Sweat on the Dance Floor


Luke Letourneau

 

Hissy Fit, Sperminator, 2016. Live performance for ‘After pARTY’ at Freda’s, 1st June, 2016. Photo by Liz Ham. Courtesy the artist.

Hissy Fit, Sperminator, 2016. Live performance for ‘After pARTY’ at Freda’s, 1st June, 2016. Photo by Liz Ham. Courtesy the artist.

 

Audiences (carded, 18 years old and over only) are entering what is advertised and set up as a party. It is nighttime and this is the June 2016 edition of ‘After pARTY’ at Freda’s.[1] As you make your way through the doors you are met by the throbbing house beat that is the soundtrack to the rave performance Sperminator by Hissy Fit (Jade Muratore, Emily O’Connor and Nat Randall). The collective performs for 90 minutes and often adopt the machismo dance tropes of rave culture. The event’s guest curators have programmed a series of performances that will take place across the evening, but this is a party, so there is an assumption that you will dance; be prepared to sweat. Disappear into the crowd with Hissy Fit and lose yourself.

Now it is daytime at Kudos Gallery, which is free and open to the public during regular gallery hours.[2] The exhibition on display is ‘Shallow Kids presents: Klub Kids’, by the artist collective Shallow Kids (Clare Powell and Mark Mailler). The centrepiece is a 40-minute video work, *3 Strike City*, which follows the artists as they posture as their Klub Kid personas, roam city streets eating pizza, and dance together in near empty clubs. Unlike Hissy Fit’s rave, here in the Shallow Kids’ investigation of club culture the music is quieter and the distribution of natural light greater – this feels closer to a traditional viewing of contemporary art.

 

Shallow Kids, Klub Aesthetics, 2016. Costume of found and made objects. From the exhibition ‘Shallow Kids Presents: Klub Kids’ at Kudos Gallery. Photo by Gavin Pili and Zoe May. Courtesy the artist.

Shallow Kids, Klub Aesthetics, 2016. Costume of found and made objects. From the exhibition ‘Shallow Kids Presents: Klub Kids’ at Kudos Gallery. Photo by Gavin Pili and Zoe May. Courtesy the artist.

 

While Hissy Fit transform their space into a party, Shallow Kids are always on a journey towards it. But for both collectives, the object depicted is the party and its culture. The party is rhizomatic; it is a scene socially and collectively activated, which sites, patrons, and producers all make together. Seeing the party is just one aspect of it. For the party to be depicted one must reproduce the elements that make the party; one must reproduce the scene. For Hissy Fit and Shallow Kids, central to reproducing the party scene has been the reconstruction of their space, so that the audience is invited to make the scene together with them. To understand how both of these artists reproduce the party scene I will interrogate the ways the artists embody a living history of the scene and how they implicate the audience’s body.

Clubs are relational spaces. Because of this, clubs and their parties have been a particularly important environment for queer communities. Through gender and queer theorist J. Jack Halberstam, I understand queer to be a relational conjunction rather than a fixed identity category; queer moves. [3] Halberstam’s ‘queer’ is explored as a way of life that rejects being restricted to hetero-mainstream expectations and experiences, and as such is productive of subcultural life/worlds which exist alongside and outside of the mainstream. Importantly, this understanding of queer is explicitly temporal; queer is not simply pre-existing, but rather must be experienced. A queer experience therefore points towards potentiality and as such the future. A queer temporality is the result of a negotiation (in space and time), which embraces both the immediate and the evolving.

Understanding queer as non-binding and evolving returns me to the paradox of Hissy Fit and Shallow Kids depicting the party – how is depicting the party ever not against its very nature to be always coming into being? I would argue that neither of these two artist collectives are presenting a representation of the party. Instead, both collectives are re-producing the dynamics of the scene.  

The urban studies researcher Pepper G. Glass defines a scene as an act of locating; specific times and spaces are made identifiable through the way a scene’s collective participants connect with each other.[4] It is in the way that the collective performs towards and generates its set of intercommunicated parameters that scene is embodied. For Hissy Fit and Shallow Kids, it is the art scene that provides an avenue for themselves and their audience to see and be seen on the scene. This notion of being both on display and a participant is central to the queer party scene. Hissy Fit and Shallow Kids exhibit themselves as a part of a scene; for Hissy Fit that is the rave scene, and for Shallow Kids it is more generally the Sydney club scene. In both their works, not only are the dynamics of those scenes displayed through the artist’s performances, but they are also embodied by the audience’s negotiation of the exhibition sites. The artist’s performances are invitations to step within the parameters of their scene, and for the audience to be implicated within it.

