TQW Magazin
Melanie Sien Min Lyn and Sofia Mascate on Rakete Part 3: Luisa Fernanda Alfonso, verena herterich

Blink and you’ll miss it


Blink and you’ll miss it

You know these moments just after waking up without an alarm clock, when your eyes are still closed and the space around you reconstructs itself from sounds of the environment and body memory, delineating the contours of your consciousness?

In the first flash of Masterpiece, Luisa Fernanda Alfonso greets us, perched on a speaker. Staring longingly at the audience, she sets the mood for the duets to come with the score of the piece. Amidst a chorus of loudspeakers adorned with drapes, the scene resembles a row of classical statues.

 Am I on the left or the right side of the bed? Is the window behind me or on the wall across from me? Most times, by the time your eyes open, everything is in its right place. But sometimes they open to a little surprise, the wall having slid away in another direction.

The piece is made up of long looped choreographic sequences and wailing. Like a medium, a conduit, Alfonso’s entire body croons and laments, face contorting, lungs heaving and mouth moving to a sad urgent song played by the Assistant on a laptop. Sonic ectoplasm from a collection of non-human speakers, big and small, arranged across the stage. And sometimes the sound comes from the voice box inside Alfonso’s own body. But rarely does she seem to be in full possession of her own body, poor thing.

I find that this happens most often when I take a nap. 

The sound boxes provide the performance’s skeleton, they are its participants and scenography. They are the materialisation of the stylistic norms that the performer negotiates through her visual language. The Latin-coded dance movements encoded in her body become more fervent as her face shifts in a series of melodramatic (soap) operatic expressions. Like the obsessive zapping of a remote control. Channel surfing. She is a jilted mistress, a grieving widow, a horny bull, a bitch, a lover, a child, a mother, a sinner, a saint.

Blink and you’ll miss it.

Bullfighters enter their rings triumphantly, manifesting the impending blows to the animal’s loins. The monumentality of the dancer’s movements bind her to cultural traditions outside those she references and contests. The performer reconciles the defiance of a sly matador, in all its exuberance and virility, with the profound sentimentality of heartbreak and unrequited love. She navigates emotional spaces that demonstrate the ambivalence of traditional cultural practices.

I close my eyes.

I’m transported to a fado concert, in the intimate confines of the back rooms of a tasca, the mournful singing, the heavy use of rubato, the dark silence; flash forward, I’m watching a tourada, in a crowded arena, surfaces sticky from all the poured beer, the smell of urine, clumsy machos in flamboyant clothes. The former a meaningful musical heritage, the latter a practice of animal abuse perpetuated by chauvinistic notions. Two gendered tropes for an attentive Iberian spectator.

“I would fall asleep, and often I would be awake again for short snatches only, just long enough to hear the regular creaking of the wainscot, or to open my eyes to settle the shifting kaleidoscope of the darkness, to savour [it] in an instantaneous flash of perception.”[1]

Precarious and conservative cultural landscapes prioritise efforts to keep tradition alive. Tradition is assigned a static dimension and its normative logic can’t be questioned. Despite attempts not to mutate these cultural practices, they still transform into caricatures of themselves. Gentrification processes are fuelled by such exaggerated notions of a romanticised past. Tradition resists public aversion and protest, it lingers in the collective imagination.


The repetition of choreographic manoeuvres extends to the assistant and composer Peter Rubel, who mimics Alfonso in exactitude. Who, in her absence, slips into the work uniform of ruffled sleeves, as he is now the delegated substitute tasked with continuing her efforts.

Sleeping is closing your eyes and opening them again after some time has passed.
Blinking is closing your eyes and opening them again after a very short time.
On the spectrum of sleeping and blinking, what lies in between?

In verena herterich’s Myrth, the scratchy, gravelly sounds of a rock rearrangement are amplified in the space. But it is not the rocks on stage that we hear. It is the audible suggestion of rocks, a foley-induced memory of looking for a stone to skip. The rocks are eventually abandoned by the side of the stage, and the performer bends and poses in an extended movement sequence, challenging the audience to stare back.

And so I resist.

 The performer rinses the soles of her black trainers with water from a small puddle contained in black plastic.

I close my eyes.

A spinning top goes round and round. A precessing gyroscope. A fidget spinner balances itself on my fingertip.

I open my eyes.

The release of gravel stones, a rising cloud of dust.

My blinking infuses the more fluid movements with a staccato rhythm. I slow-blink and it’s like an iris wipe – and when I open my eyes again, the scene has changed. I blink again, even more slowly, holding my lids shut for 5 seconds. 10 seconds? Retaining the last image in my mind like a freeze frame. Slo-mo stroboscope. But the sound is not affected by my time-travelling games, and I find myself in a timeline that is both linear and non-linear in parallel. My eyes open again, to the memory of a fresh position. Who is to say that this is not picking up where we left off?

“Perhaps the immobility of the things that surround us is forced upon them by our conviction that they are themselves, and not anything else, and by the immobility of our conceptions of them.”[2]

A handful of rice in a tin can may sound like the rain. The mind has a way of filling in the gaps.

Thinking is consciously conjuring up words and images in your mind.
Dreaming is unconsciously letting words and images be conjured in your mind.
So what is the state of drifting off, focused on both what is in front of you and what is inside you?

Synopsis sandwiches at the after-show party.

I find that this happens to me most often during dance performances.

I close my eyes. I open my eyes and help myself to a complimentary Sekt at the bar. I close my eyes. I open my eyes and it’s dark outside as I walk down Mariahilfer Straße. I close my eyes. I open my eyes and it’s light outside and I’m in bed in my pyjamas. I close my eyes. I open my eyes and I’m being sexually harassed in my red pleather revenge skirt. I close my eyes. I open my eyes and I’m in a darkened space in TQW studios, listening to Lauryn Youden somnolently reading from a text as a heavy soundscape encircles us.

“For then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when I awoke at midnight, not knowing where I was, I could not be sure at first who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence.”[3]

Creepypasta is slang for short horror stories reiterated via the Internet. Online urban legends which are pasted all over messaging boards. Sunk into a comfortable beanbag, with mouthfuls of mugwort tea, I enter the awake slumber of Youden’s prose.

Prescriptions and diagnoses regarding ailments of the female psyche are a form of sophisticated creepypasta, word-of-mouth intel upheld by a legacy of persecution and medical abuse. Recurrent theoretical references attest to the mythologisation of feminine sexuality alongside its historical erasure. Youden softly delivers fragments of spine-chilling lucid-dream journaling combined with reports of the failures of a fraught medical system. The nocebo effect. Our folklore. Relatable, understandable.

I don’t resist. I let the mugwort wash over me and sink into a state of deep drowsiness.

I close my eyes.


[1] Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Volume I, Swann’s Way: Within a Budding Grove, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, New York 1982.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.


Sofia Mascate is an artist based in Vienna. Recent solo exhibitions include Hypertext at Galeria Zé dos Bois in Lisbon, and Pick Me at BPA Space in Cologne. Her book of essays on still-life painting, Tactical Retraction, was published in 2022 by Materialverlag–HFBK.

Melanie Sien Min Lyn is an artist, filmmaker and writer. Her recent work has been presented at Dokfest Kassel and at the Performing Arts Festival in Berlin.