Concerning Sexual Performance

by Mira Dayal


Charge is a performance exploring the hyper-personal and sensorial connective tissue of human relationships, and the blurring of the senses by means of technology.” So begins the outline for Glasser’s performance at The Kitchen. The stage is set with two tall screens symmetrically placed at the corners of the floor facing the audience and a much larger, rectangular screen along the far wall. In the middle of the floor, a structure resembling a platform bed with memory foam speedbumps supports a black machine-like instrument. Given the choices of color and materials, it feels like the stage for a violently sexualized video game. Glasser enters, and immediately the image is reinforced–her sheer skin-toned dress moves like a soft synthetic tarp but mimics skin as it clings to her body.

The screens begin to show the work of Jonathan Turner: a digitally manipulated sequence reminiscent of mutilated flesh, pink and black bulges flowing into a bubbling tide. I think of Arca and Jesse Kanda’s music videos. Glasser is dancing on the stage, hips swaying and hands tracing the outlines of her body in a way that is almost painfully sexual, but her body feels minuscule in comparison to the visual overload from the screens. Perhaps this is intentional; perhaps this is what was meant by the “blurring of the senses by means of technology.” But if so, I would expect it to evolve, to push deeper into the realm of synesthesia.

As it happened, though the video imagery developed over time to become increasingly bodily (showing unmanipulated footage of Glasser digging into a watermelon’s flesh on a sandy beach, then fluid fleshy colors melting into an ear, then fingers grasping at hairs at the nape of her neck to be pulled into a bun, then a face submerged behind the same plastic of her dress, then a kaleidoscopic abdomen melting into nether regions …), Glasser’s body did not seem to evolve with it. Eventually she made use of the bed, playing with what turned out to be a digital harp. Still, despite changes in music and visuals, the performance of Glasser’s body felt static and unchallenging. If she had been aiming to explore human relationships, it felt too surface-level and self-involved to get there (“Look at me, don’t look at me, me, me…” she sang). If she had been exploring the gaze, as she claimed during the performance, she explored it only by inviting, not challenging, our gaze.

Midway through the performance, the artist addressed the audience directly: “Who do you think I am? What do you think you know about me?” She took hold of our investigation of her body, then turned the question into an investigation of ourselves; but it felt superficial, because she had only given us one facet of her subjectivity to work with. If this was what she meant by “hyper-personal,” it was too literal, too forced in its direct existential inquiry. I was forced, rather than led, into thinking about Glasser’s “identity.”

If this was meant to be a demonstration of gender performance, it succeeded in that I consciously felt she was embodying stereotypical female sexuality (spending several minutes taking obliquely-angled selfies on the bed after going through her yoga poses), but it failed in that Glasser never stepped outside of that insular performance, and in failing to do so she simultaneously failed to grant access to the desired “hyper-personal” realm (what is beyond performance?). She set her viewers up for failure by not allowing us to see beyond the bodily contours of her subjectivity and performance. The only complications and sensory overlays allowed in the performance were happening on the screens; her audio recordings of orgasmic sighs were still stuck in the same routine as her body.

After several sets of new visuals and aural cues that the performance would shift (to no avail), I lost interest in her body, and this is where the performance failed. I sensed that she wanted us to read this failure as a comment on the state of performance, but I found myself instead considering her failure to challenge performative definitions.

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