The Dynamics of Desire by Rachel Lois Clapham

Tears of Eros

Created and performed by Carla Esperanza Tommasini

Live sound by Ootchio

Performed at Shunt Vaults 13 and 14 April as part of Triple Bill.

The slow sound of amplified breathing emanates through Shunt vaults. Then heavy, industrial sounding, non rhythmical music pulsates and shimmers through the audience’s collective body. At the far end of a metallic catwalk, a form is birthed out of the sound; the shape of a woman whose body is entirely gold. Over a period of several minutes, Carla Esperanza Tommasini gradually uncurls under the yellow lights and then tentatively makes her way up the catwalk. She looks directly at the audience but with a faraway look in her eyes. Her nipples and genitals sealed in gold latex, she moves slowly, stutteringly, touching herself with an air of curiosity, as if she has only just been beamed down into her gold-dipped body and is exploring it, and us, for the very first time.

Carla articulates this notion of splitting or distancing of her-self from her own body in various different poses over the course of the performance. At one point, she stands and stretches her mouth open wide with both hands as if she is trying to delve into the red interior depths of her body, or rip the flesh away in order to be free of its excess or abject burden. At another, she lies down facing forward, haunches raised with legs and arms splayed, managing to conjure an other-wordly image of herself as a spider with a large egg-sack. Throughout the piece, her penetrative stare and jerky hand movements continually follow the audience’s gaze back to her body as if experiencing herself through our eyes. Her gestures explore the ontology of the body-in-performance at the very moment it is looked at, or brought into being. It is a being that is desirous and desired, but moreover relational, a realisation of self through the other.

While Carla’s movements manage to express an apparent unease or disjunction from her own body, the gold paint, and latex sealed nipples and genitals, represent the gilded removal of her sexual organs, character and personality, thus further objectifying her body. Carla explores notions of sexual desire and the erotic through these specific stages of self-effacement or removal. It is an erotics sustained by the very distance established in and by Carla’s seemingly impenetrable, blemish free, hermetically sealed, metallic body.

The specific dynamics of desire that Tears of Eros articulates rejects the notion of a whole, embodied, essentialised subject in favour of a relational identity shaped by and through encountering another and their transformative gaze. The dynamics are vaguely Levinasian (Emmanuel Levinas), we see another and recognize ourselves as other to that person. It is an encounter in which desire always already plays a part- a desire to see and confirm oneself, one’s sexuality, mortality or the capacity to harm in relation to that other. It is an encounter that simultaneously manifests and tests a fragile social bond and performs alterity or difference. Tears of Eros holds up a set of reflective surfaces – both physical and philosophical - through which we can see this erotic phenomenology played out. Bounced off Carla’s metallic face and body, as well as in the reflections from the catwalk, we see the image of Carla justifying herself anew in her encounter with us, her gestures as performative of our desire. In this, she articulates herself and her body-in-performance as point of and for the discursive, and issues (moreover reflects) the call for us to respond.

Proximity plays a vital part in this game of desire. In the 1964 James Bond movie, Goldfinger, a dead woman is murdered - suffocated- by being painted entirely gold. The original advertisement poster for the movie shows a picture of Bond directly next to the murdered woman, who, once an object of Bond’s desire is now cold and gold, albeit glamorous, in death. The poster boldly states ‘everything he touches turns to excitement’. Also concerning fatal -golden- contact, it was the tortured Greek King Midas who would starve for turning his food into inedible lumps of gold, who lovingly touched his own daughter and turned her into a statue. This is the tantalising curse of the erotic - or the erotics of distance - which is based on the fetishized displacement or impossibility of touch; as soon as you get too close, it collapses or turns to stone. In contrast, Tears of Eros keeps us at bay and so explores the potential pleasures, or mini-deaths, of desire - and gold - from a distance.

Rachel Lois Clapham is Co-Director of Open Dialogues.

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