8 Propositions for Islands // Part 3: Queer Performance as Archipelago

Kate Britton

Queer performance is an archipelago.

As part of the 2014 Mardi Gras Performance Space presented Day For Night, a glittering array of performances that shared a queer aesthetic, albeit diversely manifested. What struck one upon first entering was the staging. Rather than any central stage or performance area, artists were dispersed haphazardly around a darkened room.

As each performance commenced, the lights fell on the previous and illuminated the new. Audiences moved freely through the space to encounter the events as they wished – near or from afar, as they happen or furtively, as performers ready themselves before they began. Process is constantly exposed in the semi-light. Once inside the darkness, there was no indication of what may happen next. Nor was there clear distinction between performance space and audience space.

The performative spaces had become liquid. Each performance was an island, audiences moving between them like water. It was queer performance par excellence – performance become archipelago. Bodies brought into proximity but not into narrative; contradictory bodies. At one stage the lights come up on Martin Del Amo, a dancer. He is atop a low circular plinth, rising from a confused heap to flail aimlessly yet beautifully; chaos and total control. Queer performance is contradictory.

Later on the lights rise on a long gold table setting. At each end of the vast empty table sit performers Penelope Benton and Alexandra Clapham, dressed in period costume and frozen in a tableau vivant. They sit in silence, waiting perhaps for the sound of a huge confetti cannon, which would shower the table in pink paper like leaves in Autumn. Queer performance is lonely; a vast still silent expanse buried beneath a flash of colour and showmanship.

The beginning and end of each day was marked by Frances Barrett’s Flagging with Samuel Bruce. Dressed in leathers, the performer marched from one end of a path to the other, stopping to crate signals with two flags. Flagging refers to hanky-code, a queer code to signal desire. Each action triggers a sound, and thus Barrett’s desiring-movements compose a soundscape. Queer performance is coded; laid under and within hetero-normative tropes. Queer performance is desiring. Queer performance is fluid – movements become sound; flags become seductions.

As each work rises out of the darkness it contributes to a mapping of queer performance, an archipelago in which the audience is the ocean, lapping at the performance space and stripping it back with each motion. Queer performance forms clusters like islands – contradictory; lonely; operating under codes; subversive; fluid and desiring. The third proposition is expansive – the archipelago as queer curatorial model.

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