An inconclusive ‘essay’ by Tessa Wills (editor) and Mica Sigourney regarding Sigourney’s piece “all this love…” presented at TIWIW 2012
This is an article reprinted from Dance Theatre Journal: Special Edition on Sex and Performance, an academic but user friendly publication by the Laban Centre in London, which Tessa Wills co-edited with Doran George in 2013. We used the festival THIS IS WHAT I WANT as a lens through which to reveal the field of the intersection between radical sexual practice and radical performance practice in the Bay Area, and our work. Read the other articles here.
Mica contextualises: Tessa and I met to talk about this article the Sunday before Halloween. I was exhausted having performed the five nights previous. She had just come from a rehearsal with a drag queen colleague of mine. We had each taken stabs at writing the article it had and it gone through several drafts before we sat down on an unseasonably warm October Sunday at Sacred Grounds. Tessa and I are colleagues and dare I say friends. She curated me into THIS IS WHAT I WANT this year, my third year. I find that talking about work is often alienating for someone who hasn’t seen it. So in advance… we tried our best here. What I most want to portray is that the pieces I make for TIWW are an attempt for me to make myself as uncomfortable as possible.
EDITOR NOTE Tessa: That makes it sound totally self-serving. Is that really the essence of the work? EDITOR NOTE Mica: Yes. It is totally self-serving. The project is called THIS IS WHAT I WANT, and what I want makes me very uncomfortable so I try to get as uncomfortable as I can by getting as close to what I want as possible. I construct systems to which I have to submit no matter how uncomfortable the performance of, and participation in, the systems make me feel.
EDITOR NOTE Tessa: I think there are other reasons for the work beyond you making yourself uncomfortable. The piece engages with the social impact of economies of desire. I think this is not just a piece about making yourself uncomfortable. Mica: This year I staged exchange of money for sex based on research I had done into the experiences of my past lovers. Each year I play with the idea of staging myself as a fictional character through the manipulation of non-fiction information and narrative.
EDITOR NOTE Mica: This all sounds pretentious as I re-read it. I’m trying to say I make pieces that afterwards leave me feeling emotionally shaky and after which I usually go out and get unreasonably drunk and hit on someone in an unusually aggressive manner taking them home in an effort to clear from my emotional palate from the aftertaste of said performances.
EDITOR NOTE Tessa: Mica cares greatly for the audience. He considers them throughout his rehearsal processes. Those previous sentences omit this consideration for the audience. When he learns about the real impact of his work he seems surprised, which may be an act. In this interview I’m interested in exploring the continuation of the piece after the show. The performance consisted of a series of contracts (literally) between audience and performer about dates which would happen in real life (Mica describes more below). My questions reflect on what happened for us all next, offstage, in real life. What are the social repercussions of the work? Why can’t I get my date out of the performance? We keen on creating rich layers at the intersection of life and work. This piece is not a linear revelation…I suggest, reader, that you take these questions and hit the text with them whenever you want.
SUNDAY INTERVIEW Tessa: Would you describe your piece?
SUNDAY INTERVIEW Mica: I took to the stage with the proposition of buying sex from the audience, using the artist fee that I collected for making the piece. My thesis was that the least amount of money I spent on sex, the more valuable I was sexually. If someone would sleep with me for nothing then I was valuable.
I also gathered evidence of my desirability by surveying past lovers. I compiled a Greek chorus style staged reading of the answers to the survey about what I am like as a lover.
Also audience members were allowed to ask me questions at any time. At the beginning of the piece I seated anyone who would sleep with me for free on stage with me, so that they were visually part of the performance.
[pullquote]I structured the money for sex exchange as an auction, starting with $1 and working my way up ‘Would anyone here sleep with me for a $1? $2?… etc’ I performed the piece twice and spent $260 on sex. [/pullquote]
The first night half the audience said they would sleep with me for free, the second night there were about 11 people. The first night we ran out of money very quickly, and the audience volunteered $60 to continue on with the sexual bidding. Two people gave me money back at the end of the performances.
