Kuukauden kynä -sarjassa erilaiset kirjoittajat makustelevat Zodiakin kauden esityksiä haluamastaan näkökulmasta. Alen Nsambun teoksesta NEON BEIGE kirjoitti tällä kertaa englanniksi kuraattori ja kirjoittaja Jonni Korhonen.

The gaze is a civilised beast. The gaze is a park with pruned trees and a water feature. The gaze is a dog on a leash. The gaze is a white family with a picket fence and a mortgage. The gaze is having missionary sex once a week. The gaze is a liberal worried about the national debt. The gaze is complaining about all the immigrants. The gaze thinks you’re one of the good ones. The gaze is searching for BBC with the incognito mode turned on. The gaze is scared of the ghosts in the hallway.

The central question presented by the piece NEON BEIGE is what if the external gaze wouldn’t determine one’s way of existing. The fragmentary nature of the performance inhabiting the stage allows for a perfect avenue to explore the probe as the choreographer and performer, Alen Nsambu, flickers, writhes and transforms on the stage, fleeting from opaqueness to recognisability, from scene to scene, donning wigs, references and alter egos to explore the embodied subjectivity of the body claiming the space to be present. Sensual, loud and in your face to the point of insolence, the piece demands that the viewer becomes absorbed in the act of looking upon themselves looking, forcing the voyeur to acknowledge their voyeurism. The central politics of NEON BEIGE is that the piece refuses to be policed by the demands of the gaze for narratively definite, passive and docile queer, black and brown bodies.

The gaze functions as a showcase of socio-political control and the mechanism of discipline. “To gaze implies more than to look at – it signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze.”* A vehicle of surveillance and self-regulation, the optic power of the gaze is the ability to set definitions and expectations onto the bodies on view. As such, for the black, brown and queer bodies, the gaze is a threat of both actual and ideological violence, a demand to comply and be subservient.

In the Medusa-like cone of the gaze, meanings become ossified, as the black, brown, queer body-as-perceived is made covered, made to be defined as a symbolic exemplification of a preset of stereotypes and archetypes floating in the colonial cultural consciousness providing this panoptical power for the gaze. As this funeral shroud of occlusion falls onto the body, its boundaries become limited, its ability to communicate with the outside world dampened by a veil of interpretations. The internal becomes disconnected from the external, and is made to fall into the abyss of the unknowable, “the dark continent”, becoming marked, in effect, as monstrous, the nightmare stuff haunting in the liminal spaces at the edge of what is allowed inside the borders of civilization.

The true horror of hauntings is that the ghosts are refusing to be orderly, refusing to follow the distinctions made between the living and the dead. Spectres are the denied internal having become ungovernable, gloriously fleeting between solid and gaseous, visible and invisible, erratic, always there yet forever undefinable. Smoke and mirrors in a darkened room, a low moan over a pumping house track. The haunted house is a manifestation of the repressed shadows and desires of the bourgeois society refusing to stay silent and civil. Ask yourself, why the goal of ghost stories is for the undead to pass on, why the not-living must be made dead anew?

And so, the question becomes as such: how are the queer, black and brown bodies to be made manifest inside the world from which they have been exorcised, made a monster, something to be exiled and pushed to the wastelands of sense and sensibility. To the borders of the unconscious, outside the patrimony of the Law and language, the symbolic order. 

The reality of the symbolic creates its own composition by shared pronouncements, through the concrete act of becoming language through reproductions of its historically and socially constructed origins. That which finds itself unmoored, undefined, unarticulated inside these codexes, that which lacks formulations accepted into language, is marked as something that is failing to exist, is denied existence. But in these denials, language leaves shadows, and holes - spectres, ghosts and hauntings. Things that are dead, yet still alive. Not there, but still present, just beyond the reach. Both liminal, and queer, “differing in some way from what is usual or normal.” At the same time a human and a monster.

The ultimate brown body, the ultimate black body, queer body in a colonial system is a dead body. Not a body that has died in the physical sense, a body that has been released of its vitality, the colonial system of production demands a labour force to be sustained indefinitely, but a body that has no ability to participate in the meaning-making processes related to it. A body that has become made inert material, inactive in subjectivity, subservient, a resource in itself, a spot for extraction. A zombie body, a never-ceasing locomotive of production and exploitation, forever moving, working, providing value, without needs or demands of itself. The external lacking the internal.

It is notable and important to underline that this is the same dream relationship that the capital has with its workers. The hydra might have multiple heads, but they’re all connected to the same body.

The theatre as a site of productions of meanings is not too dissimilar from a haunted house. The trappings of the theatre for queer, black and brown bodies are akin to a séance circle, an invitation of the undesired, the unliving and the undying, to become visible in front of a predominantly white, middle class audience to view, and to experience with the fear, the startlement, the joy, the desire, the longing conveyed through the fleeting, spectral body of the performer. The unstableness of a performer as they both are and are not present as both in themselves and as actively conveying through the roles they present, as they flicker and flow between different states of denseness, the performer becomes like a poltergeist, a noisy spirit, refusing to stay quiet and orderly. Though still limited by the constraints of the genre, the performance must come to an end, the ghost must pass on to the beyond, both the performer and the performance itself are carrying within themselves and into view the undeniable self-subjectivity of the black, brown and queer bodies creating these pieces as the masters of their own meaning-making.

The power of theatre as a medium, be it narrative theatre, dance, performance art, etc. for queer people and people of colour is that the medium is dependent on the indisputable presence of our actual, active speaking, moving, storytelling, and above all else, living bodies as the central interlocutors when becoming language, when becoming shared and available for interpretations and pronouncements. The liberatory nature of the stage rises from the space becoming a site for world-building and shared utterances for the working group, from the ghosts in the haunted house coming together and making a ruckus.

*Schroeder, Jonathan (1998). "Consuming Representation: A Visual Approach to Consumer Research". Representing Consumers: Voices, Views and Visions. New York: Routledge. p. 208.

 

 

Jonni Korhonen (they/them) is a curator and writer based in Helsinki. Researching into collective curational and artistic practices, they are working to develop a praxis dedicated to radical care and labour solidarity. In their writing they are exploring how stories come to be stories, how bodies become bodies and how histories come to be futures.