Saturday 23 February 2019

botched taxidermy (FE365)

Throughout 2014, the 30th year of Forced Entertainment's existence, the company made an open call for people to submit texts "describing, thinking around, considering, marking or in any way remembering the company’s work in the three decades from its beginning in 1984". The only rule, that they be "exactly 365 words long, the final objective being to make a selection of texts totaling 10,950 words, one word for each day of the group’s collective work in the field of contemporary performance". In March 2015, 30 of the texts originally submitted - one for each year - were selected and published online as a pdf, with an introduction by Deborah Chadbourn and an afterword by Tim Etchells. This and the following post, texts I submitted, were included.

In his book The Postmodern Animal (2000), Steve Baker explores a variety of contemporary art practices involving animal representations, where ‘things appear to have gone wrong with the animal, as it were, but where it still holds together’. He describes strategies of imitation where disguises are tawdry, compromised, incongruous conjunctions coming apart at the seams, active reminders of difference and perhaps of a certain shame. With reference to Deleuze and Guattari’s word rater (to spoil, ruin), he coins the term ‘botched taxidermy’ for such makeshift, imperfect practices. Related to assemblage and bricolage, and the knowingly open display of ‘faulty’ or ‘inexpert’ technique, Baker suggests that such creative procedures in the generation of the provisional, the informal and the recycled are ‘questioning entities’(Derrida).

‘Botched taxidermy’ seems useful in relation to Forced Entertainment’s work, not only for thinking into all those dodgy animal disguises and uncertain animal/human hybrids in the performances: the panto horse in Pleasure, gulping whisky through an eye socket and cans of lager through the join between the two halves of the costume, before dancing in its own beery piss; the recurrent gorilla suit with or without head; or Cathy’s tatty, amateurish ‘dog’ costume in Showtime, on all fours with only the dog’s head and an old overcoat - a hilarious irritant messing with the show’s already troubled coherence, as well as a bittersweet failure of cynocephalic transformation. ‘Botched taxidermy’ also informs the structures and tonalities that characterise so many of these shows. Irreverently playing with received, overly-familiar or overlooked representational forms, displacing and defamiliarising them, turning them inside out and on their heads. Messing with their anatomies, abusing them, taking them apart, ‘stitching them up’ and reanimating them as comic, pathetic, psychotic, narcoleptic, drunk, incompetent, conspiratorial or inventive revenants in a different context here-now.

In Forced Entertainment’s shows, things often stagger on the lip of falling apart, yet somehow it still holds together. This core ambiguity and complexity in the work might be called a ‘fucked-up-and-yetness’. The ‘and-yetness’, which is political in its invitation to possibility and connectivity, takes many forms aesthetically and affectively, from the melancholic, the poignant and the corrosively comic, to the most astonishing micro-events of a flaring into appearance.

For all of the FE365 submissions in 2014, as well as the pdf download, see here. Contributors to the pdf selection include Mike Harrison, Alan Read, Gerry Harris, John McGrath, Matt Fenton, David Tushingham, Tim Crouch, Andy Smith, Richard Gregory, Kate Valk, Claire Macdonald, Dan Rebellato and Mark Etchells. 

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