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Pardon my blathering and unorganized thoughts on this post. Think of this as me "talking out loud" in creating the artist's statement for the performance piece I committed at the Femina Potens art gallery's "Art of Restraint" event.


DJ starts my music. Arabian pop tunes fill the little gallery as attendees mill about.

Me and my crew are in their places.
- Me: performer, dressed in a deconstructed green kimono. (similar to one of my usual characters)
- Zille: performer, dressed in a green spandex cat suit
- M: still photography
- N: hand-held video
- J: video handler for wall-mounted surveillance camera
- K: Security & communications
- D: performance assistance
- UM1, UM2, UM3, UM4: performers

The range of ethnicity, heritage, citizenship and orientations represented of the crew is very relevant and intentional in this, as well as garments and the music chosen, but this won't become evident until later. I believe most people missed these details but that's expected. That's why I'm working to document this piece during and after.

As the music starts, I  pick up a couple of skeins of rope. The crowd begins to gather around us, anticipating the fourth performance in the evening's series. I lay the rope on Zille and begin to move her around in one of my rope dance styles, controlled and slow but in gradually expanding circles, clearing out a space in the center of the gallery as I gently bind her upper body. The movements are attractive yet pretty conventional. This continues for about five minutes. The audience is comfortable and mildly entertained.
Suddenly the door bursts open and many men in full black uniform and riot gear burst in, pushing me and Zille aside. They form a quick barricading formation before the attendees and raise hands into their faces. No insignias or makings visible.. Two of the four Uniformed Men shout loudly at the attendees to stay calm, don't take photos. Other two Uniformed Men charge through the crowd and confront N, my videographer, a visibly Middle Eastern young man. Loud shouting - possibly Slavic accents. Uniformed Man 1 sprays N in the face with what appears to be pepper spray.  (in reality- just water) Uniform Men 1 & 2 quickly subdue N onto floor & cuff him though N struggles and shouts in mixture of Arabic and English. D picks up N's camcorder and attempts to continue recording even as she's shouted at by Uniformed Man 3. Uniformed Men 1 & 2 drag N out the door by the ankles as Unformed Men 3 & 4 trail closely behind. As they leave the room they throw leaflets and booklets into the room. The door slams hard behind them, leaving a confused, tense silence behind.

29 seconds. That's how long the raid took.

In that tense moment I step forward, holding up one of the pamphlets. One is a pamphlet listing basic human rights and other about "Jailed Without Justice", both from Amnesty International. I make a short statement, something to the effect of...
"As we enjoy the fantasies of bondage, please remember the very real incarcerations and bondage in the world today...."

I also thanked the SFPD. I alerted them in advance that a mock kidnapping would take place as a performance action. They were really understanding and coordinated with me by sending out two officers, who tucked their patrol car away and stood by across the street. I did not want any of my performers to be arrested or nearby citizens to call the police thinking it was real trouble. I gotta say SFPD is pretty special. The two young officers totally understood the show concept, thought the surprise action inventive, and then stood by for an hour and a half in the shadows to ensure everyone's safety.
To clarify and prevent any misinformation, the Uniformed Men were not SFPD. They're actor friends of mine and we had rehearsed this intensely.

After the performance action... the four Uniformed Men and N, aka "the Target", drove away in the get-away vehicle and got out of their costumes. The rest of us crew bid our farewell and headed to the rendezvous point. Sadly I missed Margaret Cho's fan-dance with a twist ,as I had to leave for the post-performance meeting point.


So many of us take for granted the enormous luxury of privacy and civil liberties. We assume that our homes and closed door places of gathering will keep us safe. We speak and write our thoughts without fearing major consequences. We take for granted the notion of justice and individual rights. Yet for many around the world, as well as in our own back yard, these are ideas that are beyond their finger tips, even as they struggle for it. Citizens are disappeared. Doors are broken in. Lines of communicated are hacked. People are intimidated. Voices are silenced. Faces erased. Memories reworked. Lives shaken indelibly.

