We recommend that you watch the video before reading this text.
Bodies That Matter, Absurdly
We make nonsense with our bodies. Clowning produces comic effects that literally ‘rock the body’ (Weitz 2012), and in doing so, clowning has the power to say serious things in non-serious ways. The queer clown estranges what has always already been strange. The gendered body, produced through stylised repetitive acts, as we know from Butler (1990), is already absurd in its anatomical cage of dualistic thinking, and it is through the diffractive splicing of movements, objects, processes and sounds we enact and subvert it in Le Tomatique to intensify and highlight this absurdity. The use of incongruous or nonsensical objects in avant-garde artistic expression is not new, and each item in our suitcase of props carries its own particular genealogy. Our Tesco cocktail sausages, our eyeliner pencilled goatee beards, our false eyelashes and glue, our skateboard, our rollerblades; our banana phone, our rubber lobster, our red Marxist jacket, our sexy kimono, our Philosophy Sex Line sign–all create particular resonances when they meet and interfere with our bodies which are already themselves interferences in their very ungainliness: unsexy, unglamorous, unpractised, unpolished. Sweating bodies, laughing bodies, falling bodies, flumping bodies. Our bodies don’t make sense.
It is our goal to demonstrate the potential of queer clowning as an embodied and irreverent mode of feminist new materialist practice. The body and its entangled surroundings are central to new materialist thinking (Grosz 1994). As Monika Rogowska-Stangret states in her article ‘Corpor(e)al Cartographies of New Materialism’ (2017), the body is an ideal starting point to allow us to rethink subjectivity, community, ethics and politics beyond oppositional thinking. She describes the body as ‘a moving threshold between subject-object-abject, ripe with meaning–psychological and cultural, subjective, objective and abjective’ (2017: 62). The body is indeed a moving threshold; its multiple flexings, foldings, contortions, varieties, permeabilities and plasticities all enable us to create meaning through corporeal manipulation and movement. And, the role of embodiment within feminist new materialist movement practices carries significant pedagogical weight (Hickey-Moody et al. 2016). We can, therefore, perceive queer-feminist movement practice as an alternative mode of knowledge production. New materialist practice also inspires new thinking of the notion of performativity, gender and queerness beyond Butler’s conceptualisations (Barad 2003; Pfizenmaier 2018).
A Short Profile
Artist name: Le Tomatique. Name of show: Glitter Wurst Bean Medley. Interests and activities: Clowning, leaping, buffoonery, nonsense, queer, dada, feminism, words, shapes, pressing buttons, selective anthropomorphisation of foodstuffs and mocking the fetishisation of the dead white male philosopher. We develop these thoughts in our variety show Glitter Wurst Bean Medley (GWBM), which comprises feminist and queer clowning, absurdist dancing, and philosophical anarchy enacted through Dadaesque vignettes. Through an irreverent blend of pop culture, the histories of popular performance, via Brecht, Weimar, and Music Hall, and a playful disruption of continental philosophy, as well as GWBM stages a queering of the hierarchies of cultural value and knowledge creation. Treating Beyoncé, Bauhaus and Badiou with equal intellectual significance allows the queer clowning of GWBM to intervene in ongoing onto-epistemological debates.
The Two Clowns
V V Vroom is a dancer, baker, beaver, thinker, wisdom giver and queer performer. Vroom hails from the Surrey countryside. Amongst the unnecessary field tractor vehicles, the 1990s goth punk metal purple glittery studded dog collar fishnets and crushed velvet, a young queer clown persona has emerged. Amongst the vicissitudes of defying gendered embodied expectations of conformity through dancing the entirety of Lady GaGa’s Bad Romance at super double speed in outfits unbecoming of a fat femme dyke, she incubates a queer feminist critique of the former before acquiring the vocabulary of the latter.
H P Source is a hoop-jumping nonsense-throwing Northern English bouncer, not in the sense of a door guarding behemoth but more in the sense of one who cannot not bounce. As a child, attending primary school, Source discovered the amusing spectacle of the teacher’s moves choreographed to the sounds of the early- to mid-1990s acid house tracks. The aerobics fanatic primary school teacher got the kids up and moving and laughing through the leaping and bending of a technicolour spirograph patterned legging-clad leg. In 1995, the circling arms and bending knees to ‘On A Ragga Tip’ at the primary school with primary colours and primary shapes brought the realisation that the moving of bodies, the clashing of colours and the booming of sounds had more pedagogical import than anything else in seven years of sitting at the naughty table.
