Sliding Beauty, Maybe
One. maria mercedes, again expressing things maybe.
Sundown. Roof terrace. Whatever happens now can only be romantic. The two performers appear clothed in tulle, each with a tiny woven basket in their hands: nests for the text, which begins with them letting birds fly out of their mouths. Gulls and others, mimed so life-like that I almost can smell the sea. Are we in Italy? A deep, cooing male voice; listening to the performers rhyme “birds” with “words”. Watching how their clothing changes from day to evening dress. The first layer is taken off. Underneath: a black swan and a golden duck. The people in the audience smile when the performers come too near to them – after all, they are untouchable. The crowd moves like a swarm around the stage birds. Oh, and then there’s even horses galloping along the surf! Movement begins before musical accompaniment and goes beyond it. We hear a song that brings us back to the turn of the millennium. We look at each other mawkishly, with shy gazes, until the performers leave the roof and we follow them downstairs. “I really loved it!” someone says in the elevator.
Below in the studio: darkness, dance floor, keyboard. Whatever happens now can only be ironical. Again a song performance, the emotive-queer side of the 2000s. A playback show with Kate Bush’s an endless sky of honey. Is that freedom? Is that the space we are rewarded with by (limited) peace? Then another change of scene: windows close, spotlights go on. The deepest layer of costumes: sneakers, joggers, and T-shirts. Let’s be “girls” together who mime cars. Let us find 20 possibilities of being a vehicle. One hand the rear mirror, your arm the safety belt, my back the seat, wind, wind, wind. Open the convertible top, the shawl fluttering in the cheerful-emotive machine fog. The audience laughs. We deserve sweet laughter, don’t we?! Applause.
Two. Snorre Elvin & Peter Scherrebeck Hansen, Mermaid(s) of the Hypersea.
A stage with water decanters, half full, with glasses, crystal bowls, and vases. The two performers enter. Clothed in costumes of jeans and quillings, lots of quillings, one with high heels, one with crocs. Could be a kind of leather armour. The rhythmical sound of water being moved in a giant glass container develops into a slow song. Both are singing, accompanied by Elvin on the ukulele. Carrying water like a baby, as we carry it in our bodies, the water. The two voices play around each other with their differentness – very high, very deep – and so prevent all too distinct attributions. Then, with very precise hand movements, almost like playing chess, they build fountains out of the bowls and glasses over which they pour water. It is nice to watch and listen to the water burbling down. It sounds as if it were laughing about its own movements. And then comes the clou: the two performers each bend over one of the fountains and let their spittle sink down very slowly into the water from high up. The fountain threads are glittering and sparkling in the spotlights. Oh, this is the moment at last that queers everything, and suddenly I understand this as a new kind of porn – liquid porn, water porn. Erotic relationships with one of the environment’s most fundamental elements, and thus with ourselves, too. The audience is very quiet. I’m smiling. The performers switch to dancing and also make music again. A water boiler appears on the stage, or was it there all the time? Water is brought to the boil, and the performers snuggle up to each other. The water boiler’s red light illuminates them softly. Or was it blue? When its contents start to steam, one of the performers bends over a jug, and as if it were tear salt falling, they lets a few morsels of tea fall in from a hidden pocket at the breast. A sweet moment, I would like to carry my tea that way. Two glasses are set up. The tea is poured. Both performers get up and slowly leave the studio with their cups to finish their ceremony without us. The music dies down as they disappear. Applause.
There are so many similarities between the two performances that it becomes clear to me immediately after leaving the studio why they were selected to take place together. Both are duos, both bring beauty on stage intensely to the fore, with bodies, clothing, music. Both ask questions about gender stereotypes and heteronormativity. However, the dedication to glamourous beauty appeared so extensive to me that I experienced no lessening of its normative power. This specious representation of beauty with contemporary codes and accessories leaves me uneasy. “Is this emancipatory or exclusive?” I ask myself. Gender norms are easily overturned while beauty norms appear unquestioned. Which bodies, which abilities and movements succeed on their way into the spotlight or are wanted there? My issue is also which work and experience these bodies – as projection surfaces – share with the audience, which habits of watching we thus incorporate and reproduce as norms – all of us, artists, audience, and institution, as mutually mingling participants in the great production – society.
I see the concrete twist which each of the performances brings, but I’m not sure whether I wouldn’t wish for another one, a refraction of the refraction towards something own that goes beyond the reflection of the status quo. We are here. We have created a space in which we can playfully embody desired roles. And now? Yes, beauty in itself is queer, because it questions the ugly status quo of the world. Like art that succeeds, it makes the other in us come to the fore. Perhaps. But does it also contain the intersectional power to see with all eyes – instead of closing one eye in order to be able to see with the other one?
There is another reason why I am preoccupied with this discrepancy: I did not see any mermaids “getting in touch with this common inner sea by working in a borderland, where bodies of water transform, and the imaginative, the sensual, the performative, and the fictional create an overall understanding of ever-changing liquid bodies”. I did not see a “thirst for something passionately moving, something dark and unregulated awaken[s]. Silhouettes fade, and a tormented soul seeks to find a space for itself. The picturesque, the artificial, the content or the form, the serious or the frivolous can be found in the spotlight.” These are programme quotes. By underlining this, I do not intend to shift the blame for my irritation only to the artists, but no less to the mechanisms which demand from us (and this is an intentional “us”) a (con)text production for announcements, teasers, and websites, which our practice advertises with just so many cool words and concepts in order to wrap them in glamour and market value. I plead for radical consequence regarding content, modesty in distribution – and for the mechanisms to go and take a breath of fresh air.
Three. And I always plead for karaoke parties hosted by Luca Büchler & crew. For the final celebration of the evening and the entire festival Rakete really brought the attending people together, merged them to become a loving and caring crowd who with the sweetest, shame-free embarrassment and joy performed for each other on the stage. Thanks for that!
 “Queerness as such, belongs to beauty, for beauty is queer and queerness is beautiful. Binary understandings of queerness, sexuality and gender are therefore a product of the colonial project of extracting bodies, resources, nature, values.” Evgenija Filova, “on beauty, the endings” (about Natural Drama by Sorour Darabi).
 From the programme for Snorre Elvin, Mermaid(s) of the Hypersea.
 From the programme for maria mercedes, again expressing things maybe.
Olivia Golde is co-founder and editor of the collective and the magazine PS: Anmerkungen zum Literaturbetrieb / Politisch Schreiben (PS: Annotations on the literature business / political writing). She lives in Vienna, creates texts and loves to make zines out of them. Her writing deals, e.g., with the conditions of wage labour, and the search for an extended language for modes of relationship.