(I wasn’t so happy with what I wrote here last night, so I’m splitting this up and hopefully will write something more coherent on revulsion, sexualisation and objectification in what we do in Shibari and Parsifal in the coming days.)
Some moments from the third night.
I felt odd, nervy. Not nervous, but the rush of pre-show chemicals and hormones left me feeling over-corporeal; my body too much on its own visceral adventure. Even before we’d performed, I though I’d be feeling that distinct, peculiar dirty of too much adrenalin and shock, like when I’ve crashed my bike. Lucky for chocolate then. Dasniya has chocolate. Gala has camera. Photos below.
I did not feel it was a good performance for me. Not bad either, just strange. Perhaps because opening night has its own uniqueness and second night has much that defines itself in relation to the première that the third night is the beginning of the unknown. The work must now begin to define itself; there are no excuses left for the performance. I slept almost ten hours.
Gurnemanz comes up to us side-stage late in Act 3. He has to drive to Düsseldorf then fly to Dresden to rehearse another opera, then return again before the next performance. He will do this till the end of Parsifal, then open in Dresden on the 23rd, then repeat this Pendelverkehr, this time from Dresden to Münich.
Gala and I make Mats Ek jokes while waiting for the curtain call. Our repertoire of silly movements for self-amusement coming from every half-remembered dance film, and an accumulation stolen by her from an audition in Culberg. Nicole comes up, asks, “Are you making a dance version of Act 3?” “Nah, this is Mats Ek doing Parsifal.” “Who’s Mats Ek?” Nicole is our new best friend.
We are backstage getting ready. “I can’t find my underwear.” We are sidestage, Act 3 is finishing. The stage empties. There, downstage far enough to be unmissable, a pair of black underwear. “I think they’re going to end up on the other side.” The curtain drops. Bisects them neatly. In the rush of figurants, they vanish. Later, Nicole, “Oh, no they weren’t underwear, that was one of the hoods everyone wears.”
I return to the beginning.
Earlier I wrote about pain. It’s the question everyone wants to ask, and so is often not the first broached, but remains, a tension, an unspoken presence. Yes, it is pain. Dasniya said today, while we were talking with a writer from La Libre Belgique that it is like cycling, the pain of endurance. I remembered how I used to hate hill-climbing, even though I was good at it, the burning in my thighs and lungs, until one day I realised that this agony was in fact hill climbing, and when I felt this, it meant I was riding upwards. In that sharp realisation, my climbing changed completely. I no longer held back; I pushed forward, sought out this feeling, bit it with my teeth, this pain, because I liked climbing hills and this feeling in my body meant I was doing nothing else but.
What is less spoken of, which remains equally the question, the fascination, is sex. Yes, it is sex. Of a kind. Also, it is not.
It is difficult to escape the obviousness that us hanging mostly naked is sex, when undeniably, our eyes tell us this is so. It is more easy to evade or deny that Wagner is engaging in sex with Parsifal, even if we accept that Castellucci might be.
I’ve been thinking about this particularly because one of the most-repeated images used in all the media has been of Act 2, with the three of us suspended, me horizontal with breasts heavily bound. I personally find this a beautiful image, though equally it is troubling. I’ve written before about the difficulty of engaging in shibari or bdsm, particularly in traditional heterosexual arrangements as it plays directly into existing social hierarchies, gender oppression and objectification.
Considering the implications of what we do while under the gaze of an audience brings into consideration further issues. While it is much easier to grasp why we might find ourselves under a sexualised gaze (googling images of shibari makes very plain the nature of the viewer’s gaze), that of disgust in the viewer is perhaps more insidious, and more in need of countering. The latter, driven by ignorance and emotionalism as well as an uncritical objectification, leads directly to incidents like Operation Spanner. The legality of what we do when understood as existing within BDSM is contingent on a sympathetic jurisprudence, which in europe on this matter is certainly not unequivocal.
I think this is something to write more on, both the repulsion-sexualisation and also how a definition of shibari (within BDSM, within pornography, for example) allows for such objectification. I feel uncertain about pausing here. Maybe also to say that we will be having a shibari workshop for supporters of la Monnaie in a couple of weeks and another one for cast and crew around the same time. Fun and adventure for all.
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.
I’m not sure when I started reading Danielle Foxx’s blog, but I enjoy rather a lot. A long time ago I wrote about Buck Angel and Allanah Starr making porn. A trans man and a trans woman, both quite huge in the porn world getting it on for the cameras. I thought it was beautiful at the time and still do. Reading Danielle, I find they have been cast in bronze.
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.
When people ask me why I came to Berlin, I say, well partly for the dance, and partly for living. And of course the deciding aspect was knowing someone was here and that I wouldn’t be walking into instead Bruxelles, not having any friend to lead me around. So I ended up in Kreuzberg.
