Phillip Adams in conversation with Jill Orr

Issue #06: Body in the Raw. Nudity Today.

What went wrong?! Where did we go wrong with our naked politics?

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JO: Your pieces don’t seem to be about the
sensationalism of nudity at all. There’s a much deeper
enquiry there.

PA:To make sense of it, we would need to look into my
explorations of ritual. Both ritual and nudity are a shedding
of excess and presenting yourself to the spectator without
the desires we bring to performance. …How does the
audience now prepare itself to be present, as much as the
performer prepares to be in front of the audience? There is
an exchange there.

JO: This reminds me of that performance you did at
the MTC (Melbourne Theatre Company) with a naked
audience (And All Things Return to Nature Tomorrow)
– what happened? I thought that was such a brave,
courageous and quite profound thing!

PA:It was born out of my research into phenomena. The
esoteric, out of space, and the alien. I researched where I
could feel comfortable exploring this, and settled on the
South-Western desert of America. Things happen in the
desert, do you agree with that?

JO: Yes. Since time immemorial, the desert has been
where you are stripped bare to your essential,
minimal self.

PA: Why is it that these Utopian desires that sprang up
in the sixties and seventies – cults, activists, architectures
that contributed to the alternative lifestyles and collective
communities in reaction against Western culture – had a
sense of liberation? And no boundaries around nakedness?
The hippie movement stemmed from the radicalism to
reject Americana at the time.

What went wrong?! Where did we go wrong with our naked politics?

JO: And consumerism.

PA:Yes. I think the desert is a place we ‘go back’ to. Doing
my research out there, I worked out that my feeling
comfortable to move my physical body into a visual body
is actually related to allowing my audience to get closer to
their experience. What am I going through? What are you
going through? This is not the live arts gig. This is about
being honest. I’ve just got this body, and I invite you all
to come closer to the experience, the way we all have to
surrender, to the impulse of the performance.
But I ask myself: ‘how do I rationalise this invitation to the
onlooker to participate,’ and ‘how do I present it to them?’
And what I do is I ask my audience to commit. I want you
to also take off your clothes in order to fulfil this vision of
Utopia. Without that, there is a segregation in hierarchy
or form. So this nudity wasn’t nudity through politicised
action, it was simply about bringing a harmonious
agreement between the spectator and the activator, by
which we build this environment together.

JO: What has your personal experience of this been,
as a performer?

PA: The nudity thing has given me freedom. You feel
disarmed as much as you feel enlightened. Presenting
yourself in naked performance is totally different to
performing clothed. You are more available in your body,
you begin to sense every part of you. To rid yourself of your
armour, and enter the space, is a ‘naked’ experience in a
grander sense. But it is a two-way experience, and as that
particular performance developed over the Dance Massive
season, I understood each show had a new audience with
a different perspective. All sorts of people came in – young
and beautiful bodies, mature bodies, weirdos and creeps.
And I thought, ‘what have I done? Am I going to get myself
into trouble?’….But the interesting thing was that the
politics of sexualising the work was dismissed immediately
as soon as we became naked. It didn’t become sexualised,
by any stretch. Why do you think that is? Everyone just
went, ‘wow, there’s no sexually charged point here to
reference.’ This is just agreement time.

JO: I think it’s about that scream of desire. You take
your clothes off, you take the desire off. I think, of
course, we see the world through that scream. Which
is Hollywood… But I also wanted to ask you about your
work Kingdom, which is an extraordinary piece.

PA:With Kingdom,we are working with three of our
leading, male physical artists –Matthew Day, Luke George
and Rennie McDougall, and the visual artist Andrew
Hazewinkel, who is amazing.

JO: Yes, and I saw that each of them has their own
particular enquiry, and I think that’s how things can
work. If you’re being told what to do, you don’t think.
But if you come with a question that’s deeply personal,
it’s different… I think Pina Bausch used to do that,
actually she would ask her dancers to set themselves a
psychological-physical task and see what they would
come up with. And from what I hear, your dancers all
want some thing.

PA:It’s an enquiry in the body. And it is – I beg the
question – decidedly queer. The gender experience is
not for me. I think that my behaviour in the studio, in
the actual moment of creativity, is driven by a genetic
sensibility of queer. Is it flamboyant? Perhaps. Is it
extrovert? Maybe. Is it camp? Perhaps. But combined, if
I monitor myself and yet not label myself, I would say
this enquiry has an overt sense of flamboyantly queer
behaviour patterns. My contribution is to monitor that
behaviour into an artwork, and see to this quirky bird
creating something for the king. I feel comfortable,
presenting this inexplicable queer stuff.
Matthew Day is not like that. He is a minimalist, and I love
working with him. This is the opposite of my own body. I’m
naked, rolling for hours from one side of the room to the
other, and he’ll just watch us, back and forth – three hours
of a single action, which is a ritual – to find this state of
being available for each other, being vulnerable for each
other. At the end of it, I really don’t know what’s queer
about all this – queer has no real definition yet – I just
know we need to work together, and that’s enough.

JO: Can you comment on some of the recent political
responses to nudity, ritual, and this undefined
sensibility in the work you’ve done?

PA:Well, I was recently slandered in the media and
it reached senate. I participated in a work at ACCA
(Australian Centre for Contemporary Art) by my good
friend visual artist Mikala Dwyer, and she presented an
exhibition called Goldene Bend’er, and part of her ritual
was to take a group shit together at ACCA. And I believed
in the artist, of course. I didn’t question her. But I felt like
I was punched in the gut by the reactions. There was
a call for decency in the Arts, and I don’t know what to
say… It all appeared in an article in The Australian, with
statistics of how much grant money I’ve received over the
years, and I was being called up by the media – but you’ve
got to take the bullet and walk away. How conservative
we are! The naked body of the 1970s in Australia was far
superior to the conservative politics we’ve returned to
now. I remember the nakedness of our language back in
the sixties and seventies when Australia was carving a new
space with theatre, and in other media, like photography…
and now to find myself opening up a paper, when I’m
broadening my scope as an artist and becoming interested
in hybrid practice, and being hit by something as offensive
as that? …I can only think, what went wrong?! Where did
we go wrong with our naked politics?

I pride myself on the naked form, in that I’m succeeding and failing with my body in every way I can imagine.

JO: This government is so bound by fear, fear of
anything that would make us open up, because we’re
one big island. It’s the political make-up of Australia.

PA:The fear is rife. In a way, shedding our clothes for
tomorrow, and becoming part of the utopian impulse is
similar to the way Spencer Tunick laid out the Princess
Bridge for the celebration of the naked photographic essay
(Naked City). I would only hope that such beautiful creative
work could be celebrated in politics and not dragged down
to the standards of this current government.

JO: Bear in mind, if we were doing the same work
somewhere else – maybe with the exception of China –
it wouldn’t be a problem.

PA:I think back to my early work as a dancer in the nineties
in New York. I was naked so often that when I got a
costume I felt exposed, so it was hard at first when I came
back to Australia after ten years away, because I carried that
knowledge with me. But I’m glad I have that to contribute
here now… more broadly, we do look at the body of naked
history and politics, to the masters, from Classicism through
to Caravaggio and then on to our celebrated Bill Henson –
who have always been at the forefront, taking the bullet
and enjoying that role… Somebody’s got to take the bullet.
And my company has always had that position and claimed
it early. Love it or hate it.

I pride myself on the naked form, in that I’m succeeding
and failing with my body in every way I can imagine.