Kudos Live Vol. 4: Ritual Bodies
Thursday 20 September, 6 - 10:30pm, The Flinders Hotel
Artists: Radha La Bia, Māra Māyā Devi, Kirsten Packham, Em Size, Devon Mer, Jessica Fogarty.
DJs: Rydeen, Genergy.
Curated by Loc Nguyen.
Kudos Live Vol. 4: Ritual Bodies is an art party presenting performance-based works that materialise rituals and mythologies through the body.
The performances will expose the Flinders Hotel bar lounge as a space already pulsing with rituals and myth. The rituals of the body will come in contact with the rituals of the performance site to expose and subvert the assumptions of both. The boundaries between performer and audience will be dissolved and all of our stories, avatars and identities will meet and create one amorphous ritualistic performance.
First 75 Arc members receive 3 drink vouchers.
Kindly sponsored by Art & Design Student Council.
Em Size for Kudos Live Vol. 4: Ritual Bodies
tonight is cancelled, the performance is cancelled, my body is cancelled, this industry is cancelled
Unfortunately, this is not one of the most articulate, lyrical or well-researched things I’ve ever written. But there are things I want to start saying that I don’t quite know how to say yet, and which are hard to express and hard to explain and hard to even begin to contain in text. These things I want to talk about feel uncomfortable and difficult and, most of all, important – important in the sense that I don’t want to fuck this up or miscommunicate anything to you. I’ll try and speak as directly as I can.
In lieu of a performance, I want to briefly talk about what I won’t be performing tonight and why I won’t be performing tonight. Lately I feel like my career and my life has been carved out of negative space; what I make public, how I work and how I exist in the world often has less to do with what I want to do and more to do with what I’ve decided that I won’t do. I imagine many of you may have had or may be about to have careers that are, in part, defined by the process of defining what you will and will not do – for money, for your own mental health, for your artistic and political integrity, and so on.
I’m talking about my career at large instead of just this performance tonight because everything I experience in this world as a person and as a professional is part of a bigger life, a bigger career, and a bigger set of problems than just one one-off. The problem that I want to address right now is that my career to date has been much more about negotiating the labour conditions and political conditions around making and publishing or exhibiting my work, than it has been about actually making, publishing and exhibiting work.
Which is to say, the infrastructure around art determines what art is made and how it is received. The infrastructure around performance art determines what performance art is made and how it is received. I’m not performing tonight because the infrastructure to support the work that I want to make does not exist.
That’s not to say that I couldn’t make the art I want to anyway, while consciously working against and navigating inadequate systems. Many, many artists do this everyday. Not everyone chooses to, or is able to, have a politics of refusal. But I’m getting to a point where I’m realising that my politics isn’t (I feel like it can’t be!) masochistic. And after so many fucked up ‘work’ experiences to do with my body, my ‘identity’, my politics, and their high stakes intersections, I just wonder, why the fuck should I put myself through an underpaid, undervalued career of pushing shit uphill? Why the fuck should I endure the ritual shitness of using my body to make art to change the infrastructure of the art world, the infrastructures of seeing, and the infrastructures within which I am read and written into being? Who does that serve? What does that cost me? The infrastructure around art, spectatorship and their politics needs to change before I make the art that I want to make.