How Hissy Fit and Shallow Kids re-produce the dynamics of the scene is very different. They are literally day and night. Not only are the artist collectives articulating very different attitudes towards their scene but they are also presenting their work via very different kinds of sites. To understand these differences, I will outline how the works ask audiences to view and embody the scene and what this embodiment signals. In the following sections I will focus specifically on the sweating audience body, and on how its presence (and absences) allows for the scene to be embodied and ultimately re-produced.

Wet (Night)

Hissy Fit, Sperminator, 2016. Live performance for ‘After pARTY’ at Freda’s, 1st June, 2016. Photo by Liz Ham. Courtesy the artist.

Hissy Fit, Sperminator, 2016. Live performance for ‘After pARTY’ at Freda’s, 1st June, 2016. Photo by Liz Ham. Courtesy the artist.

 

The music is loud. Hissy Fit, in their ghost-white tracksuits and icy blue contact lenses are raving on the stage. They are performing their work Sperminator as part of an evening guest-curated by the artist collective 110% for Freda’s ‘After pARTY’. ‘After pARTY’ is advertised as the after party of the various exhibition openings in Sydney this Wednesday night. The event is held monthly and often commissions early career artists to create a performance for the party. 110% roam through the crowd across the evening and L’Oasis perform a DJ set after Sperminator. The patrons at Freda’s right now are people who have come straight from an opening and people who are just coming to a bar for a drink. Why they are here doesn’t matter, right now they are all here together and it is time to dance. His body is sweating. Her body is sweating. Their body is sweating. The affective potentialities of the space are written on the body through sweat.

Sweat is a bodily fluid that can lead to feeling a sense of shame or disgust in certain public spaces. In his interviews with young women in Wollongong, geographer Gordon Waitt interrogates ways in which sweating is negotiated in daily life.[5] In these interviews, the materiality of sweat is shown to play a role in separating certain experiences from everyday life. In particular, being in a space where it is acceptable for other bodies to be sweating helps individuals to achieve a release. Waitt finds that for his research participants an environment of sweat and sweatiness facilitates a sense of abandonment and/or togetherness. Such a space, that facilitates an acceptance of the materiality of sweat, is a release from everyday normative experience. A dance party, with its invitation to sweat as a collective is then an embodied queer temporality that exists counter to the logics of everyday normative space and time.

Sweating at the dance party activates the queer body. The body is behaving in accordance with the cues that frame the space. Hissy Fit re-produce the party by implicating their audience as a patron of it. The artists’ piggy-back the Sydney art scene to provide an entry-point to dance on the party scene. If you are at Freda’s that night you are on the party scene. The sense of abandon and togetherness that sweating provides in a collective space is a force that implicates the body in the collective experience. In Hissy Fit’s rave, the party scene is activated through the audience’s embodiment of the space. Hissy Fit are sweating, the audience is sweating, they are all together in this rave; they have all made it together.

In embodying the scene through rave, what the patrons and Hissy Fit create together becomes a critique of the gendered and violent nature traditionally inherent in rave culture. In their ghost-white tracksuits and icy blue contact lenses, Hissy Fit perform a series of aggressive dance moves synonymous with rave culture. The performers repeat the same move to exhaustion before moving onto the next. The movements, heavily focused on the fists and the elbows, becomes ritualistic; as though rites of passage in the rave. The music the artists perform to is similarly masculine and aggressive in intent. The songs are largely those popular on the scene in the eighties and nineties, which seem to bait patrons into feelings of blissful nostalgia before their eventual confrontation with these older cultural products that haven’t aged particularly well. Amplifying these feelings, Hissy Fit spell out, through a video projection, lyrics that include phrases such as ‘no women allowed’ and ‘suck my dick’ amongst them.

Whether you agree with the sentiments underpinning rave or the artist’s critique of it, it cannot be ignored that you participated; the proof of it is on your skin. By implicating the audience’s body the artists have provoked them to respond. Through this re-production of the scene the artists have provided their audience/fellow ravers an avenue to acknowledge and experience rave culture. In seeing and experiencing the rave, through Sperminator, you are provided an option for how to see and respond to its culture should you find yourself on the scene again.

 

Dry (Day)

Shallow Kids, *3 Strike City* (still), 2016. 48:38 Digital Video. Audio remixed from Rohan’s I’Oasid mix 2016. From the exhibition ‘Shallow Kids Presents: Klub Kids’ at Kudos Gallery. Photo by Gavin Pili and Zoe May. Courtesy the artist.

Shallow Kids, *3 Strike City* (still), 2016. 48:38 Digital Video. Audio remixed from Rohan’s I’Oasid mix 2016. From the exhibition ‘Shallow Kids Presents: Klub Kids’ at Kudos Gallery. Photo by Gavin Pili and Zoe May. Courtesy the artist.

