Created at Emmetrop, Bourges (F), 11 May 2011
AsfixiA is a piece for 3 dancers and a dark-ambient musician.
Our intention was to start from a political, sensationalized event and then to uncover the phantasmic imprint that media images of it are leaving inside us. The torture that happened in Abu Ghraib, and the role of female soldiers in it became an initial reference point for the work, but the intention from the beginning was not to build a critical argument concerning the politics behind the event, but rather dare to ask uncomfortable questions : Can we, as artists, allow ourself to get inspired by the spectacle of horror? Can we dare to provoke, affect, seduce the audience with it? Finally, what are the ethical and existential consequences of such a seduction?
Here is a performance sure to challenge your mind and your nerves. If the purpose of art is to make us aware of all the shapes beauty can take on, it is also meant to question man’s daily actions by re- presenting them from other angles. Guillaume Marie’s work, AsfixiA, is based on a fact that has provoked worldwide outrage: the disclosure of photographs of tortured prisoners, wrapped in wires, forced to pose naked, attacked by watchdogs or worse still, desecrated once killed. This show does not mean to reenact this event but rather to be a « meditation on the way our minds and ima- gination were impregnated with them, on the fantasmatic imprint they have left on the collective unconscious »*. Abu Graib is a Iraqi jail notorious for the acts of torture that were perpetrated on Muslim inmates by US army female officers who used sexual harassment to extort their confessions. Those women were enforcing orders to humiliate the prisoners and inflict physical as well as moral damage by deliberately targetting what was most likely to hurt their religious beliefs i.e unwanted sexual sollicitations or splash of menstrual blood. This violence is the source of a study by Columbia University professor Coco Fusco who published a study on the ethics behind those acts. Entitled A field guide for female interrogators, it has been the main source of inspiration for AsfixiA.
Guillaume Marie has chosen to stage three women, one being the victim of the two others, to raise several issues: the relation these women have with power, the link between what was shown and what was fantasized, our western prejudices and the reality of enslavement, femininity and sexual violence, and incidentally, another question, how far can you use horror without hurting, disgusting or shying the audience away ? Indeed, in spite of its quiet, subdued development, this performance is unusually violent. The two female soldiers do not only trample the face of their prisoners with their boots, but in the perfectly relevant words of Raphaëlle Branche « with their obscene interfering and body language, indulging or imposing themselves on their victims, the women soldiers resort to a wide array of attitudes ranging from the comforting mother figure to the porn actress, using their period blood as a supposedly tainted weapon ». Hence another question put by this show about a possible embezzle-ment of feministic ideas about the body, sex and the use of women by the army as weapons. All those questions find an answer in the course of this thoroughly, nay devilishly directed performance, so much so that you expect the worst any minute. The final scene of frontal masturbation will bring about the unescapable and achingly emotional climax. If this is not boldness, I don’t know what is.
Translated from J.M.Gourreau for Critiphotodanse
(1) : Guillaume Marie, note from the program
Sophie Grappin-Schmitt for Paris-art.com
(2) : Raphaëlle Branche, Quand les femmes torturent, laviedesidees.fr, 11 décembre 2008.
What AsfixiA is about is likely to deter the least callous in the average audience and the mention « explicit content » tagged to the representation apt to shy another bunch away. It would be a pity, though, not to cross the threshold and dare confronting what Guillaume Marie has to show: a propo- sition that restores a thorny issue to its whole political complexity. Taking his inspiration from the pictures which leaked out from Abu Graib prison camps in 2003 and which were a huge shock because of their violence as well as because the tortures they were making visible had never been seen before, Guillaume Marie has tiptoed on the thin edge of the literally unsightly. AsfixiA is ushered in by Marlon Brando’s voice as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, as if it was necessary to spell the topic out before shaping it as dance, namely: horror. From then on, the choreographer conjures up all the registres of outrage to hone the image, to edge out the message and form and thus sharpen our insight to make it able to perceive beyond as well as inside what is being figured. It starts with a conspicuous void: there is no body on stage, nothing but this voice resounding in a movie-like setting. This is a crime scene but the corpses have been removed before the three performers are trans- planted on it. The slow distorsion of their moves is magnified by a horror movie soundtrack. This live transposition of cinematographic aesthetics results in an instantaneous and acute sense of discomfort. Their lips swollen and their eyebrows erased by their make-up, together with their uniforms and their blustering demeanour clash with the exclusive femininity of their bodies, immediately sexed, nay sexual.Beyond their starchy camo, their Ray Ban shades and their manly idiosyncrasies, what strikes us paradoxically is above all their womanhood, as if female presence here was improper, a fake, on a par with the willingly crude effects of this gore paraphernalia. There is something wrong here so that cornered into her gender, woman becomes a fetish, an object partaking more or less willingly to a political use of sex, here, torture.
To direct women tormenting invisible victims or taking turns playing the part of their prey, lending themselves to half-violent, half-lascivious rituals of arousal allows the thought to emerge, the process objectifies what always remains unspoken among men in the same situation : the share of violence and subjugation in sex as well and vice versa. Military power here is reduced to its most inane and at the same time most revealing fixation.
After one hour’s fighting, harassment and revengeful bravado exposed in their naked, gruesome truth, those telling signs which automatically conjure up the idea of power, the series of reenactments of the Abu Graib are eventually resurfacing. The camera has been introduced as ominously and thoroughly as a lethal weapon. The ceremony is laid out as a grim Cluedo game : will it be on the linoleum, with the chair, by the mom or the whore? However you won’t see the most iconic prop the title of the show recalls, the hood reminiscent of the catholic penitents or the KKK, though the howls they were meant to smother will probably be haunting your minds.
AsfixiA ends on a gruelling climax, a female orgasm gaining momentum in the dark. Gael Depauw is masturbating in a puddle of blood, looking into your eyes as a death goddess inviting you to face that reality, if you feel up to it.
Translated from Sophie Grappin-Schmitt for Paris-Art.com
Thanks to Stéphanie Gitton for the translation.