TQW Magazin
Sarah Tasha on S_P_I_T_ Day 1: Storm / Raymond Liew Jin Pin

Welcome back, I love you!


Welcome back, I love you!

It is the end of June, not just Pride Month, but in general one of the months richest in events and work in the Viennese art and culture scene. People are tired, and it is hot. In spite of this, the festival S_P_I_T_ is sold out.

With academic punctuality (15 minutes late) I arrive at the meet’n’greet part of the opening night and have to find out that no one has yet dared to touch the buffet. By saying buffet I mean an outstandingly fascinating and aesthetic installation of the most diverse jelly creations. “It’s all vegan”, the person at the other side of the table assures me – one of the artists behind the aspic extravaganza.

I’m sampling apricot caviar pellets on risotto, pea spread with balsamico jelly and various jellied alcoholic beverages while watching the visitors arrive.

Denise Kottlett, next to Lisa Holzinger one of the organisers and curators of the festival, is impossible to overlook in her neon-green polyester dress. Repeatedly, guests steer directly towards her and greet her. People know each other.

“Welcome back, I love you!”, Denise shortly after opens the festival on the stage of the TQW studio. We love you too, Denise!

Denise’s moderation feels somewhat improvised but cordial. She talks about this year’s festival theme “pleasure activism”, the struggles of queer people, their experiences with the Viennese drag scene, that it’s getting more and more difficult for us every year, and why she speaks for this festival. Every sentence confirms her genuine love and enthusiasm for all participating players. Finally, Denise adds an obligatory “Thank you to MA 7” before she announces the evening’s first show.

Storm, drag queen and integral part of the Viennese scene, is ready. She enters the stage in “full glam”, takes the microphone and continues the conversation about queer life realities. Rightfully, Storm insists on criticising the racism experienced by her in the Viennese queer community, and concludes her brief monologue with “maybe it is ok to be me”.

She follows up with lip-synching a song by Mariah Carey in a skillful combination of elegance and energy, offering the audience all the intoxicating emotions of an excellent drag performance. Slay! In this shape, Storm’s number combined with Denise’s casual moderation would equally well fit the programme of an underground drag event, off the premises of MuseumsQuartier, hidden somewhere in the basement of an Irish pub.

After the lipsynch it’s time for Mini Melt Down – an installation by Claire Lefèvre some rooms further. The “radically soft space” invites us to chill and muse with cozy seating accommodation, works by the textile artist Sophie Utikal hanging from the ceiling, and a soundscape by Zosia Hołubowska. I’m leafing through The Body Keeps the Score, one of the thematically fitting books provided. However, somehow a bit too much for me at the moment. I prefer lying down instead, trying to deliberate whether I see a flame or a drop of blood in the textile work over me. Not far from me, two persons lacquer their nails at the beauty-self-care station and talk about their jobs in the creative industry – and threatening burnout: “I don’t know how long I’ll manage to go on … in this intensity”, one of the persons’ complaint mixes into the soundscape. Purpose of the installation fulfilled.

Formerly, as a naive first semester art student, I believed that you’ve “made it” once you get a gig as performance artist at MuseumsQuartier. Without knowing anything concrete about the financial situation of the participating artists and organisers, my gut feeling tells me that most of them probably have day jobs or muddle through a precarious life from project to project.

The next performance begins: Maria Cencaru – A Southeast Asian Cis-Sis Reunion.

Traditional and contemporary dance, personal stories, neon light and video elements, as well as the attempt on my part to understand the references made. Now I’m annoyed that I didn’t take the folder for the piece laid out at the cash desk.

“Stop looking!”, one performer snaps at the audience. I feel caught out, as a white person who in utter voyeurism observes a deeply intimate exchange about queerness and trans-identity in Southeast Asian countries. I presume that this feeling is intentionally provoked by the artists.

We are asked to rise from our seats and form a sitting circle. Audience interaction. We’re playing a game. Who is Maria? The performers talk about their life.

More neon lights, ballroom, critical reflection about military service in Singapore and hypnotising sensory overflow. Applause.

The performers re-enter the stage, thanks are being uttered, several people who took part in the piece’s creation cannot be here due to running asylum procedures and/or immigration problems.

As I leave, I take along the folder about the piece: “I fear for my trans/queer siblings who are constantly resisting, I fear for what the country will become, I fear for my future […]. Sometimes I wish that Malaysia would recognise how the colonial past still shapes our society – in terms of queerness – how much erasure has taken place and how much freedom we have lost”, says the performer Paula Pau in it.

Maria Cencaru – A Southeast Asian Cis-Sis Reunion makes a strong contrast to Storm’s drag lipsynch. Behind both are the questions concerning own identity and the activist desire for queer visibility. Maria Cencaru, though, is decidedly conceived for an audience familiar with contemporary dance/theatre stage performance. Or: you would definitely not see this performance in the basement of an Irish pub.

Could not that be one of the strengths of S_P_I_T_: combining institutionally moulded, complex-conceptual contemporary performance art with the easiness and the community feeling of an underground queer event?

I’m standing on the stairs to the TQW Studios, looking out of the window at the people availing themselves of drinks and the last remnants of the jelly buffet installation. Looks more like a MuseumsQuartier audience here.

Which parts of the queer community does one lose when one enters the institutional stage? In the case of S_P_I_T_, this seems to me to be an organisational rather than a philosophical question. The tickets are rare and sold out weeks in advance. So there’s probably not much chance left to reach people outside the institutional performance art bubble.

Outside I meet Storm again, by now “out of drag”. I congratulate her on her lipsynch, and we talk about performance gigs, money, and the approaching summer slump. I treat myself to a last portion of vegan gin tonic jelly, slurped directly out of an oyster shell.


Sarah Tasha (born 1992 in Vienna) works with performance, photography, video, and social media on gender & queerness as well as sociopolitical topics. Tasha studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna with Ashley Hans Scheirl and is part of the queer-feminist art & culture collective ContextCocktail.