Jazmine Linklater lives and writes in Manchester. She has published two pamphlets of poetry, Toward Passion According (Zarf, 2017) and Découper, Coller (Dock Road Press, 2018). There’s a poem from her beneath….but first she visits JOY at Vault Festival, put together by the new all good artists are dead theatre company run by Dina Gordon and Ella Gamble, pulled to Cold Lips’ attention repeatedly by numerous sources…
Although one of our ears and eyes witnessed a more ‘cut-up’ version of what Linklater experienced, expressing a little loss of linear narrative, Dina’s defo giving her best shot – which we applaud…Photos by Ben Ogunbiyi
JOY at Vault Festival
On Saturday February 10th I went to London’s Vault Festival. I saw JOY, by all-female theatre company, all good artists are dead. I was sucked in. I was blown away.
Picture the scene: an old brick archway beneath Waterloo station – dank and dark – Andrea Giordani behind her decks pumps out techno, head bobbing, long hair swaying to the beat, her skinny arms’ muscles white highlights in the blue lighting. She is absorbed in her music; she is DJing to a pumping crowd. To the left: a Freudian style couch, draped with rugs. Hanging off this, a white plastic blow-up doll, its legs sticking stiffly upward. To the right: Dina Gordon sits atop a tall bar stool, bare legs crossed, naked feet tapping the rhythm. Her afro hair has been combed through – it is voluptuous, natural. She wears dark glasses, her cigarette smoke curls up through a traveling red light, deliciously. She is disinterested, bored maybe. There are chains hanging off the walls, off the decks. From the blurb:
It’s 5am in an East London warehouse. The aftermath of an S&M party is scattered across the floor. Joy is found. The man she slept with is gone.
She sings ‘Say a Little Prayer’ dressed in various other guises: it is distorted, off-key, it is whispered, it is shouted, it becomes a Yoruba chant, a Roman Catholic chant, now it is slow, now fast. She mutters, she hollers, her inner-monologue tumbles out of her mouth. She addresses the symbolic memory of her coital partner, her (white male) doll:
I never asked you, have you been to Africa?
Jean is a multifaceted symbol, also harking back to Strindberg’s Miss Julie, as was highlighted in interview: ‘We started devising around the moment Julie returns to the kitchen having slept with Jean.’ Jean is class/sex/race politics; Jean is gone.
Jean (obviously) never responds, to anything: Joy is in turmoil. She wants words – from Jean, from anyone; to play with them, mould them. ‘Give me words!’ she cries. She gives them herself; the script is built with astute and complex word-play.
Joy makes jibes about the missionary position, including Jean’s; including the global, colonial, Christian one. She makes the cross about her body. The music swells – she crosses again. She drops to her knees, marking out the cross ever quicker, ever more violently, back arching as she slaps forehead, shoulder, shoulder, forehead, shoulder, shoulder, edging across the stage in a religious stupor, brimming with the music of ‘Bembe Pata Pata’ and its invocations of San Miguel by Cuban artist La Lupe, who, too, lived in exile from her homeland.
Joy’s desperation for connection augments, she quizzes Jean: does he have another, younger lover? ‘Does she wear a banana skirt?’ Searching for her she lifts the couch blanket: a flash of yellow. Was that? Yes – it was: dozens of bananas, she’s scooping them out from under the couch, abundant, scandalous, hilarious yellow bananas. Josephine Baker is explicitly named, then emulated: Joy laces her own banana skirt around her naked waist and dances, dances, dances.
As audience, we are directly invited into a sexually fetishising position. The audience is the western world; we exploited Africa, have fetishised its lands, peoples, cultures. From Momtaza Mehri:
Fetish; as derived from the Portuguese feitiço, meaning charm or illusion, originating from the Latin facticius, or artificial. This term emerged from the supposed attachment of Africans to material objects considered to be lower art forms … the objects used in religious ceremonies by West Africans were seen as intensely alien, primitive, and ultimately worthless. These same objects would later fill the museums of Europe.
Dina Gordon is a beautiful black woman, she oozes sex, takes off her clothes, dances, sings, applies lipstick, puts on jewels – she literally decorates herself before our eyes, makes of herself a sexual object. Add to this the setting: S&M party: chains. When Joy ties her Baker-esque banana skirt around her naked waist it’s wince-inducing; she tugs a burn, that rope cuts across her skin. She is tied up, chained up, enslaved, to both her sexuality and the fetishisation and caricaturing of Africa.
The play’s final moments unfurl an enormous banner: after countless cultural icons have been listed, lauded and laughed at (I recall at least Freud, Dostoyevsky, the existentialists, Nietzsche) we end at the inevitable iconic figurehead of colonialism: Jesus Christ, the body and the blood.
JOY is difficult. JOY demands a lot from its audience; it is a palimpsest; a relentless mix of experimental spoken word and performance art, the body always foregrounded. High-powered theatre such as this deserves to be unpacked. all good artists are dead are challenging us – we should accept their invitation.
AND HERE’s JAZMINE LINKLATER’S POEM, Her Stammer, first published in the pamphlet: Toward Passion According (Zarf Editions, 2017).
Remember you are elsewhere
as real / fake as anything else 1
Beyond, you moonbathe luminous
& we know ignore hands that force
your head. From the beginning (this way
easy) watch as you lay, we too
Not envy, admire & self-kid
such lips may grace floored faces.
Lips are mouth, but silence is endless.
We will not hear what cannot be said
say less & in voices theirs
In the beginning
there was a whole
of two. In the beginning
there was a Yes
before the void, before
holes & half silence.
Yes striding wholly
continuum plains before
he, taking off, pushed
her under away
Beyond text~body~milk~blood beyond
(wo)man beyond contact beyond
Throats clog you
your coagulates you
& on approach you dissolve, warm
breath of Beauty
& he laughs
as anima breaks
necks (all) with distance
though there’s no physical
evidence of our physical suffering2
So do nothing muse is all.
It is tulle~mist~breath~prayer:
barata nuclear shines
edges he never will know
(we speak never of but meet
secret in margins, harems whole)
& holes speak, lips part twilight
byways (not~black, not~
void but some away:
our pollen-clogged mouths
glitter syrups & we drink
yes we drink Yes.
1Emily Critchley, ‘Present Synchronicity’ in Out of Everywhere 2 (Reality Street, 2015)
2 Meimei Brussenbrugge, Endocrinology (Kelsey Street Press, 1997)