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The Garden of Earthly Delights: Out of Sight Out of Mind by Weeks & Whitford

by Jennie Klein

Rebecca Weeks and Ian Whitford create performances that reference a variety of sources, many of which would fall into the category of the abject, the marginal, the carnivalesque, and the grotesque. In their words, they

Utilize low and high cultural forms, images and significations. They borrow from diverse such as the stand-up comedian, the clown, the tour guide, the pin up, and the lecturer. Influenced by literature, visual art, philosophy, performance, horror, porn and punk they blur the boundaries of performance art and common culture, theatre, academia, the private and the personal, art and life. Their work touches upon issues of class, gender, sexuality and marginalized identity both in terms of modes of expression and the content of works.

Weeks and Whitford are interested in exploring that place where the sacred and profane intersect—a place that has much in common with the idea of the plane of immanence, posited by Gilles Deleuze as a kind of embeddedness, in which life and death, mind and body, are no longer self-contained, dualistic notions, but instead are all immanent, within, upon and of. Their performance installations invoke medieval landscapes, clandestine alchemists, arcane philosophy, and exhausted Victorian brothels in which sin, sexuality, and post-lapsarian excess mingle uncomfortably with religious rituals and ecstatic salvation. Many of their performances have existed on the edge of what is acceptable. In The Garden of Earthly Delights: A Preparatory Study, based on Hieronymous Bosch’s painting Garden of Earthly Delights c. 1490, Rebecca Weeks stumbles past a makeshift garden—a mound of dirt, filled with apple cores—while Ian Whitford decadently lolls on the ground, changing his appearance in a chameleon-like manner. A challenge to the biblical notion of knowledge as sin, The Garden of Earthly Delights: A Preparatory Study posits that knowledge exists in a space between the psyche/soul and pneuma, or breath/spirit. Drawing on the Gnostic interpretations of the Garden of Eden, Weeks’ and Whitford’s performance posits that true freedom, which they view as sexual, can be found in this space that suggest perfect liberty, or complete freedom from societal expectations.

Complete liberty, fashioned through the presentation of sexual excess and taboo which in Deleuze’s scheme of immanence no longer produce judgments of good and evil, or right and wrong, characterized Out of Sight Out of Mind, performed on June 14 for Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival. For the duration of the evening, Weeks and Whitford performed in the back room of 5 Stars, a local Cuban restaurant. Out of Sight Out of Mind was a one to one (or perhaps more aptly a two to two) piece. Audience members queued outside the room, hidden from view by a red velvet curtain, and eventually paid a dollar to the “bouncer” (a Rapid Pulse volunteer who confided that he was wearing his first suit ever!) to enter the space.

Once inside, the participant or participants were offered a shot of tequila, and treated to a pole dance by Rebecca Weeks, who was assisted by Ian Whitford. The performance—at least the one that I experienced along with Mary Coble– concluded with Weeks, by now completely nude, performing a lap dance on the viewer/viewers.

Writing on One to One performances, Rachel Zerihan has suggested that “participation in the performance event often triggers spontaneity, improvisation and risk – in both parties – and requires trust, commitment and a willingness to partake in the encounter. “ Zerihan’s essay on One to One performances was commissioned by the Live Art Development Agency, or LADA, based in London, where One to Ones have been quite popular for the past several years. One to One performances are not so common in the U.S. which is unfortunate, as they create that space in which distinctions between viewer and performer, audience and spectacle are dissolved. In short, one to one performances foreground the immanence of the moment, in which audience and performer work within, on and upon each other. Thus it was that Weeks and Whitford, in their pursuit of absolute freedom, desire, and pleasure, eschewed a venue in which they could reach a large number of people in favor of one that allowed just a few encounters-albeit, encounters that mattered.

photo by Kinga Bartczac
Jennie Klein is an associate professor of art history and critical theory at Ohio University. She writes on feminist art, art and the maternal, feminist performance, and performance art and its histories. She is the editor of Letters from Linda M Montano, (Routledge 2005), The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art (Demeter Press, 2011) and Histories of Live Art (Palgrave 2012).
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