that”, irrespective of if it’s an intermediary on the way to being female or not, is … sometimes my strangeness is weird even for me. Especially when you don’t talk about it.