Tableaux Vivants for One


I am a living archive; I find it much easier to speak in quotations and to move my body within the confines of popular choreography or to recreate images and gestures I have seen before. However, to re-enact my own work Tableaux Vivants was still a challenge. The original piece was performed at Tate Modern by a dozen performers during the event entitled Once More With Feeling which I created at the culmination of my residency at The Women’s Art Library. To perform the piece solo meant radically rethinking it. For the  first incarnation the performers re-staged a number of living tableaux from the history of feminist performance art, forsaking historical chronology in exchange for ease of movement and the freeing of association. This time I performed the piece alone at the Performing Idea Research Forum held at Whitechapel Gallery for a private audience of associate researchers and invited respondents.

I had been wanting to redo this work for a while but lacked a fitting context/opportunity for which to reproduce such an ambitious piece with its ensemble cast. I arrived at this solution, to perform it single-handed, from having attended the ‘DIY Detour’ workshop run by artist Ania Bas through the Live Art Development Agency. During the workshop I did an ad hoc, solo version but wasn’t able to perform it to the best of my abilities due to an injury. Now fully healed, I finally got to learn the choreography originally danced by Rita Hayworth which culminates the work.

As I entered the ‘stage’ area at the very start of the performance I intended to keep a straight face, since that seemed appropriate to the part I was playing — a stoical Vanessa Beecroft model. However, a cat-call from Annalaura Alifuoco broke my concentration and produced a grin. Throughout the performance I went in and out of ‘serious mode’ breaking into a smile or a laugh when the audience’s amusement became contagious. At the beginning, after that brief loss of control, I stood still and focused on a point in the distance beyond the fourth wall and tried to look bored. After a while, when I thought I’d convinced everyone that I might not do anything else I began to speak, stating: “This is a demonstration of a talking picture. Note how my lips and the sounds issuing from them are synchronized together in perfect unison.” I then proceeded to pose as Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus (1647-51) and Manet’s Olympia (1863) while confessing that my first sexual experience happened in the library looking at a picture of Carolee Schneeman. From inside my spandex underwear, I pulled my own Interior Scroll and read out an elaborate list of synonyms for the word ‘vagina’. I followed this up with a cheer, equip with pompoms and my ‘I love my Cunt’ t-shirt, and then a hip-hop inspired dance reminiscent of Adrian Piper’s Funk Lessons (1983). After briefly voguing like Hannah Wilke/Madonna I selected some audience members to pose for Artemisia Gentileschi’s masterpiece Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614-20) followed by Douglas Heubler’s re-staged version of the same canvas entitled 633/variable piece #70 (1971).

Photos: Mathias Danbolt
Video and Photos: R. Justin Hunt