 

While Hissy Fit display the scene and invite you to embody it at the same time, Shallow Kids compartmentalise the two modes of experience. ‘Shallow Kids presents: Klub Kids’ is an exhibition of video and installation works that only once – during the exhibition opening – devolves into an artist-let dance party. Hissy Fit’s work is a party on the exhibition opening night circuit, while the exhibition ‘Shallow Kids presents: Klub Kids’ is just that – an exhibition. During the day, audiences adopt behaviour suited to a contemplative viewing experience. Attending the exhibition, you do not physically enact a dance party, however your negotiation of the space is still a queer embodiment of scene.

This exhibition is in part a product of, and a response to, a Sydney where the accessibility of club culture and its ability to flourish is increasingly restricted by the 1:30am lock-out laws.[6] In ‘Shallow Kids presents: Klub Kids’ the artists are always preparing for the party. The works in the exhibition display the costumes, the mise en scène, and the images of the people and sounds that make the party scene. What the exhibition is in search of is the club; a site where the party can happen. At the one point on opening night when a party is initiated – like a flash-mob by the artists – the atmosphere is awkward. A party was never advertised and when the artists attempt to bring it on, it is mostly just viewed. There is participation but people didn’t come to dance, so a lot of them don’t, instead they watch the performance.

As is evident in Hissy Fit’s Sperminator, for a scene to be reproduced it needs to be seen and experienced by passers-by and deep enthusiasts alike. While Sperminator critiques the party scene from inside a party, the Shallow Kids’ exhibition critiques the scene as one it perceives to be disappearing. Shallow Kids appear to test out the gallery as a new club site but this fails. This process of acting out and searching for the club is reiterated in the video *3 Strike City*, in which the Shallow Kids follow the route of the party; they prepare for it, and then they go to the club to arrive there. But the Sydney they move through no longer accommodates the party in the club. They tried to transform the gallery into a club but that didn’t seem to work. Instead of re-producing the party Shallow Kids are re-producing its dissolution.

The experience of this exhibition is not materialised on your body through sweat, yet this is still an embodiment of where the party is. Through their exhibition, the Shallow Kids have provided an exposure to the scene. The view of its current state is grim, however through the Shallow Kids the audience is provided some exposure to what the scene can mean to the people that make it. By allowing you to see the scene the Shallow Kids have given their audience a reason to want to re-produce the scene for themselves.   

From day to night, from Sperminator to ‘Shallow Kids presents: Klub Kids’, the audience’s body is implicated in a queer temporality by the people, the music, and the atmosphere of the party. The body’s materiality writes these spatial potentialities onto the skin. This embodiment, as both a participant abandoning their negotiation of normative time and as a spectator viewing others abandoning it, is an activation of the principle of scenes, which is to see and been seen by passers-by and deep enthusiasts alike. The scene re-production of Hissy Fit and Shallow Kids is not a blind repetition of the past or present; instead it is a recognition of the past and present as but one more potential for how to do and see a party. This becomes possible not only through documenting and appropriating but also through making, re-making and embodying scene. Celebrate the present scene you find and you might just extend it in ways as yet unimaginable.


 

[1] Freda’s is a bar with a mission to showcase emerging artists, both of the musical and visual variety. It is located in Chippendale, an inner-city suburb of Sydney, and is neighbored by a range of gallery spaces, which includes: White Rabbit, a gallery for 21st-century Chinese contemporary art owned by Judith Neilson; Pompom, a commercial gallery space; and, Wellington Street Projects, an artist-run gallery and residency space.

[2] Kudos Gallery is a University exhibition space run and funded by Arc @ UNSW Limited, which is the student organisation at the University of New South Wales. The gallery is located in Paddington, and is roughly 100 meters down the road from the UNSW Art and Design campus.

[3] J. Jack Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: NYU Press, 2005)

[4] Pepper Glass, “Doing Scene: Identity, Space, and the Interactional Accomplishment of Youth Culture,” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography  41.6 (2012) 695-716. Print.

[5] Gordon Waitt, “Bodies that sweat: the affective responses of young women in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia,” Gender, Place & Culture 21.6 (2014) 666-682. Print.

[6] Sydney lock-out laws, which were initiated by the O’Farrell government in February 2014 and have been continued by the Baird government, were introduced as a response to the increased attention given to reports of binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled violence in Kings Cross. The law stipulates a 1.30am lockout and 3am last drinks law in force across the new Sydney CBD Entertainment Precinct, which stretches from parts of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst to The Rocks, and from Kings Cross to Cockle Bay. As a consequence of these laws a string of high-profile clubs have ceased business and foot traffic in the areas has fallen.

Luke Letourneau is a writer and curator working in Sydney. He has curated exhibitions at Gaffa Gallery, UNSW Galleries, Firstdraft, Seventh Gallery, ARCHIVE_, 107 Projects...


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