Rant: “Naked Girls Reading (Erotica!): A New Genre Comes to DC’s Performance Art Scene”

Ok. Maybe I am pretentious and obsessively pseudo-academic about performance.  Maybe I am closed-minded and old fashioned about what performance art is.  And maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.  I saw this online in the past months and outright dismissed it, but today I am feeling a little agitated by this post on Pink Line.  Maybe it’s the drain of winter and the abysmal grayness of today, but I am going to have a rare (or maybe the first in a long string) first person bitch-fest about something i don’t know anything about.  So I am going to talk out my feelings, ok?

If you’re looking for performance art with an erotic twist (and sometimes an Oliver Twist), then look up your friendly neighborhood burlesque dancers and their new D.C. chapter of “Naked Girls Reading.”

I’m obviously not going to this because it is the same time as Soapbox this Friday.  Their timing may piss me off, but I feel like my usual Soapbox audience isn’t the same as the burlesque crowd.  I don’t know what that means, and I don’t know why I’m making that assumption.  I should be finishing my post about Friday’s Soapbox- I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for the better part of the day working on it and getting lost in research- maybe that’s another reason I’m pissed off.

First of all, if this is tongue-in-cheek, “A New Genre Comes to DC’s Performance Art Scene,” then fuck you for making fun of my scene that I have already invested a lot of time making fun of.  (Please see The Rise of Comceptual Art in Washington, DC) Maybe someone is feeling like her toes are getting stepped on, and obviously I need to lighten up.  Whatever.

If the use of the term ‘performance art’ is just a deliberately highjacked tagline to boost visibility of the show in a time when in DC ‘performance art’ is suddenly a buzz word, then I don’t know what to say.  Especially on Pink Line, in anticipation of SUPERNOVA- “Performance Art” is like, so hot right now.  I’m probably offended because I feel like it degrades the kind of work that I’m engaged with by suggesting that “Naked Girls Reading” and “To Know a Veil," Friday’s Soapbox, have anything in common.  "To Know a Veil" is so complex, intelligent, and challenging- and ‘Naked Girls’ feels like a dangerously simple gimmick- 

The show is like an adult bedtime story, true to its tagline: “You can’t spell ‘literature’ without ‘T & A’.” A woman walks on a stage with nothing but a book in her hand and heels on her feet, sits in a chair, and reads to you – which is enough to either titillate a date into a hookup or weed out a stiff.

Why heels!? Aren’t we over that? Let’s not even get into a psychoanalytic discussion of a bare-breasted replacement-mom reading “an adult bedtime story.”  Although to be real- I am responding to it, right?  How often does anything get me heated?

Porn is porn and porn is fine but porn is not performance art.  I don’t think naked girls reading erotica is porn, but it just feels like there is a kind of intentionality lacking that I seek in the performance I show.  What the fuck is the point? I get a titty show, the point is titties, it’s reductive and objectifying.  This almost feels like a freak show- like, can you believe that a naked woman knows how to read? $25 at the door to get off on the novelty of a literate naked woman.  Maybe it has something to do with my conception of burlesque as often- but not always- but mostly- reinforcing culture norms and gender binaries, just because a strip-tease is produced by women doesn’t mean it isn’t degrading.  That said, let’s not forget that I’ve never seen this show, never heard of anyone seeing it, don’t know anything about it besides the above post, and I am making generalizations and assumptions regardless.  

In October, It Might Get Better by two young Boston-based artists Creighton Baxter and Hayley Morgenstern at Soapbox took the tropes of drag performance and burlesque and exploded them- screaming along to diva pop songs for a solid hour while changing in and out of campy dresses, rapidly altering personas and critically asking about ostentatious gender performance, simultaneously breaking down and constructing identities.  ”The collision of materials, lived experiences, and research produces voluptuous, problematic, and complicated images and affectations of loss, mourning, and survival through the resignification of cultural objects and discourses.”

So to conclude before I finish the post about Emma’s Soapbox this Friday- here are two little lines from my favesie feminist theorist Peggy Phelan, both in the first chapter of Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. 

"Representation follows two laws: it always conveys more than it intends; and it is never totalizing."

"If representational visibility equals power, then almost-naked young white women should be running Western culture."

If anyone involved in “Naked Girls Reading” is reading this, please get back at me and let’s have a conversation.  

lots of love and see you bitches at Soapbox.


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