Aesthetes that my readers are, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the name of Jan Fabre, a Belgian performance artist and “theatre-maker” who, we’re informed, “expands the horizons of every genre to which he applies his artistic vision.” Mr Fabre’s acclaimed efforts at horizon-expanding include Preparatio Mortis, a piece unveiled at the Vienna International Dance Festival and which entertained us no end with its combination of moths, underwear and staggering pretension. While writhing in her bra and panties, the dancer, Annabelle Chambon, was tasked with nothing less than “an attempt to reconcile life and death.” Or as one commenter suggested, to reconcile boredom with public subsidy.
You will, therefore, be thrilled to the tips of your nipples by Mr Fabre’s recent curatorial triumph. Sweat is a performance piece by fellow Belgian Peter De Cupere, choreographed by Fabre, in which five dancers spend fourteen minutes rolling about and jumping up and down - naked, obviously - while attempting to fill their transparent plastic overalls with all manner of body odour. “The intention,” we’re told, “is to catch the sweat from the dancers and to distil it. The concrete of the sweat is sprayed on a wall of the dance lab and protected by a glass box. In the glass is a small hole where visitors can smell the sweat.” Yes, you can smell the sweat.
If that’s not a good night out, I don’t know what is.
Oh, there’s more to it than that of course.
Peter De Cupere is creating his smell. Not just a smell, but a composition of the smells of his body, skin of different parts, breath, sweat, sperm, spittle, nose drops, blood and many more smells you can imagine with a person. The smells are and will be subtracted on different times, after different moments, after special dinners made for himself by himself. A research that will go on his whole life. His first edition of his perfume will be soon available... The perfume is called ‘Peter’.
Now, who’s up for fourteen minutes of excruciating toss?
Hold still, goddammit. I’m nailing some culture into you.
According to ArtNews, De Cupere is “incorporating scent into the aesthetic experience.” Thing is, the performance above isn’t an aesthetic experience. It isn’t by definition. (By all means feel free to point out the beauty. There’s cake to be won.) Described more honestly, it’s a hackneyed, rather desperate, attempt to transgress. (“Sweat, sperm, spittle, nose drops, blood...”) Now imagine if arts writers were fined £5 every time they lied. Destitution would ensue in a matter of days.
And from the same article, this:
New York activist-artist Lisa Kirk was seeking to evoke a social experience when she developed a perfume called Revolution for her 2008 exhibition at Participant Inc. on the Lower East Side. Kirk contacted witnesses to political upheavals, including Central American revolutionaries and ex-Black Panthers, and asked them, “What does revolution smell like?” The answer: dried blood, smoke, burning tires, gasoline, and urine. Kirk relied on perfumer Patricia Choux to create the scent and jeweller Jelena Berhrend to design containers that looked like pipe bombs, fabricated in silver, gold, and platinum, and priced from $3,750 to $47,750 per bottle. “If we can’t start a revolution, at least we can create a fragrance that symbolises rebellion,” says Kirk.
Yes, rebellion. She’s an “activist-artist,” see.