On Thursday evening of the Zero Gravity Performance Workshop Rosie Nay filled her nook gallery with curiosity and tension as she entered the space sporting a transparent bubble wrap ensemble that emphasized her naked body more than it concealed it. She drew viewers in with an intriguing collection of bright orange hand-sewn plastic bedding and clothing. In no time at all, she was at work setting up a bedroom-like space, ignoring the eyes upon her. Looking for a better view, I went up into the loft over the gallery and watched over the scene below. I watched Nay at work, stuffing her neon orange synthetic pillowcases with scraps of what appeared to be paper. Under the sterile fluorescent lights and white gallery space, Nay’s soft flesh defied being overthrown by the unnatural orange construction colours and cold grey floor. Her body fought to escape the awkwardly rigid ensemble she wore, drawing my anxiety more and more to the inversions of what I associate with comfort–a bed and clothing of cold and ungiving synthetic material to ensure an experience that would be anything but cozy.
With her space set up, Nay laid out two pairs of plastic pyjamas: one for herself, and another placed ambiguously waiting for a body to inhabit it. After a while of sitting unsure of what to make of the second suit, audience member and visiting artist Irene Loughlin stepped up to join Nay’s performance. Stripping out of her own clothes in exchange for the orange outfit, she joined Nay in bed. They laid with their heads closest to the far wall, distancing themselves from the curious gazes of onlookers. I returned to the loft knowing I’d have a great bird’s eye view of what was happening in the space below.
It was fascinating to see the divide among the audience members; there were those who boldly entered the performance space, curious to see what the two were doing under the big, plastic blanket, while others stayed back as far as they could without completely exiting the space, looking uncomfortable and awkward. For those less at home in Nay’s makeshift bedroom it was apparent that the initial shock of her almost-naked body was highjacked and amplified by the unexpected sexual tension that filled the space as Nay and Loughlin’s bodies lay tangled under the partially see-through covers. Movement and whispers escaped from the bubble-wrap bed. My view and that of the audience members who were not shy to get close revealed the pair’s faces close, hands caressing––did they know each other? Was this planned? Should I keep watching or look away? Is there actually this intense sexual charge, or am I imagining it?
Hidden hands wandered over one another’s bodies. The occasional pop of a plastic bubble under the firm pressure of one woman’s hand against the body of the other echoed up into the loft where I stood watching. The covers obscured them just enough to make me doubt what I thought I was seeing, but at the same time the closeness of their bodies, the slow shifting of the cover, and the flush of their faces made me feel embarrassed to watch. After a few moments, the slow movements shifted into more deliberate ones, positioning themselves in order to be able to pop all of the bubbles on each others’ suits. Like watching monkeys groom one another, the sexual tension faded and was replaced by a determined air, shifting their positions out of practicality, rather than seeking intimacy. As they arrived toward the end of their mutual popping, Nay shifted positions revealing the crotch of her pants to be torn, exposing her barely-covered-by-bubble-wrap labia.
As the sound of popping subsided, Nay got out of the bed, undressed and started to pack up her space. After gathering her clothes, she proceeded to undress Loughlin, barely acknowledging her even though they had just shared an incredibly close space. Once her bedding was collected, she hauled her load over her shoulder and exited the space, leaving Loughlin behind, and concluding her performance.
I sat watching Loughlin for a minute or two and tried to process the weirdness of the one-night-stand energy that surrounded me. I was unsure of what was real, what was accidental, wondering about the faux-intimacy and how it was enhanced by cold, crinkly plastic materials. The artificiality of the space was echoed in the performance of the women’s intimacy. In the moment it was believable, but ultimately it was manufactured and fake–a show that gave viewers the option to see what they wanted to see, indulge in acceptable voyeurism, and at the end of the day be able to part ways with no strings attached.
Written by Brittany Snellen.
Brittany Snellen has a master’s degree in art history from the University of Alberta. She’s spent the last five years facilitating collaborative exhibition projects between art historians and artists. In her spare time you can find her photographing births and writing about art.