Overspill 2007- Rachel Lois- Kira O’Reilly 'Untitled (Syncope)'
Image: SPILL Festival presents Kira O'Reilly in 'Untitled'
From the far end of a row of old railway arches underneath London Bridge station a white shape looms slowly out of the darkness. It slowly moves towards us. We strain to see more clearly but the shape is only glimpsed occasionally when shafts of light fall through the gaps in the surrounding arches. Eventually I make out the back of a figure. It is Kira and she is completely naked except a pair of red shiny stilettos and a black feather headdress.
It takes at least 7 minutes for Kira to move from her end of the corridor to ours. Once she has arrived, smiling seductively, into our midst she singles out one unsuspecting member of the audience and leads him into the adjoining arch. We follow. From there, the audience witness several acts, including Kira gently self-cutting with a scalpel and stepping to a metronome beat in a variety of taut, automaton style movements whilst straining and teetering on her red high heels.
There are many visual signifiers embedded within Kira’s physical actions. The rigidity of her body and blank facial expression recall the military: be it the daily exercises of North Korean soldiers or the exacting motions of a 1970’s Russian gymnast. In addition, the strict rhythm set by the metronome emphasises the impossible task of the body inhabiting, but moreover keeping up with, todays technological pace. Light is also thoughtfully installed and used to great effect in ‘Untitled (Syncope)’, creating pronounced areas of darkness and invisibility under each arch into which Kira moves to signal the different parts of the performance. This ‘off stage’ facility heightens the contrast between Kira’s stilettoed robotics and the second part of the performance in which she emerges from the dark minus stilettos and headdress to complete a series of repeated and slower balancing acts. Yet despite these poetic distractions my thoughts return continually to Kira’s naked body.
The naked body is part and parcel and raison d’etre of performance art. Its use can be traced back in its various guises of ‘Body Art’ via women artists such as Hannah Wilke, Carolee Schneeman, Marina Abramovich and Annie Sprinkle, amongst others, and further back to the work of the 1960’s Viennese Actionists. But despite its familiarity within performance and live art circles the naked body is still a shock for most people-including me- to see. In the case of ‘Untitled (Syncope)’ the shock of Kira’s nakedness derives in part from the industrial architecture that surrounds her creamy white body; her nakedness is vulnerable and fragile within the harsh context of the abandoned warehouse space that is London Bridge Railway arches and every train that rumbles overhead threatens her soft flesh.
The other shock regarding the nakedness in ’Untitled (Syncope)’ is much more theoretical, albeit cultural. Kira’s use of red stilettos and 1930’s burlesque type headdress set her up as a sex object or pin up for the gaze of her male and female spectators alike. This presentation of the female body is far removed from many of the iconic performance documentation images of the 1970’s in which the necessarily overt feminist statements contain a more ‘nude’, natural and defiantly full body-haired woman. In contrast-and here I feel I break the taboo of Performance Art by detailing the performers nakedness- Kira’s pubic hair is shaved into a severe contemporary style, her underarm hair is removed and she wears red stilettos. In this way her body is more akin to pole dancing or porn. This is perhaps the salient point of ‘Untilted (Syncope)’; the difference between Feminism and the representation of female body, then and now.
It is important that Kira, both as artist/subject and object, is willingly and knowingly interpreted in this way, ie sexually. Her provocative smiles at close range with the audience confirm this knowledge. In addition, Kira overtly references her nakedness at one point in the performance by firmly clasping her front and back nether-regions and stalking dramatically off stage into the darkness as if suddenly aware for the first time of her own public and very sexual naked body.
The last line in the photocopy distributed at the performance asks ‘How to have a body, now?’ Kira seems to be dealing directly with this very question of (female) representation and thus it is important that ’Untitled (Syncope)’ is a work that grapples openly with the problematic of its own erotics.
Rachel Lois xx