Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Beth Moysés: Removing Pain

Photos from 'Removing Pain', a performance by Brazilian artist Beth Moysés for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women which took place on November 25th in Trinity College Dublin, on a cold but beautifully sunny afternoon.

The rule was that we were to wear all white, including our shoes. They had hats and shawls for us and handmade, pearl embellished dresses. Although myself and my friend who also took part chuckled that we looked like kitchen porters in our long-johns and white caps before we were fully dressed, the final collective result was striking and evocative.

A mixture of women who had experienced domestic violence and those of us who wanted to engage with the important issue of violence against women, each of us had bruises painted on our faces, black eyes and cut up lips. My smack stretched the length of my cheek and across my eye. Ouch! We complimented each other on how authentic and effective the make-up was and I reflected on the gratitude I felt that this bruising had been carefully and gently applied with a soft make-up brush, not a fist.

It was a meditative and energising experience, a procession of women in white. More than one of us thought of the Magdalene women and the dichotomous image of us; revered spiritual sisters or women being made an example of? Was it a religious ritual? Or a parade of shame? Was it both? I watched the tail end of the white skirt of the woman in front of me, rhythmically moving over her legs in the breeze. It was mesmerizing. I kept my eyes downcast for the entire procession, alert for snippets of comments and the conversation of passers by: appreciative, curious, giddy, derogatory, dismissive, silly.

When we reached Physics Square, there were 16 holes dug in the ground. We each stood next to one, waiting patiently while woman by woman, we removed the bruises from each others faces. One by one, we took tissues from our pocket, cleaned the face of our sister, put the tissue in her hand, she would place it in the ground, and turn to clean the face of the woman next to her. At the end we buried the tissues, took rice from our pockets and threw it in handfuls to the center of the circle, sewing seeds of hope and renewal. The ritual was simple but clever and clear. It created a silent and meditative space for the performers and the audience to contemplate and be still. We were all these things: a spectacle, a ritual, a performance, a sisterhood. The material was challenging, even though the task was simple and it was reassuring and inspiring to feel supported by my peers. The act itself of women healing women was made overt in the cleaning of each other's faces.

In the atrium after the performance, Catherine Marshall gave an inspiring speech, observing how the Removing Pain performance and performance art in general was a reclamation or reinvention of ritual in a country where religious and spiritual rituals have been made meaningless and perverse (It made me think not only of child abuse in the Catholic Church and the Magdalene women, but of Tara and The Corrib Gas Project).

The speech, and the elements of ritual that the performance evoked made me think about the complex issues of performer and audience again. Part of me wanted to parade outside of Trinity, to walk through the city and expand the performance outside Trinity's walls. I had funny thoughts occur to me imagining this ritual becoming a staple of Trinity life. People coming from all over the world to see the women walking in white through the grounds of Trinity college, like the routine of soldiers at Buckingham Palace. Although as Catherine Marshall suggested, the more spontaneous a ritual, the less vulnerable it is to fatigue or indeed, corruption, in which case, we can indeed look to performance and performative practice, as a tool for reflection and meditation.

I also observed how the performance and ritual, was vulnerable to what I consider to be a consumerist attitude which can invade the experience of both being part of a performance and witnessing it. Possibly as a result of the oppressive rituals which have preceded us and the corruption which is now public knowledge, I fear that my ideal imagined ritualism is no longer possible in my environment - the ideal being opportunity and space for collective reverie, reflection, suspension and stillness in a world of relentless chatter, comment and photographs (Even though the performance was supposed to be a video piece, when Beth's camera would not work, my friend commented on how the performance seemed almost more valuable undocumented. And although I am grateful of the beautiful photos, my negotiation with and opinion on the ethics of photography and documentation is ongoing).

We need new rituals. Although I do not subscribe to religion, I fear the religious and ritualistic gap-stop of neo-liberalism, capitalism and consumerism alongside the perversion and corruption of the Catholic church has left us alienated as a people, for the majority of us literally put our faith in these two Gods, as it were, both of which have of course been revealed as fallible and corrupt. But are we learning from these mistakes? It certainly is an interesting chapter to live through, even if the outcome is as yet unclear. I am looking forward to seeing what new rituals we invent outside of religion, even though the struggle to achieve and maintain solidarity in a new poorer Ireland, will surely present a challenge, as much as it ever was!

More information on the artist Beth Moysés: http://www.bethmoyses.com.br/
And the event: Here and here.

Note: Many important topics in here and I've had my doubts about posting this, especially without drawing more attention to the issue of domestic violence in the midst of all this ritual talk. I'd love to hear some responses, to develop a discussion...

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking the time to take part and write this piece Emily. This was definitely a platform from which to examine a number of issues highlighted and hinted at by the performance and the different interpretations that arise.