Mitch and Parry (Andrew Mitchelson and Owen Parry)
I Host You, Now Tonight, Let Me Show You How
Part 1 - I Host You
This catches me off guard…it’s in the foyer, the place we have become accustomed to waiting for performances to begin. First glance – a projected video is playing on the wall - two mouths are close together - you can’t tell the gender immediately but then the structure of the face and its hair follicles confirms this as two men, two boys.
They are very close and excreting saliva in tandem, together, letting it delicately drip out of their mouths and inextricably combine. The process has been slowed down, the video form allowing the shifting of time as I zoom into, perhaps, the most everyday, visible and public of the bodily fluids – spit - which is raised to the level of subject in this three part work. Spit - usually wiped away, expelled, or sometimes the cause for embarrassment, is presented to us here as curiously beautiful and as it is subjected to gravity, it falls between the mouths, off the screen, making a small pool (of water) on the floor below the projection - a trace of this intimate moment now intruding into the foyer, where we wait for the next performance to begin.
Part 2 – Now Tonight
Mitch and Parry are wearing white underpants and hoodies. There is something of (half naked) teenage youths about these men, boyish and cute – but their hoods are up and they seem to mean business. The situation is some sort of ‘face off’, but also, always teetering on the edge of an embrace, always trying to get close, as they stand with about a meter between them, eyeing each other up.
The first projectile spit: head being jerked forward to maximise distance and achieve a suitable trajectory and it does seem to be a blow, it has gone straight to the face and, being the first spit, there is ample saliva. This could get messy but what continues is a ‘spitting match’ where the rules are simple – I spit at you (give), you spit at me (receive) – we aim to spit at each other – we mostly go for exposed areas of skin.
In Now Tonight, the act of spitting at someone is removed from its usual place of insult by this game-like situation. I recall the earlier video remembering that I have already become accustomed to Mitch and Parry’s notion of saliva as a substance that has more potential than might at first be apparent – as a substance that, in its own paradoxical way, builds human relations. I am, however, distracted from musing by the reality of events, by what I am witnessing.
I can’t help thinking about what it feels like to be spat at, and in the face. And so, I think about whether I have ever been spat at (…no) and then I think about other things that might have been projected onto my face by someone else (…yes), and how that feels. This spitting then, momentarily becomes eroticized: spit = cum = piss = shit.
Head being jerked forward to maximise distance and achieve a suitable trajectory and, yes, it does seem to be a blow, it has gone straight to the face. There is no talking; here, connection is only via the act of spitting as the saliva becomes some sort of visible and material utterance, showing and leaving traces of communication – attempts to reach out to each other.
I begin to feel a certain weight that comes with duration, repetition and exhaustion of the body and as the event continues relentlessly, I become conscious of how it must feel to expel and receive such unusually large quantities of saliva. This unsettles, but also allows me a further investment in the individuals playing the game. There is both a confusion of repulsion and intrigue as the smell of drying saliva occasionally wafts across the room.
The minimal soundscape of this work is made up of the spitting noises from the ‘giver’ and noises sometimes let out by the ‘receiver’ as the spit lands on his face. However I can’t quite tell whether these are sounds of pain or pleasure, and it is within the territory of doubt that this work places itself – so that you can’t quite tell if it’s a fight or foreplay, whether you win or loose, if they are gay or straight, whether it’s love or hate. And in this hazy territory - this in between - we constantly, though subtly, negotiate the performance, witnessing this act played out, until at the end, and eventually, a resolution comes with a hug, and they leave the stage.
Part Three – Performance - Let Me Show You How
The last part of Mitch and Parry’s performance, Let Me Show You How, continues to push the instability invoked through their use of saliva/spit/spitting. Parry, still dressed in his hoodie and underpants holds Mitch who is naked, vulnerable and boyish. Parry’s hold is loving, caring and tender and Mitch’s naked (almost dead) body is surrendered to this. The two look like a Pietà. Of course, the religious image is undone - by these men, by these boys, by the spectators and, of course, by this spit.
However, whereas before we had witnessed only the expulsion of saliva from the body, here the process has a further stage. In part three the act of spitting becomes allied to that of rubbing in. As Parry spits gently onto Mitch’s smooth skin and rubs in his saliva it is, of course, absorbed into the body. This is an intrusion in proportion to spit’s banal status. It is also another gesture of exchange, another inextricable act of combination. And with this exchange comes the more functional gesture – ‘cleaning up’. But this is a ‘cleaning up’ with spit, a paradoxical purification process.
A live video feed of the event is simultaneously shown on a large screen at the back of the stage, as a lone and passive cameraman moves around, zooming in and out, suggests to us other angles from which to view the landscape of these bodies. Sometimes I can’t relate the two images (live and video) as I see seemingly abstracted human forms on the screen and sometimes, brightly lit, the image invokes the language and voyeurism of pornography. This negotiation between the live and mediatised, challenges our act of watching; it suggests and demonstrates the possibility for re-framing, a theme to which all three parts of the work have insistently alluded. It is also in this state of in-between that I find some room for myself as a spectator. There are no seats in this performance, I can wander through at my own pace. And so, I begin slowly to pull into focus the previous events, to build my own narrative of the time and by doing so become implicated in the making of the work.
In all three works Owen Parry and Andrew Mitchelson make attempts at intimacy, and spitting always comes between them and between us, resisting any straightforward relationship to this work. This intimacy is, however, always devoid of any explicit or erotic actions and instead, we are presented with banality - re-made, re-placed and as it is, this work begins to share with us a new logic of human exchange.
Alex Eisenberg is an artist making performance. He is helping to coordinate SPILL: Overspill over the course of the festival.