The second night I cut off the bidding before I ran out of money because I wanted a drink afterwards and wanted the money to pay for it and I was exhausted.
While I was paying the audience for sex, but I wasn’t paying them for the value of the sexual encounter, I was paying them for the removal or resistance to having sex.
An example I used during the performance: ‘there’s a guy who I sleep with, and if it’s cold outside and he wants me to ride my bike to his house, I wouldn’t do it, but if he paid for a cab, I would easily do it. [pullquote align=”right”]It’s not to say that sex with him is only worth ten dollars, it’s just that ten dollars takes care of the resistance, $10 pays for the cab.'[/pullquote]
Sometimes the value of resistance is just a drink or two… or a dinner date.
I had 15 people buy sex from me, total. And out of those 15 about five-seven followed up with me after my initial emails and text messages. So far I’ve had sex with two of those people.
Tessa contextualizes Mica’s work in program notes through her role as curator:
Mica Sigourney’s work has me hooked in. I am invested because of the way he repeatedly ignites (inflames?) critical ideas through his practice, by relentlessly shining a light on them under friction. In my experience, his work (which I have performed in, as well as been audience to) uses charm and virtuosic ability to manipulate social dynamics in his favour. He can facilitate games of challenge and social competition in ways which appear soft and appealing.
EDITOR’S NOTE Tessa: Most of us, I think, bar one (not me or Doran, though we both contracted them), have not gotten our dates or the sexual exchanges hinted at as part of the performance.
Mica writes: At our meeting when we started I said ‘I’m in a terrible mood, Tessa.’ That’s how we began.
EDITOR’S NOTE Tessa: this makes me feel stupid. How can he be in such a terrible mood when I’ve made myself available as an ambassador for his work like this. I have multiple reactions at once: Maybe I should check the level of support I give Mica’s work. What comes up for me immediately is how often women support male artists voices, how much free work I’ve done on this festival, how much I’ve done for social gratitude and when that has been lacking. It reminds to me ensure that I get paid for this submission even as I ensure Mica does. It reminds me of the tension in our relationship where I think we are better friends then we are, and I’m sort of surprised by that. I wonder if other people find that with Mica. Or me. I wonder whether I’m here mostly because of power and erotics, or because of art, and whether I should have shame one way or the other about it…in short, I felt the power dynamic shift between us at that moment. I stop and wonder why is for a second, and remember the part of his work that is about social manipulation…so I smile and press on.
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: I’m legitimately surprised that my disclosure of a terrible mood had so many implications. Not as a defence but as an explanation, I said that just in case my mood came across, I didn’t want Tessa to think I was in a bad mood because of, or resistant to, our interview and conversation.
Programme notes by Tessa:
Sigourney is the only artist who has participated in every iteration of the festival. His pieces about desire have developed logically over the years, each time getting closer to capturing desire as a force in action. [pullquote]He is consciously manipulating, ridiculing and surrendering to his own narcissism while challenging the audience to engage personally in their desire for him, their desire for themselves, raising the stakes each time[/pullquote]. There is a way in which Sigourney challenges you to consume him through his work and in so doing to meet him in staging your identity, exposing yourself. That’s an exciting place to be.
Tessa continues to contextualise through summarising audience responses to the piece:
In this piece, Sigourney presents himself as something animated only by other people’s desire. We see his desire to be desired, we understand he is driven by something, but we never hear his private desires as part of this piece. Whether he really wants to be intimate with you or not is forever in question. At the time when I met Sigourney, he had met two of the 15 people. I asked him why he had not followed up on the piece by meeting more. He got defensive, saying that it was the audience’s responsibility to follow up on the contracts.
SUNDAY INTERVIEW Mica: I mean I got what I wanted. I wanted to know how much or if anyone wanted me. A means to that end was buying sex and setting up dates. If the participants… No I’d call them players… If the other players don’t want to participate anymore I’m not going to force them. I’m open to further collaboration, to a completion of the contract, but I gave up being ‘in charge’ when I came off the stage.
