Rachel lois Clapham Visions of Excess: Prelude #1

Visions of Excess is curated by Ron Athey and Lee Adams. The event stages 12 hours of intense gestures, images and performances on the subject of death, eroticism and the forbidden.

Overspill: Visions of Excess is a collaborative durational writing event initiated by Overspill writers Alex Eisenberg and Rachel Lois Clapham. It is a sympathetic critical response to Visions of Excess and will involve 12 hours of live writing in the Shunt Vaults, including dialogue from audience members and artists. The writing will be posted online during the event.

In advance of the event, Rachel Lois muses on different aspects of explicit live performance: the first of which is porosity, or the body without limits. The second prelude is the contract between audience and performer in explicit performance.


Prelude #1: Porosity

“I began writing this book by trying to consider the materiality of the body only to find that the thought of materiality invariably moved me into other domains. I tried to discipline myself to stay on the subject, but found that I could not fix bodies as simple objects of thought. Not only did bodies tend to indicate a world beyond themselves but this movement beyond their own boundaries, a movement of boundary itself, appeared to be quite central to what bodies ‘are’

Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: on the discursive limits of Sex. Routledge, 1993 p ix

We are always told as small children not to put things in our ears, nose, mouth - and no doubt arse too, depending on how much of an adventurous child you were. Why is this? Well for one, it could be dangerous. ‘Things’ could get stuck, get lodged where they should not be. Our orifices were not made to house ‘foreign’ objects. We would need special equipment to fish them out. It would be stressful. There is a hygiene element too - things from the outside, the exterior, are dirty, you don’t know where they’ve been. These germs, on their journey into your interior, will infect, germinate, breed and transform to make your - previously clean and germ free - insides their own. When things from the outside are put (because they never get there naturally) inside, they threaten your health, your very mortality. Then there is the sex aspect. The Male/Female dynamic, or male protrusions, female holes. One biologically designed for the other in sanctioned one way re-productive traffic. Protrusions put inside any other hole are violations, foreign bodies, dirty, extraneous, dangerous and generally of the above order of ‘things’; unclean, not a natural fit, they will not yield the good results.

This de-lineation and binarising of our body’s inside/outside, and the correct flow of ‘things’ into, across and beyond the body’s established edges, speaks of how our bodies are an ongoing battleground. The body, its materiality, secretions and excretions are centre stage in an ideological war that is continually policed in our own homes, schools and places of worship - be they galleries, churches, nightclubs or football stadiums. What is it about the potential porosity of the body that might be threatening for the very conditions of being a healthy, socially functioning human being? What really is at stake when the alleged hermetically sealed body is transgressed?

These questions cut to the quick of explicit performance, whether it involves mutilation, cutting, sex acts, faeces or other excreta. Such work is with and of the porous body – it uses it publicly, rather than talking or reading about it or watching it on film. In doing so, it performs embodied thinking, a form of action research that does not pertain to a removed position of critical distance, but one that nevertheless rigorously explores the psychology, biology and sexuality of what might be considered intimate, sexual or extreme. Of course, explicit performance is also just about engaging in and watching sex in all its different forms. However, the distinction between gratuitous public sex and explicit performance is that desire, voyeurism and climax – whether of the artist or audience - are all under scrutiny. Sexual pleasure (or pain) is critical fall-out, not just the endpoint or by-product of the explicitness itself.

Sat here, pondering the onset of the debauched marathon into the forbidden that is Visions, it seems to me that to explore explicit performance – whether as audience member or performer - is to open yourself up intellectually, emotionally and physically to the full potential of the body without limits, to a less binarized, more liminal, flow of information and things into, from and of the body. It is to go some way to denying the institutions that would make the body a simple object of thought or singular entity; that would seal it, police it and place it under royal guard. To experience such work together in the moment of performance is to enter into how and why we might need to perform – and write - against the demarcation of bodily terrains, and to (re)articulate the body as porous, mutual or multiple.

Rachel Lois Clapham is a writer, curator and co-director of Open Dialogues.

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