Persons privileged with privacy and civil liberties read the headlines and watch the news, sense the injustice but as something fuzzy, pixelized, almost unreal and intangible. One moment we're watching the news with all the violence, injustice, and laws created for the expediency of authoritarian power holder, the next moment we're watching CGI crafted games and movies with violence and endless life-points. We live in an insulated entitled sense of safety, security and permanence.

Subset of this privileged citizenry are also those who enjoy the pleasures of adventurous sexual self expression. We play with fantasies, innocent to intense, often borrowing themes and imagery from the darker sides of human behavior and history. Humans have always taken narrative from conflict and taboo, whether in forms of story telling, theater or sexual fantasies - that's nothing new. What's new is the near total separation of our places of perceived danger and personal safety.

Lately I've noticed a definite increase in interest for bondage imagery, porn, entertainment and personal play that depict harsh incarceration, kidnapping and interrogation. I am not sure why this is, but it's happening. Maybe it's a war-weary culture's subconscious search for a coping mechanism, maybe it's over saturation of images and discussions of governing body violence, maybe it's a desensitized culture seeking stimulation... Maybe it's just another sexuality trend as they do come and go...
I don't know.
I am disturbed, though, that so many who enjoy consuming or acting out fantasy actions of detention and incarcerations don't seem to think of the reality of where these images come from. We chatter on about bondage is freedom and art and so on, but so often it just feels like lip-service to transgressiveness when we've nothing to struggle against. Maybe the fascination in bondage is the side affect of hermetically sealed safe lives in search of some signs of being alive?
I just don't know.

A person hooded, on the floor, naked and cuffed.
If the only context or response that one has to this image is a fun Saturday night of role playing at the local kink party, are we starving our own humanity? I'm not saying that we should not play with our dark fantasies and archetypes, but we shouldn't lose sight of the real world human events that necessitate these narratives.

So many of us don't know what it feels like to have our assumed liberties taken away at any moment.  We believe that reason prevails and the system will protect the just. We may assume that those detained must have a reason to be detained.
But what if the door burst open when you least expected it, and in a sudden flash of shock and violence someone standing next to you is taken away... You don't know why they were taken. It could have been you.
How does it feel?
How does this affect your perception of world, time, space and security?

In the negative space that was that person taken away, what's left?


Many of us in the crew are individuals who's citizenship status have changed for various reasons, experiencing the impermanence of national identity. We come from different political beliefs, different citizenship, income levels, ethnic identity, orientation and genders. Yet we came together for this performance action believing in liberty being a good thing.
"The Target" was intentionally chosen... He is a person likely to be profiled by authorities in many of today's nations as potentially undesirable. This particular performer is someone who appealed and was granted asylum based on being a persecuted minority who was brutalized at the hands of the authority.
A fortuitous accident in the scheduling put this performance on the first day of Ramadan, which I found interesting.
Even as I visualized, created, gathered the crew, rehearsed and then finally performed - I was very nervous... oh for so many reasons.
Now I gather the video and photo footage and create a video presentation with J's help. I'm looking forward to being able to share this with you.

I still don't have a title for this piece that feels right. I'm working on that....

babbling over for now...


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 24th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)
I dearly wish I could've been there for this.
Aug. 25th, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
Utterly fascinating read. I imagine it was extremely unexpected. It was an interesting commentary, and very thought-provoking.

Your musings are also very thought-provoking, and a little bit disturbing. Thank you very much for sharing.
Aug. 25th, 2009 03:01 am (UTC)
I'm very much looking forward to seeing the result of the performance. As someone who is a born and bred American, it is interesting to see someone with your perspective on such harshly intense fantasies.
Aug. 25th, 2009 05:51 am (UTC)
My reactions
I was there in attendance and was so happy that you contributed this piece, placing clear political importance to art at the "Art of Restraint", a benefit for a gallery which gives access to queer and sex-positive female and trans-identified artists where many other spaces do not. It's performances like yours, Midori, which I value in San Francisco and to hear about SFPD's involvement makes me so grateful for our city's liberated views on art and activism.