The infrastructure/s I’m talking about isn’t necessarily curators and venues – neither have affected my decision not to perform tonight. In this specific instance both have been supportive. The infrastructure around performance that I’m talking about is much bigger than that and it’s to do with patterns and behaviours of watching bodies, and patterns and behaviours of paying and positioning bodies. Broadly speaking it’s just lots of different dementors sucking your fucking soul out of you through your perpetually clenched sphincter. More specifically, the infrastructure that works against my work is toxic spectatorship, gazes, people feeling entitled to your body, people feeling entitled to your identity, people feeling entitled to your politics, people feeling entitled to your labour, people assuming that because they’re paying you in a chronically underpaid or not-paid industry that they can treat you (and your work which is your body, identity, politics, emotions, vulnerability and resilience) like a piece of shit commodity, and yes, a lot of it is just the commodification of identities and politics, a lot of it is the careful containment of anything actually radical or actually truly threatening to white supremacy, het-patriarchy, the ongoing occupation of this land and capitalism – and better yet the careful profiting off of critique as a way of deflating its social value while turning it into social, cultural and literal capital, a lot of it is art-at-night events like art bars and art parties and art cubes which perpetually recast and reinscribe certain bodies into marginality; a lot of it is the impossibility of working in the late night slots reserved for the ‘cool’ bodies that are forever gawked at outside of the gallery, and which are constantly given space in institutions only in the roles of entertainment, lurid spectacle, elevator music and/or ambiance, blah blah blah the greatest infrastructural demon of all is the fact that the people who feel infrastructural inequalities the most are the ones who constantly have to do the pedagogical labour of explaining, explaining, explaining what’s wrong. Privilege (which we all have in different measure) is the freedom to think about or act however you want because you don’t have to think about or act on what’s wrong.
What I was going to perform tonight was a strip tease; a work called Magic Dyke ***LIVE*** that imagines the requisite male stripper at hen’s nights as a dyke, transmasculine or butch sex symbol. I don’t need to tell you all my hopes and dreams for this work – what it was supposed to do, how it was supposed to make you feel, who it was made for. The point is that when you’re coping it from all angles in your actual life outside of the gallery, the last thing you need is to feel the fuckery you feel all the time, amplified, in that space. Artists working with high personal stakes should be getting extra support to express themselves, not an unending series of reasons to maybe quit the industry. There needs to be infrastructural change so that I can take my clothes off without feeling, in the audience’s gaze, the same carelessness and disregard for my welfare that I’ve felt when being outed, repeatedly misgendered, expected to hate myself, asked to give mp4 files of myself stripping to people for free, asked to write about how I feel the world compressing and crushing my autonomy and self-esteem for free, expected to not care when people knowingly and wilfully disregard my autonomy and wishes, etc. etc. etc. I could go on and on and on but the last thing I’m here to do tonight is to explain to you how this all feels and how everything I feel is starting to feel like the doubling and tripling up of personal and professional and personal-professional moments of hostility, self-effacement, anxiety, strategic denial, boycotting and hiding, fear, sadness, frustration and overwhelming disappointment in all the things that conspire to make simple things feel like impossibilities (simple things like being in my body or being in a room or being in a room full of people in my body or performing in a room full of people in my body). I’m not here to tell you exactly how this body and this life feels and how it feels to make work with (be hyper-public with) my body and my life. How could I be?
My refusal to explain in exact detail my body and my life and their relationship to my work and my inability to do my work is a decision partly born from the fact that it feels shit to have to focus on this kind of shit all the time, again and again and again. And that’s what so much of both my life and my practice and just being seen and interacted with feels like; my experience of queerness and trans-ness is a never-ending feeling of never getting to ask but always being prompted to answer; never just entering a room, but always being on the backfoot. I want to be careful in how I address that feeling as much as I can now. But my refusal to explain things in exhaustive detail also comes from the belief that explaining how this all feels to you feels both exhausting and futile. At the end of the day, if you don’t already get it there’s a good chance you’ll never get it. It’s impossible to understand how someone else’s body and someone else’s life feels.
But what I want and what I am starting to demand from infrastructural change is that people acknowledge that they don’t understand other people’s bodies and lives and to then act accordingly. Make concessions. Make change. Make things more bearable for people that feel the world and this particular industry and the particular problem of performing in and with certain bodies, unbearable. I want people to do what they can – sometimes more than what they think they can – to make impossible things more things possible. And I want people to understand that not performing tonight is not a boycott of art; it’s an invitation, an ask and maybe a demand that we actually engage with what art is, how it feels, why I’m ‘not working’ tonight and what isn’t working, at large.