Out of the four days of the T.E.N.T. PALACE MINI-MEGA FESTIVAL (DOCK 11, 20 – 23 February, 2020) Inky Lee attends two evenings and relates on the ways T.E.N.T. ‘host dreams, desires, and basic necessities.’
Thursday, 20 February, 2020
T.E.N.T. is a collective created by independent performance artists in Berlin (like me) to support each other’s work. Because we are on the free scene of the notoriously ‘poor but sexy’ Berlin, do we work for free — or almost free — most of the time? Unfortunately, yes! A handful of the people taking part in the festival are friends of mine, which means that I have had the opportunity for some back and forth with the organisers during its preparation. It’s clear that everyone has worked tremendously hard to put this festival together, and no-one is being paid. They all seem to be in survival mode. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that in their daily lives they look desperate or anything like it. In fact, they all look grand. And the festival does too. Just look at the nine performers in “Sedimental” by Ivanka Tramp, all fabulous with their magnificent costumes, beaming faces, fit bodies, and confident presences.
Let’s not make a mistake, however, of thinking that they are simply born this way. It’s a lot of work to be a professional performer and performance maker. Someone made the intricate costumes, and the performers dedicated a huge amount of energy and time to be able to seize the audience’s gaze and command the space in the way they do. One of the performers told me afterwards that they even do a facial warm-up so they are able to perform so animatedly! It’s a profession that is allocated little value in the financial schemes of contemporary society. Unfairly so. If I could dream for a moment, I would transform myself into a giant eagle, soar high up in the sky, spot the core of that twisted value system, snatch it in one smooth curving swoosh of my sharp talons, rip it to pieces in one powerful tear, and scatter them in a burning volcano so they burn to ashes and can’t find their way back into this world.
Let’s also not assume that the process of becoming a performer and a maker is all attractive and fun. It is, for many, a choice stemming from pain. It is a pursuit to enable us to be free in our own bodies, especially when our bodies do not quite ‘fit’ into the norms imposed by social standards. One of my performer friends in Berlin told me that, growing up gay in a traditional Catholic family, he was always tormented by having to live through yet another homophobic situation. He could not express his being. Eyes would roll at him when he stretched his hands out to his mother’s make-up, rather than to toy cars. I have migrated endlessly, like uneasy pollen, in search of some vague sense of freedom far from familial and societal norms. Zinzi Buchanan speaks about this in their work “Rogue Intensities.” How society tries to ‘assimilate’ queers and thereby ‘cure’ a disease that does not exist. How violent this action is. It leaves deep marks. We want to be able to say, think, and wear whatever we want. We want to be able to be and love whomever we want. We want to feel safe, to belong, and to be valued just as we are. As young people, we do everything we can to find this freedom that cannot even begin to be considered in monetary terms. It is about fulfilling our basic needs and existing as human beings — something we are all too often denied by society.
T.E.N.T. is a community of care and support, where artists are encouraged to express and celebrate themselves proudly and diversely. This is perhaps reward enough for many of the collective to work without pay. However, what happens when our bodies start to age and change? When we can’t perform as we once could anymore? When our needs are more immediate, but the resources are still lacking? Buchanan opens their piece by explaining how they experienced so much pain that it felt impossible to move. How they have therefore not danced for two years until this performance tonight. They then pose a question: “How do we live beyond just surviving?” This has also been my personal query for the past year, as I feel increasingly exhausted by ‘hustling’ all the time, and watching the beautiful artist community live under constant financial struggles. How do we stop being the servants of the society, working all manner of low-paid jobs — and navigating society’s disapproving frowns — while at the same time, trying to create and maintain a small utopia that is free of poisonous judgment and the tedious lies about what is acceptable and what is not? If society calls us ‘weeds,’ fine. Then, how can we be as wildly contagious as weeds are? I decide to take this thought with me to Saturday’s performances.
Saturday, 22 February, 2020
After the show, I ask the question “How do we live beyond just surviving?” of Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, who performed their work, “Die Phantasie” this evening. They answer: “We intentionally create a community and make magic together. We give each other permission to live childishly.” Jackman-Torkoff lives in Toronto and travelled all the way to Berlin just to perform for this one evening, with joy but without any external financial support. It was a true pleasure to witness their work.
I would like to take a moment now to mention how each of the four works I experienced in the festival was exquisite in its own way. They were all meticulously crafted, and performed with dedication. They all moved me in some way. Here were a group of artists, practicing their skill with excellence and total devotion, and supporting each other through it. To some, however, they may seem monstrous. Jackman-Torkoff in fact speaks in their work about a man who was so offended by their mere presence that he tried to blot them out by saying “Nein” in their face over and over again. Jackman- Torkoff responded by saying “Nein” back, and not letting their presence be erased. They voice, again and again, the validity and importance of love, and how it is a choice in times of grief, fear, and pain. T.E.N.T. is itself a manifestation of this choice put into action. This persistent yet loving togetherness may be the key to the contagious presence that steadily spreads out like weeds in an open field.
The delightfully witty and sarcastic piece, “The Oasis”, created and performed by Caroline Neill Alexander led us right into the heart of a Live Art Auction. The first lot is the performance itself, with the initial bidding price of 100 Euros. Unsold.
In case you are as curious as I was about the auction, I will list all of the items on offer.
Lot 2: A shot of peppermint liqueur – sold for 1.20 EUR
Lot 3: An acrylic painting that did not sell at yesterday’s auction – sold for 10 EUR
Lot 4: Four entrance tickets to “Queeeeeer Berlin Party” at Schwuz next weekend – sold for 12 EUR
Lot 5: Three T-shirts: One printed with the word TOUCH – sold for 10 Euros. One printed with POOR – Unsold. One printed with ANUS – sold for 20 EUR after a fierce bidding war.
Lot 6: A print of an artful text on masturbation – sold for 3 EUR.
Lot 7: Advice given by Louise Trueheart on three topics of the buyer’s choice – sold for 5 EUR by someone who then donated the lot to Jackman-Torkoff.
Lot 8: A one-hour Shiatsu session – sold for 15 EUR.
Lot 9: Anne Carson’s translation of one of Sappho’s poems, embroidered on paper and framed – sold for 15 EUR. I really wanted this item. It is beautiful and I took many photos of it. It read: ‘Eros shook my mind like a mountain wind falling on oak trees’
Lot 10: A kiss from one of the T.E.N.T. members (who led the auction in their grandiose leotards and very high heels), while the others do a background dance.
Here, I need to take a pause and explain, because I bought this item for two Euros. It was a truly excellent buy. The action took place immediately, live onstage. I had to choose the member of the collective I was going to receive my kiss from. I went for this lot so passionately because, during their performance, Jackman-Torkoff looked each audience member in the eyes and pleaded, “Don’t wait!” I knew exactly who I wanted the kiss from, but I played the game onstage of seeming uncertain who I would choose. This could be attributed either to my performance background or my shyness. More the latter, perhaps. I gathered my courage and selected that person. In the beginning we were both shy and indulged in little cheek kisses. Then we got braver and moved onto a French kiss.
If you’d like to see a photo of this event, I would like to offer it to you for a starting price of one Euro. All proceeds will go to T.E.N.T. There were a few more lots after this one, but the kiss made me dizzy and I was unable to go on. I got terribly lost cycling home, but I did not mind.