The performance Lost to the Phosphorus involves me reciting a text in Greek and English, while wandering around the space with a torch in near-total darkness, drawing ‘evil eyes’ (το μάτι, an apotropaic device common in eastern Mediterranean countries) on audience members’ hands.
Like a bouncer or security agent providing or refusing access, they don’t know why they have, or have not, been given an eye, or what the nature of their been included or excluded means. I was thinking about the arbitrary nature of who gets access to cultural and national enclosures- from cliques to countries- and how that’s enforced in the name of preventing contamination.
Contamination as the spread of emotional contagion through biological, physical, digital networks, when bodies must be understood as so entangled within these forces that any sense of a border containing interior subjective experience and identity dissolves, reflecting as Stacey Alaimo puts it, ” a kind of enfolding in which everything presumed to be outside of the properly human is always already within.”
At the same time, on a material level, borders are enforced and identities cannot, do not, just mutate into each other- assuming otherwise is to ignore the very real differences and privileges afforded by certain passports, accents, ethnicities.
This was partly informed by my experience of Documenta in Athens, specifically around ideas of mutating, traversing and exchange (between Germany and Greece, most obviously) when there is a clear power differential. I’d thought of Athens as almost like a medium or proxy that the institution chose to speak through, and while nobody claimed it was/ could be a frictionless process, I sensed an inability to fully perceive and embody that difference and the gritty remains of mistranslation…
Often bought as charms from tourist tat shops, the evil eye also alludes to the figure of the tourist, who can mostly enjoy their ‘difference’ whilst traversing borders. On an obvious level the text slips between language borders, disintegrating into a sort of pidgin ‘Gringlish’, that only fellow bilinguals can fully understand. Here it’s non-Greek speakers who get left out- which, in an art context, means mostly Anglos, northern Europeans and Americans, who are ordinarily accustomed to both linguistic and physical access/ inclusion.
The text also describes the evil eye as a tool of social classification, cast on those deemed enviable, vulnerable or different, who stand out from their cultural context in some way. I wanted to link this to the sense of not belonging to one’s adopted culture and having to modify accents, behaviours, speech to fit in, to cross the border into ‘passing’, and the ways these are embodied, are bodily as well as psychic. Also the body being ‘spoken through’ in the form of disease, where lodged beliefs/ traumas/ affects not present in the conscious mind are seemingly ‘expressed’ somatically, or converted, in the Freudian schema- which, as Eleni Stecoplous points out, problematically reinforces the long-held rift in Western thought between the mind and the body. I came across her writing around somatic intelligence after making this performance, but found many resonances in her understanding of “language not as discourse or communication but as energetic force, and a belief that the material word had visceral effect on bodies”, so that certain words in the ‘mother tongue’ (Greek in her case; mine is actually English) have a warmth and intimacy that are bound up in muscle memories and love-built bonds.
Speaking of love, I partly wrote the text through an excruciating period of heartbreak where I felt so acutely absorbed into another person’s consciousness that I couldn’t separate myself emotionally or physically. The performance is meant to evoke a ritual, a ‘cleanse for inner intensities’- perhaps an attempt to dissolve that connective tissue.
As Anna Tsing says, ‘everyone carries a history of contamination’, where purity is not an option, and while she’s talking more about the interconnectedness of food logistics, market barters, global travel routes and digestion in an ecology of biophysical/ technical relations, I was thinking at the time of emotional contagion too; how it travels through digital networks in viral images, moods and memes. And how intimate relationships also require openness to emotional blending and contagion, where (in my experience anyway), you can easily lose a sense of your own borders, a sense of yourself even: the ‘eksatsis’ of going beyond the self.
Meanwhile, in the performance, the techno beat, hand-marking, dark room and allusions to pills/ drugs to suggest a space of ecstatic hedonism, ritual and euphoric loss of self-consciousness, but also solipsism- just partying on, losing yourself, oblivious to what’s going on outside (including the dead body on the beach).
Performed at Hot Wheels Projects in Athens Greece, January 2018 as part of Speak Through You, an event co-curated by Erica Scourti and Ioanna Gerakidi, and featuring Ioanna Gerakidi, Juliet Jacques, Erica Scourti, Cally Spooner and Jesper List Thomsen. A video of the performance by Alexandra Masmanidi is here. This text came from a conversation with Ben Eastham, responding in particular to his question about ‘the means by which you attempt to “slip across borders” and what precisely those borders are’. Read his article for Mousse, Getting Lost.