We Are Fucked is a new performance work by artist Jo Bannon exploring desire, sexuality and neoliberalism. It interrogates the modern feminist experience of personal, psychological and political penetration. We Are Fucked was commissioned by Unlimited (delivered by Shape and Artsadmin) and played at the Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival 7-8 September. It is being performed at London’s Independent Dance 13 November. Review by Joanna Matthews.
Part dance, part live sound sculpture, We Are Fucked is performed in the round by Bannon herself with Louise Ahl and Rosana Cade. You can read the interview she gave Disability Arts Online here about this new piece and how the ideas for it started to come together in 2017 – after the UK referendum, post the Trump inauguration. In developing the work Bannon reflected both on the crazy global times we live in and on the use of the term to describe imperfection, in the sense that having an impairment or an illness makes you less than the perceived ideal.
She predicted that some listings would soften the blow of the title inserting an asterisk which makes the word more ‘acceptable’ or in the case of Unlimited Festival to enable them to print a brochure available to all ages and sensibilities. She’s right; the title in full is more potent and is open to many different interpretations – political, interpersonal and personal.
The current contexts Bannon wanted to explore in developing the piece have touched many many lives, made us sad, and made us shake both with anger and impotence. National and international events in the last year or so will have had us laughing too – genuinely or with bitter irony. We are Fucked is tense and sombre but also parts of it are deliberately funny. It is also surprisingly quiet and contained given the inspirations for it. It gives a sense of muted, managed rage, of small acts of resistance because larger ones are too exposing. The objects used to perform with – a vacuum cleaner, a DIY tape measure, a reel of extension cable – are every day, utilitarian, what we all might have to hand if we had to arm ourselves for a fight.
Some episodes in We are Fucked are very potent. Louise Ahl’s sinuous dance with the long blue electric cable and her wicked screaming faces which had us laughing with her; Rosana Cades determined tussle with an inanimate object which transformed the recalcitrant vacuum cleaner into a fourth performer; the sharp metallic noise of the measuring tape wielded into jagged shapes by Bannon herself. However, as a whole piece, I felt it needs further development. There are so many ideas Bannon wants to explore and get across that perhaps a sort and discard is needed and then what is left distilled into a work that connects more. The diversity of ideas feels like a barrier to coherence.
We were handed programme notes as we filed out after the show. For me there was a disconnect between what I saw and what Bannon stated was her intention in creating We are Fucked. If the artist feels the need to write such a long piece to explain the work, then how accessible is the work?
Performance art is on the edges of my comfort zone, which is not to say that I don’t like it but that I am uncomfortable commenting on it, slightly wary of being caught out by not ‘getting it’. The wail ‘yes but is it art?’ is reductive and closes down discussion. However the question ‘is it good’ is a valid one. Sometimes a performance doesn’t make sense during the time you spend with it in the theatre but even with a week spent thinking about the hour We are Fucked and I spent together I still couldn’t put together the elements I did enjoy into a whole.
The performance space, a white circle on the actual stage of the main Royal Festival Hall, was a lovely discovery – ideal for watching in the round. A small moment of pleasure for me was the ample spaces left in the front row in the expectation that maybe more than one wheelchair user at a time might want to see the show! So often that other pesky disabled theatregoer has got in first and nabbed the only wheelchair space on offer. Although this piece was unsatisfactory for me, I really appreciated my day at the Unlimited Festival if nothing else for how much the usually invisible was on display.
We Are Fucked is on at Independent Dance, London 7pm on 13 November £7 (£5.50 conc.)