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Gender Trouble

Alexandra Bachzetsis’s new performance, Private: Wear a mask when you talk to me

When I took my seat in the theatre at Kaserne Basel, Alexandra Bachzetsis was carefully applying heavy stripes of pink blusher to her cheekbones. Sporting black tracksuit bottoms, her hair in a high ponytail à la pop star Ariana Grande, Bachzetsis continued to pout and primp for some time after the audience had settled down.

© Blommers & Schumm

© Blommers & Schumm

© Blommers & Schumm

I wouldn’t normally feel the need to mention an artist’s chosen coiffure, but in this case it’s relevant: changes of hairstyle and the repeated layering and removal of clothing act as important intervals in Bachzetsis’ 53-minute long performance, Private: Wear a mask when you talk to me (2016).

© Blommers & Schumm

© Blommers & Schumm

© Blommers & Schumm

For her opening number, the artist and trained choreographer danced seductively to an instrumental version of Percy Sledge’s ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ (1966) in a floor-length latex dress. More dancing followed, with references ranging from Trisha Brown to Michael Jackson, but it was the downtime between these performative episodes that elevated Private… from parody to pointed critique, when Bachzetsis held a range of gender-bending poses – some yogic, some pornographic. The most memorable was when the artist donned an all-weather tracksuit and lay on her side. With one leg bent and one arm dangling over her groin, she performed a perfect rendition of the classic male model pose. But this was more than the artist dressing in drag. Through her subtle nuances of facial expression and body language, Bachzetsis seemed to side with Judith Butler in her 1990 text Gender Trouble. ‘Gender’, Butler writes, ‘is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame’.

Private: Wear a mask when you talk to me was performed as part of 'Trans-corporeal Metabolisms – the 12th Performance Project' at LISTE Art Fair, Basel, curated by Eva Birkenstock

Chloe Stead is a writer and critic based in Berlin.

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