“To grow ourselves a new body. To give our body their voice back, with a practice of pleasure; to practice growing a body as one would grow a plant; a utopian body; a connected body; an anarchic body….with a brain that melted down to the flesh, the blood, the bones, the guts, the skin…a body in pleasure with eyes that see without naming, they see without knowing…” luciana achugar from OTRO TEATRO
photo credit: Ruby Washington/The New York Times
Witch Craft: to cast a spell through repetition, to find power in the mystery, to call for the unknown, to invite chaos, to get lost, to activate the atmosphere, to cause it to swell, heave, bellow and crack open. We do this in our own rooms, in the woods, by the river, and in a veiled way, when dancing at a club or the back of the bar. But do we do this on a stage? Do we do this behind a podium?
At an Alice Notley reading I attended six years ago, this crazy thing happened. I felt this vibration begin to well up in my throat. It continued to take shape against all the walls of my throat and neck, up through the back of my head and buzzed through my jawbones and then into my eye sockets. She kept reading, though I don’t remember what. I was reading In The Pines then, but was she reading from it? Was she reading from The Descent of Alette? I remember her voice being low.
“except under” “this shawl” “I can have” “this place” “I don’t want you” “Don’t want it” “Please don’t” “give me anything” “Money, clothes…ideas”
…”Under my shawl” “I try to be, I” “am” “another world” “a woman’s world–“Why I may be” “the only one” “the first one”…
photo credit: Ian Douglas
It was the Summer after the one when I learned of telling the bees. It is that custom where when someone in the family dies, the bees are told the name of the deceased and a black cloth is draped over the hive. I had written then:
Drone in larynx, flayed thryroid
Rotten esophageal swell, STUNG
But a year later, it was happening. To me or within me. Through Notley, or just by coincidence, through her presence. Something somatic. Something slightly dangerous. A transmission? Magic.
The repetition of that vibration causing a swell up and into my mouth.
Recently, I had another reaction. It was in a theater. It was luciana achugar’s OTRO TEATRO; her endless turning, her chanting, turning in one direction and then another, the relentless phrase that was not a phrase that was a ritual that was a spell. It was not about showing me anything.
The theater was black, her cloak was black, and she heaved and shifted and turned. Still there are moments; when I am walking up the stairs to my apartment, when I am turning a corner toward the subway in the wind, when I am staring at the studio walls, I can hear her. Her voice made a space inside me.
photo credit: Ian Douglas
This chanting took shape over the course of an hour. Performers writhed and moaned in the audience, and began to come onto the stage. The bodies multiplied. She remained singular until the bodies formed a swarm that took over the entire room: stage, walls, chairs, stairs, every surface. I was covered in their sounds, their scents, the sight of their flesh.
And I grew beneath these bodies as I watched. Another time took shape, a time that we were making up together. There was no other time.
I watched all the bodies and became all the bodies.
Who talks about being in the audience as a body, who talks about becoming the body one sees? How do you review a body you’ve become? What is the weight of defining the body that performs and the body that observes?
After recording my notes in last month’s post, I began to reflect on the impact that curator, Amanda Cachia’s lecture had on me. I began reading Alison Kafer’s theoretical work. In Feminist, Queer, Crip she quotes queer theorist Jasbir Puar;
“categories–race, gender, and sexuality…are considered events, actions and encounters between bodies rather than as simply entities and attributes of subjects.”
To imagine identity as an event comes close to this experience. But then to imagine the body as an event. To imagine that the person is not the attribute and the body is not the thing, is then to encounter the person as an event and the body as an experience.
But then to think about time differently. To go toward the slippage from one kind of time into another. OTRO TEATRO was three hours long, but it felt to me like no time. It was ritual time. It was a suspension of that other time, the schedule.
I kept thinking of Cachia’s “Performing Crip Time,” and whether the suspension of time, the slippage, can be considered to be part of this sense. If the other is the event and difference is an experience, than time itself shifts. In Kafer’s words, “rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.”
Maybe it’s a leap to view OTRO TEATRO through the lens of crip time. The bodies onstage were performing a relentless choreography that assumed a stamina and ability, although there were other participants not trained in dance. At one point, the artist, Michael Mahalchik, a long time collaborator with achugar, took off his shirt to writhe his luscious torso. But questioning this one aspect of difference does not detract from the overwhelming permission I felt.
It was that permission that stayed with me long after the performance. It was an experience of another time with other bodies, it was an experience of a space that held all the bodies, and it was also a mass revolt. As moans developed into wails and cries, performers banged on the walls and the hardware of the theater, these sounds growing into a rhythmic pulsing that enveloped the audience. It was our task to be in this together, to allow ourselves to be overcome, and to surrender to sensation.
photo credit: Alice Gebura
There is a truth there that holds for many bodies, that somehow the strength to continue and to endure, is not separate from the joy of sensing, feeling and being. Pain is something we see as terrible. We seek to avoid it, but it is also our foothold on this earth, and the body evidence of that struggle. Pleasure as, “a connected body; an anarchic body…” “with eyes that see without naming,” is less about bliss as it is about embodied revolt.
– MARISSA PEREL
Marissa Perel is a Brooklyn based artist and writer. Her working method is interdisciplinary and includes performance, installation, video, text, collaboration and curating. Her work has been widely shown in New York and abroad, and her criticism has been published on many on-line platforms. She originated the column, Gimme Shelter: Performance Now on the Art21 blog, and was an editor of Critical Correspondence, the on-line dance and performance journal of Movement Research. She has contributed to the Performance Club, Bomblog, Bad At Sports, and Tarpaulin Sky, among others. www.marissaperel.com
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