My own personal response is as follows:

9pm-ish: I notice a police car outside the gallery, and see you and two officers talking around the corner. I'm curious about what you are talking about, and assume no trouble due to what I can see of your conversation. (Cops do make me feel uneasy due to brutalities I've witnessed, however I also had a friend who's father was a police officer and so I do know a trust-worthy side as well.) I casually mention to friends, "I wonder what's going on?" but pay it no mind and go inside.

- cut to start of piece -

Music seemed an odd choice, though I trusted it was picked with good intentions. It made me pay attention to the dancers' body, which was wearing a very tight spandex suit (unitard cut; as others will soon see in pictures). I watched as Midori wrapped rope around Zille's torso, quite skillfully done, and pulled her in circles and in a line from the door (thus clearing individuals including myself from the area in front of the door, brilliantly functional choreographic choice, BTW).

I had videotaped sections of the piece, and was chatting with a friend about uploading it at that moment to twitter.

There were SO many people videotaping and taking pictures, that I did not notice N, your hand-held videographer who later got dragged off. Until he was actually being dragged. (I was watching one of the officer-actors blocking an audiences' camera with their hand, fumbling for my button to hit record and capture it, which failed to happen.)

I had several thoughts as the VERY short (it felt so much faster than 29 seconds) raid:

1. Oh, those were the cops outside (of course it turns out they were not)
2. I want to film them telling people NOT to film.
3. Oh, they are pulling someone out by his feet; I want to jump in and try to physically stop them from doing this; but,
4. This is all part of the performance and would it disrupt it? In a good way or bad?
5. Ouch, did he hit his forehead on the doorframe?
6. Look, fliers, this is fantastic -- well-executed and particularly poignant.
7. (while you're speaking) Ah, confirmation that this is wrapping up; feeling relief as it was in fact stressful.
8. Amnesty International, and yes, torture et al -- reminded of feeling triggered by gun bdsm scene at the citadel and thoughts flocked to that feeling. Also, did not realize it was Ramadan
9. Wanted to come up and ask you if they were real cops; you were talking to someone so I missed the chance.

Midori, I'm very grateful for your performance, and for this blog to sort things out, people are still talking about it, which I think is a testament of the power of art.

I'd be curious to hear what you will title this, and if you will keep the title as unassuming as the start of the piece.

Thanks again, apologies for the long comment hope you found my thoughts interesting at the least. If you want video clips (2) you can contact me via twitter @jizlee.
Aug. 25th, 2009 05:53 am (UTC)
Re: My reactions
P.S. Didn't mean to compose this as Anonymous, simply not a LJ user.
I'll go by Jiz Lee for this one, as I mention my twitter account.

- Jiz
Aug. 25th, 2009 07:31 am (UTC)
Re: My reactions
I too was there and am still processing the speed and reactions of all, myself included. Thank you for your reply and description. I'm looking forward to seeing the videos of the performance including the surveillance cameras Midori mentions.
Aug. 25th, 2009 07:32 am (UTC)
Re: My reactions
Oops, my bad for not being logged in.
Aug. 25th, 2009 04:47 pm (UTC)
Re: My reactions
Thank you so much for this. It really means a lot to me and the other performers to know the impact and reactions.
Please keep me posted on developing thoughts and reactions of your and others.

Aug. 25th, 2009 06:57 am (UTC)
On seeing somoene abducted, I would have gotten involved
If I did not have a heads up in advance.. riot gear or no riot gear. I know cop uniforms, as well as fake cop uniforms.

I would have been thinking Right Wing thugs & made a whole other scene.

