biotope performance installation (transparent acrylic box, petrol generator, computer, floodlight, gas mask, video projection) I am standing inside a closed transparent box, which has a petrol generator, a computer and a floodlight inside. The petrol generator powers the computer and the floodlight. I breathe through a gasmask with a tube connected to the outside air. I use the computer to send Twitter messages. The Tweets are projected onto the wall next to the box. When the box has filled with exhaust and the oxygen has run out, the generator switches off. As a result, the computer crashes and the performance ends. ]performance s p a c e [ London, June 2012 Duration: 7 minutes Photos: Marco Berardi
Fantasy and Fetish: Dani Ploeger’s biotope Dr Alissa Clarke In John Hughes’ 1985 popularist Sci-Fi film, Weird Science, two geek (male, obviously) teens utilise their technological prowess to create a ‘perfect’ woman who will rescue them from their unpopular social standing and lead them through the transition from boy to man. Through fantastical computer trickery, and a homemade assortment of bras, candles and a wired-up Barbie doll, their pneumatic woman, Kelly LeBrock, emerges gleaming, poised and partially clothed, carefully framed as consumable image and object by the doorway. Her spectacular entrance is heralded by an explosion, peculiar light and reams of smoke. Similarly, in biotope thick smoke and phosphorescent light, produced by the generator and flood light, erotically reveal and sculpt Ploeger’s arm muscles into impressive bulging beefcake contours and mysteriously cloak the computer keyboard on which he is typing. The DIY wooden enclosure, rather than a door and homemade objects, provides the framework for this spectacle. Yet, in playfully echoing such culturally pervasive ‘fetishistic glorification and mystification of… technologies’ (Ploeger 2012b) and its engendering of the gendered body, biotope challenges and makes transparent the laboured mechanisms behind such fetishisation. The gasmask worn by Ploeger can be viewed as central to the knowingly heightened fetishisation incited by and of his performance. Just as the camera slowly and appreciatively pans up Kelly LeBrock’s body in Weird Science, reaching her pouting face last, so Ploeger’s gas mask removes his face and leaves his camera phone-wielding spectators free to roam over his exotically exhibited male torso at will. LeBrock, even when taking charge of the boys’ lives in Weird Science, remains in the objectified mould of Pygmalion’s statue, fulfilling the boys’ desires and fantasies. In contrast, Ploeger’s voluntary self-exhibition is accompanied by symbols of agency and masculinity, like the DIY enclosure and the generator, which he forcefully revs up and whose growling base notes underscore the piece.
These symbols mark Ploeger as both Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster. Indeed, he highlights ‘the exhibitionist tendencies in [his] work’ and the deliberate construction and crafting of the body that is exhibited: ‘I am really quite vain, careful to eat healthy food and a compulsive gym customer’ (Whitehead 2011). In biotope, the subsequently hard body that is exhibited, along with the worrying apocalyptic warrior image, suggested by the gasmask and the weirdly-lit thick fog, and the danger of possible self- asphyxiation underscored by the need for the gasmask, point to macho ‘utopic visions of a future with superman-cyborgs’ (Ploeger 2011). Yet, Ploeger emphasises how in his work this kind of ‘macho stance is then undermined by the conditions of the performance which make conscious vanity posing impossible and render the scenario into an ambiguous text’ (Whitehead 2011). Indeed, the delicate motions of Ploeger’s fingers across the part masked keyboard, and his simple and factual acknowledgement of material (‘the engine starts [t]o malfunction’) and personal (‘It is scary’) vulnerabilities through Twitter from his inaccessible, isolated position within this biotope, neatly shakes the sense of phallocentric power. Moreover, that interaction with a social networking site and Ploeger’s casual completion of the piece by awkwardly exiting the enclosure once the oxygen has vanished, shifts the performance state into the daily and ordinary. This completes that destabilisation of the ‘superhuman-cyborg’ and fetishisation of the technological, and serves, instead, to highlight the ‘role’ of technologies ‘in the gestures and interactions of human bodies in the everyday life of the present’ (Ploeger 2012a). And yet, the focus on the everyday, the manifest labour within the piece, and the laying bare of the mechanisms behind the fetishisation and mystification of the technologies, doesn’t exorcise the marvel of the spectacle. It doesn’t mitigate the moments where the piece evokes something beyond a filmic Sci-Fi fantasy, where Ploeger appears waist deep in light, his fingers seeming to press patterns into the tinted fog, like some kind of phantasmagoria. However, it’s precisely due to these moments, which incite the spectator’s most fantastical and fetishised projections onto the piece, that the spectator can revealingly register and dissect their complicity with this enticing exoticisation of technologies.
References Ploeger, Daniël (2011) 'Sounds like Superman? On the Representation of Bodies in Biosignal Performance', Interference: A Journal of Audio Culture, 1: 1. Ploeger, Daniël (2012a) ‘Cabinets of Post-Digital Curiosities: Artaud Forum 2’, <http://people.brunel.ac.uk/dap/artaudforum_cabinets.html> [28 / 9 / 12]. Ploeger, Daniël (2012b) ‘[SCUDD] Post-Stelarc RE: Performance Art Event @ Brunel Uni this Saturday’, email to SCUDD List at JISC (SCUDD@JISCMAIL.AC.UK), 30 March. Weird Science (1985) Film directed by John Hughes, USA: Universal Pictures. Whitehead, Vagner (2011) ‘E-terview with Dani Ploeger’, 7 June, <http://e-terview.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/e-terview-with-daniploeger.html> [2 August 2012].
Dani Ploeger is an artist and theorist, living and working in London. His performance installations engage with readily available medical and consumer technologies, and explore themes around the technologized body, sexuality and vanity. He is Lecturer in Theatre and Digital Arts at Brunel University London. www.danielploeger.org Marco Berardi is an Italian photographer based in London. His work is focused on performance art. www.bmarcob.com Alissa Clarke is Lecturer in Drama at De Montfort University in Leicester. Her research is focused on psychophysical performance and performer training, feminist and gender theory and performance practice, and documentation of performance.