Performance Art and Ritual

Last weekend, I was a “plus one” at an insemination ritual for performance artist Sadie Lune. My friend Anna was writing about it for a local newspaper, and I thought it sounded neat. That is, until we received an email that explained in detail what we could expect and what was to be expected of us. This line in particular made me a wee bit nervous:

“This performance ritual will be sexually explicit, and as participatory witnesses, I invite you to join in raising the erotic energy at the relevant time (you’ll know when). This can look like sensual thoughts and intentions, fooling around with your date, asking someone cute if they want to make out, masturbation….”

Ok. Sexually explicit, sure, that’s to be expected. But audience participation? Not my cup of tea. I don’t even like that in non-naked theatre. But she went on to explain that “play” was not necessary, and all I had to do was show up wearing green, silver, or purple. And by the way, no one is allowed out before the ritual finishes. Trapped at an orgy!

So I gathered up my trepidation and took it with me. The pre-show was the “hand made-ins” [sic] bringing around trays of fertility-increasing or symbolizing foods (deviled eggs, mangoes, avocados), asking us to share “a wish, a dream, a hope, a prayer” on a post-it and stick it to the wall underneath pictures of Sadie’s cervix. The performance itself started with a beautiful, naked rendition of Bjork’s “Big Time Sensuality” (and by naked, I mean both that it was unaccompanied and that the singer was without clothing). One of the hand made-ins then came into the circle, wrapped a clock (symbolizing the biological clock) in cloth, and smashed it to bits with a hammer. Then Sadie joined a pregnant friend in the circle and all of the helpers (who I assume were her community, her close friends, lovers and family) came to kiss or touch both of their bellies in turn.

The orgy came soon after. I will admit I was thankful that very few people in the audience were “raising their erotic energy.” Most simply watched the action in the fertility circle. Sadie mostly got it on with her hand made-ins, and Oberon, the chosen sperm donor, mostly got it on with the men. After a little while, Oberon disappeared into the next room to produce the, er, donation, and we were treated to a round of storytelling, mostly funny and/or embarrassing sexual stories. When he came back, triumphant, the turkey basters came out of their holsters (seriously, the hand made-ins were wearing turkey basters strapped to various parts of their bodies), and a baby was made. Well, hopefully.

If the purpose of performance art is to spark discussion and get people thinking, then this one succeeded in spades. Here is a queer performance artist who wants not only to have a baby, but to have it completely on her terms: surrounded by love (not only in the “monogamous partner” way that society expects of us), impregnated by many hands. And to top it off, she invites people to watch. To create art, to create conversation.

The performance made me think about the role of ritual in our society. We have a handful of rite-of-passage rituals that are performed by the general population, sure: graduations, weddings, funerals. The other few that I can think of are linked to religion (bar/bat mitzvahs, baptism, confirmation, communion). We don’t have a ritual for menstruation, mainly because it’s seen as so shameful! The only times we hear about our periods are in advertisements telling us how to conceal the fact that we menstruate at all. Except in yoga circles: “I’m on my moon!” “Ladies holiday!” “I’m honoring the wisdom time!” (Ok, I may have made that last one up.) Going into a hut for a week miiiiight let the cat out of the bag. There’s no common ritual for conception, other than sex itself. And even the birth process has been robbed of its ritual; in most births, women are on their backs in hospital beds being treated as though they’re sick.

So I think it’s commendable that Sadie Lune chose to conceive this way, cobbling bits of rituals from other traditions together to create something new, to create life. Pretty awesome, actually.

What do you think? What are some other rituals, and what are qualifications for something being a ritual? Why do we need ritual in our lives? (Or do we?)

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This entry was published on May 5, 2011 at 8:37 pm and is filed under adventure. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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