7 pleasures consists of seven scenes where a group of people embody non-standard ways of reaching a collective ecstasy. It starts with a huddle of naked bodies in the far corner of the stage, which then gradually transforms and moves forward through the scenery, looking like a huge lump of soft dough. In the following scenes a table, an armchair, a carpet, fancy lamps, as well as meditation balls and quirky straps become equal participants of the human orgy. The borders between the bodies, as well as between the bodies and the objects, completely disappear. A woman, putting a houseplant between her legs, starts to lick its leaves, as if the plant asked for it. Another performer is wrapped in a carpet, so that it seems to grab and devour her on its own… The objects in 7 pleasures, whether sex toys or interior furnishings, seem to acquire a will of their own and the ability to desire.
Archives and utopias
Even a cursory glance at these three scenes reveals Ingvartsen’s focus on sexuality in relation to social and political issues. This is even clearer in 69 positions which, unlike the other Red Pieces, is not a stage show but a guided tour. Ingvartsen invites visitors into the exhibition space showing documentation of 1960s performances such as Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy (1964), Dionysus in 69 by The Performance Group, and Yayoi Kusama’s manifesto ‘Stock is a fraud!’, which served as a press release for Naked Demonstration at Wall Street back in 1968.
During those years, the naked body was a means and symbol of protest against wars and expanding capitalism. As usually happens in times of social upheaval, this was a period of rethinking the limits between the public and the private. Free bodily and sexual expression, taken from the repository of the intimate sphere, was supposed to be one of the routes to a new social order. In 69 positions and in the later Red Pieces, Ingvartsen works with the artistic archive of the 1960s to observe how everything has changed through the years of neoliberal turn in politics and culture. She reflects on how eroticism and seduction have been captured by marketing strategies to impose excessive consumption, how aggressive pornography established itself instead of new joyful social order. This critique partly appears in 7 pleasures, where capitalistic eroticising of objects is taken to the limit, so that objects themselves seem to start having desires. You can see it too in the last part of 69 positions, when Ingvartsen licks the lightbulb and the table, and intensively rolls a meditation ball along her spine.
Having observed the histories of the 1960s and 2000s, Ingvartsen insists that today the naked body is a costume, not a manifesto; yet it remains the battlefield for and against traditional sexual identities. For decades, this battle has been taking place under our skin, on the level of pharmacology, affects and desires. That’s why, in the third part of the guided tour, she reads extracts from Testo Junkie, a book by transgender activist, philosopher and biohacker Paul B. Preciado. That’s why 69 positions ends with imaginary erotic practices, with special devices which stimulate and sex up bodies in order to ‘hack’ our common notions of pleasure. Freedom today has nothing to do with ‘free’ bodily expression, says Ingvartsen in an interview with Tom Engels, but it has to be continuously constructed – through collective or individual subversive practices.
Joyful resistance and dark imagination
Though Ingvartsen seems to be a good cultural theorist, her works stand away from ‘conceptual’ dance pieces. Instead of presenting dull choreographic concepts, she prefers capturing our attention with powerful images and vigorous music. Thus, she borrows pop-culture emotional strategies, which have usually been more engaging and seductive than the methods of theatre. This is very clear in the last scene of to come, where naked performers spin in crazy Lindy Hop dancing, exchanging partners, leaders and gender roles. Familiar tunes and infectious movements energise the audience and, together with Ingvartsen’s critique, create what she calls ‘joyful resistance’.
Another Red Pieces’ battleground is, of course, imagination, which is so crucial for marketing, politics, erotica and theatre. It is the very sphere where we can conceive utopias, train our sensitivity, succumb to temptations and nurture desires. Exercises with imagination arise, more or less explicitly, throughout all the series – but most of all in 21 pornographies, the darkest of Ingvartsen’s cycle.