Sunday, October 12, 2014

'What's New Pussycat' by Silvia Ziranek at Feminist Fiesta 001, 11th October 2014

If you're standing in front of a banner that reads "FUCK THE FUCKING FUCKERS" you need to bring your A-game.  This was hanging on the stage of Feminist Fiesta 001, a gathering of London's smartest, funniest and damn stylish women.  For one sunny autumn day Doyce Street, a vestigial little alley tucked away next to Mint Street Park, became a bustling mini-festival.  

More specifically this was taking place in the home of Alannah Currie (of The Thompson Twins!) and Jimmy Cauty (of The KLF!).  They'd thrown their doors open to the feminists of London, who'd proceeded to fill their front room with stalls selling a wide selection of gender hip badges, t-shirts, sculptures, posters and, most eye-catchingly, a collection of multicoloured knitted dildos.  

My main reason for attending was to see Silvia Ziranek's latest piece; What's New Pussycat. Ever since I first encountered her a couple of years ago at LUPA 18 I've always made an effort to check out her performances.  They're very much up my street: a well mixed cocktail of arch ridiculousness, gender politics, eye-catching outfits and idiosyncratic humour.

What's New Pussycat consists of a recitation of classic pop song titles, each followed by with a pointed addendum.  So for example; "You don't have to say you love me... but remember, Mother's Day is not just a run to the petrol station for some dying blooms and a bought card once a year." or "I feel pretty, oh so pretty.. I also can handle a fork lift truck as well as the next homo sapiens."  A selection of props sat on a table next to her, including a rolling pin, a mini-hand saw, a wooden spoon and what looked like part of a coffee machine.

The lyrics and titles she's reciting don't immediately strike the listener as particularly objectionable, but Silvia's digging a little deeper than simply calling out sexist lyrics.  This a broadside at wider, subtler themes running through popular culture.  In particular, Silvia highlights common strands of possessiveness, objectification and infantilisation that run through most of these songs.  Everything that swims in the the creative ocean, from the cheesiest novelty pop single to heavyweight establishment literature, grows from a collective cultural consciousness, and given the nature of our society, that consciousness is intrinsically patriarchal.  

It all feels a bit cryptic to begin with, almost like a list of personal grievances rather than a manifesto.  Yet the domestic props she picks up they gradually make this a vicious attack on female domestic servitude.  When she picks up a rolling pin and gently taps her body it looks slightly playful, but there's a queasy undertone of violence, both actual assaults and the casual societal enslavement of shackling women to the kitchen and turning them into cake making machines.

This was all delivered in what I've come to consider one of Silvia's trademarks: precise diction. She doesn't give a shit about whether the audience like her or not, just that they're paying attention. So her tone is fierce, her words sharply punctuated with glottal stops and her body language fashion-model-pose angular.  That she takes her performance so seriously elevates her message; even if you don't 'get it', you understand that there's something to 'get'.

Unfortunately I couldn't stick around to see the rest of the performers,  I had places to be, people to meet and pretty things to ruthlessly criticise.  But, as always, I'm glad I made the effort to see Silvia.  I see a lot of performance artists, some of them great, some of them godawful, but none quite the same as Silvia Ziranek.

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