UNDRESSING THE BODY


Miguel Gutierrez in Heaven's What I Have Done. Photo by Ian Douglas

Every movement is immediate and deliberate, despite how volatile it feels—a meticulously planned self-destruction. “I’m messy!” he exclaims flippantly, while flinging coins all over the floor in faded street clothes and exaggerated make-up, like a Victorian-era drag queen. Thus opened Miguel Gutierrez’s new solo work, Heaven's What Have I Done, that premiered in Written With The Body at the Center for Performance Research on May 6. 

Gutierrez orders the audience to rearrange the performance space.  He directs while they lift the bleachers and shrink the stage to an intimate semi-circle. He tapes paper on the wall; he sets up an amp, distortion pedals, a microphone, and dumps papers and other superfluous materials all over the floor. An erratic, one-sided conversation spans from personal confessions to a rant against the “depressing legacy of Minimalism,” or the concept of “going back to zero.” All the banter seems to circle around the bitter note of European critics describing his work as “messy.” But what does it mean to be messy? Confusing? Unpredictable? Queer? Or is it simply that which deviates from the norm? Gutierrez emotionally unmasks himself throughout his personal monologue, an act that is mirrored by the physical undressing and redressing of his body. He strips down to his underwear only to change into a vaudevillian rainbow costume by Machine Dazzle, and a Marie Antoinette wig. Gutierrez likens messiness with a revelation. He is revealing his whole self to us, and it is a gift.

After about 20 minutes of setting up, Gutierrez makes fierce declarations in French, with English translations relayed back to him in a pre-recorded soundtrack layered over the operatic sounds of Cecilia Bartoli. “I don’t want the experience…I don’t want the phenomenon…” he shouts as he firmly steps up to the microphone and then backward with an increasingly rapid pace. A delay pedal is put into effect, transporting the audience into a crazed hallucination of his tenacious self—a carefully articulated chaos. Gutierrez’s deliberate narcissism demonstrates an acute self-awareness, a darkly comedic anticipation of his own downfall. He rigorously stomps around the space, circling the bleachers, screaming, sweating, pulling at his hair, and thrashing his arms. The sight is enthralling yet slightly upsetting, controlled without feeling overly wrought.

At the end, Gutierrez calmly walks back over to the microphone in his melted make-up. “So nice that you came…that you’re here…I was dreaming about it…” he appraisingly says to the audience in an effeminate voice. As he continues to commend the audience for their appearance, his body gradually collapses. The microphone slowly enters into his mouth and he falls to the floor in defeat. Gutierrez’s striking performance is the antithesis of “going back to zero.” Contrary to the eradication of his identity, he flaunts it, thus serving as a testimony to Gutierrez’s severe criticality and enigmatic fearlessness.

Contributor

Christine Hou

Christine Hou is a poet and arts writer living in Brooklyn.

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