Tessa’s audience summary continued:
In the performance there were some moments like some (other gay men) audience members saying privately that the dates were not valuable or the sex was not valuable because it didn’t count as good sex for various reasons, or Mica was not attractive or ethical for various reasons. That seems predictable, and a normal outcome of the staged economies and power play of the piece. Then there was the woman in the piece who came up and asked, not for a date, but for a huge friendly greeting from Mica in a public place instead, as he is so popular that it would make her look popular. Social capital, rather than erotic capital was more valuable for her. This is a piece that activates people. I started to investigate post-performance responses to Micas work. Three people I spoke to personally said they were too shy to push for the dates. Of the people who did push a bit, there was a) a guy who reached out on Facebook, b) Doran, c) the guy who got the date and d) me. [pullquote align=”right”]It becomes clear there is a lot of insecurity about the dates, and their perceived value to Mica. We all tend to project their fears about having sex with a queer man like Sigourney into the space between the performance and the personal meaning.[/pullquote]
a) Facebook guy: at the interview, Sigourney recounted a long Facebook message from one of the people who did not buy a date. This individual messaged him to hold him accountable to issues of privilege in regards to race that had come up for him during the performance.
SUNDAY INTERVIEW Mica: He said that at the beginning of the performance he didn’t want to have a sex date with me but by the end he thought he might have a crush on me. This is funny because the text in the performance is skewed in the opposite direction. It goes from more charming/more attractive descriptions of me to grosser/less desirable descriptions. I wonder if the downward thrust of the text ‘revealed’ me to be more flawed, flawed is more approachable, fixable… charming.
SUNDAY INTERVIEW Tessa: Personally for me, as a colleague of Sigourney, it’s a complex web of desire and power that feed into my impulses as a date seeker. On one hand, I would love to have sex with Mica. But moving forward seems confusing, as I’m not sure what the power dynamic is. He has been my director, yet, I am currently his curator. He appears to be a big bottom, yet he is competitive, and sometimes holds a certain power over me.
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: Really? A big bottom?
EDITOR’S NOTE Tessa: Yes. A big power bottom. No? (I think our definitions of big bottom between the gay male community and my SM communities may differ.)
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: Your assumption or need to pin me down (no pun) as a top or bottom is the interesting aspect of this. Why try to even figure it out? Why develop the need for me to justify or not justify your assumption, making it seem as if I’m holding something back, or not addressing it directly on purpose instead of not addressing it as a necessary omission to the whole process?
EDITOR’S NOTE Tessa: Isn’t one point of the piece you generating that question in me? To bitterly celebrate Narcisissm by create a space for me to publically wonder those things about you. I’d have guessed you (or your performance persona) would like the thought of me being in a process of categorising you. But you’re sort of shaming me instead. Funny how shame is like a full stop for desire so often. Isn’t the point that I am to feel important, or unimportant in relation to you?
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: Yes, I suppose it is. That’s a point or goal that I didn’t realise till the performance was happening. That’s when it became clear to me.
I’ve reread this a few times now Tessa and I don’t think I was shaming you, I didn’t say you were wrong, incorrect or out of bounds, I was challenging you, for sure, but isn’t this whole conversation about a challenge?
EDITOR’S NOTE Tessa: Yes, I think you’re right. You were not shaming me. Now I feel stupid. Thanks for reining that in. But you just crystalised it perfectly. You are necessarily omitting your desire for the success of the piece. This piece works because you veil your desire. At first glance, the piece seems to expose you, but in fact you are deeply hidden. So it collapses in real life. What do you think?
Tessa contextualises: We have had text contact about the date, always rich in its awkwardness. One of his text messages was very dismissive. I misunderstood it and I spent a couple of weeks not talking to him. He didn’t notice. I wonder if his other ‘dates’ are feeling as confused as I, or if it is our specific various relationships that makes it so. Further, if I think Mica is a bottom, then it really should be me pushing the date. Leading the way. It occurs to me that I’m failing at that. Turns out the main reason I don’t push the date anymore is because I am sure that Mica is terrified about women’s bodies, finding them a threat to his gay male identity.
