It’s the morning of the 25th of December – your Christmas Day – and I recently woke up from a dream about working, something about a public talk, a difficult person and explaining the machinations of late capitalism and feeling as though I didn’t know enough. In another part of the dream I was on a crappy residency, I was also in school studying geography and I made a request that we watch an episode of the Simpsons instead… I wake up thinking about the vampiric nature of arts institutions – they are not the vampires that I am hot for and at the end of this year, one where I have worked with (for?) bigger organisations than in the past, I am just fucking tired. So tired that all I want to do is be in bed and read paperback fiction and not process anything. In six days, I will close a false door on this year, and hope to feel relieved; 2016 has left me feeling so fucking compromised.
It’s the morning of the 25th of December, and I am writing this to you; you specifically. I have been wondering if ‘audience’ might interchangeable with ‘therapist’, an anonymous, but definitely human, ‘you’ who is tied to a confidentiality agreement, rather than just addressing a ‘public’ all the time. In order to continue, to manage, to perform being me, do I need the support (or airtime) of numerous professionals with varying fields of expertise, who are only tied to me so long as I choose/can afford to continue to employ them. Is that my community? What is the meaning of care, when I am paying for it?
Travis Alabanza spoke about this (care) in HOTLINE in September, and I took it from a distance… They spoke about people booking them for gigs and not showing any care towards their body. They spoke as a transperson of colour. I heard them, but dissociated myself, because my body doesn’t experience the same kind of danger.
I wonder, when I will start hearing things better. This moment of unhearing and disconnect, sticks with me; the sentiment was not only specific, my body also suffers from a lack of care in those venues/institutions/spaces and this is something that I needed to recognise. So do many other bodies in an institutional context. And it is not abstract, their lack of care lives in my body like trauma. And I am afraid, that this is all about self-worth, and that I do not know my own. But I do wonder, is it always my job to explain how to handle me, how to care for me? Are some things not just standard? Do you (institutions, programmers) not have experience professionally and personally (if this is a binary distinction that you engage with) of dealing with/encountering/caring for, the bodies of humans? Because when you book me, you are asking for my body, a body that must be sustained before, after, during, the performance that has been invited.
I am thinking about institutions and their role in this, if they have spaces for the production and presentation (sale) of Art that has the intention of moving audiences, giving them feels and experiences and thoughts…at what cost? Does the magic of the moment of performance eradicate the slackness of the tech, of the get in, of the admin? What would happen if we (performers) went on strike? I wonder if we think we need it (performance, audience) to heal, to grow, to share, more than we actually do. Is it worth the compromise?
And this word ‘labour’ is thrown around a lot but literally, performers labour for you on multiple levels and sometimes I wonder if it is not a little tragic.
And I switch, between feeling like a diva and feeling like a child – extravagantly or essentially annoying, hopelessly aware of my gendered body – when I am ‘at work’. I am a diva, and I am a child, and I am also a professional at making myself vulnerable in front of a public and performing some art. I have been making the mistake that my needs are secondary to those of the work: “it’s okay if you don’t have a green room, I start on stage anyway” (nowhere to come down/cool down/hide), ”You have changed the floor and not told us but it’s okay, it looks fine with the lights even if it has a different kind of traction and we haven’t had time to run the show” (dislocated knee), “it’s okay to add some extra seats for this intimate performance five minutes before we start for the top people in your institution to come in when I have told my mother and my friends that it is sold out because you decided earlier on that the health and safety regulations would not permit any more chairs in the space” (fuck you).
…some lines from an article about a performance event the Tate are doing next year stick in my mind, a curator is talking about the changing relationship artists have to institutions, they’re all like, back in the day they rejected us but now, these new ones, they love us and it’s great. I’m like, sorry mate but you bought up all the empty space (along with your property developer mates – don’t tell me you weren’t just out to dinner together last night) and made popup venues or bigger venues or more venues, arts subsidy is being cut, people are buying fewer lottery tickets because they no longer have any hope, having a practice on the dole is no longer possible so basically we come to you because we have no where else (viable?) to go. Not because we like you or agree with your politics.
It is clear that the institutional models of support for dance/performance/live art (in general) fail and sustainability feels like a carrot dangling in front of me, forever out of reach. What would I know about forever.
This shit is long.
Let me know when you can pay me.
£50? £400? £2000? Twenty quid and a drink? I am reluctant to set rates, every situation is different. But is relativism a viable code to live by? Do I have the time and energy to take everything into context and to continually have to push to get some transparency in order to quote you a fair a non-negotiable fee for the work I will be doing? Or will I just settle on a fee that doesn’t cover my costs in relation to the evasive information given that would suggest you can’t pay me any more?
I sometimes sit and think: what’s my price? But this isn’t really about money, which is confusing when it’s called a ‘career’…but it also is about money, when I am asked to consider the cost of the institution hiring ushers in relation to the fee they can offer me, I think about the salaried employee I am talking to and wonder what rate they are on. So far, I haven’t asked, I wouldn’t want to be thought of as rude. Whythefucknot, is what I am asking myself over and over, now that I have some time ‘off’ all these swallowed questions swim around my mind… How to know when the thoughts that govern my actions are not my own? These thoughts that are not my own are another thing that need my time and attention, some consideration of context. And some shedding. Some more shedding.
Where is that time? Is this what people with 9-5 jobs do on the weekend?
Is this what is called self-care? Because I know that painting my nails is actually suiting up, prepping for the game, arming myself with code (and dosing myself with formaldehyde)…
It’s Christmas Day and I just want to gather up all these thoughts and type one sentence that simultaneously articulates all of it to carry with me into the next year: My body is a fragile oracle, don’t fuck with it.