It was the absence of queer life in Adelaide, the smallness of the city, the desperation in finding something to inspire me outside of dance that made finding a city with a life I’d find inspiring outside of dance important. And in other ways this need also applied to much of my time in Melbourne, though the last visit, living in Collingwood and working at Swinburne had the feeling of a new city, until that is, I’d venture into town or o places I knew too well that felt as if they rubbed against me too long. So after this and even China and Taiwan for all they inspired and seduced me, I wanted somehow to find a place I felt well, a familiarity for. To call a place home for a time and this city I’d chose would be that.
Lucky Berlin seems to be this. And more generally, Europe, or the parts I’ve been. And Kreuzberg has I think a queerness I’ve been looking for. mmm how to describe that, oh well that’s for another time… But last night after getting lost – I must remind myself that Google Maps is only generally accurate, and often no use at all in leading you to the door. Getting to the right street, and the vaguely correct block is about as good as it gets. – wandering along the Landswehrkanal in utter darkness, back along the other side as if transported to Freiburg, and then following the candles to the Stadthaus Böchlerpark. Just like Wigstöckel a couple of weeks ago, the audience was quite entrancing.
Oh, where was I?
Somehow I’ve subscribed to a pile of Berlin blogs, and must stretch my schrecklich Deutsch reading in order to understand, but found myself at the annual gender*d*rama, organised or made or populated by, amongst others, the queer or gender studies department at Humboldt University. So many beautiful people, feels like home…
The previous week has been on of quite small scale. I’ve been trying to learn everything I can on absorption spectrums and more importantly what electrons and photons do when and how as they get excited or … dwindle. This has led me in the last couple of days to things stars do, like eject vast gouts of corona or have all kinds of magnetic excitement around sunspots.
There is a point to this. I have no idea what it is.
Among the myriad things that never, for equally various reasons into the showing were the sublimely beautiful Hinode (Solar-B) videos of the sun in X-ray or Extreme Ultra-Violet, we’d talked about being projected on a suitably awe-inspiring scale at the end of the piece…
It’s been some weeks of just thinking about what we have done so far and where to go, and so for me the next stage, besides more funding applications is working on this new stuff for a solo. Also editing of the video into a 3D stereoscopic film.
My last days were spent on occasion doing tests for this, as single frames, and then as short bits of video, getting the separation right, working out how to assemble a stereo film in Final Cut, seeing what peculiarities and oddities emerged when the video was played back through the VR Theatre projectors, and repeat.
Aside from some weirdness, like frame rate irregularities, possibly due to how I exported it from Final Cut, and some unwanted up-scaling in the projection process, there’s nothing that doesn’t look atrocious and Chris is quite keen for us to continue. So while he works on the weirdness, I get to do the cutting. I haven’t done much in editing for a while with my old laptop so geriatrically incapable of rendering at a speed measured faster than frames-per-day, and the precarious assemblage to get it to boot in the first place, but with my new new!!! MacBook Pro rendering to m2v almost in real time, I’m all trembling with anticipation at getting fluent in all the fun graphics and processor intensive editing things… mmm excitement.
Yesterday was my last at Swinburne. I’ve been there since early December when I had so little comprehension beyond nervousness at what I could possibly do, and in these tumultuous months, for so many reasons, personally, artistically, intellectually such a bone-crushing shove into a precipice, and somehow found it much more to my liking than the fear and nausea on its lip, and then yesterday to say goodbye to Chris and walk down beside the railway lines hummocked above, past Max and Alley Tunes and our small French café, the now autumn sun leaking long shadows through denuded trees, this last time.
And to pack, to entomb these months in boxes that, along with me though via different carriers will arrive in Adelaide next week, to finish. My room in Collingwood soon to be vacant, my life again designed around a suitcase. How unexpected and glorious this all has been.
For those who count, days 43 through 45 were production days at Napier St and some 23 minutes of performing followed by a discussion with Chris Fluke, myself, the dancers and the audience. More on that non-sequentially, I imagine.
A week in Adelaide. mmm. Oh! I didn’t blog even. Seeing friends, many meetings, some shows and festivals and then a 6am flight back to Melbourne for the remaining three weeks of my residency.
What to say thus far? I have no idea quite what I have made. I can’t really assess it within the context of previous pieces I’ve made which exist in the world of dance theatre, performance, installation rather than pure dance. I do have some clear ideas where it can go in the coming weeks, which mainly will be research for me. I also plan to make this research into a solo while I’m back in Adelaide. I have an idea of what it could look like with a group of dancers, though not sure of the number. I had an idea that a chamber orchestra of brass instruments would be a fine accompaniment. I have lots of ideas I later regard with embarrassed disdain.
