Therapeutic Filth for Hygiene-Obsessed Minds
Cleanliness is a dignity and hygiene is an order. Five star hotels glow bright and disinfected while brothels are hidden under the filthiest shade of every society. However hygiene is not found in a natural state: as obscene menstrual, dirty black/brown bodies, and crummy hobos are victimised and pathologised, their constitutive others are favoured as elites of the salutary class. Disorder is a state of anarchy that we are trained to fear, and sanitation is a strategy for the rational subject to sterilise the others.
Cleaning as we know it secures a homogeneous space that is removed of all otherness. However, when Mitra Saboury rubs, flosses, dusts and swipes things in her videos, her body as the subject of cleaning ends up revoltingly contaminated with the filth. Instead of eliminating dirt and grime, Saboury’s body becomes part of the mess. In ‘Stuffed’ (02:50) she scavenges litter on the street such as cans, bottles, a chewed-cap, a take-out box with a decomposing cheeseburger, a plastic fork, papers, and puts them into her white leggings. She deliberately stuffs the rubbish and grabs it like her own bottom. With junk-buttocks and stained leggings, Saboury stands on the street undistinguished from the rubbish that she picks.
In other videos Saboury abrades mouldy grout using her fingernail; flosses her hair into cracks in public spaces; rubs her bare feet against spit in a pothole to erase the traces of fluid continuously spat from outside the frame. Using her own skin, hair and nails, Saboury’s labour of cleaning leaves a bigger frustration: frustration of contamination that is frustration of jeopardised subjectivity. Saboury’s body merges with disorder and becomes unpredictable and ungraspable to the system of order, thus invoking nausea in any rational subject. She subverts the political fiction of sterilisation, written by the modernists who expelled the midwife-witches at the dawn of the modernity.
Far from being effective and deliberately increasing chaos in the scene, Saboury’s sabotage against the modern protocol (to discriminate and sterilise any fault effectively) agitates the system of dichotomy that demarcates the filth from the clean, and the subject from the others. The artist stated that her performance is a self therapy to overcome feelings of disgust provoked by everyday environments - from domestic and urban structures to political filth. As a tactic to overcome those discomforts surrounding her, the artist has chosen to break the code that defines filth from clean, rather than becoming an agent of the binary system.
On a far corner of the gallery is a box-TV facing a wall, inviting the viewers to an intimacy of the corner space. The TV presents Saboury’s face being excavated from a field of soil ‘FoundFace’ (01:52): an oval of flesh is gently brushed to reveal the familiar structure of eyes-nose-and-mouth.The found face is cuddled, tapped and watered by a hand, until at the end the face expresses satisfying chuckle. The unearthed plant-face is neither a subject nor an object; neither a vegetable nor an animal. Like other things that she messes in her videos, in ‘FoundFace’ she slips from a given name to perform a deviant role instead.
Walking into the space engulfed with her thirteen videos, viewers fall into the rabbit-hole and are bewildered by the queer moving images. We walk in to the space where disorder is treated and viewed differently, slightly perverse but not unethical. Saboury’s fragmented sense organs indulged in the states of nastiness are uncanny but not blasphemous. Nothing in the gallery space is yet labelled as being profane; but makes us intrigued, uncomfortable and even irritated. In the middle of this dirty Wonderland, Saboury’s body inhabits like an ‘animal living in water like water’ (1). Like a child not knowing functionalities and judgements, Saboury tears down our beliefs in the myth of the Logos.
(1) George Bataille, Theory of religion. New York: Zone Books. 2006. p.19.