The Battlefield Nurse has existed for over 5,000 years. She is a hooker, healer, sister, lover, mother, and a midwife of the dying. Together with an army of other battlefield nurses, she cares critically, by addressing the structures that make us sick. In the online performance “You OK Bitch?” choreographer Jeremy Wade’s alter ego aims to unpack the Covid-complicated now.
This DIY performance, in which the Battlefield Nurse directs the music and screen behind her, pictures a dystopian world. “The car’s on fire, and there’s no driver at the wheel. And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides. And a dark wind blows.” Amidst government corruption, a drugged up and drunken population, trapped in the belly of a horrible machine, two lovers find each other, kiss, and fall into a daydream while the world is falling apart.
Tenderness and care in an apocalyptic world. These lyrics of The Dead Flag Blues by the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor is the starting point of an exploration of the complicated now. Critical care and impossible repair have been of great interest to Berlin-based choreographer Jeremy Wade for a long time now. He established The Future Clinic for Critical Care to organise events in which various minoritised groups explore the politics of care. Through the character of the Battlefield Nurse, a fiction is put into place that enables him to talk about current societies and their oppressive systems.
Sarcasm and tenderness go together in “You OK Bitch?”, a performance which transforms into a social protest and political manifesto. “I’ll be honest, I’m grateful to be here, and not there. […] When a nation submits to the social contract of support in the midst of a global pandemic, what occurs is silence. However, not all of us are in the system, not all lives are protected.”
The distribution of protection is neither just nor fair. And the ones receiving protection are silenced by it. “May we protect each other and be protected.” To do so we need to speak up, make ourselves heard, especially when we among those who are being taken care of. The list of the unprotected is a long one: those who cannot afford to pay rent, those who are heartlessly left on the borders of Europe, criminalised and neglected, migrant labourers forced to live and work in unsafe conditions. Those in need of psychological care, of physical care, of elderly care are considered collateral damage of the pandemic. Those who suffer domestic violence, trans women and trans men, non-binary youngsters that are stuck in their family homes, their gender identities ignored. The precarious, the gig workers, the street vendors, the sex workers, the single mothers, the differently abled, the freaks, the social workers, the cultural workers. How can we protect each other, and demand protection?
I recently read an article arguing that the pandemic fits sociologist Norbert Elias’s ‘civilisation curve’, in which he argues that, over time, ordinary actions will enter the sphere of the painful. Not shitting in the streets, having private bedrooms and bathrooms, clean underwear, sheets, and teeth are considered signs of civilisation. In this theory, washing your hands extensively, plexiglass barriers and face masks might be added to that list — even when the pandemic is over, enhancing individualism and separation.
I beg to differ, however. The pandemic has, in fact, given more visibility and worth to long demanded calls for collectivity. People are longing for touch, for sex, for sensuality and collective experience, and they are quite frank about it. “I could really use some dick. Can someone please fuck me now?” Peter the Sock Puppet asks in “You OK Bitch?”. Although it is perhaps not always sex-oriented, the cry for intimacy and proximity with people outside of our own household’s is tangible, and many are willing to take risks to find it.
The Battlefield Nurse gives thanks to friendship — “I miss you” — while showing footage of many hands entangled in a caressing dance. The Nurse describes a near future in which we, as soon as there is the possibility, will join collectively, dance on the streets, touch skin to skin, celebrate interdependency and love as a political tool for change and for care. I’m looking forward to that.
Screenshot: Jeremy Wade / The Battlefield Nurse ©Jeremy Wade
Link to Jeremy Wade’s online performance “You OK Bitch?”
“You OK Bitch?” was streamed in the frame of United We Stream, an online initiative to save Berlin’s club culture during times of quarantine. It was screened again on 19 May 2020 as part of the lecture series “Collective Learning / Collective Care”, initiated by the University of Applied Arts Vienna.