Justyna Scheuring’s performance was pronounced through words, bodily actions, gestures, sounds, and presences- both hers and our own. Her performance ‘Didn’t You Know That?’ at Centrala as part of Fierce Festival, consisted of a barrage of elements and objects that were performed within the structure of a defined and considered choreography, every element susceptible to a whole organism, proof of no singular form. This was a sculptural demonstration, with the figure and identity of the artist as the centrepiece, as the performer held cast over the show. Emotions and vulnerability acted like a ploy, as well as a viable tangent to tie a stream of actions together, with fixed ideas being thrown out after a yell of agreement or a sullen nod of the head. The words “no” and “yes” were spoken, breathed, and exclaimed through a microphone, her voice rising in pitch to suit the tone of the emotions being conveyed.
The design of the plot was seemingly to mark out various points of performative elements that provoke spectacle, display and doubt (doubt which was achieved by the failing smoke machine - citing performance in its promotion of failure), with boundaries of elucidation and prominence between actor and the acting of actions. This was similar to that of a-waiting, a protracted and self-conscious thrust of movement while gaining one’s breath. But all this was subtly portrayed, the rhythm and disposition of which never reaches any climactic proportions but veers indirectly into various levels of strength that are both demonstrative and abortive, justifiably represented by a flaccid microphone hanging down, in the end. Her knees and toes throughout the performance protruded slightly outwards away from her body, with her stance hanging like a gorilla’s, drawing her centre down to the ground, balancing with her hips widened, arms loose and long by her side. Mannerisms betray her, just as they should do, as she played the role of actor, veering from stunt acting to affective behaviour, moments of dramatic persuasion revealed themselves through expressions of subjected emotional angst (the suffering artist), subtle mood swings, and large sawing screams.
There was a certain premeditated placing of markers between positions that indicated a fracture of what was a staging element and what may be perceived as an ephemeral agent (or antidote) to the commercialisation of property that is both human and art orientated. From the stage, and absurd step ladder, to the mocking of theatrical tools or props, for example, the faulty smoke machine, and her piercing and accusing stares at her onlooking spectators. The performance was drawn out by her movement through the space, standing on top of the small step ladder; speaking into an (originally) erect microphone; lying on the floor, limbs all protruding and sharply pointed in some odd direction; pacing and running up and down the length of the space; hollering into walls, cavities and open doors; dancing around on her tip toes with a sheet of foil jutting from her mouth; or the caress of her body against the wall; and the slow gnawing drag of her knees that were dressed in plastic kneepads scraping across the concrete floor.
The topic of her interest lay in the playing out of her character and in donning the script that she inhaled and exhaled, and how this mediated through certain politics of performativity. She targeted us as affecting spectators, ready to be ridiculed and licked into admiration, all the while monitoring our visual contact and conduct through the use of penetrating stares, inquiring “do you understand a gorilla?”, “do you understand a performer?”. Setting certain traps, the materials featured as decoys- I envisioned roller derbies (of primates predating the invention of the wheel), blind date TV show (the high stools and presentation), fish gills (the better to breathe you with my dear - from the fabric and pattern design on her trousers), and gorilla skulls (her retraction of breath, cementing the foil over the shape of her skull). These informed visual stimuli that were uncannily distilled from the subliminal content of the work. I envisioned skulls once used by scientists of their time to measure the intelligence of savage people, wondering who are the savages here? The performance in its spectacle was ruptured by the breaking down of the smoke machine that was beginning to clog up our own breathing orifices. This lead me to immediately reflect on the breathing apparatus of fish, and how she had tailored her appearance to suit the need of this transgression. I pondered on her force or coercion of oxygen, like a fish manages to breathe under water, channelling the oxygen away from the trap that releases the suffocating water, or bated breath. In the end, the display was concretised by a photo shoot taking place directly as the audience exited the space, with our clapping thundering the release of a ‘trap door,’ and the superficially posed silent screams that were directed into the lens of the camera, for the promotional documentation of the artist in her own natural habitat.