“Club27”, Enis Turan ©Marcos Angeloni

Hello Death

Enis Turan glamorously stages his own death in “Club27”, a co-production with HAU Hebbel am Ufer.

In her essay Lois Lane Is a Lesbian, Jill Johnston wrote: ‘The Western habit of separating everything and of constantly defining our own spaces by the creation of an enemy is the habit that projected a profession called criticism by which people glibly judge and assess the complications of the lives of others.’ As I am not in a position to judge or assess anybody else’s life, after experiencing “Club27”, I will instead attempt to create two versions of a report. The first is a concise description of the order of the events in the piece, and the second is an account of my personal encounter with the work.

Version 1: A bouncer allows the audience into the space in one and twos. Enis Turan, dressed as Amy Winehouse, greets each person in turn. The audience is told to stand on the ‘dance floor’ (the stage), where a dizzying projection of colourful psychedelic patterns cavorts across the back wall. A giant disco ball hangs centre stagePhotos of the members of Club 27, a group of artists who died at the age of 27 — along with candles and flowers — are gathered downstage left as a kind of memorial altar. A naked, statue-like Björn Ivan Ekemark, holding a laser beam in his butthole, is curled up with his face buried in his arms on a platform downstage right. DJ Killjoy (Olivia Hyunsin Kim), positioned upstage left, fills the space with loud dance music. 

After a while, Turan scolds the audience for not clubbing (“If nobody is clubbing, what’s the point of having a dance floor?!”) and sends everyone to their seat. Ekemark’s platform is carried to the middle of the memorial altar, and the disco ball is removed. Turan then strips off the Amy Winehouse costume, and, speaking into a microphone, begins his ‘confession.’ After telling us that he, in fact, murdered Club 27, because he is 27 and he felt like he would be killed if he did not kill, he ‘dies.’ 

Mr Security (Petr Hastik) marks the outline of Turan’s body in black tape, reads out his last wishes, then drags the body to centre stage,where he hangs it upside-down on the hook where the disco ball had been hanging. Turan’s passive body hanging in the air resembles a piece of dead meat. Hastik strips Turan’s body, washes it, and clothes it in a frilly ballet costume and a wig. He then carries him to a platform, and stands him in a balletic position (standing, arms in 4th, legs in low passé). As Turan is illuminated by a beam of light, the platform spins slowly, and a music-box melody plays. Is this Turan’s ‘rebirth’ as a ballerina doll?

After a while, Kim appears dressed in a spooky black costume reminiscent of some god of death, and skips around with quick steps and thrashy flingings of her limbs. She holds a sign reading ‘Club Deathly Hallows.’ The spotlight abruptly relocates onto the memorial altar. All the performers gather around it, and freeze in poses. Ekemark’s face is visible for the first time. After the third pose, a member of staff from the theatre who had posed until now as an audience member leaves their seat, and walks down to lay flowers at the altar. They then open the door of the auditorium to signal the end of the piece. 

Version 2: Here I am, up at 4:16 a.m., writing about the show. The images from the show remain etched grotesquely into my memory, and I have had nightmares all night. In his last wishes, Turan wrote that he believes death should be photographed and celebrated like birth. The portrait of death that the show demonstrates, however, seems to me to be quite the opposite of a joyful celebration. It is slow and solemn; a cool, dry process. Perhaps it was the meticulous choreography of every moment that caused the performance to feel inhuman to me. Towards the beginning of the performance, Turan says: “There are no ends, only a constant flow of transformations. Death isn’t an end … self-destruction is a re-creation … let’s just enjoy the time here, and stay open for the transformation.”

Club27 feels to me like a stylised staging of death. When Turan says in a flamboyant tone: “Thank you all for coming. I love you all,” and then falls ‘dead,’ it reminds me of ‘Practicing Death & Dying Workshop’ by Keith Hennessey (Turan does mention in his confession that artists all steal from each other, and how now he is, in fact, stealing this idea from Marina Abramović. Here he is most likely pointing to the experimental opera by Robert Wilson, ‘The Life and Death of Marina Abramović’). I took part in Hennessey’s workshop many years ago, and I was one of the ‘dead’ people. I had to fall dead all of a sudden, and then the strangers who chose to care for me stripped me, washed my body, and spent hours mourning. This process made me realise that death is a task for the living to deal with, at least in this world that we are living in right now.

The fact that death is left to the living is also confirmed in Courtney Love’s devastated reading of Kurt Cobain’s (a member of Club 27) suicide note. As she reads out the last lines: ‘I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away,’ she snarls in tearful response: “And don’t remember this, because this is a fucking lie.” 

It seems as though Cobain felt like he had nothing more to lose, or therefore to hold onto, in this life. However, Love did have something to lose: Him. And the loss caused her immense grief. But what if the thought of ‘losing’ shifted to ‘freeing’? When did I ever truly own something? And so how can I lose it? If Love had taken this stance of joyful release in public after Cobain’s death, she would have been called insane. But perhaps not in Bali, as Miguel Covarrubias wrote, where funerals are ‘festive occasions that celebrate the release of the soul to god … It is in their cremation ceremonies that the Balinese have their greatest fun. A cremation is an occasion for gaiety and not for mourning, since it represents the accomplishment of their most sacred duty: the ceremonial burning of the corpses of the dead to liberate their souls so that they can thus attain the higher worlds and be free for reincarnation into better beings.’ 

The most human moment — and therefore the thing closest to death itself, which is, after all a very human action — took place towards the end of the piece when the performers held poses. Turan’s body shook as he fought against himself, almost losing its control. It was an honest moment that stood in contrast to the highly stylised aesthetic and precise execution of the rest of the performance. The piece felt to me like a romanticisation of death. Apart from the impersonation of Amy Winehouse and her mention in Turan’s last wishes (‘Amy, I hope you’re not mad that I impersonated you. I love you. I’m coming to you’), I found no stark relationship between the staging of Turan’s death and Club 27. By connecting his death to that of the members of Club 27, ‘whose early deaths turned them into immortal idols,’ does Turan wish to similarly idolise himself? Or does he simply want to encourage us to look at death from a new angle? 

I remember the moment the audience exited the theatre in pensive mood. The beautiful aria ‘Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod’ (‘I Look Forward to My Death’) filled the space, and I could not help but feel a bitter confusion as to the intention of the piece.