In the beginning, there was a duck.
Or it might have been a goose. I’m so bad with birds. The point is that it was white, had a beak, wings, webbed feet and could waddle. It was also a remarkably disciplined performer. After all, it’s not easy to steal the show in a performance where your only other co-star is a half-naked man in white leggings and a frothy white train. But Duck/Goose managed this.
Here’s a look at the Shine Shivan performance, titled “Gods and the Gaze”, that marked the closing of “Suck Spit“. I’m hoping it works like an online flipbook. The photos are a touch fuzzy since they were taken on my phone and in seriously low-light conditions. A friend remarked on how Carvaggio-esque they look. Ahem.
So yes, in the beginning there was a duck. Then Shivan slid down the boat. He shimmied a little in the light and then he and the duck, or goose, ran around in circles. Then they canoodled. He held the bird on his shoulder. It flapped around, understandably. I’m not entirely sure but I think the duck/goose was limping. Maybe the rehearsals had been a little too vigorous. Between that limping duck/goose and the distorted taxidermied roosters, it’s a wonder PETA hasn’t come knocking on Gallery Maskara’s door. Then again, maybe it wasn’t limping. Anyway, so after some more bird-grappling and preening, the performance ended with the duck/goose at the foot of the boat and Shine on the other side of the boat, almost in shadow.
For all the hilarity of seeing a duck/goose being chased by a man in an unravelled tutu and white leggings, I have to point out that the 30 minute performance whooshed by. I wasn’t bored for a second. Shivan is charismatic and he knows how to keep his audience’s attention.
Shivan’s outfit was similar to the one he had for his “Sperm Weaver”, so it almost felt like a continuation of the earlier performances (of which I’ve only seen photos). I think I get the artistic re-enactment of being born — sliding down the boat, into the light etc. — and the whole interpretive dance sections where he’s sort of preening for the gaze of the title and then distorting himself because of it. The idea of body image being determined by how an invisible gaze sees you is presumably what he was getting at as he made faces and felt himself up. I’m not so sure about the writhing around on the ground. But what on earth was going on with the duck/goose? I kept remembering the Greek myth of Leda and the swan, especially when bird and man started rolling about and then settled into a cuddle. It’s an interesting reference because the idea of a swan overpowering a fully-grown woman seems almost absurd. Here, if Shivan is indeed Leda to his duck/goose’s swan-like Zeus, then Shivan is (for once) identifying with the woman. But Shivan is the one that chases the bird around and pretty much smothers it, which is the opposite of what the myth says. The carnal desire is more his than the bird’s, which just seemed to want to get the hell away from Shivan. So rather than Zeus raping Leda, it’s Leda raping Zeus. (At which point everyone who’s seen Disclosure says “Pfft, been there, seen that.”) Also interesting is the fact that Helen — yes, the one with the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium — is Leda’s daughter. She who essentially causes one of the most destructive wars of her times. Shivan and his post-feminism are clearly intact. Phew.