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Disidentification, Cuntfrontation, Performance Art (Soapbox Thursday)

“How do our own experiences slip out from under the frames we put around ourselves (and put on by others) in order to identify?”

The performance this week at Soapbox confronts identity: expanding, complex, messy, plural.

Boston-based Hayley Morgenstern and Creighton Baxter (quoted above) will perform It Might Get Better, a collaborative project “that incorporates both live performances and the aftermath through documentation.” Sarah Hill and Jessica Borusky, also coming down from Boston, will perform I’m Fine, a work which “is deeply concerned with moving the audience into a state of feeling, through anger on the part of the performer.” Recently relocated to Baltimore from Providence, Xavier Valentine will perform an untitled work.

“What will be framed, or validated as “performance art” is socially and culturally contingent,” Baxter tells me, “but the vein of performance that I might loosely align myself with is concerned with the limits of the body, these concerns are played out and explored through uses of performative repetition, endurance-based action/gesture, and duration.”

It Might Get Better is an ongoing project, see images from past performances here. Baxter and Morgenstern first performed it at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, then in June at the Lumen Festival in Staten Island, and again at Anthony Greaney Gallery in Boston.  

Morgenstern tells me, “It Might Get Better was initially constructed as a mode of disidentifactory engagement not just of pop music but also of its re-imagination through mainstream drag. The refusal of this drag is a denial to participate in its system of valuation based on exploitation. This drag is not about “real-ness” but the cumbersome, messy, and disorienting effects of drag. The performance is structured to continue, not just through its documentation, but also through its continual re-performances.” 

Baxter tells me, “The work Hayley and I have been making for the last year is in many ways a research project investigating the complicated fields of cultural identification and disidentification. What are the consequences of ‘coming out’ as an “I am”? How are these “I ams” we take up disrupted or cohered (at least in fantasy) through repetitious interpolations. How do our own experiences slip out from under the frames we put around ourselves (and put on by others) in order to identify? I think Hayley and I have used our performance It Might Get Better as a catalyzing (and crumbling) base to explore particular modes of queer feminist research and practice that is invested in theintersectionality and partial truths of subjective experiences in a post-stonewall/”It Gets Better” moment in our contemporary life in the United States.”

Influenced by strategies explored by José Esteban Muñoz in Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, Morgenstern and Baxter move beyond binary subversion. They work simultaneously within and against mainstream positions and operations of contemporary art and popular culture, to critique, confront, expose, celebrate, and deny. “Disidentification is…”making over”; it is the way a subject looks at an image that has been constructed to exploit and deny identity and instead finds pleasure, both erotic and self-affirming. Disidentification happens on the level of both production and reception.”

Baxter received his BFA from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston this June. “I am not sure if there was ever a starting moment for me in working with performance, rather it sneaked up behind me,” Baxter says. “I think I started framing my practice as ‘performance’ or ‘performative’ initially because it allowed me to confront (and avoid) my own anxieties about my body and subjectivity.”

Morgenstern came to SMFA for photography. Working primarily photographing herself, performance was a logical next step. “I became more interested in the process of creating the photograph, and the process that infolded between the clicks of the shutter.

“Performing enables me to enact a hyperbolical presentation of myself that is allowed to deconstruct over a period of time.  My performance works within the active engagement of “looking back”, a refusal to play the passive object; this refusal of the heteronormative male gaze is a repudiation of the shadow of compulsory heterosexuality. This is the gaze of cuntfrontation. Through my performances of femininity, I define and claim queer femme. Femme is the discerning performance of femininity that is raucous, and non-complacent to the stupefying force of normativity. By presenting myself this way I seek to underscore some of the inherent invisibility of queer femmes. By refusing to be a passive object I deflect the paralyzing trauma of the gaze, by simultaneously identifying and disidentifying with the various forms feminine beauty rituals enacted by both biological women and drag queens.”

Sarah Hill recently completed an MFA from SMFA. “I started my graduate career at SMFA as a painter. Moving here from Iowa I was already scared out of my mind, so I decided to take a the class that frightened me the most, which was performance. I had no idea what performance was or how to make a performance. Now, I am teaching as a post graduate fellow in the performance department at SMFA, funny how things work out.” Hill’s thesis Flesh Prison, “an aesthetic investigation of bodily imprisonment, and a shameless fascination with the abject” is going to be part of a show at Brooklyn’s Grace Exhibition Space next week, called Alpha: An Exploration of Masculinity Through Aesthetics, more info here. “Flesh Prison attempts to talk about the process of breaking down isolation in order to survive the trauma of day-to-day life. Filming each individual shot became a way for me to clean up the psychological mess on the inside of my own mind and body.”

Xavier Valentine recently moved to Baltimore from Providence, bringing an ongoing project The Erik Milian Corporation with him. “My work aims to explore, expose, calculate and synthesize these individual modalities of suffering into a palpable, but not necessarily palatable series of movements, arrests, and meters.”

Valentine sent me a quotation from Roland Barthes that resonates with all the performance at this month’s Soapbox:

“Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering.”

SOAPBOX, Thursday, October 25, 2012 8-10pm

SOAPBOX is a monthly performance art series at Hillyer Art Space. As a platform for performance, SOAPBOX increases exposure to this important yet underrepresented art form in DC. Always free, $5 suggested donation. Hillyer Art Space is conveniently located near Dupont Circle behind the Phillip’s Collection at 9 Hillyer Ct NW, DC.

First Posted on DC Performance Art

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Eames Armstrong is an interdisciplinary artist and curator. She is the founder and director of the free-form project-based arts initiative Aether Art Projects which emphasizes experimentation, performance, and collaboration through exhibitions, events, and DCperformanceart.tumblr, the only active blog dedicated to performance art in DC. Armstrong is the performance coordinator at Hillyer Art Space, where she programs Soapbox, a monthly performance art series. Eames received her BFA from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 2010 where she studied studio art, with emphasis on painting, writing, and performance. She currently lives in DC and works out of the 52 O Street Artist Studios.

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