Clap Eyes on Me
Mayra: Reflecting on the fourth evening of the Rakete Festival at Tanzquartier Wien, we quickly agreed that the gaze seemed to be an overarching topic. Which might not have been obvious at first: entering the space of the TQW Studios for the first performance of the evening, Nana Dahlin’s Lalangue (extd.), what I noticed first was the darkness. I couldn’t even make out who the performer was. She seemed to appear out of thin air by the sudden and very strong presence of her voice. Thus for me the sound, the sensory experience of hearing, came before the gaze. One could say it almost tricked the gaze. We are so used to looking, especially when it comes to our relationship with art. This is exactly why we considered the gaze to be an overarching theme of the evening, in the way it was challenged, subverted and refused.
Irene: Yes, it’s interesting how her gaze never met ours. It gave the impression of a hide and seek game, something positioned somewhere in between voyeurism and embarrassment. As Dahlin’s facial expressions remained a mystery, her presence was dehumanized in some way, allowing her to merge with the space and become just another sound device while denying the audience the privilege of the human gaze. And so, as you say, the voice or the many voices took center stage in what seemed like an impossible duet or a desperate struggle between the body and the microphone-machine, between the voice and the reflection of the voice returned by the machine.
In the second performance, La peau entre les doigts, Catol Teixeira used a different strategy by not rejecting the audience’s gaze. On the contrary, they seemed to enjoy establishing direct eye contact with the audience, with a sensual and playful attitude, making us feel uncomfortable and thus blurring the distance between them, the performer, and us, the audience.
M: Yes! As we entered the room, Teixeira confronted our gaze with their own, reflecting it back on us. The room was very brightly lit during the first part of the performance. It made me feel very exposed, and then Teixeira started mirroring our gazes and postures, thus also mirroring the way we related to the space and the setting we found ourselves in, whether we felt uncomfortable, tense, relaxed or excited. This involvement of the audience was then interrupted by the darkening of the room and Teixeira’s movements that took on a very mechanical quality. These were extremely impressive on a technical and aesthetic level, but also transported the viewer back into a distinct audience position. Which was challenged again when Teixeira started to move through the narrow passages between our bodies sitting on the floor. Suddenly their hard breathing and strained body became very present again. These different modes really highlighted and challenged our habits of gazing.
I: Listening to you, I think Teixeira’s performance resonates somehow with what McKenzie Wark, who also contributed to this second part of the Rakete Festival with an online-lecture on Friday night, says about the cis gaze. Wark describes the cis gaze as a structure of vision that insists on classifying and shaping the non-normative queer body from the perspective of the sex-gender difference regime. The way you narrate it, it seems as if Catol Teixeira was confronting the (cis) gaze Wark talks about by placing their own queer body in the spotlight, unabashedly wanting to be seen and, at the same time, not afraid to look back. When the neon lights invaded the space it felt as if we were transported to the club, where, as McKenzie Wark puts it: “the queer body finds a way of dissociating and deconstructing itself”. Teixeira’s constant mechanical movements seemed to want to accelerate this process; blurring in the intensity of the neon light, the body ceased to be flesh and became machine, to then reappear again in the light of the whitish spotlights as a vulnerable but at the same time confrontational body unafraid to look at and question the norm. I also saw an intention to keep this game between showing vulnerability and still keeping a confrontational attitude in Lara Dâmaso’s performance, her harsh, high and deep voice: a polyphony.
M: What connected Teixeira’s performance to the other two was the use of body, movement and sound to shape the space. To outline the architecture but also us, the audience, and our bodies as part of the space. In Dahlin’s performance the body changed positions, marking different spots within the room. It was always followed by a spotlight but at the same time continued to face away from the audience. Dahlin’s polyphony, produced by one voice in a dark room, became like the extension of the performer’s body that we as viewers couldn’t really grasp. The sounds seemed to produce invisible fingers stretching out into the corners of the dark room, stroking our ears, sometimes bold, sometimes insecure, tentative and shy. Sometimes producing beautiful harmonies and then dissonances, not allowing us to get too comfortable.
I: Dâmaso also seemed to seek the discomfort you mention with the polyphony of one single voice. Her voice traversed different spectrums of sound, from radical softness to grating harshness. Dâmaso showed us the multiplicity of voices, tonalities and nuances that inhabit the same body in a subversive act that sought to deconstruct the stereotypes attributed to the female voice, thus expanding the boundaries of gender in voice. The multiple voices of Dâmaso filled the space of Otto Wager’s Postsparkasse, as an ornament that blended in with the striking architecture and filtered through the transparencies of the arched ceiling and the light floor. Space acquired an undeniable protagonism in this performance but it never overshadowed Dâmaso, who managed to establish a fluid exchange between body-voice-space. The show started with her appearing from the wooden cubicle at the vanishing point of the unidirectional perspective reinforced by the metal columns. Then she walked through the hall, filling the space with her voice and dissonant frequencies… I had the impression of a ghostly presence that had inhabited the galleries of the Jugendstil architecture long before we arrived!
M: I was really fascinated by how Dâmaso’s ethereal appearance matched the architecture. The columns in that room seemed to dive into the glass ceiling like into a roof of water. And water was somehow a very strong and important association I was confronted with during Dâmaso’s performance. With her long white dress and slick hair, she looked like a nymph of some kind. And I like what you said about the deconstruction of gender in voice. Especially the wailing sounds she produced reminded me a lot of different mythical creatures from diverse cultures that represent an idea of dangerous “femininity”. Like for example La Llorona in Latin American folklore, who is also to be found near bodies of water, or the Irish Banshee. To me it seemed like she was referring to a fear of what is socially considered the “feminine” voice in the moment it transgresses certain very specific norms. And to me this transgression was also reflected in the architecture, in the partly transparent elements that seemed to reflect the capacity of the human voice to permeate certain physical barriers. A capacity that the body, as we define it, lacks. Thus the voice became a kind of enhancement of what are normally considered bodily functions and sensory abilities. This created a fascinating exploration of the interrelation of space, sound and body. Which is something that all performances had in common, although it was explored in very diverse manners.
The three performances that took place in the second part of the Rakete Festival were an investigation of space, sound, body and the gaze. They exhibited a practice of narrating other possible ways of inhabiting space as multiple, unstable identities, through the creation of polyphonies of oneself, through looking and being seen beyond the normativity of the imposed gaze.
The texts for the Rakete Festival 2023 were written by students of MA Critical Studies in cooperation with the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (Moira Hille).
Mayra Jenzer Azevedo (*1997) is a writer, performer, art historian and cultural mediator from Basel, where they got their BA degree in Art History and German Philology. They’ve worked at Schweizerisches Institut für Kunstwissenschaft, at Stapferhaus and as a freelance writer and creator for Out & About Basel, frachtwerk.ch and several other papers and online magazines. They’re currently enrolled in the “Critical Studies” MA program at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, where they are focusing on complementing their academic research with artistic practices. At the center of their work is a decidedly queer and decolonial approach to aesthetics and its interrelations with social and cultural analysis.
Irene Landa (Bilbao, 1995) is a Vienna-based multidisciplinary cultural worker and architect. Currently she is studying in the Master program “Critical Studies” at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Her practice stands at the intersection between critical theory, cultural curation and music. She has collaborated in the creation and curation of multiple collective cultural events and exhibitions both in institutions and in independent spaces.