Vroom and Source met in South East London in 2006 and found themselves living in a terraced house in Brockley SE4. It was to the sounds of Capital Radio and the Sugababes that they first developed their absurd synergy through the simultaneous throwing of arms, ideas and feelings.
A Modality of Irreverence
Irreverence is the petrol that powers the engine of Le Tomatique. What do we mean when we say irreverence? Kathy Acker. The dictionary tells us that it is: 1.) The fact or quality of being irreverent; Rocky Horror Show; 2.) absence or violation of reverence; Antonin Artaud; 3.) disrespect to a person or thing held sacred or worthy of honour. Cyndi Lauper. But rather than defining irreverence through a negation we would like to uphold and affirm irreverence. Sara Ahmed. Irreverence is prophetic. Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Irreverence is passionate. Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Offensive. Alan Cumming. Irreverent. The Coquettes. Lurid. Travis Alabanza. Debased. Beth Ditto. Obscene. Fevvers. Divine. Indecent. Michel Foucault. Degenerate. Split Britches. Vulgar. Winefred Sanderson. Debauched. Owen G. Parry. Depraved. David Hoyle. Lewd. Le Tigre.
We believe that laughter forces us back into our bodies and removes us from the sphere of elevated esoteric disembodied academic language. Jose Muñoz. We do not revere the patriarchal figures we are brought up to look up to. Bird le Bird. We prefer to disrupt and interrupt comfortable epistemological lineages and insert our own heroes. Scottee. Language is not a thing but a force to be channelled-challenged-changed. Harold Offeh. Changing the order. Grace Jones. Changing the syntax. Kayleigh O’ Keefe. Changing the shapes and changing the axes. Tilda Swinton. Smashing the hierarchy. Peaches. Sticking bits of words together to make new ones. Cindy Sherman. Being contrary. Gayatri Spivak. Playing in order to be serious. Tank Girl. Using NONsense to MAKE sense. Tom of Finland. Rewriting to make things new. Vaginal Davis. Tearing up the blueprints. Valie Export. The feminist manifesto’s future has arrived.
The Queer Clownifesto
We believe that there is a place for the absurd in the project of challenging the dominant vision of the subject.
Defend your right not to make sense.
A bread baton, a cocktail sausage and a marshmallow flump can express an important philosophical syllogism.
Queer to estrange, queer to defamiliarise. Dance to defame.
Take your pre-existing manifesto.
Replace every instance of the authorial word of your pre-existing manifesto with another word.
Take your pre-existing structure. Retain and denature. Fall over. Do a teddy bear roll.
Wear rainbow makeup and dapple your faces with stubble. You will look fabulous.
Challenge the plot and challenge the narrative.
We think with our bodies and our skin so get up close and touch people and things.
Touch hot topics to make them strange. Be as dissonant with your hands as you are with your words.
The attachment of philosophical gravitas to a proper name which constitutes the process of canonisation is a process that gathers momentum over centuries. As performers and academics, we want to challenge the patriarchal hierarchies which govern the canonisation process and break the lineage of those proper names which crop up on reading lists, at conferences, on a syllabus, in an edited collection, in libraries, in bookshops. We understand the need to disrupt this comfortable lineage, and we enact this onstage.
Diffraction and interference. We do this with our bodies. What do we want to show from this demonstration? What happens in between bodies? Within bodies? The event of diffraction, for example. The event of a diffractive pedagogy itself. One body and its effect on another body. And perhaps through the interference between bodies, another body is produced. Think about new materialism and Stoic philosophy. Causes are material too. Bodies are causes. The effect is material. Causes and effects are bodies too. If all these things are bodies, then surely it is a good idea to use bodies to perform this.
The abstract shape as made by the performer’s body. Think about the abstract shape as a signature. Think about the materiality of the signature. A signature is more than language. A signature is a performing body. A signature move. A signature motif. A signature dish. Think about an abstract shape as a signature. What this could mean. Here we cite one of Le Tomatique’s most treasured heroes: the fabulous, the acerbic, the vitriolic, the heartwarming, queen of the absurd, our favourite Blackpudlian David Hoyle.
