Bishop Black sees the body as a palimpsest: a manuscript constantly inscribed upon and rewritten by its surroundings and onlookers. As a queer person of colour, Black seeks to escape from the matrix of white, Christian identity. In Becoming My Body, his first full-length performance and solo piece for Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, the British performer embarks upon a torturous attempt to free himself from these objectifying conditions – for example, as he places a crown of burning candles onto his head, to later scrape the dried wax from his scalp with a dagger, or as he suffocates himself by wrapping cellophane around his head for a gruelling three minutes.
Black is at his most enthralling when fusing sound, image and dance, as in a sequence that recreates the act of sex with an invisible other to a scratchy and disturbing nu-metal soundtrack. The scene is itself not so much a celebration of sexual freedom as a lecture on the process of objectification and its eviscerating effects on the objectified: Black, sporting only a jockstrap and, shockingly, an erection, self-simulates a scene of lust. The audience becomes not just witnesses to an act of fucking but voyeurs of a body that has made itself vulnerable: to objectification, to mockery, to distaste. This challenges the notion of a sexualised gaze. Regrettably, these sequences are undermined by didactic, slam-style monologues and pretentious slogans that are interchangeably yelled or mumbled. In one instance, “ALTERING THE PHYSICAL LANDSCAPE!” is howled ten times in an incredibly irritating, ineffective crescendo. By embodying vulnerability itself, Black nonetheless manages to probe questions of complacency and complicity in systems of subjugation – even if the performance might have benefitted from a little more metaphor and a little less contrived anger.
Becoming My Body | Ballhaus Naunynstrasse. Jan 8-11, in English.