Coastal Undercurrents is a writing initiative supporting six local writers to produce written responses to live work experienced during the Home Live Art programme of performance at Coastal Currents 2018 in Hastings.
Dillon Jaxx responds to the work of Catherine Hoffman and Florence Peake
Having been invited to take off our shoes, we pad upstairs and into the dining room that has been prepared for fifteen guests. The room is pungent with sweet and savoury scents fighting for dominance; something is cooking. We are greeted and seated and offered red wine as the theme of the evening quickly becomes apparent. Red tablecloth, baskets of eggs, red flowers, birthing cakes adorn the dining table.
Our hosts, also dressed in red, bring an ornate silver tray, which is passed around the table amongst just a little awkward sniggering. The amuse bouche consists of panty liners topped with red fruit jelly. It is then passed around again, as we are assured that it is edible and encouraged to actually taste some. The conversation prompt is “worst period stories” and in this intimate, appropriately themed setting it doesn’t take long for confessions to spill.
I can’t but think of Halloween, which is not far away, as the dinner progresses. Blood soup, womb stew and placenta pancakes, before we cut into the bloody layers of the birthing cake.
With each new course, a new topic, all womb related, menopause, birthing children and having sex during your period. On this last subject the hosts performed a poem; in unison, standing either end of the table, leaning on it and towards us, becoming louder and louder and finishing by smearing red jelly over their faces and chests.
This was my favourite part of this particular art installation. Not because the poetry blew my mind, and not because this subject is one I can particularly get into, though I am all for period positivity, but because the artists performed.
For the rest of the evening though the artists certainly set the scene, and went to a lot of effort too, it was the audience that provided the tales and whilst with live art maybe more so than with any other art form, a degree of audience participation might be expected, the balance tipped. The audience/dinner guests were the main performers and as someone who’s eyes immediately seek out the comforting neon glow of the exit sign as soon as audience participation is mentioned, I spent the entire time with an unnaturally tightly clenched jaw.
I wouldn’t have been able to eat a bloody thing even if I’d wanted to. Then I wondered what if all fifteen guests had been like me? I guess the law of averages takes care of that. I’m not so surprised that people are quick to be open and willing to share intimate stories, what I am more surprised at is that this is considered good entertainment. Clearly I am not of the sisterhood. I must have left the church before they managed to dunk me into the bloody baptismal font for there was more than a taste of ritualism, of pagan ceremonies carried out by wild women in the woods at a quarter to full moon, barefoot and howling and a strong flavour of transubstantiation and blessing the fruit, none of which, I have come to find out very definitely, are my cup of- oh, never mind. I can feel the wet sucky texture of the ‘body of christ’ sticking to the roof of my mouth as I write…
To me it felt like a woman’s support group, despite the presence of two men, and gender exclusive events, or support groups for that matter, are not situations in which I feel at ease. In fact, when the men of the group spoke up it felt a lot like relief, maybe because physically at least, they were as much outsiders as I felt to be.
Do I regret going? Of course not. Would I go again. No. For me there were too many red flags (sorry). However if singing praise to your uterus, and sharing detailed messy stories about the functions or dysfunctions of your womb whilst eating mostly blood coloured food in a non judgemental and receptive environment is your thing, I say get yourself a seat at the table. Personally, I couldn’t stomach it and was glad when the show was over. Period.
Dillon Jaxx is a writer/performance poet. ‘I am the type of plant some people would likely describe as a weed. That doesn’t stop me growing and positioning myself in such a way as to absorb maximum sunshine. Everything scares me.’
Florence Peake and Catherine Hoffmann performed this work at the first Hastings Performance Salon on Friday 28 September 2018.
Coastal Undercurrents is the first initiative of Home Live Writing, an ongoing project for writers based in the south east who wish to learn more about writing critical responses to live performance.
All images photographed By Georgina Cook
- When Coastal Undercurrents