Monday, 17 November 2014

Notes on Nudity (1)

In the past week, there has been a surfeit of performance featuring the naked body. Go back three or four years, and the naked body seemed to be the fashionable prop for any artist wanting to make a statement - perhaps because of Nic Green's Trilogy, which imagined the naked female body as a feminist tool, or perhaps because the annual National Review of Live Art had relaxed everybody's inhibitions. However, the display of breasts and bottoms had slowed down in the past few years, and getting a week with three shows that depended on (at least partial) nudity was a surprise.

The important word is 'depended on': these weren't the equivalent of those sex scenes in Hollywood movies, which usually provide a break from the excitement of things all blowing up and that. Nic Green's Fatherland concludes with a topless highland fling, Ron Athey began Incorruptible Flesh laid out and naked, while Mouse at The Art School... well, she started off with a little bit on, but that didn't last. And Penny Chivas, in Cryptic's These Delicate Things stood in a cabinet wearing some great head-gear and not much else.

The danger with stage nudity is not that it is likely to corrupt, as the ancients feared, but that its use becomes meaningless. Rosana Cade has made nudity a tactic in much of her work (including bursting forth naked as the baby Jesus in A Gay in a Manger), and uses it as a provocation, following the example of Nic Green's naked bodies in Trilogy. But in both These Delicate Things and Fatherland, the nudity becomes just a thing: in the former, an echo of visual art's use of the female body as form; in the latter, a recognisable trope that marks Fatherland as a Nic Green production.

This use of nudity is the most problematic: Ron Athey would struggle to do the first part of Flesh fully clothed, and Mouse would have trouble squirting water from her ass in underpants. But Nic Green's dance could have been done fully clothed and while her body forces questions about gender and bodies and how a father relates to a daughter (in the context of a piece based on her meeting with her absent father), it is possible that her aggressive undressing from a masculinely tailored suit takes it too far. If there is something about her throwing off her constrictive clothes to find freedom, or a revelation of her natural state, challenging objectification, then fine. But perhaps Fatherland  has not entirely earnt the nudity.

Chivas' 'neutral' nudity presents similar problems. It might be prudery, but is nudity ever neutral? Certainly, neither Chivas nor Green are objectified - Green's dance is a rebuff of Sartre's ideas that pornography is the untamed female nude. And there is nothing erotic in their presentation. 

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