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: I am not terrified by women’s bodies. Nor do I find them to be a threat to my queer male identity. Ask the last lady I had sex with. But I am terrified of unknowing the things I have known to be almost certain for so long.
EDITOR’S NOTE Tessa: Explain more? What’s the unknowing part? About your gay identity? That I might turn you on?
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: Yes. My answer is yes.
EDITOR’S NOTE Tessa: You are using ambivalence not just in the performance, but also now.
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: Yes.
EDITOR’S NOTE Tessa: Perfect.
Tessa writes:[pullquote] I have to say at the end of this interview, he did say ‘we can have sex now if you want.’ It felt pretty awkward.[/pullquote] And I didn’t know what to say. Still not a statement of his desire, exactly, but I had got used to the withholding dynamic, and he called me out on it.
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: Tessa, sex with me is always pretty awkward.
b) Doran: kept a short journal about his thoughts and experiences around the exchanges following the piece.
‘I signed the contract with Mica because his entourage of actors made a big deal about the size of his dick. I’m not attracted to him. He looked to me a fairly standard gay guy on the scene, who I assumed would be put off by my effeminacy and the fact that I don’t have a really worked out body.’
Mica texted everyone who got a date with him. ‘<Hello. I’m contacting you bc you signed a contract with me last week at TIWW (sic). If you would like to collect on our date e-mail me at houseofhorceface@gmail xx mica>
Doran writes: ‘When I got the text I felt disappointed. It felt so non-committal, like Mica didn’t care whether or not we fulfilled the contract. It felt impersonal, like I didn’t matter. And I felt sure that he would be relieved if I didn’t bother to e-mail him. I felt that if I did I was calling in a pound of flesh of that I didn’t really deserve. After all he’d paid me simply to remove my resistance to having sex with him. He hadn’t paid me because he wanted to have sex with him. I felt like the performance and it’s public point were over, and consequently the promise of the contract were simply an inconvenient residue of Mica’s concept and I was fallout. ‘
Tessa writes: Doran, just like Facebook guy and myself, doesn’t really know what Mica thinks or wants. He is projecting, just like us.
c) the guy who got the date:
EDITORS NOTE Tessa: Mica, what happened on the date that you did go on? Did he seem satisfied? Were you satisfied? How did the economy of the situation manifest? (maybe you should ignore this question – obvious omissions are emerging as critical!)
Mica writes: [pullquote]I think TIWW (explicitly, the idea of a festival centred on the performance of sexual desire) is a terrible idea. As an audience member I do NOT want to be trapped in a small dark theatre while wounded and kinky artists hoist up their desires and fuckstories as badges of otherness/ specialness/survival/condescension/originality. [/pullquote]
I’m drawn to what I see as the festival’s inherent aesthetically failed premise: that work made under the curatorial prompt can actually be interesting, provocative, or new. Or maybe if we are lucky, accessible and interesting to someone who doesn’t give a shit about ‘risk-taking’ in performance and just wants to see a good show.
Tessa writes: I asked Mica why he thought the piece brought out everyone’s fears. He said that it had to do with privilege. It’s a word that gets bandied around, here in the Bay a lot, and so I asked him to tell me more about what it meant for him:
SUNDAY INTERVIEW Mica: Conceptually the piece was really about exposing the complexity of other people’s desires by staging my privileges (white, cisgendered male, slender, tall) which are codified assumed to be attractive (while that attractiveness is tied to privileges of oppression that hold others down). In making the piece I consciously moved towards it. I added more people talking about the size of my cock. I skewed the responses toward the positive. I gave a premium to people talking about my physical fitness and my body… I omitted statements of value that weren’t tied to my privilege. I allowed for these things and enhanced them.