I know very well how to react in sudden, violent unexpected circumstances. I always have options with me.
Aug. 25th, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
I worked for a major toy company in 2004-5, and the most horrific thing I saw there was a toy soldier "inquisition center". I'm pretty sure it never made it into production, but just the thought that it would ever be an appropriate toy to make is enough to sicken me.
Aug. 26th, 2009 01:09 am (UTC)
For me, this performance was terrifying on an acutely personal level. I experienced an immediate traumatic flashback to being grabbed by the cops for heroin possession back in NY- to all the other times the cops grabbed me- and all I could think about was getting away, not letting them get me this time. That's why I fought my way backwards through the crowd and fell over one of the gallery pillars- I was trying to get away so I wouldn't get caught. I didn't understand that the raid was part of the performance til well after everyone else had figured it out. I had to leave the event immediately- my car was close, luckily, and I already had plans to go to my boyfriend's house, so I went straight there and got him to hold while I curled up in a ball. I'm still processing my feelings about the whole thing, talking to people about it, and the one thing I know for sure is that I believe in your right to do this kind of performance, and that it was a great performance. But Damn, it scared me!
Aug. 26th, 2009 06:18 am (UTC)
oh my...
Please let me know how I can help and support you in this, ok?
Aug. 29th, 2009 06:51 am (UTC)
It's truly ok, and I'm not sorry to have had the experience- I value your work and the place it has in all our lives :)
Aug. 28th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Cool. Glad you know you did the piece. I look forward to the footage.

ETA: This also gives me food for thought on my next performance.

Edited at 2009-08-28 06:48 pm (UTC)
Aug. 29th, 2009 03:53 am (UTC)
I missed this post initially due to thesis proposal hell week, but caught the link here via Violet Blue's RSS feed. It sounds like a powerful performance, and one I'm very glad you did even if I wasn't there to see it first hand. Privilege is difficult to see sometimes, if you've never been outside its borders. I hope it encourages people to appreciate their freedoms more, and not take them for granted.

And yes, definitely exactly the right response from the SFPD. My father's a retired police officer and former student activist, so law enforcement philosophy was a common topic growing up in my house. It's always a pleasure to see people getting it right: both in engaging with the police and in the police responding appropriately.

The great deal of respect I have for you has only been reinforced.
Aug. 29th, 2009 07:07 am (UTC)
An intense piece - thank you for writing this out.

Have you read Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow? It is a free download, and a very quick read, and takes place in SF. It deals with similar themes, but with the focus on the home front. An excellent book. http://craphound.com/littlebrother/download/
Aug. 29th, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC)
Interesting play of emotions and resulting "chemical dump" of adrenelin. Having worked in the Refugee Section of Immigration I have seen the reactions from claimants who still live the after effects of their persecutions.
It mus have been an intense psi energy filled space after the Raid? But then again an ambush is supposed to produce that.
One thing I noticed about real life Raids is that there are 3 types of reactions. One is the person who freezes completely, second is the person who slows down from the chemical dump reaction and third the person ho reacts right away. It is the 3rd type that Raid Teams go after because they are the primary threat.
One night in the wee hours the people above us had a Raid. The resulting breaking of the door and yelling woke me up and my heart was thumping like a trip hammer. Intersting experiene of listening to something that I used to do without emotion.
These days of rapid change nothing seems out of place. But our midset must be on guard against being in a state of lacking Awareness
of our own environment.
Yes we do take for granted our hard won freedoms and consensual plaesures.

Brian ..............................V""V.....
Aug. 29th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
conscious awareness...
as a performer and educator You are raising conscious awareness everywhere You go! I applaud Your efforts... just remember to stayed detached from the results... and keep doing it
Much love
Sep. 2nd, 2009 11:32 pm (UTC)
You've earned my respect with the courageous demonstration
Too many people in the good ole USA forget that we are privileged to live where we do.

Large parts of the world exist where the scene you enacted is the norm instead of the exception.

We need to remember this and work to ensure that in our desire for security we do not sit idle while our rights are eroded away by misguided leaders.

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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