The female body in art is one of the themes being explored at the Quarter Block Party this weekend. COLETTE SHERIDAN finds out about some of the artists taking part in the innovative festival
A STRIPPER who worked for several years in a lap dancing club in Melbourne, Australia, is among the line-up for this year’s Quarter Block Party, running from this Friday to Sunday on North and South Main Streets.
That may sound strange for this community arts festival, now in its third year, presented by Makeshift Ensemble and Southern Hospitality Board and supported by Cork City Council and the Arts Council.
But as choreographer and one of the programmers of the weekend event, Ruairi Donovan, points out, it fits in with this year’s theme.
“The programme this year is a reflection of the times, as well as a direct reaction to the street.
“If 2015 was all about marriage equality and 2016 about centenary, risings and waking the feminists, consider this year’s live art programme for Quarter Block Party officially #woke. That said, if the repeal the 8th campaign is telling us anything, we have a long way to go towards full equality, so this year we are looking specifically at the female body in art,” said Ruairi.
The stripper act, known as Mira Fuchs, is a creation of Australian artist, Melanie Jame Wolf, who works between Melbourne and Berlin.
“It’s an incredible piece of solo work from a fascinating artist. It’s a kind of autobiographical look at that period in her life working in the lap dancing club. It’s about looking at female bodies as sites of labour.
“There’s the work, the tedium, the rhythm, the pleasure and the deadness of doing that for years.
“The set up is that the audience, seated in a circle, will be welcomed by Mira at the Theatre Development Centre in Triskel Christchurch on Saturday, February 4.
“Every one of them has the option to receive a lap dance that she would have performed every night for about seven years.
“Melanie is investigating this kind of public intimacy and desire. It’s looking at consent and autonomy over our bodies as well as choices, all in a very clever and warm way.”
The work “seeks to explore ideas around gender, sexuality, pleasure, performative intimacy, the gaze and dance as labour”.
Structured as an essay of fragments and made for an intimate audience seated in the round, Mira Fuchs proposes itself as an abstracted memoir of the body as a political riddle.”
Ruairi says he and his fellow programmers have been presenting the work of female makers and ‘gender queer’ makers for years.
“I think the larger arts institutions are only starting to follow suit. There is so much strong work being made in Ireland and internationally. We’re keen to develop relationships with these artists, including Cork artists.
“We bring a lot of programmers and stakeholders to the festival over the weekend. It’s really important for us that Cork artists get to have their work seen. It’s not so much about programming a load of ladies just because that’s the fashionable thing to do. We’ve been doing it anyway.”
Rather than “ploughing through issues” that affect women, Ruairi and his colleagues are more interested in highlighting the issues “in an exciting and playful way to move the conversation forward”.
“The work this year is really about how we relate to each other and how we relate to our bodies in a different and interesting way, sometimes with tongue-in-cheek.”
The late art critic, John Berger, has pointed out that only 20 to 30 old masters depict woman as herself rather than a subject of male idealisation or desire. “It’s crazy,” says Ruairi. He points to an artist, Ali Hankins, taking part in the Quartet Block Party who is from Portland in Oregon.
“She fuses dance, theatre and stand-up. She’s interested in desire and the female body in performance and as an object of desire.”
Her project, ‘Now then, a Prologue,’ was made with an all female production company in the US.
“All these women are at the forefront of a conversation about what gender identity is on the West Coast of the US. It’s really exciting for me to bring these conversations back to Cork. Gender identity is currently a big issue.” A group of artists from Oakland in California will be performing at the festival. Their piece is called ‘Snake-Talk.’
“They’re working with the idea of what is means to be zany and how women’s bodies are portrayed. They do a really riotous, free and liberated dance. It’s everything you might think of coming from California and radical feminists. They’re interested in how we relate to each other and how we relate to other things in the world. So they’re working with the relationship between us and snakes. It sounds bonkers and I guess it is bonkers.”