Archive for category Prejudice
I haven’t written anything for a while but I felt compelled to do so after bearing witness to the breathtaking performance by Cassils at the National Theatre last night.
Having been a fan of Cassils for a while, initially due to their work Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture, their work using bodybuilding and a passing into a hyper-masculine physique through it. I also had the pleasure of attending a talk by Cassils in New York at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, and hearing about the film Inextinguishable Fire I was so excited to see a live aspect of this piece, not entirely understanding how this would materialise.
The performance began with Cassils topless on the stage with clothing paraphernalia around them, there was a good seven minutes or so before the professional looking men in boiler suits began methodically dressing Cassils in wet clothing which look liked thermal layers, as Cassils began to shake it became clear that these garments must be freezing cold. The soundtrack started to become impossible to ignore around the third layer of these wet items as what began as a low drone, similar to a helicopter flying low overheard, took on an even more bass like rumble, adding even more to the tension and feeling that something awful or wonderful was about to happen.
The preparation for the actual self-immolation took about fifteen minutes but felt like an eternity as our heart rates sky rocketed and you could see audience members clutching at each others hands. The whole theatre was undoubtably nervous, is there a possibility this could get out of hand and go wrong? Do our desensitised minds actually want that to happen, for us to be witnesses to a true self-immolation? As the team of three men finish preparing Cassils, with the last smearing of a vaseline looking substance to their face (it definitely can’t have been vaseline as that is flammable!) one the technicians lights a torch, like a wooden staff used to burn witches of old at the stake, and shouts ‘You’re on fire’.
The fire itself only lasted about 14 seconds but the act itself was so powerful that these 14 seconds stretched to an eternity as we all realised we were truly spectators to someone setting their-self on fire, no matter how many safety aspects were involved, this was truly happening, to a live human being, and we just sat and watched.
We were then led haphazardly outside, myself and my friend shakily walking at this point, to the other side of the National Theatre where the film of Inextinguishable Fire was projected on an outside wall. One of our key observations, that highlighted even further the importance to Cassils work and left us with a kind of desperate feeling for the human race, was that the passers by took no notice of the film, a few people would look up but no one stopped to see what was going despite the brightness and intensity of the film, the only people not from the original audience that seemed to be transfixed were small children. It was just such a poignant example of our desensitised selfs, the fact that we do see so much violence and pain inflicted on people and really just don’t care because it isn’t happening to us. It was also interesting to think if the film would’ve had the same effect if I hadn’t seen the live action immolation moments before.
I have never had such a strong reaction to anything in my life! And I think this was the purest and most engaging way to remember, on the apt Sunday of Remembrance. When something is ingrained with so much suffering and history, monks setting themselves on fire in protest, women being persecuted because men fear them, children in agony because of another pointless war, it just cannot fail to change your way of thinking, even in the slightest way. I often think that our generation is the least capable of empathy because in the Western World we are in danger of having no idea or connection to what it feels like to truly suffer and any suffering that happens around us is so disconnected from us in that we only engage with it through a screen, which we can ultimately X out of at any point.
‘When we show you pictures of napalm victims, you’ll shut your eyes. You’ll close your eyes to the pictures. Then you’ll close them to the memory. And then you’ll close your eyes to the facts.’ – Harun Farocki
I recently volunteered at the box office of The Nightingale Theatre (above the Grand Central Pub) and am ashamed to say that I never been there before! Part of volunteering meant that you were able to get into the shows on that day for free.
Showing this particular night was Luna, performed by Pretty Good Girl Dance Theatre. Luna is based on the book by the same name by American author Julie Anne Peters, and tells the story of Liam, a transsexual teenager, but from the often overlooked view of someone who loves him, his younger sister Regan.
It seemed as if is this story was made to be danced as the movement added an emotional edge to the tale, and the sparce props and the way in which the dancers interacted with them was very poignant for me. The props consisted of a clothes rail with various flamboyant costumes hanging on it and two large strands of masking tape streched on either side of the clothes rail to the floor.
When Liam encountered a particularly important period of realisation about who he was he danced into the masking tape and got stuck in it as it wound around him due to his frantic movment. His younger sister Regan then helped to untangle him, thus shifting the role of older and younger sibling as she took over care of him.
Later, Regan had a sleepover with her friends and Liam didn’t react with disgust when her friends asked to paint his nails and her friends then began to question what was wrong with Liam, at this moment Regan broke her masking tape and became entangled, however Liam did not help her remove the tape and she had to do it herself.
As an older sibling this reminded me of when I was a teenager, and brought back memories of perhaps not being the one who was looking after, but being the one who was being looked after.
The storytelling aspect of the piece consisted of both dialogue between the two siblings and a narration by mainly Regan. At one point the two discuss what Liam/Luna is in relation to drag queens, are drag queens gay? are they transsexual? and Liam replies with, ‘Well, there’s shades of gray to every gender’. And then went onto to say how their father saw him as a masculine macho boy who played football, or at least this was how the father wanted him to be. This was something that really struck a chord with me as everybody feels these kinds of pressures to be what is expected of them, and what is expected of their gender.
The themes of ‘personal freedom, acceptance and unconditional love’, that ran through the performance felt relevant not only in the context of transsexuality, but in the wider context of gender/race/sexuality.
I attended the above titled symposium yesterday at The Old Courthouse, Brighton.
‘This symposium will explore the cultural, political, art historical and artistic implications of queer curatorial practices. The international art scene has witnessed an increase in queer exhibitions That have shed new light on LGBTQ art and on the sexual and social dimensions of innovative curating. This symposium gathers together curators, theorists, film programmers, journalists and artists working in queer exhibition practices across a variety of institutions and contexts. We intend to investigate and debate the diversity of curatorial perspectives on historical and contemporary queer art and film and to examine a wide range of issues, among them: the role of the curator as authorial force; the queering of visual fields; the discovery and recovery of repressed queer histories and desires in museum, galleries and cinemas; the political work of curatorial practice.
Sam Ashby, Michael Blyth, Niranjan Kamatkar, Pawel Leszkowicz, Richard Parkinson, Lara Perry, Michael Petry, Michael Pierce, Kate Smith, Matt Smith, Simon Watney
The event is organised by Pawel Leszkowicz and John David Rhodes, and sponsored by the Centre for Visual Fields and the Centre for the Study of Sexual Dissidence and Cultural Change (University of Sussex), and the Brighton Museum.’
I was most intrigued with what Pawel Leszkowicz had to say about queer art being accepted now, and that it’s ‘been done’, so in the UK it ends up shrinking out of view again. And that in Eastern Europe for example it is still too dangerous and that they should wait to exhibit works dealing with themes. He then went on to say that we are either in a state of thinking that it is ‘too late, too boring, or too early and too risky.’
Michael Petry spoke about the fact that prejudice has not gone away, and that at the exhibition Hidden Histories – The 20th Century Male, they were asked to remove a piece of work which was made up of sweets as it would be seen as a pedophilic way of luring children in. Even when it was explained that the sculpture was made up the artist’s dead lover’s weight in sweets the piece was still banned.
Petry also had an interesting point about how the artist has the right to be stupid but the institution does not. His example was of The Art Guys who married a plant as a perhaps homophobic response to gay marriage, which was then purchased and added to the permanent collection of The Menil Collection.
This reminded me of a very recent article in The Guardian about two t’shirts that Topshop was forced to remove from their shelves after complaints of sexism. I completely agree with Petry in this example as these sorts of slogans on t shirts are common, but by putting them into a large establishment it then allows a wider audience to purchase them without even thinking.
What do you think of the shirts or about prejudice in general? Any thoughts welcome!