You’ll Know What to Do: Vaginal Davis Guides Us into Summer

by Travis Jeppesen on May 26, 2008

The maverick terrorist drag artist Vaginal Davis was recently enlisted by the Berlin art academy at Weissensee to submit a select group of students to a sort of week-long avant-garde boot camp, the result of which was a one-off performance, You’ll Know What to Do, which took place last Friday, May 23rd, at the Raumerweiterungshalle, a venue that has been described as “a mobile, telescopic, extendable container,” and is situated in the back lot of the former Kindl brewery. The place looks a bit like a circus sideshow tent, and the freak show atmosphere pervaded from the moment I arrived on Friday until the sun had completely disappeared. Of course, it was a Berlin-style freak show, which meant that a well-stocked makeshift bar in the parking lot was already well on its way to being depleted by the time I got there.

As the drinking festivities bled into performance activities, we were invited to submit to one of three hypnosis booths protruding from the Halle: phallic hypnosis, clitoral hypnosis, and nasal hypnosis. I ended up at the first of the three – big surprise there. I was given the power of “posing.” I’m sure it still hasn’t worn off.

After being properly hypnotized, you were allowed to go inside the Halle. The entire room was bathed in a fleshy red light. Ms. Davis herself stood near the rear, chanting a litany of sexually transmitted diseases, while a slither of strange noises erupted from a couple of musicians. As the evening clusterfuckery progressed, it began to feel as though we had been engulfed in the re-enactment of a Kenneth Anger film. A mummy rose from the dead, picked up a bass guitar, began to play. Everything started to get very noisy, and pretty soon, we were witness to a human assemblage – caked in duct tape with phallic protrusions extending – falling into a single, elevated pile as sand was flung in every direction. The energy level sky high, the performance then morphed effortlessly into a dance party.

There was something decidedly quixotic about the evening that kept both performers and audience pleasantly on edge, and no one really wanted it to end. The crowd stuck around – swaying, talking, kissing, dancing, and gossiping – for several hours after the fact, when those who remained stumbled a few blocks to a late night fried chicken place that only the divine Miss Davis seemed to know about.

You’ll Know What to Do was actually the second of a three-evening row of Vaginal Davis events. The previous night at West Germany, a semi-legal club for experimental rock music in Kreuzberg, Davis turned in a riotous set accompanied by Johnny Blue, alongside Kill Rock Stars recording artists the New Bloods. She decided to keep it short and sweet – a bit disappointing for those of us expecting a full set, but potent enough to remind us of the raw energy she used to enliven such music projects as P.M.E. and Black Fag in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The Vaginal Davis weekend came to a close with her monthly film/performance event, Rising Stars, Falling Stars, at the Kino Arsenale. This evening’s entry showcased The Perils of Pauline, one of the first cinematic serials, from 1913-1914. After Davis’s hilarious silent starlet introduction, brothers Tim and Johnny Blue launched into their musical accompaniment for the evening – an interpretive hodge-podge consisting of clever samples, affective noise played on non-instruments, drums and strings. Overall, the Blues’ clever riffing on Pauline’s perils brought a sophisticated 21st century conception of the sublime to bear on the classic serial, making for a spectacular evening of synaesthetic bliss – after which, of course, the wine continued to flow…

Berlin is, among other things, the most manic of cities. It is bitterly cold and gray throughout most of the year, and the vibe on the street seems to match this perennial depression. Sure, people carry on drinking and carousing behind closed doors, but when walking from one bar to the next, you don’t really get the impression that people are enjoying themselves. They’re too stuck in that melancholic introspection that has come to signify Central European dismality to the rest of the world, and you don’t get the impression that anyone really has much of a desire to climb outside of this bitter pit of black bile.

That all changes as soon as winter gives way into spring. By the time summer rolls around, it is as though an entire new populace has moved in – the streets are crowded with sidewalk cafés filled with half-nude bodies from dawn to dusk, the parks overflow with flesh and greenery, and it suddenly feels as though no one living here is in a hurry to get anywhere. Berlin really only comes alive beneath the sunshine, and since its denizens only get to bask in it maybe two to three months out of the year, they become pagan worshippers of both shrubbery and concrete. The scent of lust pervades the air, the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure becomes everyone’s number one goal, anything resembling work in the slightest is scoffed at and put off until the sun’s energy dies down and the arrival of autumn makes its grim recognition felt like the onslaught of a particularly harsh comedown.

A pagan goddess of bewildering talent, conjurer of the indefinable, constant deflator of establishment principles, muse of the millions: If any one artist could be said to encapsulate the spirit of Berlin at the present moment, it is Vaginal Davis. Summer might not officially begin for nearly a month, but those of us fortunate enough to have sampled Davis’s bacchanalian orchestrations in the past week share a common secret: The virginal spring is over, the Vaginal summer has begun.

One comment

Actually, quite frankly, the commentary is more interesting messages themselves. (Not to insult the author, of course:))

by Den on November 6, 2008 at 3:49 am. #

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