Alexandra Bachzetsis’s “Escape Act” examines the role the body plays within the artifice of modern day visual media, recreating the most toxic of late-night YouTube binges.
A performer stalks onto the stage in neon-laced heels, a black stocking pulled tight over her face, rendering her as coolly expressionless as a shop window mannequin. Popping her limbs and arching her back like a contortionist underwear model, she performs a series of poses expressly for the benefit of her audience before strutting off stage again. Polished and effective, she’s Instagram-ready.
An offstage production line spits out performers, delivered in consumable chunks – crotches grind into the floor, inner thighs clamp together, and are then wrenched apart, pelvises bounce rhythmically up and down on airbeds. These are capitalist bodies, fully commodified, angled and positioned to maximise hits, likes, and user engagement. On top of the pornographic posturing, faces are either blank, or forced into lurid approximations of sexual enjoyment. Over a driving beat, the performers insouciantly read out extracts from Paul B. Preciado’s poem “Love is a drone”, listing explicit search terms prefaced with keywords such as ‘How to…’ or ‘Addicted to…’. The vulgarity is relentless and repetitive – an endless bombardment of X-rated, pop-up windows. It is an exhausting yet disconcertingly accurate reflection of much of society’s depiction of desire; hollow, glossily packaged, and hawked to us by dispassionate algorithms.
Four of the performers put on matching jeans and T-shirts, cartoonish breast and buttock implants, and synthetic wigs. They execute robotic steps in sync to the count of eight, like identikit sex dolls taking a dance class. As the cold commercialisation of bodies is shown again and again, the cynicism begins to overwhelm me – there is so little light to balance the shade. Suddenly, the performers break out and start screaming, their limbs flailing as they pull the set apart. This glimpse of something bordering on spontaneity is brief, then, once again, they fall back into their studied display of going through the motions. I am already so overpowered by the pervasive sterility, that this snatch of humanity is neither long enough nor visceral enough to provide the catharsis that I crave. Perhaps that is the point: in a piece so deliberately devoid of warmth, I can only assume that the intention is to leave me cold.
Discussions around objectification and the commodification of desire have the tendency to come wrapped in stereotypical attributions of binary gender, something which Bachzetsis highlights by inverting those assumptions – female-appearing performers parody boorish masculinity, while male-appearing bodies are offered up for objectification. This reversal, however, is not presented as a solution or a viable ‘escape act’; traditional concepts of ‘male’ and ‘female’, like any another product, can still be stripped for parts, reassembled, and resold. Adherence to the binary – even through its inversion – appears to be just one more form of inauthentic performance to be avoided.
“Escape Act” skewers the artifice within our society comprehensively and imaginatively, yet attempts at portraying authenticity are noticeable only for their near-complete absence. Perhaps Bachzetsis’s intention is to send us out into the world, having watched the piece, with an appetite to search for it elsewhere? At any rate, the mute bodies I saw plastered across advertising hoardings on my way home took on a chilling new significance.