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I See Myself In You

L to R: Emma Fitzgerald, Carl Harrison, Áine Stapleton. Photo credit: Arturo Vidich.

And I didn’t know what to do with it

And I didn’t know what to do with it.

And I didn’t know what to do with it.

A sense of not-knowingness emanates from the bare and undulating bodies within The Smell of Want, a work by the Irish duo Fitzgerald & Stapleton, which premiered at the Abrons Arts Center in October. There’s much to be said and felt here: anxiety, confusion, doubt, to name a few sensations. Yet the atmosphere is relatively subdued; a tranquilizing feverishness pervades the black box theater. Emma Fitzgerald, Áine Stapleton, and Carl Harrison, along with a four-member female chorus, all perform nude. Their honest bodies move in sluggish rapture, revealing the peculiar power dynamics at play between Harrison, Stapleton, and Fitzgerald. All are adorned in primal, minimalist body paint: Stapleton’s body is bisected with a strip of red paint, while Fitzgerald has a thick black bar painted horizontally across the front of her waist, and Harrison is covered in a white chalky substance from neck to upper chest.

Fitzgerald is maddeningly delicious as her body torques into sharp contortions. She slips, slithers, and talks matter-of-factly. She methodically interrupts her speech with seemingly involuntary ticks, grunts, and hisses, then hums and sings. Her mysteriously evolving presence acts beyond logic or reason, yet instantaneously charges the space. In one scene, Harrison is on his knees reciting fragments of a letter to a former lover. Fitzgerald creepily stands behind him—legs slowly and carefully sliding into a split while she speaks in what sound like imaginary tongues, freakishly similar to the backward-speaking Man from Another Place in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

Bodies meld in and out of each other. The movement evokes religious imagery, rituals, séances, calling to mind the 19th-century myth of the hysteric female. Limbs and hands are held in purposefully limp gestures and then raised towards the heavens; a few fall to their knees. Looking upward, they pant in ecstasy.

Much seems to be at stake here, though we don’t entirely know what.

...This is the story, now—

city of October warmth, our

myth is that we don’t have one—

Alice Notley writes in her long poem, “Beginning with a Stain.” Together, Fitzgerald & Stapleton are possessed by their own personal history, their own mythology—or lack thereof. However, The Smell of Want feels uncertain of itself and where it’s going—the female chorus feels extraneous, especially when bursting into a repetitive song around the phrase “tired of men.” And Harrison’s role often dips into banality without offering much insight into the gender power dynamics at play.

And still, Fitzgerald & Stapleton’s physical, and psychological exploration of the female psyche is a beautiful thing to watch, stirring up notions of solitude, desperation, and desire. Their speech fragments are honest, intimate, and marvelously peculiar, hinting at their inability to make sense of their own personal narrative at hand:

“It’s your day. Your big, disappointing day.”

“I see myself biking. I see myself in you. I see myself banking. I see myself in you.”

“Red pepper apple—do me up the shitter!”

These two are more in pursuit of a question than of an answer. They take plenty of risks along the way, using surreptitious speech and physical movement to question, or more accurately, to trouble the relationship between audience and performer. Words and meanings stutter.

 “I. Love. You. I’ve always loved you.”


Christine Hou

CHRISTINE HOU is a poet and arts writer living in Brooklyn.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2011

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