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: this is what I mean by fictionalising myself using nonfiction data. Lying with the truth.
EDITOR’S NOTE Tessa: I don’t entirely understand. But I see you presenting facts about yourself and your approach which creates an image that seems personal yet isn’t actually because of the omissions. Watching the piece felt so personal and super charged and like it was making all kinds of personal meaning. But through writing this I’m grasping that the piece is also a conceptually sealed (protected?) system of thought. And I still don’t think the power/value nexus comes from you staging your privilege. It comes from you hiding your desire.
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: Why is the origin of my desire so significant? In any description my invitation to be consumed is based on a lie – a construct of a performance festival. It is contrived and held together by fictions. That does not make it less real however.
EDITOR’S NOTE Tessa: That’s a very beautiful mindfuck. I guess I can see privilege as a sexual asset as much as any other. But I still don’t think it’s the main thing that makes you sexy. You are clearly broke, and in most places in the world, your faggotry makes you seriously oppressed. The specific environment of the festival in this city in this moment in time you are privileged.
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: Good point.
EDITOR’S NOTE Tessa: It occurs to me, many months later, that the only date that Mica went on, may, in fact have been horrible. I fall again into projecting onto Mica. Perhaps he doesn’t love (transactional?) sex or sex work. Perhaps he really is drawn to the festival because sex makes him uncomfortable, and he likes making performances which are inherently uncomfortable. Sex is rich for that.
SUNDAY INTERVIEW Mica: [pullquote]Sex is not always beautiful, for me, it’s also dangerous; people use it to harm each other.[/pullquote] I want to see that on the stage or in the audience. I think that’s what the festival was about, being brave and dangerously staging desire. [pullquote align = “right”]My desire isn’t neat, it’s often dirty and fucked up, and it can be cruel[/pullquote]. My foundation is not necessarily sex positive. And that’s in opposition to someone like Annie Danger, for example, who, at least in her piece The Great Church of the Holy Fuck is creating a healing experience for the audience.
Tessa’s final reflection: At the end of this writing process I feel some resolution around Mica’s methodology; I’ve seen the process where he fictionalises intimacy without ever dropping his guard. I wish the piece could have continued through the dates. In my imagination the dates would be a rich uncomfortable interpersonal private theatre. Mica said in the interview, “I paid for the dates. I didn’t get any payment from the performance. I’m not going to chase for the dates to happen as well’ I get that there wasn’t enough resources (emotional, financial, energetic) to do so. Perhaps theatre that dances between the private and public like this takes a lot of resources. I think the piece as it stands is a virtuosic response to the festival prompt.
I also feel exposed.
I got so inspired as to be carried away to the point where somehow it seemed a great idea to methodically unpack and emphasise the emotionally reactive tender desire parts of me around this piece in public.
Perhaps I have fallen into a necessary ‘trap’ of the piece. [pullquote]Just as it’s necessary for Mica to hide his real desire, the mechanisms of the work also invite someone to surrender entirely to the process, to expose themselves. To overexpose themselves.[/pullquote]
And as he writes, it’s unclear whether the process of hiding or exposing our desires in public like this is fictional or not.
On any side. So… welcome to Dance Theatre Journal; Economies of Desire.
SUNDAY INTERVIEW Mica: People were getting money… they were buying artwork… but it’s not as simple as ‘sex and money are in an inverse relationship.’ That’s the premise, but I figured it can’t be accurate, it’s not everything that happened. I know that.
EDITOR’S NOTE Mica: What is it with coffee shops having punned names? Sacred Grounds, Muddy Waters….it makes me feel like a character in a poorly written student film to sit with a cup of coffee under a sign that says Muddy Waters.
Republished with permission at http://tessawills.com/i-hope-this-article-gets-me-laid/. Originally published in Hargreaves, Martin, Thom Shaw, Tessa Wills, and Doran George, eds. Dance Theatre Journal 25.2. London: Laban, 2013. Print.