Apr 23, 2015

Gutter Matters Pecha Kucha styles

I recently presented my work 'Gutter Matters' at the DPAG for the Dunedin Fringe Festival's Pecha Kucha event (March 2015).  This is my script.

Gutter Matters: queer choreography in city gutters

A city’s drainage system is designed to channel unwanted runoff from the streets, but has become part of a cycle of toxification, which circulates pollutants from city to sea to fish to gut. Gutter. Cigarette butt, oil, gas, and litter. This is our collective gutter matter. Gutter matters. 

I’m val smith, and I lie face down in gutters as a kind of dance practice. Tonight I will introduce to you a choreographic project called Gutter Matters which investigates the relationship between city drainage systems, ecological thinking, and a queer politics of pride and shame. 

The project begins three years ago in Auckland city when I was thinking about a parallel between the way Western society conceives of and treats the body of the city, and the human body. 

I noticed that people walked alongside the gutter, stepped over the gutter, but, they didnt step into the gutter. In fact, people seemed to ignore or block out the existence of the gutter, as if it wasn’t there. 

Is Western thinking driving us to close our eyes to what is considered to be unclean, shameful or private? And does the gutter, as system of elimination, somehow relate to Western beliefs and values that fuel homophobia, transphobia, and other hate crimes in society?  

When you think about city drains and gutters, what aspects of society come to mind? When I asked this question of participants in the project, I heard a range of associations, which became starting points for the creation of 7 performance experiments. 

Nowhere further to fall, Channels of shame, BLOCK, detox/retox, mind in the gutter, META-gutter, You’re draining me. In one of these experimentsI invite passers-by to lie on the footpath next to me and observe what is in the drain below.   

When activated on Auckland’s Karangahape Road, this performance resulted in some confrontational verbal and physical responses from the public. 

Despite these external happenings I carry on with the bodily practice, dropping into a process of becoming-gutter. I am s l o w i n g and stilling, to sense and listen to the gutter environment. Becoming-gutter is at first embarrassed and nervous, but then it softens, dissolves and relaxes.  

Assumptions about the gutter peel away to reveal unexpected beauty and aliveness. The underworld of the cigarette butt filled gutter morphs to become a palatial theatre chamber with deeply moving lighting states and elaborate miniature gardens and sculptures.

I want to talk with you about the unspeakable. I want to sneak through the cracks of the city, and follow its flows and blocks. Let’s make friends with the hair bunny, the chicken bone, the scrawny leaf.  

I have presented iterations of Gutter Matters on Auckland’s K Road, and also in Finland’s city of Turku. Each gutter I encounter reveals particular human habits, and that specific city’s attitude towards cleanliness, or an ethics of the ecological. 

Finland’s gutters for example, were squeaky fucken clean. Each night a truck would drive through to scrub away unwanted dirt, or “scum”.  Socio-economic issues, and attitudes towards homelessness and cultural minorities, were mirrored in the state of health of this city’s gutters. 

In Auckland I crawl up two flights of stairs to enter the bright, clean, white room of Artspace Gallery. A stark contextual contrast to K Road downstairs on that Friday night.  

This is a Pride Parade of my own design. I finish with a slow motion pompom routine on the floor. Afterall, focusing on the details of movement inside the joints of the body, is just as gay as holographic hotpants, right?! 

I invite the gallery goers to join me in an After Party for Introverts, my own queer utopia. Inside the party is pitch black with only a windup torch and a tiny disco ball to light the event.

There is also a small hole that allows for an introverted socialization between the individual party zones.

I’m interested in embracing shame in performance as a productive force, an affective experience through which we might engage with our identities from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. 

Can these bodily experiments contribute to the re-writing of a gutter culture?  I am dreaming here of ‘Pride’ events that reflect counter-cultural ideologies that exist outside of the gay mainstream.

Gutter Matters demands to be seen and valued, it resists gutter-judgment, and celebrates gutter-life. Gutter Matters walks with the fullness and power of gutter - desires. 
Photos by val smith, Peter Jennings, Nina Gastreich, Hannu Seppala, Antoine Pickels 

Thanks to:

Josh Thomas for the invite to present at the totally packed out Pecha Kucha event, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

All the Gay Shame Parade helpers and participants.

Support from New Performance Turku Festival, Amelia Hitchcock, Artspace Gallery, Alys Longley & Dance Studies, University of Auckland, Dunedin Fringe Festival.