Cemetery Gates

May 3, 2011

My new solo performance piece premiered on April Fool’s Day at the launch of Jamie Ross’s novella, Coldwater. An inspiring evening followed topped off  by an inspiring blackout cray cray take over of my body by Flavia Kowalski, seen below in a photo series by Logan Curley.

About the piece:

Cemetary Gates is a performance piece accompanied by video (see below) that explores the relationship between interior and exterior. I merge drag and its usual pop cultural tropes with dramatized ritual and visions of the (severed?) familial bond. I perform grief, longing, and healing as it relates to the mind/body/soul and our creative queer/trans imaginings thereof.

Are pop/art icons vessels for feeling or vehicles for avoidance? I would like to confront our obsession with celebrity drama and trauma and interrogate its potentiality (or lack thereof) as a release for, or representation of our own. Through the iconic figures of Farrah Fawcett, Elizabeth Taylor, and Morrissey I delve into these considerations.

Having lost close family to cancer as well as heart failure, I hypochondriacally confront my mild obsession with Fawcett (colon cancer) and Taylor (heart failure)- epic effigies of the white American femme binary. Blonde and Brunette. The two trouble our queer vision of dynamic womanhood, yet one particular brunette has held the hearts of many homos for decades. Certainly, the donation of Liz Taylor’s estate to HIV/AIDS research is no small token- but, I digress. The performance is a nod to heredity- real and imagined, and illness- real and imagined. Many queer and trans folk, myself included, struggle to come to terms with familial loss on many fronts. We have lost to death. We have also lost to fear and the resulting rifts- canyons opening up between ourselves and our families. Some of us look to one another and devise a star system of elders even as we forge solid connections to queer and trans communities. Morrissey and Elizabeth Taylor are among the icons that spread for us like sails until a shore is found. In this piece I rework Morrissey’s “Cemetary Gates” in irony, seeking solace in dead Hollywood from my own mortality as potential inheritor of many cancers and organ failures. The song itself speaks to my query about the reliance on iconic statements and symbols in lieu of original expression. “The words you use should be your own,” Morrissey sings, and I after him.

As the video plays, I enact an important tradition owed to the ongoing legacy of my grandmother. In character as Flavia, a pastiche of fierce femininity based on women in my life who have experienced great loss, I drip candle wax into a bowl of water. Wax divination is well known in Poland- my birthplace and the home of my grandmother, a woman who holds fast to certain Pagan traditions that have survived the enormous assimilation of Slavs into the Catholic church. Though my use of wax divination is polysemous, I see it as deeply connected to loss and healing. It always gave my grandmother piece of mind to divine a future over which she felt she had no control. A survivor of the WWII, she was familiar with loss. Having done some growing up in Poland, I am learning that trauma is passed on for generations. There is no comparing losses. Loss to disease, loss to war, loss to hatred and fear, and many other forms take shape in each of us differently.

As the video plays I invite audience members to take one of my two candles and try divining from the wax themselves. Quietly, I ask them what they see.


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