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...