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Performing a Seduction: Performance Art Houston’s “Political Seducer’s Diary”

Political Animal Magazine have published a critically stimulating conversation between Jeanette Joy Harris and Steven Martz on Harris’ recent curatorial project, ‘The Political Seducer’s Diary’. Brooke Leigh feels fortunate to be a part of such an interactive and experimental performative exhibition. She sends her gratitude to Performance Art Houston (USA)––a platform dedicated specifically to performance art––for providing the opportunity to connect with other international performance artists, and to open up dialogue surrounding political issues that lie at the core of her current work. Leigh’s contribution to the exhibition is discussed in detail below.

‘The Political Seducer’s Diary,’ is an Instagram-based performance art exhibit by Performance Art Houston that ran from November to December 2017 on @PerformanceArtHouston. Inspired by Kierkegaard’s ‘The Seducer’s Diary,’ the exhibit delved into the question of how “what is beautiful” might determine “what is just” and ultimately affect politics. . .

JEANETTE JOY HARRIS: If we consider social media as a possible political platform and aesthetics as integral to it, we must keep in mind Aristotle’s idea that we are “political animals,” e.g., people who speak and think in a world with others. How/can speech translate into a visual, Instagram world where text is unnecessary and in some cases arbitrary and incoherent? There are a number of artists, like Katya Petetskaya and yourself, who use text in this show by either appropriating Kierkegaard’s work, using first person confessional, or third person narrative. How does language support, subvert or divert their projects?

STEVEN MARTZ: There is always going to be an uneasy tension there. And this largely comes down to how we understand language or better, what we consider to be linguistic acts. In many respects, we abandon visual representation in favor of speech because we fear loss – that if the message isn’t spelled out that we (as ‘authors’) lose control of the message. We feel that this potential for loss is heightened with visual representation. However, as we know, the visual impact is often stronger than the Word and so we must reconcile our need to dominate with speech and to feel comfortable with the reception that is beyond our control. This is, in any case, a fairytale. But it is a powerful one. Can we ever just let the image speak for itself? To run the risk of interpretation? I think that is necessary if we truly want to preserve human freedom and therefore dignity.

JJH: I think Brooke Leigh tackled this in her works. Leigh is concerned with notions of mental health, wellness, and safety and her practice includes both drawing and performance. Leigh is an Australian artist but her residency serendipitously occurred near the beginning of the Harvey Weinstein scandal that led to the eruption of sexual harassment and assault accusations in the US. Leigh posted powerful videos of her screaming and images of her mouth being tied. These were accompanied by drawings of statements like “do you hear me” and “you don’t deserve a mouth.” For me, this series was a juxtaposition of subjective, raw rage with a need to communicate, though not necessarily intellectualize, those feelings so they might be shared and acted upon by others. This analysis seems to be corroborated by the comments to the posts.

Leigh’s work tackled one of the exhibition’s themes, seduction, but in the context of violence. Kierkegaard also paints “seduction” as something sinister in “The Seducer’s Diary,” but he, ironically, uses the technique of seduction to frame his own narrative. The work relies on us believing common gossip – that the diary entries read by the servant are accurate. In a way, Kierkegaard creates a platform, like Instagram, whose foundation is shaky, its truth doubted, and its participant manipulators. How do the artists in this show break free and/or utilize this structure?

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