Last night I had the extraordinary privilege of seeing DRIFT (or Drive) – a solo performance by Kitt Johnson X-Act from Denmark in downtown Kitchener at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts.
Kitt Johnson was on the stage as the audience entered. She was looking outwards trapping every audience member as a subject of her gaze. She would slowly turn – but then fix her eyes on the audience. This wasn’t a breaking of the fourth wall – or was it. The notion of the gaze is complicated, and in this reversal, the normal audience passivity was hauled into question. Who is watching whom? Importantly, there was a profound connection instantly, and reinforced the disallowance of total subjectification of this performer.The sound/music started (performed live – same for the lighting), and her turning increased in momentum – we were off on a journey.
A bit of a disclaimer: This is an abstract piece and therefore prone to many interpretations. I am sure no one felt the same about the piece last night. The artist has a statement about the piece, and I found the piece very cohesive with that statement. Also, it should be said that contemporary abstraction in performance is something that is meant to be experienced in a sensual way. My review will be a paltry grouping of words about something that is meant to be seen, heard, and felt.
Johnson tells a story of disconnect. She starts the performance in a large fur coat that becomes a very obvious burden. In the watching, I couldn’t help feeling like what I was witnessing was Judith Butler’s notion of identity as a performance come to life – but this particular performance not being about the gendered body, but instead about the struggle with conforming with any identity – the place where biology and culture meet, and the conflict in that meeting. It’s about the primordial drives, and our constant struggle to keep these at bay. The impact of being cultured beings who want to eat, yearn for sex, who have biological imperatives – the things that drive us: the id vs the ego.
The piece is a non-narrative – based instead on concept rather than plot or character development. Think of the notion of the drift (la dérive): this is not the casual wandering through a landscape but instead the mindful exploration of the everyday. We are taken on a psychogeographical tour of impulse. Johnson makes a concrete show of how our physical wakening builds into an intolerably hegemonic need to fit in. Instead of characterising another passing day in representational terms, the performer looks into the sense of identity as an overbearing and itchy fur coat – this object as a representational vestment of identity.
As a female audience member, I emphatically identified with this character who is clothed in an identity that masks and covers so much that it becomes an impenetrable discomfort. In effort to conform and avoid rejection, we build layers hiding the parts of us that want to break free and occupy the space in our bodies as unrestrained beings. From putting on the clothing that builds the outside of an identity to the inner work of constant restraint to maintain that sense of being to the outside world.
When we can liberate ourselves from these moments, we begin to find our inner strength and our ability to act out. When we remove the layers of itchy imposition, our bodies, our selves become the intensity… This play is not about the triumph. It’s about coming close, and feeling what it is like to stand too close to a fire, and then waking once again into our hegemonic selves. Conformity, and self examination through being examined – the discomfort and struggle is palpable. Johnson’s sense of a biology trapped in a culture is thoroughly examined with every ripple of well controlled muscle with contortions reflecting struggle, and then finally, the even more devastatingly (un)comfortable conformity.
You can see this performance tonight (September 25) at 7:00pm at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts as a part of IMPACT 13
A Solo Performance/Kitt Johnson
“We civilize in the morning” as the poet Kirsten Hammann wrote. Sure, but before noon the instincts have thwarted the shiny surface. Taken over from the inside, some would rightly call it. The driving forces of the instinct operate subtly satisfying its own needs. Either slowly and out of control they make changes in our inner life as continental plates in operation. Or fast as snipers who seek out and hold an object on the grain, only to kill it with a snap. Civilization under attack.
DRIFT (or drive) represents part one of a two-part study of human instincts caught between culture and biology. The second part is an ensemble work FORUM HUMANUM planned to open 2013.