from the cracks in the psyche of culture
No. 11: October 2002
life, representation and misrepresentation
With the forthcoming production of
SexandViolets.com featuring on-stage nudity and sex scenes, it is
worth considering some issues pertaining to such use. The following
article on Eroticism and Dreams opens up some rarely considered
points of view.
Like the stunt
artist, the highly trained athlete and the erotic artist, the actor
traces a thin line between art and life. The stunt artist risks real
injury (even death) to create a spectacle for entertainment. The
highly trained athlete performs real feats with real acts of courage
discernable by an audience ... and nowadays she/he performs for the
pleasure of the audience as much as for personal satisfaction. The
erotic artist performs, sometimes with consummate skill, to awaken,
stimulate and satisfy sexual desires of the audience. So it is for
the actor. Just as the stunt artist, the athlete and the erotic
artist are not pretending to do what they do, the actor also should
NOT be pretending ... at least if the actor is serious about making a
real connection with the audience ...
is a a deceptive statement and needs clarifying. So let's consider
art, life and how it is either representation or misrepresentation.
a director asks an actor to be nude on stage it can't be assumed
this is solely for some clinical aesthetic that suits the context of
the play. It could simply be to exploit a superb body. It could be
for promotional reasons. It could be because the script contains a
requirement for nakedness. Or it could be for more subversive reasons.
flesh and sexuality on stage can be like the fleeting images of
animistic figures from the dream world of artists and individual
audience members. Dreams undercut the norms of culture, society,
religion and belief systems of all shapes and forms. In dreams the
dreamer wanders naked through some vaguely recognized ordered society
only to feel the shame of awakening. The dream is not the construct
of social sanctioning, cultural orthodoxy or even the conscience of
the dreamer. In this sense, dreaming is subversive activity which
sometimes reveals hidden truths and disconcerting observations about
the dreamer. So theatre which draws on dream imagery and forms has
the potential to challenge and extend cultural, social and personal
stereotypes of acceptance and vision. What we accept as truth and our
vision of truth can be challenged and subverted through such a theatre.
naked actor becomes the dream figure exposing the emperor's new
clothes of our civil costume. Our social and cultural costume is more
than the material with which we adorn or conceal our bodies. It is
also the total of our sculptural mannerisms, our daily rituals, our
very thought processes.
follows that the naked act is both symbolic and actual. It is
symbolic according to the context of the performance. But it is, more
importantly, real because the actor him/herself has to cope with
inner processes concerning exposure: ie. vanity, exhibitionism,
aesthetics and sexual shyness and even shame (in the classic Adam and
Eve sense). The actor has to portray a person that breathes and
interacts. She/he needs to be able to find her/his psychological way
into the character or role being performed. There is a huge range of
thinking on this (see the article on David
But essentially, the actor copes with personal tensions that inform
the portrayed role. And here we have the blurred line between art and
life; between representation and misrepresentation.
often actors and directors bypass the real concerns and tensions
surrounding the actor on stage in order to achieve a kind of enforced
order or absence of chaos. The notorious "nude" scene gains
a reputation for all the wrong reasons in mainstream commercial
theatre while being under utilized in much alternative and
experimental theatre. The result isn't a representation of the human
spirit but rather a misrepresentation.
dreamer, naked and vulnerable, is very similar to the actor. If we
allow ourselves a moment to reflect, we will perhaps come to identify
with such vulnerability. An audience may also experience ambiguous
feelings ranging from lust to wonder to sheer violence. Whatever the
case, we must acknowledge the nature of relationship between actor
and audience: that same terrifying relationship.
thought on this subject can be expressed without acknowledging the
published works of Antonin
Some of his ideas and legacy were discussed in Theatre
and Eros: Artaud's Legacy (Scream April 2001).
