Let’s do hysteria

Lauren Carrol Harris: Hissy Fit, I Might Blow Up Someday

Hissy Fit, I Might Blow Up Someday

Hissy Fit, I Might Blow Up Someday

Hissy Fit, I Might Blow Up Someday

The queer art trio Hissy Fit are all about blasting the notion of ‘hysteria’ for the way nonconformist women have been pathologised through the ages, dismissed as mentally ill rather than deviating politically from gender norms. Their latest work, I might blow up someday, borrowed from a catalogue of feminist and punk musicians—Chrissy Amphlett, Peaches and Wendy O’Williams—to create a performance work in which ‘hysterical’ movements like headbanging and moshing are reclaimed and celebrated.

For an hour, Hissy Fit assumed the roles of punk heroines, swinging hair and posing in black leather. It was moody and atmospheric, the performances heroic. The image that lasts is a particularly effective strobe-filled sequence of three silhouetted sci-fi-ish women in violet and orange beams of diagonal light and abundant smoke.

I suspect the contemporary art arena isn’t the right place for inducing collective hysteria, especially in a controlled black-box environment that suggests a more traditional audience-performer relationship. Perhaps some audience members still prefer a traditional art-going experience—one told me to be quiet and stop moving. Or perhaps the headbanging rock queen as a reclaimed symbol of the ‘hysterical woman’ can only go so far—this is Hissy Fit’s fifth or sixth reworking of the concept—and the leap from pathologised individual hysteria to liberating collective hysteria makes sense conceptually but is too big to actualise. Certainly the headbanging motif felt more successful in the more contained 2014 Tiny Stadiums performance and accompanying video artwork.

Think of Anjelica Mesiti’s 2009 video study in devotion, Rapture (silent anthem) in which the mass worship and hedonist togetherness of a rock concert depends on an audience’s recognition of a beloved melody. That’s missing here (along with the dynamism and spontaneity of Hissy Fit’s beloved riotgrrl influences) despite a carefully composed, rhythmic drone soundscape and strong but highly staged choreography. The decision to stage I might blow up someday as a music gig from a thrust, elevated stage ended up distancing the pacified audience from the performers, working against the performer-audience fluidity that Hissy Fit aimed for. We were viewers, not participants. You can’t manufacture chaos. The crowd mostly watched as two of the trio descended onto the floor for a highly constructed brawl in the final sequence.

The experimental area of dramaturg-facilitated performance work, blended with the conventions of live music, is a courageous and ambiguous space to play in. Pushing the bounds between disciplines was the mandate of the Liveworks Festival, and there’s a strong argument that experimentation in this space should be encouraged not for the result it produces but for the fact of the exploration itself. The show functioned best as an opportunity to observe an elaborately produced, one-hour headbanging session—an exhausting feat of durational self-punishment by strong, brave, hyper-focused performers; an ode to a more confrontational feminism past; and material for a series of striking stills or a video clip brought to life, witnessed from the safety of a respectfully observant audience pit.

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art, Hissy Fit, I might blow up someday, artists Jade Muratore, Emily O’Connor, Nat Randall, lighting Toby Knyvett, sound artist Nina Buchanan, choreography Lizzie Thompson, dramaturgy Emma Price; Carriageworks, Sydney, 22-25 Oct

RealTime issue #130 Dec-Jan 2015 pg. 17

© Lauren Carroll Harris; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

9 December 2015