Thursday, August 13, 2009

Performative Review of Athey's "Resonate, Obliterate" and Tolentino's "The Sky Remains the Same" (2008-09)

(Ron Athey and Julie Tolentino, Resonate Obliterate / The Sky Remains the Same, 2008-09)

Notes Toward a 'Queer Politics of Aesthetics'

… two naked bodies, at fist sitting up and then on all fours, “face” each other and perform, or, act, as it were, each other (but with molecular differences and slight delays: indeed, diffèrance). It is as if a string was attached to both bodies, and thus if one body moved its arm, then the other would (have to) do the same. These bodies (reciprocal bodies? no doubt volatile bodies!) in this performance, titled (in two) Self-Obliterate #1: Ecstatic and The Sky Remains the Same (2009), highlights that there are ties that bind us (whether we like it or not, and here, a bit too soon, I am surfacing a certain ethics—an ethical bond[-ing]—one may say an “erotic ethics”). And, these ties have the power to un-tie (un-do) us, as too the performance artists—completely. These bodies on display also don long, blond wigs, which the two respective bodies fiercely brush and tease: grooming gone mad, wild, frantic. So, two naked bodies—one “male” and the other “female”—are both in drag. I mean both bodies exaggerate gender with (and without) the wigs.

As the brushing of their wigs continues, blood begins to trickle down their scalps—like so many tears, but from the “wrong” ducts—and it mixes with the sweat from their foreheads. (I wonder: “Are these wigs stapled on? pinned on? What is causing the blood? How painful is this? Why do I feel the pain of the prick?” I am left without any answers, of course). In this space of the two bodies, I too become bound to them—as well as with the others in the room. We—I mean, this temporary “community” of “spectators”—are all twisted together and captivated. Indeed, these two bodies in this room that is a place “becoming space” for bodies “un-becoming”—or, what Deleuze and Guattari would call, “bodies without organs” (BwO), which is to say bodies that refuse and resist the proper (re-)presentation and conduct of a body within the social, and these two bodies deterritorialize the place-cum-space for “queer”.

This performance with these bodies have been burned into my retina and mind because, and this only one reason, they are exemplary of so many bodies throughout history that refuse the body as the temple of God: we are, in the words of Artuad, “done with the judgment of God” and “we” are done with “proper bodies”—molar bodies, systematized bodies, State Bodies. And, one line of thought (of flight), which I have to think about more critically, is that this performance is a living (though always already fleeting) manual of, what I call, a “queer aesthetics of existence”. Indeed, these bodies do not demand every body enact what is enacted on the “stage” that is precisely not one, but that bodies must refuse and resist the chronic and constant normalization of bodies in our current, as Deleuze has termed it, “control society”.

To start again, and for the first time …

I am still (then and now) looking at this performance (even as it looks at me), and I am still caught by it—as if by a thread, a string, a strand of blond hair that has forever pulled me into the disruptive power of this “un-becoming” performance that is drenched in revising Rancière a “queer politics of aesthetics”. Without a doubt, I am spellbound, enraptured by this “un-becoming” performance of bodies that shed blood, sweat, and tears and performed a displacement-reversal and a corrective where there are no (there never are) “active” and/or “passive” spectators—only (ever) “emancipated” ones. In other words, to be there, if you will, was to perform, enact a “queer politics of aesthetics” in our current “aesthetic regime”.

Furthermore, in this “queer-sexual-space” (to draw on a term by John Ricco and which I will return, eventually), all bodies were activated/agitated (like so many molecules) into the space of a “queer aesthetic regime” that refused all binaries (be they articulated by modernist or post-modernist theorists of art, politics, ethics, aesthetics, presence, and performance). Indeed, I, as “one” body among others, was intertwined into and onto the stage—with no proscenium. I (or as Monique Wittig would write “j/e”) was pulled and ran toward an enrapturous space of flesh that was/is a “singular multiplicity”. But, perhaps, I am failing to have this performance keep, if you will, its radicality, its un-becoming/s, its utter diffèrance …

I will start again, and for the first time …

In Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories, performance theorist and historian, Peggy Phelan states, “[w]riting about performance has been largely been dedicated to describing in exhaustive detail the mis-en-scène, the physical gestures, the voice, the score, the action of performance event.” She goes on to state, “The dedication [which the art historian and/or performance theorist and/or historian is an exemplary source of this affective drive] stems from the knowledge that the reader may not have seen the event and therefore the critic must record it. This urge to record has given rise to an odd situation in which some of the most radical and troubling art of our cultural moment has inspired some of the most conservative (and even reactionary) critical commentary. The desire to preserve and represent the performance event is a desire we should resist” (Phelan, 1997, 3). So how to write about a weekend of performances and artists’ conversations, which was curated by UC, Riverside’s professor Jennifer Doyle, titled “You Belong to Me: Art and the Ethics of Presence”. But, maybe the question to ask is “How to ‘un-write’ performance art and its aftermaths, its after-lives?” Or, maybe the question to be asked is “How to ‘allow’ the question to remain a question, which is to refuse and resist all answers?” Maybe the question to ask is “How was a world made, and in that making how was I (simultaneously) unmade?”

The weekend, February 20-21, 2009, of which I am writing, still in a hotel room in downtown Riverside, which took place in the “heart” of the one of the most conservative regions of Southern California—if not all of California—was a critically politico-aesthetic intervention, which resonated “queer”—or, better, surfaced “queer” in and around the city and the bodies. However “defined” for critical thought on this event, I do believe that what happened (one thing among others) is what Jacques Rancière has called “a redistribution of the sensible” that disrupts (or agitates) the “common of the community”. But, I would go further than Rancière, and taking the artists’ and Doyle’s cue, and call it “a redistribution of the sensible by way of queer disruptions, twists, and turns” that necessarily deforms the common that composes the so-called “community” as an ostensible whole. In fact the weekend showed—among many things—that any community is always already full of holes—indeed, there are only ever holes in whole. And it showed, it manifested, if only temporarily, what Eve Sedgwick has written “queer” can mean: “‘Queer’ is a continuing moment, movement, motive—recurrent, eddying, troublant. The word ‘queer’ itself means across—it comes from the Indo-European root –twerkw, which also yields the German quer (transverse), Latin torque (to twist), English athwart”. Indeed, the events of the evening were “a continuing moment, movement, motive—recurrent, eddying, troublant.” And, within the movement, “we” did “belong to me”—if this “me” is the “singular multiplicity” of a temporary assemblage of bodies and artists—often the two being the “same” in that a life and/as a body can be an art, and to use proper names, Julie Tolentino and Ron Athey, show(ed) us, or gestured toward, a “queer aesthetics of existence” that is never far from an ethics, an erotic ethics—given aesthetics is an ethics and a politics, but I will have to come back to all of this—not to mention the other “un-becoming” performances of the night.

I have to start again, and for the first time …