By Connie Blach
Night two of SLAP Festival came to a rousing, emotional end with a performance of Softcore Boundaries, created and brought to life by Antonio Branco and Riccardo T. This multifaceted, interactive piece fascinates in the way it fluently witches between alienating and welcoming its audience. Moreover, it challenges the viewer to question why such a response has been elicited.
Take, for example, the repetitive movement of hastily stripping naked, only to re-dress and repeat the action elsewhere in the space. The performers turn themselves into spectacles which can only be evaluated on a physical level. While the onlooker may at first be shy and avert their eyes, soon the audience is no more bashful of these performers than they are of the images of self-pleasure, penetration and erotic interaction displayed on a tripod at various positions across the studio. The intimacy of the act of undressing is stripped, leaving only the physicality of sex, and leaving the political queer body to be examined.
What is the purpose of their auto-dehumanisation? Equally, what is it about repetition that makes it so easy for the onlooker to take the action for granted? Is this a responsible attitude to the body which takes us through the repetitions of every day life? What soul is contained in the body?
The artists describe their work as an “open” performance “about the body and its presentation: its physicality, aura, psyche, and identity”, with an inherently political message about how one can ever identify as oneself. One of the few moments where the performers speak to the audience is a particularly intimate one. Stretched naked on top of a tinfoil sheet bordered by water bottles, reminiscent of a four poster bed, one performer poses a dilemma: if gender and sexuality are both a performance, is the same not true of sex itself? It leaves the audience to wonder if even this act of intimacy is performative, or whether one can be truly honest with a partner. The eyes of the audience now seem far too invasive, ethereally omnipresent.
Suddenly, the iconography of the barbed wire stretched across the room- a player in many of the performers’ direct interactions- strikes a clear comparison. Bodies act as barriers between souls, insurmountable but negotiable. A final tender moment between the performers juxtaposes the brutality of some of the earlier scenes, bringing the knowledge that once a problem has been identified it can be negotiated: an embrace that traverses the barbed wire between them. While this is only one interpretation of a highly complex and absorbing piece of performance art, it is one that has left me moved beyond my expectations.