Mindy Blaise, Emily Gray, Jo Pollitt, Emma Fishwick
What is Kiss Club?
KISS club is a performance event for ideas in development, featuring artists of different career stages and working across live and experimental arts practice. Created by Sydney based artist Karen Therese, KISS club has been presented by Perth-based tactical media group pvi collective since 2010, evolving into a partnership with Perth Institute of Creative Arts in 2017.
The idea of KISS Club is that artists test 10 minutes of an idea with the audience. Following all works, artists and audiences respond in small groups to the artist’s feedback question. This night is designed to be a supportive environment for works in development.
What motivated us to apply?
The opportunity to take part in KISS Club marked the first stage development of a performance work. #FEAS has been developing and enacting creative interventions since 2016. With choreographer and director Jo Pollitt joining the #FEAS team at the beginning of March 2020, the work has focused on working with embodied methods. We have experimented with a few of these methods through invited online presentations and video projects but have not performed live together. KISS Club was the first time these ideas were workshopped on the studio floor!
We were keen to intentionally work as a team, with two experienced performers (Jo Pollitt and Emma Fishwick) working with untrained performers (Mindy Blaise and Emily Gray). Since #FEAS started, we have been working with ideas of luck, chance, and games. These ideas were research-inspired, where senior women academics talked about their success in these terms. KISS club was therefore an opportunity to present our work as a new collective of artists and academics. Thus far iterations of our work have been presented in University, Union, and Conference settings and we were ready to try out ideas and to make them intelligible outside of the academy. The content of #FEAS has become increasingly aligned with current Australian politics and we saw this as an opportunity to workshop our ideas toward reaching a wider public audience and to translate research in a creative forum to provoke response and collective action. We were ready to be pushed and challenged by questions from the KISS club Artist Lab and PICA audiences with the mentorship of pvi collective.
We were also interested in the capacity of live performance to reposition what the academy might consider as a ‘useless’ output. As researchers in the academy, we think with Sara Ahmed (2019) to consider how performance activates a ‘queer use’ of time to become a deliberate act of refusal and necessary collective act. We saw developing and showing this work at KISS club as an active political move that disrupts hierarchies of academy-based knowledge and enables #FEAS to be in conversation with a critical and creative audience.
3-days of development
We spent three days, under the guidance of pvi collective, developing our ideas about performing with ideas around everyday sexisms. Although there were several components that made up the three days, for the purpose of this blog post, we will highlight three activities that were significant to the development of the show. We came to the workshop with an idea in progress, an evening of light entertainment of 1970’s/80’s ilk that included a game show and a cooking programme.
Initial ideas: Consciousness raising
To begin the process, we were asked to brainstorm our emerging ideas and concepts onto paper. Groups were asked to read and respond to other artists’ ideas. We were surprised at the comments made about ‘consciousness raising’, because it seemed as though other artists were not familiar with this key component of feminist praxis.
This is when we were forced to take the game show idea and work through it. It was becoming clear that people did not grasp how we generated or (re)worked ‘data’. Instead of telling this group what we were going to do, we needed to show them. It was suggested that we come up with a Remedy for Misogyny, which is an idea that we were unable to fully develop into our 10-minute performance, and after all, is there a remedy? At this point we named our show #FEAS Wheel of (mis)Fortune and developed a 5-minute, 2-part game show with Mindy and Emily and co-hosts. The games worked – there was ‘buy in’ from our fellow Artist Lab participants and we even included a prize (#FEAS coupon for a free drink at the Pica bar).
On the last day, each artist was asked to write a letter to the audience. This was productive because it forced us to consider the intention of the show and what we wanted the audience to experience. For us, it was primarily about working with affect in ways that would get audience members compelled to act.
Following the workshop, we developed our ideas into a 10-minute performance with two main parts. First, there were games. #FEAS Fact or Fiction asked the audience to guess whether statements about gender inequality were fact, or fiction. Then, Speedy Solutions for Sexisms, where the audience were given 15 seconds to respond to a real-life example of everyday sexism, for example:
”Three women are waiting in a Microsoft Office Teams online meeting, ready for an 11.30am meeting with their senior male colleague. The colleague cancels the meeting by email at 11.29am. How could you respond?”
The first part of the show was deliberately up-tempo, with Emily performing as Rusty Nail, a jaded but enthusiastic gameshow host (think Cesar Flickerman meets Murray Hill) and Mindy as co-host Professor Mindy Blaise (I mean, what better name is there than that?). With Melbourne back in lockdown, Rusty was unable to appear live in person, and so performed via Zoom, offering the show a COVID-era specificity.
The second part of the show shifted in tone and was an abstract gestural movement sequence with accompanying spoken word, which was in response to feminist conceptual artist Martha Rosler’s 1975 video work, Semiotics of the Kitchen. This part of the show used our Wheel of (mis)Fortune with the words “grind, pinch, shake, pound, toss”, which spun to the soundtrack of the words being repeated by a now quietly serious Rusty and Emma at increasing speed. Mindy gave a gestural performance that mimed these words, though not in sync with the spoken rhythm or the wheel. We deliberately used words that could be used in cookery (another nod to Rosler’s earlier work), these words however also have sexual connotations, as well as words that are spoken to sexualise in sexist ways.
Part of the KISS Club format is that audience members give feedback following the shows. We were asked to provide a question for audience reflection, and so we asked, “If you were drawn into the show, what is it that drew you in – a moment, a sound, an idea, a word?”
We received useful feedback that made us think about where to take the show next. One audience member could not come up with a strategy for one of the ‘Speedy Solutions’ scenarios due to the 15 second time limit on the activity. However, there is something to be said in the outrage of not being able to respond and simulating the lived experience of combating sexist situations.
Others found the show accessible and inclusive, one male audience member said that engaging with feminist work can be difficult because it’s often done more rage-fully.
Overall, we felt that the performance drew people in and raised their consciousness about what everyday sexisms look and feel like and how hard they are to challenge. We are looking forward to developing our ideas further.