The performers have left the room. There was only silence and confused audience that stayed. Even the written words on the stage were silent. The past ninety minutes were so loud, so noisy that I simply couldn’t believe that this is the way it ends. I felt uncomfortable. Not because the performance has created this unease or because it challenged my comfort zone. But because I knew that this is it. Unfinished unstarted it. My own disappointment made me uncomfortable.
“Fairy Tale Arch” was a debut performance by artist Elina Masing that took place at Kanuti Gildi SAAL, Tallinn. Before this debut at Kanuti she was already known as a music artist performing first in a band 5HORSES and currently under the name of WhiteGirl. Apart from that she has created several independent performing arts works. Elina, though in the beginning of her twenties, has already made herself a name of a controversial, edgy, and political artist. And this is where the difficulty comes into play when looking at her works.
For an artist, being political has become both a necessity and a curse. Elina’s “Fairy Tale Arch” got into this trap, hardly avoidable today, and took her audiences with her.
One of the performers and collaborators, Jaan Hellermann, has a hearing disability and the performance thus was partially in international sign language. Elina herself comes from a Russian-speaking minority (which is a large group of Estonian population) so the piece was done in English and Russian. Almost all the artists involved in the production are in their early twenties. The very presence of these elements on stage, this play of multiple divergent identities to which local audiences aren’t accustomed to, exhibited how exclusive the performing arts field (or rather public space in general) still is.
Apart from inclusivity issues, the performance also reflected upon Elina’s recent plastic surgery and, apparently, beauty industry standards. It has, also apparently, referred to mental health concerns in relation to a suicide scene. And another “apparently” is an attempt to include the preoccupation with technologies. Here is where the necessity binds itself with the curse. It no longer lies in the presence or visibility granted to the aforementioned phenomena but in the mess that they create when perceived simultaneously within a single work.
This leads me to see “Fairy Tale Arch” as an exemplary work within Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s theory of postpolitical power. According to him, contemporary postpolitical power doesn’t lie anymore in censorship or control of the media or any other discourse. Its power could be now measured by the general noise produced by the illusory freedom of speech. (1) We see it every day when scrolling Instagram. I saw it while watching “Fairy Tale Arch” – I felt how the artists’ honest attempt to boost change and be that change was evaporating without having taken any solid form. “In the spasm sound collapses into noise, a tangle of inaudible voices.” (2)
At the same time, the work raises a question of aesthetic judgment. How do I look at this work when I agree with its necessities and its statements but when I can’t find their realization reasonable? How can I publicly reject the work without rejecting its subject matter? For example, one can claim that the work’s realization, the form it took is inseparable from social problematics it addresses. Thus, the performance should be looked at through the prism of whether the message(s) got through or not. And this viewing approach would be such an easy way out. Firstly, because we can’t evaluate the direct effect the performance had on our sociopolitical reality. Secondly, because it discharges any aesthetic or philosophical judgment regarding the piece. This is not to say that we should simply abandon any attempt to address the political within the artistic practice. No. This is to add an attempt of treating the political and the aesthetic in the work equally. Both in the process of creation and in the act of spectatorship. And what I find even of more importance and of a bigger challenge for both sides – to provide the outlines of both categories within the work itself. To create an agreement between the artist and the viewer within the shared universe of the performance of what we consider as political and what as aesthetic in this particular event.
“Fairy Tale Arch” claimed to explore change. However, for now, it has only reflected our desperate need for it. The need bordering on hysterical laughter that was also present in Elina’s work within her generally self-ironic approach. Although I am critical about the performance “Fairy Tale Arch”, if I’m being honest, I’d be truly disappointed if Elina Masing did something different. Elina Masing as an artist is almost a fictious character with her own style and her own ways of doing things. She has brought this character into “Fairy Tale Arch” as well and it shows that she’s staying true to her artistic practice. Despite this character seeming to produce mostly noise, it is without any doubt for me that this work definitely belongs to its time and its space.
1 Franco Berardi, Breathing: Chaos and Poetry, Semiotext(e) Intervention Series 26 (South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e), 2018), 26.
2 Berardi, 24