Mes absences sont du sentiment
- “Christine” – Christine & the Queens
Multidisciplinary artist LNI’s Le Baiser de la pute/Kiss of the whore performance piece, which I experienced at FRASQ#2 performance art program last summer at the Générateur de Gentilly, is a good illustration of how a performance piece can impose itself as any other work of art can: through a combination of right theme, right action, right time, right place.
As a person who can’t, or won’t, sit peacefully at home – I have many brothers and sisters in this family I think – it might be said of us that we liked LNI’s piece because it gave us something to do in the evening. Or because we are ferocious. Or because I’m a dirty old man. Or because Karine is a cougar.
True enough in one respect. If not gadding the evening away out and about, I lie restless and disgruntled on the couch. True, she busies herself, furious, damn her. I furiously jiggle my legs more than usual as she works out her désoeuvrement by swiping at stuff with a rag dangling from the tips of her long, dry, strong, sharply nailed, fingers, what she calls “tidying” but is really self-medication.
Poor woman, brought up girl.
And my désoeuvrement does not cry out to her, “Be still thou unquiet heart!” seize and plunge those long, hard fingers into my raging flesh.
Instead, brought up boy, poor man, my mind’s eye begins contemplating in the smear of unwashed windows the heavier fecal matter of what’s left of our nasty, short and brutish lives as they sink toward the unclean bottom of this overheated, under-oxygenated gutter we absurdly call a life.
In such circumstances, it is far, far better to take each other by the hand and boldly venture into the world of performance art. Is it not?
Unstill lives apart, the whole truth is that – my girl and me – we like performance art because a one-time live performance like LNI’s Le Baiser has the same potential esthetic depth as Tristan and Isolde or The Nightwatch.
Deliberately not hemmed in by a lot of conventional or customary constraints, as are more formal modern and contemporary genres, live performance art is always a lot more accessible, which is one of the reasons why I suppose it’s developed so much over the last 50 years or so.
The uniqueness inherent in the ephemerality of live performance generally – Tristan or Le Baiser and especially “performance art” – “events”, “happenings” and “situations”, indeed, any un-nameable, bound-and-determined Queen-Elizabeth look-alike setting fire to a brace of milk-fed pink kittens – lends all performance, including “performance art” intrinsic value.
But the particular value of performance art is not just in its uniqueness but also its performance: Tatsachen (“fact” in German) is “done stuff”. Tatsachen in the sense of bread and wine at mass as blood and flesh in life, a unique thing made of, in and by the rightness of a moment.
So what about Miss LNI’s Le Baiser? How is it Tatsachen?
We might have satisfied ourselves, Karine and I, with a good laugh, but couldn’t. That’s already a great deal.
After all, what self-respecting disabused Catholic is not a sucker for silly things like an over-breasted Virgin Mary soliciting kisses, which is, at root, the premise for Le Baiser de la pute/Kiss of the whore? Isn’t it?
Maybe not. It may be that neither performer nor other observers could have the same consciousness or have had the same temptation as me and my girl.
While still very much in combat mode and ferocious enough for six, my girl and me were educated in another world as christians by people who were “born christians”. US politics notwithstanding, most people nowadays are not christian in this old sense as you’d notice, even when they claim to be.
This non-christianism implies that Le Baiser is post-christian or unreligious interpretation of essentially christian iconography and that we can’t interpret Miss LNI’s christian symbolism in the same light as we would, say, the painter Francis Bacon’s. For the unreligious, blasphemy or religious parody has little meaning. Perceived, these might even be seen as offensively attacking minority beliefs.
So, LNI’s well-thought-out scenography and scenario, subtle costuming, thespian gravity and pace that enables to project the heart and soul of one of those Catholic Virgin Mother devotional cards may have no religious content whatsoever.
But, whether her perspective is post-christian or not, by performing over better than three hours, and never, ever, slipping into any other mode than iconic – LNI managed to put in question the sense of the Mother-Whore-Virgin trinity. So, Tatsachen.
LNI’s performance – above and beyond whatever her intention or assumptions are – was to manifest the Mother-Whore-Virgin trinity as étrangeté. As étrangeté the performance pushed us past our usual appreciation and forced our brains think about the strangeness of these supposed female social/gender roles (associations? permutations? conditions? statuses? situations?).
After, my girl and I walked out into the evening feeling that we don’t actually have any emotional or intellectual skin in it, the Mother-Whore-Virgin stuff, I mean. Because it is unimportant to our lives, we just accept that there are such female “Ur-roles” or “archetypes”, that there really is a “Trinity of femaleness”, that there is some link between three archetypes. But it doesn’t matter.
On the other hand, this female trinity, these three female roles, are strange, are they not?
Beyond an organization such as Christianity’s power to impose the rhetorical structure of its beliefs, does it, has it, could such imagery have ever spoken to, of, about human femaleness at all? Did it ever even refer to anything at all outside christian belief structure?
Put aside personal discontents and troubles that might be due to problematic psychic or organic programming systems and I, personally, have and Karine, personally, has never linked “Mother,Whore,Virgin” without some sort of prompting to imply that it had some fundamental psychic importance. We asked each other as we waited for the bus. Instead of smoking.
Also, left to herself, my girl told me, without prompting, that she might reference, then link, something like “Woman-Mother-Girl” as life-steps, like “Man-Father-Boy”, descriptive of situation, but by no means prescriptive of condition or role. Me, neither.
We don’t think we are any more alone in our reflections than we are on public transportation, either.
In pornography, which is mostly all about what males want to see, and to which my girl is indifferent, you’d think some sort of Mother-Whore-Virgin sweat would show up if it had even minimal draw value. But it doesn’t seem to.
As far as we can tell, men mostly like visualizing every type of penetration and its foreplay in every possible pose, moment, place and social role – not different, except in respect to anatomy, when it comes to male-male sex (which my girl, rather disconcertingly, seems to like out of the corner of her eye) or even when it comes to imagining female-female sex.
Step- mothers, fathers, daughters and sons figure a lot, reflecting social facts, and I think “cougar” – sexually aggressive mature females – has replaced “whore” in the popular imagination except as erotic insult, “Mother” (MILF) or “virgin” are age categories more than anything else, like “teen” or “mature”. So.
This Mother-Whore-Virgin stuff is strange, just as LNI’s performance shows.
As we changed to the metro at Porte d’Italie, Karine and I concluded that unless somebody tells you to believe there’s anything humanly fundamental in “Mother-Whore-Virgin”, anything beyond the rhetorical expression of the peculiar sexual beliefs of a religion there, there isn’t.
Bravo to LNI for the perspective altering Tatsachen …