CARDIAC, Katrina E. Bastian ©Mayra Wallraff

The Brutalism of the Heart

CARDIAC: The Heart is a Muscle runs from 29 to 31 March 2024 at UFER_STUDIOS Berlin. Katrina E. Bastian challenges the commercialization of love and the fetishization of effort in relation to one’s own body.

On the stage, a gym with arrows on the floor to indicate the circuit direction and a screen showing the dancer’s heartbeat. The circuit training begins: exercise: cardio — BPM: 129 — threshold: 35%. We watch as Katrina E. Bastian performs high intensity training for her (broken) heart in different circuits. In the process, she plays with notions of love that involve abandoning oneself for another person or rather for the concept of hyper-romanticized love itself. The performer swings a kettlebell around herself. She jumps into a deep squat while stretching a dumbbell above her head. Next exercise: pumping. Arms are flung in the air, maximum intensity pumping ensues. Heartbeat. We watch as Bastian struggles with maximum intensity, over and over, for us — the audience, love, the software that measures her pulse and indicates when an exercise is finished and the next one can begin. Heartbeat. Controlled by outside forces.

The effort is palpable, the effort is audible. Phewwwwww. Grunting. Heartbeat. We see her pulse rise to 204 on the screen. Isn’t that dangerous? Violence impacted on the body, from outside, from inside. Then balloons. Extracted from pants pockets, blown up, and handed out. “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy…”, “I fall in love like you fall asleep, slowly at first…”. Snippets from romantic comedies are whispered into the microphone (exercise: ASMR). Heartbeat. Costume change. Gym clothes off, cutoff  I <3 Britney T-shirt on. A new circuit begins. The choreography to Oops!… I Did It Again is enthusiastically performed at first, then the performer just goes through the motions, then, tired, almost annoyed, she persists. Escalating until she can no longer continue. She lays down on the ground, half embracing the dumbbell. Sad (perhaps also overly dramatic) opera music rings out. Then new circuits begin.

In the end, the dancer is left with no clothing, no protection — naked. She is balancing on a tower of weights. The tower teeters, she teeters. Nevertheless, she continues climbing up the podium. She sings: “I’ve looked at love that way, but now it’s just another show”. Is her view of love now changing? That which was insistently learned and inscribed in the body cannot be easily discarded. Bastian starts pumping her arms again, disrupting her own balance. Despite this, she seems proud, conducting us from her elevated position. At the end, the stage is cleared, rose petals swept to center stage. The stack of weights now functions as a vase for a bouquet of red roses. The performer sits in the audience. Together we observe the setting, allowing the many impressions from earlier to sink in. Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell) plays and we ask ourselves what love even is and whether or not it can even exist without commercialization.

English translation by Melissa Maldonado

CARDIAC. The Heart is a Muscle by Katrina E. Bastian was shown from March 29-31, 2024 at the UFER_STUDIOS Berlin.