Notes on performance and feminism (specifically, the structure of “that disgusting thing called intimacy”)

It has to start with an anti-spectacle. For a long duration of time. To equalize the audience and the performers. To erase the expectations embedded in the theater space. (It has to happen in a theater, with all of the predetermined conventions that rules in that space.) Long enough for the audience to become aware of themselves as individuals. Self-conscious, confused. They can no longer follow the theatrical protocol they know very well how to follow as audience members. They cannot be a “good” audience. So they start to feel uncomfortable with themselves; highly aware of their own behavior as they expected to be able to escape from themselves and reality through the spectacle of the performance. They start to watch each other, to see if someone else gives them a hint of how to act as a correct spectator in this situation, but no one knows so everyone picks up the action that seems allowed from another and suddenly there is a collective experience occurring. The spectators are left with each other and us as performers becoming a part of them. Suddenly we have individualists within a collective, and we revealed a small possibility for community.

When that moment has been dragged out long enough, I believe the code has to be changed. I don’t believe we can stay in the code of indifference and anti-spectacle for the whole show (well we certainly can, and the people who do that (Spångberg etc) are doing it very well, but that makes a different experience than what I believe we need to create). Through the anti-spectacle and the offer of nothing that can be interpreted into something, we have now created a state where anything is possible, anything will be seen – the smallest movement will create the smallest spectacle.

In this moment we have to offer the least expected action. Perhaps boring. Redundant. Or just “wrong”, in color, aesthetics etc etc. to what they have imagined coming to watch. As it continues the audience is seduced (they feel as if they “got it”, as if they understand). Right then we alter the code, before the spectator have had their orgasm or even slightest complete satisfaction. Into something out of the blue, a new performative code. Sometimes we need to shift the code before they even “got it”, to not give them anything at all to hold on to. To not be able to create an order of the semiotics, to not define or settle into control – to not “know”. We won’t give them what they want. We create a non-spectacle out of given spectacles. That is Tricksterism (credit to our dramaturg Milan Markovic). For the roller coaster to not be constituted out of loops only so they throw up (metaphorically speaking) and reject the whole experience in total, we have to give them moments of love, of real seduction as well.

Embedded in this play of tricksterism we also have intentional failures (glitches), attempts to “save” the performance, which makes it fall on it’s face even more. It is also important that the performers never consciously “perform” (though one might say we always perform), it is only the tasks that create action. The audience should never be able to categorize what the performers or the performance want them to define the experience as.

For a brief moment the spectator are riding the wave of “reality”; familiar semiotics and linguistics, escapism and spectacle, and they feel in control of the constitution of themselves in relation to the experience, they know what they are looking at. In that moment the chair is pulled underneath them (metaphorically), there is a failure, a change of code, incorrect timing, lack of spectacle, excessive spectacle, which does not fit into their made up “reality” of pre-determined semiotics, linguistics etc.

The audience member is then no longer in control. They are watching something they cannot define. In this moment they have to really listen, really see, really hear, really taste – to be brought back to a reality they can define. They have to see reality for what it really is in this moment, not what they expected it to be or wish it was. That is the only way they can form a new relationship. In this redefinition of themselves and their environment, there is the possibility for change to happen. In regards to how we have constituted ourselves in relation to patriarchy and to capitalism. This manipulated situation created to have the audience (and ideally the performers) lose control is also the opportunity for an “event” to happen. (The moment where they according to Deleuze are brought out of reality into “the real”, or where they according to Sartre is experiencing “being-in-itself”; only existence (the thing in itself) without human relations yet involved).

(It is argued that in order to create an event everything displayed need to be undefined. However, as humans constantly seek order and therefore categorize what they see, I’m not sure any action in itself can be undefined, even though the executor feel empty/without essence/like they are just a body. Secondly, for an audience to be brought out of “reality”, I believe we need to create glitches in the reality they already know, so it is important that we reference “the matrix” (already known semtiotics) in order for them to be pulled out of it. That actually might be why Spångberg decides to reference popular culture through songs, clothing labels etc. etc.)

Still, in it’s chaos, it needs to be complete and in control. The alteration of desires, failures, expectations, rejections is a choreography in itself. It can only happen through a very well-thought out timing and structure. The performance can seem to be lacking control, because the execution of it is in control. However, the performance cannot in total seem like a bad high school choreography. The only way the audience will allow themselves to be absorbed by the experience and end up in the undefined, is if there is an underlying sense of safety, of clear intention, care and control. I believe the way to achieve this is also partially with the context, that this is somehow still always connected. In our case, the thread is intimacy, authenticity, the removal of identity and what it is to be a woman according to pop-cultural and political references. Even though this might not always be clear due to the abstract nature of the work, it is realized in the end.

What does this have to do with feminism?

We avoided using the word feminism and equality in our process because of the differed understandings of the word. Everyone has their own relation to the word and there are tons of politics related to it. Now I’ve started to use it often, but I am aware that I am very sure of what I mean when I say it, but that other people are probably not aware of what I mean. I’m not completely sure how to go about this problem. We should just make up a new word that has nothing to do with gender, because general expectation on gender doesn’t really exist. Or I should just stop trying to define our work in words, because that will never give justice to the piece anyway.

This process started because ideally we wanted to find a way to separate performance and us as performers from capitalism. We gave us the task to find a method within which we would not let what we create, the performance and the spectators experience be a result of capitalistic ideals and theories (which we basically essentially are made of).

We researched specifically how patriarchy in hand with capitalism informs how we as women and men should constitute our identity, specifically how we should constitute our identity based on class, education, gender, sexuality, and age. We searched for a method to first erase the conditioned identity that we have constituted of ourselves (Sally and I). As well as how to through the concept of Tricksterism and the performance erase the identity the spectator has constituted of themselves and the world.

Lastly we also related the issue of capitalism forcing us to constitute an identity, and individualistic ideals, to intimacy, sexuality and sex. How not being able to fully listen to and see each other, because people are too busy constituting themselves, creates a constant distance. We try to create a “correct” identity, as well as we try to execute all of our intimate acts “correctly”. The definition of and expectations on sex creates a lack of real intimacy, lack of failure, lack of discovery.

We hope that this way of “performing” will create the moment of event, uncertainty, lack of definition and control. A moment of not having an identity. We also hope that it will give people an opportunity to become more aware of and question the information within popular culture that manipulates them to create an identity from the start.

That there is no such thing as an identity (it has to be there in some way in order for us to be able to recognize ourselves from day to day, to be the same person, but the definition of it is made up), we are all one and the identity and definition of gender has just been put upon us is essential to recognize in the practice of feminism. I believe that the pure form of feminism is listening and seeing the person for what it is in this moment, not what social constructions and conventions have made their identity out to be. That is why I believe somatics is a queer art form; it creates an opportunity to experience the world and ourselves as if we saw it for the first time.

The moment where the audience are pulled out of reality into the real and have to redefine themselves through taking in their environment, they need to really listen to what is really there – that is feminism. To remove oneself from the false information giving daily, prejudices and predetermined linguistics, and constitute oneself based on intimate relations in the present moment – that is feminism.

We are not scholars, theorists, or intellectuals. This is not an attempt to write an academic text. We are performers, makers. We have a lot of thoughts. We create. That’s it.