I’m quite sure having projection or dressing it up with the usual accouterments of dance is exactly what I don’t want to do. Nor either to engage with any of the devices of theatre. The problem with this is that in refusing to engage with common structural elements, it leaves a gaping void which needs to be addressed with some sort of rigor.
I was reading about a lecture Aubrey de Grey gave at the BIL Conference, where he said, (paraphrasing from …My Heart’s in Accra) “Be right (diligence before oratory). He quotes Sean Carroll: “Being a heretic is hard work”. It’s not enough to disagree with mainstream thinking – you actually have to be correct. “Galileo was a heretic, but understood the reigning orthodoxy at the time better than anyone else.” Very few people work that hard: “Many casual heretics can’t be bothered.”” At another talk, KV Fitz said, “intelligence is a function of passion.”
I think between these two thoughts much of what I am trying to do here is contained.
During my holiday in Adelaide, I showed the video of Friday night to Daniel, Bonnie, a couple of others. The more I watched it, the more I felt I couldn’t say anything about it. I’m not sure even if it’s any good. I can say though that making dance, seriously investing time, not in a personal style of moving or individual technique, but engaging wholeheartedly in the cultural history of western dance as performance and spectacle, all the way from Louis XIV and even before, and considering what choreography as movement is relative to the contemporary world as dance was 300 years ago to the courts, or as dance was to the Modern world of much of last century, to be very specific in analysing these systems of a body moving and to try and conceptualise where it could go, to not reiterate what has been done before, all this which is really choreographing and making dance and nothing else, is really fucking hard.
Also, I think it does not easily fit into being assessed within the sphere of what contemporary dance is at the moment in Australia. Certainly what I’ve seen in Melbourne is drifting far from dance these days, whereas Adelaide is quite fixated on, in various guises, the dancer as technician, and neither of these things are what I am interested in here. It is a problem with ideas, that if they don’t have some dialogue with the existing field from which they emerge and upon which they somehow reflect, it is tricky to be able to say much about what they are.
Not arrogantly pretending I just changed the world of dance, but the line of research I’m following doesn’t have much room for many of contemporary dance’s current tropes.
Then there was the discussion on language and structure with a couple of people, and whether pure dance can indeed say anything. My first thought on this was that if it really can’t say anything without being dressed up, perhaps it shouldn’t try to articulate anything in the first place. What does all this training and attention to corporeal aesthetics count towards? I suppose the answer therein in my continued preference for working only with dancers, and, well, very particular types of dancers at that.
All this to say, there is something in here that counts, but perhaps it is beyond my ability to make sense of.
Reading Jean Baudrillard‘s Symbolic Exchange and Death in 2003 was one of those pivotal moments in consumption of text that ranks up with Deleuze and Guattari’s 1000 Plateaus and Judith Butler‘s Gender Trouble as having induced the philosophical equivalent of the rapture in me, imagining a far more transcendental eschatological future than a philistine and barbaric religion could even comprehend. The idea that the works resulting from these texts are part of a cycle I owe completely to Neal Stephenson whose Baroque Cycle is doomed to be named a trilogy.
Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle also directly closes a ten-year loop, returning me to when I first read 1000 Plateaus and some time later, Deleuze’s monograph on Leibniz, The Fold.
When I was last in Melbourne, I was doing some research at the State Library and stumbled across Bubonic Plague in Nineteenth-Century China. Perhaps I’m forcing the results to fit the hypothesis, but since first traveling to Guangzhou and through my subsequent half-arsed research, the city and province has for me attained the importance of other great trading and cultural cities of the past couple of millennia, and had it been on the shores of the Mediterranean instead of the South China Sea, would certainly have a level of prestige commensurate with other cities of antiquity. There is a completely irrational and emotional attachment to the place that has served as a fount of inspiration for me since I first arrived, so it’s completely understandable that once again I’m trying to drag something of it into my next performance.
So, the history of medicine and surgery, its dark roots in alchemy and superstition, plagues, insanity and other maladies, whores, lechery and enslavement, and lots of Cantonese demonology. Just the usual really.
Although many scholars (including Graham Twigg, Susan Scott, and Christopher Duncan) now question whether the Black Death was actually a case of bubonic plague, or any bacterial disease, or was even necessarily any single disease at all, it is nevertheless acknowledged that the last world-wide pandemic of bubonic plague (known as the “third pandemic”) did in fact have its origins in central China before eventually spreading to Hong Kong in 1894, and then (like the SARS outbreak threatened to do a century later) on to trading ports around the world. While the worst of the 1894 Hong Kong epidemic was controlled relatively quickly, the global pandemic which it precipitated dragged on for decades, and was not officially conquered (according to the WHO) until 1959.
More from the meat-locker of Paul Williams’ shoot of hell, and the video is coming soon too.