Movement Laboratory for nerve management
Even the title of Yasmeen Godder’s new work, “Demonstrate Restraint,” turns the focus to an oxymoronic state that makes one ponder the thin line between demonstrated restraint and restrained demonstration. Albeit, it appears that restraint is the one thing missing from the stage, the first action on which is somewhat of a vocal, physical and conceptual opening shot: Godder and Damsky face each other, banging loudly on drums in a steady beat while screaming repeatedly and increasing in volume. The screams evolve into harmonized variations. This image echoes native tribe rituals but also modern societies’ policing practices, it seems to evoke an ancient memory, but at the same time feels awfully close to our “here and now”, thus shaping a conscious twilight zone that brings to the surface the tension between savage and civilized, local and universal, personal and political.
This duality serves both a dramaturgical and aesthetic principle in the show, and in the next scene, Godder performs a series of actions with a white sheet, creating an array of images that at times are entirely contrasted: at a certain point the cloth is a white flag calling for surrender. Next, it’s like the matador’s red fabric taunting the ox; The cloth sometimes functions as a nun’s coif, an Arab Keffiyeh and even a white skirt that, combined with the side-to-side measured steps, give Godder a Zionist-pioneering look. Sometimes the cloth is a tool or a weapon slammed again and again on the ground, and alternately – an object of seduction that Godder slides between her legs in an erotic, self-aware manner. These images are accompanied by fragmented sounds and voices – mumbling, nostalgic Israeli songs or Arab music – they fill the space, vague and deconstructed yet just recognizable enough to set concrete anchors inside the abstract scene.
The audio experience is a central instrument in the shaping of the emotional frequency and it is particularly evident when Godder and Damsky translate the soundtrack into work: a cacophony of screams, growls, howls, laughter and crying that they produce together and apart – all neatly and meticulously recorded on little tape recorders that Damsky scatters all over the space. As they multiply, it feels like the space is getting smaller since it is filled with noise that leaves no space to simply be – either physically or mentally. The tape recorder is an interesting choice unto itself, mainly because its shape is reminiscent of both a radio and a cassette recorder. It thus echoes not only what seems to be an almost obsessive need to document everything in this conflicted place, but also quite a few practices whose historic function was to gather the Israeli “collective bonfire” around sounds that mediates reality – starting with the Declaration of Independence, through the relative search programs and more.
The tape recorder is part of an array of objects scattered around the space that function as attributes of the political reality, but also as receptacles that mirror the emotional state it creates. Among them, one can mention two body parts sculpted in gold and silver – a fist and a thick leg – whose meaning is heightened when Damsky turns them into extensions of her own body: at one moment she’s lying down, surrounded by tapes loudly playing the “sounds of reality” and the enlarged leg is draped on one of her legs like a prosthesis; Later, she comes out of her sound stand as the giant fist covers her head and face. These images of a person whose organs have stiffened and/or lost their human essence appear to form a scathing criticism on the ramifications of violence and the trampling of the other that takes place here. In addition, there’s a kind of transparent girdle on stage; Its stationary position makes it look like the shell of an absent-present body, but near the end of the piece, as Godder fastens it around her body and even inserts it with wooden sticks that look like spikes, one can’t help but wonder if the girdle is a shield from the outside world, a barricade that separates one from his or her surrounding or alternately – a forceful mechanism that allows them to attack.
In that context, it’s hard not to bring to mind Godder’s 2004 “Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder”, which premiered toward the end of the second Intifada, where she brought to the stage the visual raw materials that comprised Israeli reality at the time as it was reflected on TV and in the papers: images of soldiers in barricades, Palestinian detainees with cloths on their faces, scenes of terror attacks, women crying over bodies, etc. She translated all these to a collection of physical gestures almost archetypical to the time and place: a dancer sticking his finger like a gun inside another dancer’s mouth, dancers sprawled on the floor or banged against each other, dancers froze motionless mimicking a silent scream. Godder wrote of the piece that “it came from the need to provide a rebirth to the troubling, grotesque images that have become part of our daily lives and routine and so made us apathetic. It’s a gaze inside these images which are part of our local myths; through the two-dimensional, almost animated presentation, the piece aspires to bring these images back into the three-dimensional world. (Taken from the artist’s website)
In many ways, “Demonstrate Restraint” is a direct continuation of a process Godder started in “Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder”: the piece deals with our existence here, at this point in time, but replaces the concrete images with abstract shapes and sounds to capture, as it seems, not the “situation” as the conscious emotional experience it evokes in each of us and in society as a whole. Respectively it appears as if Godder is deliberately distancing herself from providing a coherent visual interpretation and opens her body to “be read” by the audience. This “reading” is acted out as somewhat of an associative brainstorming session during which Godder moves about the stage, asking audience members to “shout out” whichever image comes to their mind. And so a butterfly, Jesus, a samurai, a sprinkler, chopsticks and a helicopter merge together in the space as they are thickened and audio sampled by Damsky, who also gives some of the suggestions an “approval ding” that marks a correct answer, much like on a TV game show.
This encounter of words and body emphasizes just how the political is also personal, and how much “the situation” is embedded and absorbed in both body and mind. This feeling arises on the backdrop of Godder’s responses to the images suggested by the audience. On the one hand, she seems to want to please them (“great, thanks – I worked on it a lot”) and on the other, they reveal some hidden yearning for self-expression: “it’s nice because it allows for something, to say what I think, to share in order to make room for it, a freedom that one can believe in.” The two songs written and performed by Damsky further intensify the tension between the individual and the place. The song “Existential Right” expresses an extreme sense of cessation (“My behavior’s the worst, I’m ashamed to be me”), and in the final song, it seems – paradoxically – that the private right to exist is asserted only through volunteering oneself for the greater good (If the day comes/And I’ll be required/To give my life for you/I will fall/I will die/And give you my blood/Because you are never/Ever Alone”).
The Rock & Roll style performance of the text that appears to be an exaggerated version – which perfectly fits the zeitgeist – to the nationalistic-Zionist notion of “It’s good to die for our country,” accentuates this place’s militarism but at the same time critically reverses it. It’s no accident that the piece ends with the overt drumming with which it began as if to tell us something about this circle of terror we live in and can’t seem to break. This bleak and rattling cyclicality is the most refined, poignant translation of the conscious and emotional experience into matter, sound and movement and it emphasizes the need to demonstrate demonstratively, now of all times and precisely this way, to reach the coveted genuine restraint.