26 March 2011

Why is it only for men?

I am currently working on a new one‐on‐one performance entitled Maybe if you choreograph me, you will feel better, commissioned by the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) for their upcoming (2011) one-­‐on-­‐one festival. The show is only open to male audience members. The idea for the show started as a joke one morning, when I told my now ex-­‐boyfriend to write me a choreography that I could perform for him, since he did not seem very keen on my improvisational lifestyle. I told him something along the lines of: "You know, you could just write me a choreography instead of firing directions at me. I will do it, wallah (I swear). I am a performer." 

The piece ended up being more of a critique of oppression in general. Oppressors are everywhere. They use history, science, the law of nature, the will of God, the criteria of art, as well as language and media "to legitimize their superiority and to ignore or minimize the identity of the oppressed."(Paulo Freire) 

During the performance, the audience member decides what I do, effectively choreographing me. I am in the street, while he is in an adjacent building overlooking the street through a window. He dictates my movements while talking into a Dictaphone, and I hear him through the use of wireless headphones. My role, while seemingly submissive, is to try to make every show my own. As Paulo Freire beautifully explains, being oppressed is a stronger position because it is a struggle for liberation. 

The show is open to men only because at the time, I simply never felt oppressed by women, not even by the woman who refused me a tourist visa on my twenty-­‐ fourth birthday. I am also experimenting with the idea of whether, in relational art, we artists can actually choose our audience like they choose us? 

It sounds mad and honestly I do not know how BAC let me do it. Lately, however, I have been wondering about whether some shows just do not work for specific audiences. At the end of the day, if the performance really is a relationship, it needs to work for artists too—not only for the audience. 

My previous show Leave to Remain did not seem to work when seen by Arabs. In it, audience members were searched at the door by a man shouting at them in Arabic. Arabs, for obvious reasons, experienced it as satire and thus found that hilarious. I guess it is not the end of the world if an audience member laughs instead of feeling alienated and terrified. However, I nevertheless realized that the performance was really made for people who can actually travel almost anywhere without restrictions, and are not required to take the abysmal “Britishness” test to be able to live in the United Kingdom. I guess I cannot advertise a show as being “not for Arabs,” but somehow “not for women” seems to be politically correct enough. 

[This blog entry is as a response to two people who I very much respect: Lyn Gardner who tweeted asking why is the show for men only, and Manick Govinda who posted this hilarious and relevant video. In the video, Mr. Youngman claims that some artists use relational aesthetics because they do not really know how to talk to people in real life. It reminded me of an article I once wrote for an Arabic newspaper about how London forced me into artistic interactivity. Lebanon, in comparison, is overloaded with interactivity, and hence the art is not.]

1 comment:

  1. More on this here http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2011/mar/29/theatre-audiences-decide-what-see