In that article, I stated: "Artaud's
shock treatment is needed to revitalize and refocus theatre into
accepting the erotic nature of performance."
need to follow Artaud's impulse and seek to bring an awareness of
the erotic to the foreground of our practice. While nudity isn't
necessarily erotic theatre, there must be consideration of the
context where an actor steps out naked into the public arena. Perhaps
the actor is comfortable enough. But there will always be a tension
in the audience. A contemporary audience will probably not be
shocked. However, it will be engaged and probably curious. The
voyeurism of any audience will be heightened as the actors body
becomes accessible for scrutiny. Will he or she reveal genitals? Is
it in good taste or is it simply a vulgar exhibition or strip show
bordering on the pornographic?
religions step in and categorize the naked body into categories for
moral consumption. Religious art, for instance, may use nudity (as in
Leonardo de Vinci's work and other paintings in cathedrals). However,
we must step carefully into hallowed ground when considering nudity
with religion. Is the nudity likely to be sexually stimulating? In
which case, it is considered morally wrong. Sex outside of
heterosexual marriage is akin of sin! Should an image provide an
occasion of sin, then the perpetrators should be dammed. Some
feminist writing suggests the same (if it be heterosexual stimulation
that is). A glance at Andrea
Dworkin's home page
will indicate a very dogmatic and politically rationalist view of
sex, gender politics and gender based artistic expression.
the realms of film censorship and what is appropriate viewing for
the public, great pains are made to separate artistic nudity from
sexual nudity ... and the eye of the beholder is winking in
admiration of those who go to such pains to separate the two forms of
nudity. Is there evidence of "exploitative" nudity? No
doubt their skills would be useful in some department somewhere! The
problem is that some people find naked feet sexually stimulating
while others may find the image of the lips of man a turn on! So what
do we ban in the interests of us human beasts without the capability
for control of their sexual proclivities?
It's all a
matter of controls. If you can socially control sexual behaviour and
sexual thought, then you can control a whole population and make it
conform to whatever you define as god's wishes. In some instances
this results in covering a woman's face in public lest she be beaten
to death. Historically, we have seen women being burnt to death for
daring to defy the mind of some man's god! Whatever the case, so
imbedded in the human psyche is the fear of sexuality that most who
will draw exception to these statements will not understand their own
subjugation to sexual fear and political control.
thank god for our dreams! Even the most subservient amongst us is
going to dream disturbing dreams that challenge the dominant moral
sexual code. Such dreams might even challenge the mind set of a
culture that can stone a woman to death for fucking outside of her
marriage or even for simply displaying her face or neck in public
while that same culture can willingly send children to certain death
as they march gloriously across a mine field to martyrdom.
which dares to touch on such touchy subjects is open to persecution
by those practicing cultural denials of the most basic kind. One
doesn't have to be a Salmon Rushdie to feel the resultant sledging
and persecution that theatre has traditionally suffered. Theatre can
be anti-cultural as it attacks cultural complacency and dogmas of all
persuasions. Only when theatre challenges cultural orthodoxy can it
offer hope and assurance for humanity beyond political expediency .
so back to eroticism, dreams and representation of the human
condition. Theatre that is too respectful of cultural masters risks
misrepresentation of human behaviour, instincts and thinking.
Ironically, Peter Brook (the greatest of Western European theatre
directors in the past fifty years) discovered that only by practicing
a multi-culturalism approach to theatre could it seek to be truly
universal; offering truthful insights into the
human condition that defy cultural tunnel vision and chauvinism.
Isn't theatre supposed to be paradoxical and ironic?
dreams and theatre that is close to dreams, there is the best chance
of achieving such an aim. Nudity on stage is a tool that may provide
a direct link to the dream reality giving substance to a theatre of
challenge and cultural subversion. It is no more or less useful.
However, it should not be underestimated as a weapon subverting
cultural hegemony. It can be more than a marketing tool for big
business involvement in the arts.
live theatre is essentially one human being interacting with other
human beings, the exposure of one leads to the exposure of the
other's vulnerabilities and cultural lock-in. But this requires an
amazing energy and commitment to an art form that is itself
vulnerable and open to malicious attack. The nude actor is thus a
very powerful artistic tool and provides the mechanism for artistic
and cultural challenge.
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