What happens when attempting to improvise a diffraction through the meeting of bodies? We find the resistance of bodies. We find the messiness of boundaries. We find bodily effects which produce new bodies. The boundaries of the body are porous. What happens when we touch or when we hug? We collide. We produce new bodies. Every new effect is a new body. On the skin, above the skin or under the skin. Micro transferences or transversal leaps. Beads of perspiration and epidermis transferred onto the surface of another. Through contact or collision, blood rushes to the surface. Microtremors in the bones. New neural firings. Emotions shoot from the gut and spread to the extremities.
Feel your thoughts and think your feelings.
Subvert and satirise. Change the choreography.
Be affirmative in your negation. Say ‘I would prefer not to’.
Your body and your voice are your research tools.
These tools can bend and flex themselves. Make shapes that are not regular.
Stretch your toes to stretch your mind. Be alive.
Laugh in order to be serious. Be weird.
Disorientate your body and your mind.
Put yourself in a new configuration.
List of figures cited in the Queer Clownifesto
Kathy Acker, writer
Sara Ahmed, theorist
Travis Alabanza, writer and theatre-maker
Antonin Artaud, theatre maker
Bird le Bird, performance artist
Alan Cumming, actor
Vaginal Davis, performance artist
Beth Ditto, musical artist
Fevvers, character in Angela Carter’s novel Nights at the Circus
Michel Foucault, theorist
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, film
David Hoyle, performance artist
Grace Jones, musical artist
Le Tigre, musical artists
Tom of Finland, artist
Kayleigh O’Keefe, performance artist
Harold Offeh, performance artist
Jose Muñoz, theorist
Owen G. Parry, performance artist
Peaches, musical artist
Ru Paul’s Drag Race, TV show
Winifred Sanderson, character in film Hocus Pocus
Scottee, performance artist
Cindy Sherman, artist
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, theorist
Tank Girl, comic book
Tilda Swinton, actor
The Coquettes, musical artists
The Rocky Horror Show, musical and film
Valie Export, artist
Zippy, character on TV show Rainbow
Barad, Karen (2003), ‘Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter’, Signs, Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 801-831.
Butler, Judith (1990), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York & London: Routledge.
Grosz, Elizabeth (1994), Volatile Bodies: Toward A Corporeal Feminism Theories of Representation and Difference, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Hickey-Moody, Anna, Helen Palmer & Esther Sayers (2016), ‘Diffractive Pedagogies: Dancing across New Materialist Imaginaries’ Gender and Education, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 213-229.
Pfizenmaier, Ruben (2018), ‘Practice’, New Materialism Almanac, newmaterialism.eu/almanac/p/practice (last accessed 23 August 2018).
Rogowska-Stangret, Monika (2017), ‘Corpor(e)al Cartographies of New Materialism: Meeting the Elsewhere Halfway’, Minnesota Review, No. 88, pp. 59-68.
Weitz, Eric (2012), ‘Failure as Success: On Clowns and Laughing Bodies’, Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 79-87.
WHO SUPPORTS US
The team of MAI supporters and contributors is always expanding. We’re honoured to have a specialist collective of editors, whose enthusiasm & talent gave birth to MAI.
However, to turn our MAI dream into reality, we also relied on assistance from high-quality experts in web design, development and photography. Here we’d like to acknowledge their hard work and commitment to the feminist cause. Our feminist ‘thank you’ goes to:
Dots+Circles – a digital agency determined to make a difference, who’ve designed and built our MAI website. Their continuous support became a digital catalyst to our idealistic project.
Guy Martin – an award-winning and widely published British photographer who’s kindly agreed to share his images with our readers
Chandler Jernigan – a talented young American photographer whose portraits hugely enriched the visuals of MAI website
Matt Gillespie – a gifted professional British photographer who with no hesitation gave us permission to use some of his work
Julia Carbonell – an emerging Spanish photographer whose sharp outlook at contemporary women grasped our feminist attention
Ana Pedreira – a self-taught Portuguese photographer whose imagery from women protests beams with feminist aura
And other photographers whose images have been reproduced here: Cezanne Ali, Les Anderson, Mike Wilson, Annie Spratt, Cristian Newman, Peter Hershey