Some time ago, I saw an exquisite dance show. "Shadows of Light" is an amazing representation - it left me with the feeling that the dancer controls each and every muscle - better, every cell! - in his body. But during the show, I also felt alienated, unable to comprehend and to relate. In the section in question, the artist dances on the stage; on the background, a multimedia projection follows the naked artist dancing on a white bed. In the beginning, there's only a tiny spot of blood staining the whiteness. As he continues dancing, the spot grows and grows, covering his entire body until everything turns red.
My first reaction was "yuck!". I checked with my party, and they said "yuck" too. I had a feeling the dance had something to do with menstruation. But I couldn't escape the feeling that it also had to do something with giving birth. And maybe also violence.
The juxtaposition of menstruation and violence upsets me. I've written here about menstruation - moon time - as a celebration of being. Trying to make sense of my own reaction, I thought that maybe it is the patriarchal underpinning of seeing menstruation as pain, as violence, as blooding that annoyed me. I cannot say for sure, because all such rationalizations are meant to partly make sense of something embodied and pre-cognitive. My rejection or shut down can also be caused by the association of this blood with giving birth. I've always wondered why giving birth must be so painful and violent way - and couldn't find any reasonable answer.
I also thought the whole dance could have had something to do with the myth of androgyny; hence the juxtaposition of a male body covered in blood. While I'm writing this, it hits me that I saw similar images on campus, paraded by the anti-abortion coalition. They were bloody, but that was not what impressed me: the idea of someone else deciding over my body and telling me I cannot have an abortion, that was the most disgusting part. Whenever I see such bloody, fetus-like images, all I can think about is patriarchal control over women's bodies.
I might have missed the significance of the blood. Maybe - as with other forms of modern art - I missed the whole point of the art project: it's not about meaning-making, but about feelings. Maybe it was meant to unsettle and upset. Maybe it was meant to provoke. When art breaks away with convention, frustrating our expectations and violating our sense of 'normalcy', "the audience is frequently offended or outraged by the way an artist has broken artistic convention, in just the same way as they would be if the artist had been socially impolite to them" (Fiske, 1990, p. 15).
But I was left wondering about the things that make us 'click'. A good work of art is, for me, one that leaves you wondering. And even if I didn't like the blood, I am still wondering...
References: Fiske, J. (1990) Introduction to Communication Studies. 2nd Edition (2004) London, New York: Routledge.
Photo credits: Bogdan I. Stanciu