‘In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there.’
Inferno: Canto I
As long as mankind has existed, ‘art’ has been pigeonholed into various disciplines and classifications. Examples of ‘art’ that can’t be reduced to rudimentary soundbites can prove problematic when it comes to describing and assessing their nature and worth. One such assertion can be applied to Eternus Rebellus Productions’ Queen of Carnage – a multimedia project that meshes imaginative imagery with live and recorded operatic singing and string instruments.
Playing on the title of Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, this challenging piece of performance art explores power relations, allusions to Classical concepts and the bespoke world of BDSM/fetishism. Excerpts of Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas also punctuate the performance, but why was it used exactly?
According to the Roman poet Virgil, Aeneas was Ilium’s counterpart to the king of Ithaca in the Trojan War. While the Greeks’ Odysseus’ had a number of post-war adventures in The Odyssey, Aeneas followed a similar path in The Aeneid, meeting various characters during his travels, including the eponymous Dido. Their love affair was cut short by Dido’s husband who asked the gods to intervene, forcing Aeneas to leave. Dido, in grief, killed herself…
Asides from the ‘dominatrix’ role that ‘Dido’ enjoyed for a time, Queen of Carnage also has allusions to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno – a piece of literature that is littered with descriptions of unhappy souls administering or receiving punishment for their actions, as well as Virgil himself as a character. In the case of those who took their own lives, they were given tree-like forms – possessing branches, but susceptible to immense pain when broken. The iconography of these trees and branches feature prominently throughout Queen of Carnage. What with Virgil interacting with people he wrote about and Dante writing about himself meeting Virgil & Co., the gonzo- and meta-stakes within Inferno inextricably blur the boundaries between objectivity and reality – just like Queen of Carnage.
Sobriety Twist is the lead performer of Queen of Carnage (‘Dido’/’Dominatrix’) but the project is very much a collaborative effort with experts in music, lighting sound and filmmaking taking part. Interacting with Twist throughout Carnage, Amy Kingsmill as ‘Aeneas’/the ‘Submissive’ is the more approachable of the characters, often engaging with audience as she makes her way to the stage in different apparel.
While the women perform different ‘roles’ onstage, the pre-filmed segments also show a man wearing a bondage hood being chased by the ladies in question. This is reminscient of the Classical Bacchae, with the women holding the power, stalking their prey…
While some of the segments have striking imagery and themes that have a natural gravitas, there are others that are deliberately playful, injecting humour into the proceedings. As well the pre-filmed segments, the hooded man appears a number of times as a digital projection (in one case dancing!) – filmed I’m sure to accommodate the precise spatial specifications of The Space. Then there is sight of the ‘Dominatrix’ conducting an orchestra, which coincidently (not) looks like she’s adminstering spanking to a man’s derrière…
While the visuals play a huge part in the Carnage installation, their juxtapositioning with the soundscape is an integral part of the viewing experience. Sometimes in simpatico with each other, the live and recorded music/vocals at times generates a tension, not unlike Jocelyn Pook’s ‘Masked Ball’ score for Eyes Wide Shut.
Queen of Carnage isn’t short of ambition and in its own way is the ‘spiritual’ offspring of vanguard provocateur Peter Greenaway, not only in terms of themes, but also the approach to media – blurring the barriers between painting, physical performance, digital imagery, projection and installation.
© Michael Davis 2017
Queen of Carnage runs at the Space Arts Centre until 15th April 2017