Overspill 2007- Mary - Kira O’Reilly 'Syncope'

Kira O’Reilly walks towards us slowly, and backwards. We, the audience, have been herded through the vast, dark and damp vaults at Shunt to witness this mesmeric entrance.Kira is naked apart from red high heels and a black feathered headdress, like a showgirl.The lights emphasize the curves of her body as she emerges, cautiously, from the darkness.

As she gets nearer, we can see that we’re not the only people watching. The naked showgirl holds a mirror in front of her face so that she sees us approach just as we see her. She moves closer, the sound of her heels on the stone floor suddenly louder than the sound of other people breathing. And, when she’s close enough to touch, she gazes at each of us in turn through her mirror. We are finally confronted with the face behind the body.

The encounter is unsettling. Up to that point we were free to gaze at O’Reilly’s beautiful figure, but now it has been given agency – literally, a mind of its own. And having introduced the concept, O’Reilly spends the rest of the performance questioning who or what that agency means.

When she leads an audience member, by the hand, into the darker recesses of the vaults, we all follow. When she moves rapidly around the space we clamber after her and out of her way. When she disappears into darkness at the end of the performance, we are bereft for a moment, at a loss as to what to do. Clearly this body has power – we’re drawn to watching it move. And the allure is intended – framed in the showgirl costume and all the more erotic for its contrast to the grimy surroundings. But it doesn’t look as if these productions of the body stem from Kira O’Reilly herself. The heels and headdress are the traditional accessories of someone else’s (a paying customer’s) sexual desire, and even the way O’Reilly moves seems to be guided by a something separate. She changes location, for example, by placing both hands on one waist and dragging herself around. Her hands cast long shadows over her body and take her in ways she doesn’t seem to want to go – they don't look like they belong to her. At other times she moves her arms up and down like a puppet at the whim of a clumsy puppeteer, her eyes staring straight and stonily ahead. By keeping her face blank – the same face we saw eye us with weary suspicion at the beginning of the piece – O’Reilly takes on the function of a doll without any of the associated artifice. In other words, she tolerates the manipulation but she doesn’t play along.

But this is not a simple dramatisation of resistance. The hidden controller can never be named, so s/he can’t be rallied against and overturn. In any case, the piece suggests this control can’t be separated from the body it’s controlling.

The only acoustic accompaniment to O’Reilly’s performance is the strict metronome beat of a ticking clock, by which all her movements are timed. Is this the drumbeat of someone else’s time? Or is it O’Reilly’s own pulse, racing and slowing as she completes her routine? It doesn’t matter which it is, only that it governs how O’Reilly can move.

After a while, some audience members start moving to its rhythm as well – we’ve all internalised this discipline. This is the lasting impression that makes the piece so successful - the nagging feeling that we're all complicit, that perhaps we're all being manipulated. And the transposition of what's happening to the performer onto what's happening to us is emphasized, again, in O'Reilly's exit. She leaves the way she came in - but this time she's facing us. Slowly, elegantly, she fades into the darkness like a dream, or a thought from our own minds.

Mary Paterson

No comments:

Post a Comment