TQW Magazin
Veronika J. König on S_P_I_T_ Day 2: Ainhoa Hernández Escudero / Aaron Josi Sternbauers / Avantika Tibrewala

Sayable, doable


Sayable, doable

Intimacy is the ultimate currency

It’s about 30 degrees when I arrive at the Queer Performance Festival Vienna S_P_I_T_. In the neon light between the warm walls it feels as if the MuseumsQuartier has been there forever; a huge saltstone that houses dance and performance, readings and meetings. Whoever works here is friendly, the drinks are cold, I feel fine. Already in the artist talk at the beginning of the evening, hosted by Hyo Lee, clusters of themes come together, unfold and re-entangle; the issues are queerness, care work, body awareness, gender expressions, visibility. These days, the latter is a hurtful experience for me – it is currently impossible to get from my flat to the studio without being repeatedly badgered by gawkers. Many here share this reality. Between artist talk and the performance by Ainhoa Hernández Escudero, on the violet sofas in the TQW bar, I get the chance to have a cry about it on the shoulder of my wife. We have a drink, and then The Torch, the Key, and the Snake begins.

“Ancient counter-hegemonic traditions and esoteric practices”

In the cool, fogged hall the first theme is no less than the cave of awareness raising, about platonic self-love, about moaning and laughter, about questions and quests. A technically well-versed execution and energetic timing ensure an immersive experience. I ask myself whether this kind of performance with hundreds of layers, lots of sub-contexts, which includes, re-creates, and quotes many media, is the only art form that manages to depict the never-ending dissonance and culmination of our contemporary realities, and thus to work in a unique narrative way. Many things are happening at the same time, esotericism and mysticism, information technology, self-awareness through computer games, self-birthing through dance. Focussed by strong choreography and film work, there are far-reaching philosophical themes processed subjectively. The otherwise minimalistically employed text leaves open which emotion the final sequence aims at, in which green liquid is poured into three metal cauldrons and ignited. Accompanied by repetitive singing about witchcraft: “Witchcraft/Bitchcraft”. A topic that results naturally from the mystically conceived aesthetic of the performance, and which is often taken up in the field of dance and performance especially in feministic contexts. Witch-hunt and magic not as Dungeons-and-Dragons cyber-fantasy, but as real continuity. In the face of systemic killing of Jewish people, uncomfortable women, mentally disabled people, gay, queer, and trans persons, it needs a clear aesthetic line that conveys solidarity and seriousness. Mixed with the mantras of a political language flirting with slogans of violence and extermination, Hernandéz Escudero not only admits a nordic expression of mysticism and witchcraft open to the right, she even suggests it. That the burning cauldrons keep me from leaving the room at this point makes the situation worse. To mirror, alienate, and also produce pop culture and society is the creative nature of performance art. It happens in the same moment in which we are in the same place and experience this situation. It is no closed medium, no film, no product. To max out the theatrical situation, the trust principle in this manner leaves a bitter taste of spirit in my mouth in spite of the immersive quality and the succinct production of The Torch, the Key, and the Snake.

Aaron Josi Sternbauer’s Bathing in Resonance also is about communal interaction. As we enter the space, Sternbauer is already on stage, lying on his belly, his head in a large glass bowl filled with water. A piano, bright yet soft light, a strong smell of perfume is in the air. The performance’s participative nature is teased from the outset. We are invited to enter an intimate space. A touching process unfolds under softly oscillating lights, the path from the first, burbling sound to a full melody. Sternbauer emancipates from his strong yet vulnerable starting position on his belly by various modes of movement, dance, and song. At the piano on the right edge of the stage, voice and instrument after undulating improvisations create a clear melody. The audience is invited to sing along. And so it does. Also a vulnerable moment that makes live music a good experience. One could maintain that some communities of faith mediate this feeling of community, of belonging, by singing together, thus winning and binding members. Decidedly un-pious and free, serious and honest, Sternbauer increasingly plays towards the audience, until in the end unrestrained interaction and joint singing appear to be a logical consequence. Easiness, holiness, water can be all this, artistic expression can communicate all this.

“I’m so respectable I could puke.”

Avantika Tibrewala’s Trashed My Title concludes the late evening in a pop-culturally oriented manner. We are invited for dinner, menu cards are handed out at the entrance. Also, we have to squeeze through a narrow doorframe where Tibrewala and a performer are standing naked. Since Marina Abramović and Ulay there have certainly been a few dozen performers who staged this game like this or in a similar way. I’m not shocked because of that, but still feel uncomfortable. It is clear that this is about naked, loud, extreme topics, about the confrontation with taste – good as well as bad taste. The revue begins with a body exhibition of the performer, who now on a chair in the middle of the stage strikes poses and dances sequentially. So-called classical music sounds from the loudspeakers. Representative performance for what the Western world considers high culture, or mere pastime? A DJ announces that the show is only beginning now. In the middle of the stage Avantika Tibrewala in an acrobatic pose on a chair. The evening is about to begin, and the audience may decide, choose from the menu card. The choice is quite unanimously “Bad Taste … Rawrr”. Last year, John Waters, “pope of trash and bad taste”, said with regard to his Academy Award retrospective: “I’m so respectable I could puke.” The resilience to incorporate the so-called trash in high culture, to hold a mirror up to the mainstream from a remote position, is just one possible definition of camp, of kitsch as survival and reformation strategy of our audiovisual culture. So, what “bad taste” is for Tibrewala: Cardi B sounds, there is dancing and shouting: “I am your bad taste! I am what you can’t get enough of!” It is about sexuality, about a protagonist who enjoys it and an audience that blocks it out but secretly desires it. The eternal dialectic between high and low art is fathomed in the space, in situ. Involuntarily, at the end I become a part of the performance. A moment, I confess, I’ve just waited for. When I politely decline to rub the behind of the other performer with glitter oil, the artist turns to another onlooker who promises to be more adventurous. Many from the audience then enter the stage, dancing together. Outside the TQW there still are about 28 degrees. I’m going home with many thoughts about what is sayable, what is doable. None of the three pieces left me cold. All in all, a success.


Veronika Johanna König (born 1997 in the Black Forest) lives and works in Vienna. As FARCE on tour and on the radio. Composes for theatre and film, engages in the feminist underground and at the interface to academic discourse.