Informed by ten years as an exotic dancer, I understand stripping as much more than merely the revealing of flesh or sex as currency. Strip clubs provide both the performer and audience members a false sense of comfort and freedom, disguised by the inhibition-lowering effects of intoxication, neon, and lace. In this setting, I trained as an emotional voyeur, private confessor, and sexually fetishized redeemer.
These experiences served as the foundation for I Bare Witness (2016), I engage the latent tension between desire and anxiety. The title refers to the audience opening up and revealing their own capacity to balance a quiet life of contrition and fully actualized sexual fantasies. Prior to the performance, the audience write confessions on fake dollar bills, a reference to the economics of shame and “buying into” temporary releases from sexual anxiety. Wearing a traditional nun habit, I embody a mother who accepts the faults and sins of my children. As I undress, shifting from one socio-sexually “extreme” sphere, celibacy, to the other, the audience throws their confessions on to the stage. Here, the dollar bills are intended to signify the audience’s complicity and sexual fetishization tied to stripping but, through their participatory confessions, their simultaneous desire to harmonize the two seemingly dichotomous worlds of virtue and lust. The performance, as a whole, makes explicit that these two human aspects cannot exist outside each other; indeed, lust and shame together participate in much broader contexts that simply fetish cultures.
Originally performed at Townhouse Venice January, 2016
Pictured: Mid City Art House May 21, 2016
Photos: John Heinsen