On the Brink

by EL Putnam

Sometimes the allusion to force is more potent that the explicit expression of power.

Gareth Cutter starts his performance by standing slightly off to the side of the room with a slack posture. Once the audience takes their places, he moves to a open space and wires himself with a microphone. The device is sensitive — I can hear the subtle sounds of him wetting his lips with his tongue; tensing and releasing the muscles of his jaw. He puts on a pair of rubber gloves, then shifting his body to an assertive stillness. Muscles quiver from stasis. He carefully manipulates the rubber of his gloves, so there is subtle note of the erotic, complimented by his gestures that evoke a sexual tension; a sensuality of bondage that provides the underscore his actions. When he speaks, his voice is distorted. It is digitized and deepened. He is domineering yet lonely. Such connotations contrast his clean-cut hair and street clothes.

Gareth Cutter performing Load. Photo by Julieann O’Malley.

Throughout the performance he tells a story — a strange journey that slips into the explicit without going over the edge, just like his actions that evoke rich eroticism without falling into orgasmic pleasure. He pulls his audience to the brink, but never climaxes. It is within this tension of sensuality, that he draws into relations of authority where submission or dominance are never clearly articulated. Instead he carefully allows glimpses into his erotic mind, using light, sound, and carefully controlled gestures to provide minimally staged evocations of the potential of force. I am drawn into this flirtation, left wondering what is beyond the allusion. The mystery shroudinh this sensuality evokes a complex desire that is left unsated and not understood, but it is the power of potential that leaves me wanting more.

I am pondering the challenges of relating to this complex expression of eroticism when I enter Johanna Zwaig’s performance. She is dressed in black, carrying a simple office portfolio. She appears stoic, cleaved by  a black stripe that runs down the left side of her face. She sits on a chair under the spotlight and opens her portfolio, which is filled with folded white handkerchiefs. She beings to sing.

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Johanna Zwaig performing Sounds Through the Wall. Photo by Fiona Killeen www.blueprintphotography.ie

Her voice fills the room with an echo of strength — it is a voice fit for the Opera stage, though we sit around her in a semi-circle, in position of closeness and intimacy that would not occur in the more formal context. The Spanish words flow to us as her voice drips with melancholy. Her impression evokes images of David Lynch, though I am filled with her energy that can only be transferred through live exchange. She breaks from her singing and lifts a handkerchief from the pile on her lap. Raising her hand into the air, she discards the square of white fabric, like a half-hearted flag of surrender. The lighting brightens slightly when it hits the ground. She again begins to sing.

While her voice and face convey a forceful embodiment of power, Zwaig remains seated, recollecting her poise between songs to once again release a handkerchief. I am enraptured by the tension she cultivates in her action; the strength of her voice, the melancholic beauty of the song, and the carefully maintained poise of her body that resists from being fully captured in the force of her excursion. I am again brought to the brink, but never pulled over.

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Johanna Zwaig performing Sounds Through the Wall. Photo by Fiona Killeen www.blueprintphotography.ie

The tension that both Cutter and Zwaig craft emerges from the play of exuberant force and resistance — allowing the body to carry strength and power, but never fully releasing it. As such, tension builds in my body as a witness, and I am left to hold myself at the brink of an abyss.

Photo by Francis Fay.

Gareth Cutter performed Load and Johanna Zwaig performed Sounds Through the Wall on Friday 18 August as part of the Dublin Live Art Fesitval, organised and curated by Niamh Murphy and Francis Fay.

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